Waiting for Nigeria’s Robber Barons (2)

by | March 5, 2013 9:14 am



Before we digressed to other matters you were going to tell me something about the Robber Barons.”

“Oh yes,” said my lady of the night. “I believe the Robber Barons provide a development model for Nigeria.”

“Oh really? Robbers as models?”

“You see, Mr. O. J., when you can’t achieve the ideal, it’s only smart to work with the real.”

She studied my face. I hope it was blank.

“Go on, I’m listening.”

“The Robber Barons, as you might recall, were some super-rich Americans of the late 19th century who acquired their wealth through their political connections…”

“As man know man, abi?”

“As man know man—or IM, as you okoro-nyamiri people call it.”

“I hear you . . . Lucky devils, they happened to be in the right place at the right time . . .”

“And they were smart enough and driven enough to seize every opportunity and exploit every loophole in the laws.”

“Who exactly were these men?”

“It’s a long list; but some of the best known names are Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Astor, Carnegie, Morgan, Fisk, Cooke, Gould, Frick, Mellon, Stanford . . .”

“Sounds like a Who’s Who of America’s First Families.”

“Exactly.”

“You seem to admire them. But those men were thoroughly corrupt . . .”

“The system was thoroughly corrupt.”

“System thoroughly corrupt? In America? God’s own country? Land of the free and home of the brave?”

“Oh come off it, Mr. O. J. You know that America has two faces—one innocent, humane and kind, the other

cruel, ruthless and murderous. These men were cruel and ruthless.”

“So what’s admirable about them?”

“This is the great social paradox. These men amassed their wealth by cheating the public, bribing public officials, and manipulating the judiciary. But guess what, they turned around and ploughed that wealth back into huge, creative enterprises which yielded enormous social dividends for their entire citizenry.”

“How exactly?”

“These men believed in profit. Profit was their god. If they had $1 million, they were determined to turn it into $100 million, and then into $100 billion.”

“How? By stealing more money?”

“No, by setting up factories to employ thousands, producing things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Every conceivable, consumable thing: railways, motor cars, radios, refrigerators and other electrical appliances, shoes, clothing, furniture, iron and steel and cement for all sorts of construction. In short, they set about manufacturing everything the technology of the day permitted. Their gospel was social utility; their target was the common needs of the common people.”

“Did they succeed?”

“Exceptionally! They sold their goods and services at affordable prices. They funded universities and research institutes, and established charities. They transformed their society, changing its values and social habits.”

“Changing them, but not always for the better, I’m sure…”

“Of course not. Even in nature we see the disasters of unintended consequences.”

“Even in nature? Are you blaming God? Are you saying that not all of his creations are good?”

“I don’t know what God intended when he created snakes and mosquitoes. But who am I to judge God? All I know is, these Robber Barons, poor human creatures that they were, they did the best they could with their ill-gotten wealth. And their society benefitted enormously. America became the most industrially productive and powerful nation on earth, and its citizens the most comfortable and well fed. That, in my book, is a great achievement.”

“Well well well! . . . Anyway, how do you mean that America’s Robber Barons could provide a development model for Nigeria?”

“You see,” said my lady visitor, “Nigeria’s billionaires could do like the Robber Barons: invest their stolen billions in manufacturing industries, agriculture and education, thereby creating millions of jobs and transforming the country from a rural backwater to a modern 21st century industrial state that even their grandchildren would be proud of.”

“You mean after the EFCC shall have dealt with them?”

“The EFCC is so toothless it’s a national embarrassment. And the Nigerian judiciary is even worse.”

“I guess you should know…”

“I should know. I am one of these public criminals. Everyone knows exactly how I made my money; but no one can ever say it to my face. Instead they feel privileged when I shake their hand or smile at them. My picture is in the newspapers virtually every day. Whatever I say is reproduced and quoted, even if twisted. I am a celebrity.”

“But you decided to turn your wealth to public purposes, if I do recall . . .”

“Yes. I forgave myself. And I am devoting the balance of my life to the development of my community: healthcare, roads, light, water; building schools, training and paying teachers; equipping the youth with technical skills; building a factory that will employ hundreds.”

“But the country is sold on foreign direct investment, FDI. That’s what our economists advise.”

“What we need is DI, domestic investment. And we have money for it . . . You think foreigners will develop your country for you? Foreigners are here for what they can get out of the country. Show me one country in the world that foreigners developed for the benefit of the natives . . . ?”

 

ONWUCHEKWA JEMIE

ojemie@s19080.p615.sites.pressdns.com/en

0703-946-0162