By Prof Uwem Essia
This article aims to debunk the common view held by some oikophobic Cameroonians that Nigeria is doing far better than Cameroon. The intention is not to argue that Cameroon is better than Nigeria, or vice versa, but illustrate that all that glitters is not gold; all countries (Cameroon and Nigeria inclusive) have their peculiar development challenges, each country is work-in-progress, and the commitment and patriotism of citizens are the minima required to move a country forward.
1. Oikophobia Versus Patriotism
Oikophobia is a term coined from two Greek words oikos meaning household or house and phobos meaning fear, dislike or distrust. Simply, oikophobia is an aversion to a home environment, or hatred for one’s country. It is equated to being unpatriotic and unable to identify anything good about one’s country. Similar words for oikophobia are domatophobia and ecophobia.
The poet and essayist, Robert Southey, used oikophobia in 1808 to describe a desire to leave home and travel. Later writers in the 19th century used oikophobia as a synonym for wanderlust or a strong desire to wander or travel and explore the world. More recent use of the term by Roger Scruton in his 2004 book, titled England and the Need for Nations was in the context of repudiating one’s own culture and laud others. Oikophobia is used here to describe the habit of seeing everything wrong with one’s country.
This article aims to debunk the common view held by some oikophobic Cameroonians that Nigeria is doing far better than Cameroon. The intention is not to argue that Cameroon is better than Nigeria, or vice versa, but illustrate that all that glitters is not gold; all countries (Cameroon and Nigeria inclusive) have their peculiar development challenges, each country is work-in-progress, and the commitment and patriotism of citizens are the minimum required to move a country forward.
Also, it is unfair of Cameroonians, Nigerians and indeed citizens of any country to overgeneralize the weaknesses in their country, to the extent of wishing to be citizens of any other country, or migrating abroad to stay and fight against one’s homeland.
Given that Nigeria and Cameroon are close neighbors and the fact that both became independent the same year (1960), some Cameroonians commonly argue that the pace of development in Cameroon should have been at par with Nigeria’s.
Ironically, also, during the recent EndSARS riots, many Nigerians felt that France could have done better than Britain to stop the alleged murder of protesters by the military if Nigeria was a former French colony. So it is a case of different strokes for different folks. Hence, it is argued here that such sweeping statements ignore the divergent colonial and post-independence experiences of the two countries.
Nigeria was wholly colonized by Britain, while Cameroon started out as a German territory only to be shared shortly after World War I between Britain and France. In any case, no excuse sufficiently justifies poor performance of Cameroon and Nigeria considering the exceptional strides of several fast-developing economies who gained independence by or after 1960.
Yet the divergent colonial experiences and a host of other factors like happenstances, leadership, citizens’ assertiveness, locational advantages, and resource endowments impact on each country differently, causing development priorities and performance to diverge significantly. Therefore, drawing lessons from the experiences of other countries should aim to explore how one’s country can benefit or be improved and not to simply condemn everything happening there. In a broader context, oikophobia can be described as wishful thinking because the country/culture that you prefer to yours, or have migrated to, was built/developed by people like you.
2. Political Economic Divergences and Human Development Outcomes
The unreconstructed colonial political economy and ideological structures significantly constrain the present-day development of nearly all African countries. The disruptive impact of the multiple colonial exposures on Cameroon’s development matrix is easily minimized by many commentators, not minding the fact that even in current times the ideological niches of Germany, Britain and France vary significantly; they have never indeed mixed, which in part explains Brexit and the wobbling future of the European Union.
Also in the post-independence era, Nigeria and Cameroon started out with the federal system of government. Cameroon switches to unitary rule as part of the unification reform, while Nigeria’s post-independence experience diverged with successive military takeovers and then a civil war (1967 – 1970).
Between 1960 and 2020 (51 years) Nigeria has experienced 21 years of military and 30 years of civilian rule. Over the same period also 15 (7 civilians and 8 militaries) presidents/heads of state have ruled Nigeria, and currently, there are 36 federating (sub-national units) states, and Abuja the Federal Capital Territory. Contrariwise, Cameroon has had a more stable political leadership history under Late Amadou Ahidjo as the first President and the current President Paul Biya.
Some oikophobic Cameroonian may quickly argue that the volatile political-economic history characterized by coups and counter-coups, a civil war, fragmentation into several sub-national units, and adoption of the presidential system with a four-year election cycle are the reasons for Nigeria becoming Africa’s leading economic powerhouse by GDP rating (Nigeria’s GDP is almost 10 times that of Cameroon). Such overgeneralization is difficult to substantiate empirically.
Even so, a high GDP rating hardly translates to sound microeconomic fundamentals or better living standards for the majority of the population. In particular, despite being far behind Nigeria in terms of GDP rating, Cameroonians readily have several reasons to be happy and proud of their country:
i. National Unification and Social Cohesion
Cameroonians of any ethnic group and or religion are free and safe to settle anywhere within the country without needing to return to their place of nativity, except where they voluntarily decide to do so. Despite the ongoing Anglophone crises, Cameroonians are living together happily.
Discrimination by ethnicity, language or religion is insignificant in Cameroon. What matters more is where one’s certificate of birth is established, and where you reside, school or work. It is not so in Nigeria.
Typically, a Nigerian is a native of a local government area (currently 774 local government areas are listed in the Constitution), and a citizen of a state (currently Nigeria has 36 states). Nigerians residing outside their states of origin are oftentimes treated as visitors, settlers or foreigners and may need to return to their state of origin someday.
Even women married to men from other states face discrimination with securing jobs in their husbands’ states. Religion is another divisive factor in Nigeria; Muslims and Christians rarely live peacefully within the same neighbourhood as is commonplace in Cameroon. So while Cameroonians are significantly unified, Nigeria has remained a highly divided country.
Nigerians easily constitute themselves into small groups, largely on the bases of religion and or ethnicity, whose activities may be detrimental to national unity. Although the grouping of citizens exists in Cameroon, they serve more for communal self-help and social solidarity that hardly impinge on national development or reinforcing sectarianism.
ii. Federalism vs Decentralization of State Authority
Without doubt, and notwithstanding the ongoing Anglophone crises, Cameroon can legitimately be described as a multiethnic and multilingual country where the authority of the state is supreme. All traditional and religious authorities are effectively controlled by the state, thus making enforcing law and order easier. This success factor emanates from the more direct French colonial influence and is useful for effective state control of the polity in a multiethnic developing country.
However the indirect (liberal) system bequeathed to Nigeria by the British colonist allows traditional chiefs and religious leaders to retain substantial social and emotional influence over the population, which tends to encourage unnecessary sectarianism/fundamentalism and other unpatriotic conducts. Contrariwise, the proliferation of ethnic and religious-based fundamentalism is difficult in Cameroon.
Evidently, federalism has remained a highly divisive and expensive system of government for Nigeria, and it is important for those Cameroonians clamoring for a federal system to note again that all that glitters is not gold.
From Nigeria’s experience so far, a federal system promotes the excessive quest by ethnic nationalities for greater autonomy and resource control. The population is increasingly divided into sectarian pressure groups instead of being unified as a cohesive nation.
The business of governance is diverted from promoting national development to managing the multiple demands of ethnic nationalities, whose leaders easily transform to warlords. For example, from 3 regions at independence, Nigeria currently has 36 states and there are several draft bills for the creation of more states deposited at the National Assembly. The associated costs of duplication of bureaucracies and managing avoidable inter-state conflicts generally make governance more expensive and wastes the lean resources that could have served to provide more country-wide infrastructures.
The benefit of effective distribution of state authority to grass root actors, commonly attributed to federalism is as well possible in a unitary state where the appropriate decentralization reforms are effectively implemented.
Effective decentralization can render democracy more utilitarian (even in a one-party country like China) and as well minimize the proliferation of ethnic nationality groups seeking greater autonomy and or resource control, which has become Nigeria’s Achilles’ heel. Incidentally, nearly all the East Asian Tigers and other more recent fast-moving economies were unitary states, with effectively decentralized decision making authority to grass-root actors, during the periods of their speedy rise to economic emergence.
Also, regime longevity is another strong success factor of nearly all the fast-moving economies. Indeed it has not been empirically determined if federalism and frequent regime changes can ensure effective grass-root participation where the only time citizens are able to play an important role in governance is during elections that take place every four years, or as the case may be.
However, thanks to the internet/social media revolution, adequate/suitable participation spaces/entry points that eliminate the need for citizens to travel to the capital city to get what they want and or have their voices heard can innovatively and cheaply be incorporated into decentralization reforms.
3. Human Development is More About Strong Microeconomic Fundamentals
Impressive growth in the GDP of a country is necessary but certainly not sufficient for human development, especially when the microeconomic fundamentals are grossly deficient. In other words, it is possible for a country to have beautiful cities with multiple of flyovers, multi-track highways, and a sizeable number of billionaires and yet the majority of the population still live in deprivation, squalor and abject poverty. Consider the following examples: Residential property owners in nearly all major cities/towns of Nigeria typically plan for secure water and electricity supply because the relevant public utility institutions are broadly ineffective or non-functional. However, all Cameroonian urban and peri-urban centers have functional and reliable public supply of water and electricity, and Cameroonians take regular availability of those essential services for granted. For water supply, all that may be required of a property owner is a reservoir tank. Many Cameroonians may not know what a borehole is! Also for electricity supply, households generally do not need private generators. Electricity supply outages are far in-between and oftentimes pre-announced. Families can preserve stone-iced cooked food in freezers for months.
In Nigeria prices of most essential consumables are set arbitrarily by unions, and nearly all shades of the economy is unionized. There are unions in Cameroon, but there is as well price control mechanisms and prices are not changed arbitrarily, making the business environment more predictable.
Despite the surge of Boko Haram in the North and the Anglophone crises in the West, Cameroon is far safer and secure to live and do business than Nigeria. A key factor contributing to more effective and efficient enforcement of security in Cameroon is the existence of functional identity management system that Nigeria has found very difficult to achieve despite having in existence a number of biometric identification records like national Identity Register, Bank Verification Number (BVN), drivers licensing register, electoral voters’ card register, and the registers of GSM services providers, which if consolidated can yield the biometric records of at least 70% of Nigerians. In Cameroon, not being able to produce a valid identity card on demand by an authorized security agent is a criminal offense!
a. Justice is far more accessible to the poor in Cameroon than Nigeria. An employee can simply get to the closest Labor Office to seek redress for violation of his/her rights by an employer.
Majority of labour-related disputes end at the Labor Office without a need to go to court. However, in Nigeria, the labour ministries exist but are more concerned with collective bargaining and settling union-related disputes and rarely entertain complaints of individual workers.
An aggrieved worker has to approach the Industrial Court (an equivalent of a High Court!). Also in Cameroon, any person can lodge complaints relating to rights’ violations or abusive treatment at the office of a State Counsel for action. Typically the office of a State Counsel is a Court of First Instance, where several simple cases are resolved without the formality and rigour of a regular court.
State Counsels exist in Nigeria, but they are not programmed to enhance access to justice as obtained in the Cameroonian system. Complainants necessarily have to report to the police (a possibility that exists also in Cameroon) and or seek redress in court. Considering the untimeliness and cost of court cases, many rather let the cases go, or resort to self-help.
Furthermore, agriculture although dominated by small holder farmers like in Nigeria, is so successful in Cameroon to the extent that the prices of most food items like tomatoes, potatoes, celery, parsley, leek, cabbage, etc. are nearly the same in the major towns, and food produce are averagely cheaper in Cameroon than Nigeria.
Also, the dietary mix of the population in Cameroon is skewed towards local foods that are averagely richer in micronutrients than what is obtained in Nigeria. It can be argued that the agricultural sector in Cameroon is far more insulated from the influence of crude oil earnings, and hence the so-called resource curse thesis (whereby revenue earned from crude petroleum oil exports crowd-out commitment of the population to traditional activities like agriculture, craftsmanship, etc.) has not significantly reduced the productivity of local farmers.
In Nigeria, the discovery of crude oil significantly shifted citizens’ commitment away from promoting productivity in agriculture. Rather than take up farming as a profitable vocation, many unemployed youths have become politicians and political thugs, and getting them to return to farming and other productive endeavours is a major challenge. On the contrary, Cameroon currently exports food produce to neighbouring countries – Nigeria, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Central African Republic (CAR).
Summarily, it has to be understood that Nigeria and Cameroon and all other countries, whether developed or underdeveloped have their peculiar challenges, and the scope and opportunities for improvement will always exist. What it takes is to determine and implement the relevant policies, programs and reforms. To do so effectively and efficiently, the ideas and efforts of all development stakeholders in a country, especially the citizens, are required. More importantly, Cameroonians, at home and in the Diaspora, should accept the fact that while development challenges exist as in other countries, Cameroon is much safer and secure to live in and do business than Nigeria and several other African countries. It should dawn on them also that there is no place like home. Hence all hands should be on deck to achieve the envisioned economic emergence sooner than 2035, and all forms of oikophobia should be jettisoned.
Prof. Essia is currently the Technical Adviser on Projects, Programs and Fundraising at the General Secretariat of the Pan African Institute for Development (PAID), Yaoundé, Cameroon. However, the views expressed here belong to him and do not represent the official position of PAID.