IMF’s Neoliberal Sadomasochistic Paradise is Finally in Nigeria – By Farooq Kperogi

12 Min Read

It used to be that, like all normal human beings, ordinary Nigerians chafed at policies that choked and squeezed the life out of them, and leaders feared for and strategized over the anticipated forceful pushback of citizens in response to anti-people policies. That dynamic has died in the last eight years.

Sadomasochism, that is, pleasure in inflicting pain on others and on oneself is the new cool currency in Nigeria. Leaders are unashamed sadists (i.e., people who derive contentment from seeing others writhe in pain) and the followers are unthinking, self-immolating masochists (i.e., they obtain joy from the suffering inflicted on them by leaders, which is encapsulated in the current sterile canard that “it gets worse before it gets better,” which I’ve heard government officials utter in defense of boneheaded policies since the 1980s).

There is nowhere in the world where the destructive forces of sadism and masochism reinforce each and stroke each other’s passions with as much harmony as in today’s Nigeria. To demonize subsidies for the poor (while turning a blind eye to the extortionate subsidies for the rich) has now become intellectually and politically fashionable. It’s irrelevant that it’s wholly senseless, impoverished, illogical, and destructive. What matters is that it’s trendy because it has been repeated by IMF/World Bank-groomed opinion leaders in Nigeria.

I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people regurgitate with pride the utterly contemptible wish-wash about subsidies being bad for the poor. It’s now like an unquestioned, ill-digested religious dogma. The unjustified pride people take in repeating this stupidity flows from the faith they have invested in the thoughts, perspectives, and opinions of the thought leaders that they respect. But these thought leaders are paid poodles of the World Bank and the IMF.

These racist, neo-imperialist institutions have had tough luck everywhere in the developing world encouraging leaders to embark on programs of mass pauperization of everyday folks. Countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia, Indonesia, and Brazil have backtracked and re-instituted subsidies that the IMF had forced them to remove because of the deleterious effects of the removal of subsidies on the poor.

The Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs) that they force-fed countries in the 1980s and early 1990s (removal of subsidies, devaluation of local currencies, mass retrenchment, etc.) led to mass deaths and violent pushbacks, which caused them to pull back temporarily.

They went back to the drawing room and restrategized. They realized that they can more easily hypnotize people into swallowing their deathly pills if they invest in recruiting opinion leaders who are not directly associated with the daily grind of governance—or who have cultivated some sort of reputational capital strong enough to sway a large swath of people.

That was where people like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Peter Obi, religious leaders with mass appeal, the institutional mass media, and others came in. In the last eight years, they collectively launched studied, systematic, sustained, and single-minded demonization campaigns against “subsidies.” They were unchallenged because they were strategically stealthy and undetected.

The result is that for the first time in Nigeria’s history, removal of fuel subsidies not only provoked no hostile response, it was actually met with enthusiastic approval from even people who would be deeply consumed by it.  For the first time in Nigeria’s history, every presidential candidate, except Omoyele Sowore, bragged about removing fuel subsidies, and their audiences rejoiced and acclaimed them as visionary and brave. This is unprecedented mass hypnotism.

Now there is no credible opposition to the destructive neoliberal orthodoxy that suffocates the masses of our people. Instead, people are falling over each other to be seen to be affirming the smoldering of our people. I read a supposedly critical press statement from the PDP the other day, which said President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s only achievement has been the removal of subsidies!

One Professor Chris Nwokobia who was a member of the Labour Party/Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council lamented to Arise TV on June 29 that “Tinubu is copying Peter Obi’s planned policies, programmes.” Although it’s delusional to say Tinubu has stolen from Obi’s programs (because Obi didn’t even have a manifesto until the last few weeks of the election) Nwokobia is right that Tinubu is ruling as Obi would have ruled.

Obi is an ideologue of the Washington Consensus, a mole of the IMF and the World Bank in Nigeria. He is pro-market and anti-people. As a governor, he “saved” money and starved people. He fired workers for demanding a living minimum wage, caused needless deaths in hospitals when he ignored a one-year-plus doctors’ strike, and so on.

Plus, on the campaign trail, he popularized a false, illogical dichotomy between “consumption” and “production” where he conceptualized “consumption” to mean the people (read: subsidies for ordinary folks) and production to mean the market (read: profits for domestic and multinational corporations). He was for production and not consumption. That’s a fraudulent World Bank/IMF duality. There won’t be production without consumption, as there won’t be consumption without production.

That was why the Western financial press supported him. Although Atiku Abubakar vowed to sell everything and take away subsidies, the World Bank didn’t trust his capacity to resist pressure, particularly because he is a northerner whose people would be the most hurt by the World Bank’s death pills.

They also thought Tinubu might be too populist to implement their agenda. Now they’re pleasantly surprised that he’s compliant to their prescriptions of death for the masses of our people. That’s why they’re praising him to the skies in their media. International praises are intoxicating for low-self-esteemed, legitimacy-challenged Third World leaders.

Tinubu thinks he needs the support of the World Bank, the IMF, and other racist Western financial institutions to shore up his legitimacy. He doesn’t understand that the most important legitimacy he can have is the happiness of the people he governs.

Of course, the labor movement is dead. Its partisan association with Peter Obi, the most right-wing, anti-labor presidential candidate Nigeria has ever had, has denuded it of the last vestige of credibility it had.

We now have full-blown SAP in new robes. The SAP that Nigerians rejected with their blood because it exterminated their people is now being embraced. There is even opposition to any sort of intervention to cushion the noxiousness of fuel subsidy removal.

Historied journalist Dan Agbese was apoplectic the other day because President Tinubu had chosen to dilute, through temporary cash transfers, the potency of the toxic cocktail of IMF/World pills he has accepted for Nigerians.

“His decision came as a huge and disturbing shock to those of us who enthusiastically applauded his courage to bite the bullet by letting fuel subsidy become instant history from May 29 when he assumed office,” Agbese wrote in his column in the Daily Trust. “It was a courageous decision that blocked a major leakage in the national economy…. Sadly, he appears to have wilted in the heat of the groaning and given in to the persuasive do-gooders who care less for the poor but more for their pocket.”

That makes zero sense even with the wildest stretch of logic. But Agbese is basically saying that in this new IMF-birthed neoliberal nirvana, even a little compassion is haram. Let the people smolder. Let their bloom wither. Let them squirm in anguish. Let them die. That’s what will “save” them.

Much of Nigeria has now regressed to the stone age. Basic, taken-for-granted luxuries that had been democratized are now once again the preserve of an exclusive, privileged few. The middle class is being wiped out. The streets are empty, bleak, barren, and desolate. Only the rich can afford to drive cars, eat, and exult.

The Daily Trust of July 21 reported that “Millions of private and commercial vehicle owners have parked [their cars] at home even as traders and civil servants who could not afford high fares remained indoors with many of them saying they were waiting for a miracle to happen.”

That’s the neoliberal paradise the World Bank wants non-Western people to live in and that its witting and unwitting ideologues in Nigeria want you to accept as natural and commonsense.

There won’t be miracles. Money saved from the removal of subsidies is unlikely to be used for the benefit of the people. It will be stolen and divided among some of the same people who have relentlessly evangelized the gospel of the badness of subsidies. I hope I am wrong because that would make me happy.

But President Tinubu had pointed out that he had been asked to take his own “share” of the windfall from subsidy removal but that he spurned the offer. Who asked him to take his “share”? That clearly indicates that in the past, when subsidies were removed, people in power shared the proceeds from it but told people subsidies had to be removed because Nigeria was “broke.” When they say Nigeria is broke, they mean there isn’t enough to fund the pleasures and bottomless greed of the elites.

Although the philosophy of “compassion is haram” is now hegemonic in Nigeria, hegemony is always in a state of negotiation and renegotiation because people’s lived experiences always cause them to question assumptions that they had unquestioningly accepted. I hope we don’t get to a point where the poor have nothing left to eat but the rich.

*Kperogi is a Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, United States, and a notable columnist

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