As I read this post below I was happy that my town, Obosi is in the news for something good and happy the government is continuing with the Second Niger Bridge. However, when I read otherwise intelligent people equating infrastructure projects with love of a people, with good governance (it could be sign of it) and with so called economic benefits accruals to the beneficiaries, I got alarmed.
It is indeed worrisome and disturbing, as this kind of sentiment was widely expressed in Hitler’s Germany where he used the Highway project called Autobahn to tighten his hold on power. Many Jewish Germans praised the autobahn as an immense economic project though its economic benefit was nebulous as Germany in 1930s was the least car owing country amongst the big economies of Europe. The Autobahn helped in consolidating the view that the Nazi government meant well for Germany. Statements like “at least he is building the Autobahn” “He is better that the past governments who didn’t build any” were used to rationalize early signs of racism and growing intolerance of dissent. In truth, the design of the autobahn were largely finished and the first 20Km already built by the time he came to power.
Interestingly, all the areas that benefitted from the autobahn witnessed decreased opposition to the Nazis by the 1934 plebiscite for Hitler to combine the position of Chancellor and President. Many Jews confronted by the evidence of growing anti semitism rationalized that the economy was booming and infrastructure getting attention under the Nazis.
The second Niger bridge and the current government are not like the Nazis and the autobahn; it is the reaction that constructing this bridge or that road symbolizes love of a people, honest intentions, or meaningful progress that is the issue here. Democratic ethos, inclusiveness, respect for rule of law, appreciation of diversity and freedom are the real benefits of democracy. Economic progress is an outcome of national consensus, freedom, sensible investment in physical infrastructure and more importantly social infrastructure like education and healthcare. Increasingly, evidence is weighing on the side of those countries with credible, open and democratic norms in the economic growth matrix. Open and democratic societies are more likely to achieve better outcomes across the gamut of human indicators.
Happily, south East people are not taken by bridges and roads (we need them), their consistent opposition to the politics of ethnic domination, intolerance of opposing views, lack of respect for institutions and instinctive curtailing of freedom cannot be traded for a bridge. Unlike those who allowed the autobahn to define their analysis of the government of the day, we should focus on interrogating the content of our democratic experience under the current regime. Using a single indicator to celebrate a government that has fundamentally destroyed our national consensus, introduced unprecedented level of divisiveness, altered our nation building trajectory and reversed years of growing respect for diversity and freedom, is a sign of acute lack of sense of history.
The pyramids were built on the back of slaves, African slave labour grew America’s economy, communist Russia transformed an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse, yet the excluded and oppressed wanted and fought for freedom from slavery and communism. They did not trade infrastructure for civil liberties. We will not.