RICH NATION, POOR NATION: A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES
By Akin Ojumu
Apart from the occasional government shutdowns and the consequent no paychecks, one of the serendipities of my job is that I get to travel around the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. I’m currently on one of such taxpayer sponsored travels, and the destination this time around is, Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Although soccer is one thing that most people will point to as common between Nigeria and Brazil, the two countries share a lot more in common than the beautiful game of football.
Ranked 5th on the list of the world’s most populous nations, Brazil – with its 209 million people – has 2.73 percent of the world’s population and is the most populous nation in the South American continent. On the other hand, Nigeria with its 193 million people is ranked 7th, constituting 2.5 percent of the world’s population, and is the most populous nation in Africa. The two countries are among the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world. While 1 in 5 black people in the world is a Nigerian, outside of Africa, Brazil has the largest population of black people.
Both countries have vast tropical forest teeming with diverse wildlife and abundant natural resources. They are lands that can be said to be flowing with the milk and honey of nature. So fertile are the two nations, that you could throw a corn seed anywhere and forget about it, and in a few short months, it would have grown to fullness without any cultivation whatsoever.
Brazil and Nigeria, as nation entities, are the invention of European settlers. While the Portuguese ruled over Brazil, Nigeria was the vassal of feudal Lords from the British Empire. The lingua franca in both countries are those of their colonial masters.
Following independence, Brazil and Nigeria established a parliamentary system of self-government. This experiment with civilian self-rule was short-lived in both countries, prematurely terminated by military coups, and authoritarian military juntas would soon follow. Military rule lasted for 21 and 29 years in Brazil and Nigeria respectively.
Like Nigeria, Brazil is a very religious country. Religion in Brazil was formed from the meeting of the Catholic Church with the religious traditions of enslaved African and indigenous peoples. This confluence of faiths during the Portuguese colonization of Brazil led to the development of a diverse array of syncretistic practices within the overarching umbrella of Brazilian Catholic Church, characterized by traditional Portuguese festivities, and in some instances, Spiritism (a religion which incorporates elements of spiritualism and Christianity). The most common Protestant denominations are Pentecostal and Evangelical ones. (Source: Wikipedia).
And that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
On the account of their nominal GDPs alone (which is the monetary value of all goods and services a country produces), Brazil and Nigeria have some of the largest economies in the world; 5th and 22nd respectively. However, GDP alone does not reflect real differences between standard of living and inflation (Source: Wikipedia).
The Human Development Index (HDI), is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators. The HDI consists of very high, high, medium, and low categories. A country scores higher HDI when the life expectancy at birth is longer, the education period is longer, and the income per capita is higher. It is used to distinguish whether the country is a developed, a developing or an underdeveloped country. (Source: Wikipedia).
Ranked 157th and in the low HDI category, Nigeria is considered an underdeveloped low-income nation. Brazil, on the other hand, is in the high HDI category, and considered an advanced emerging economy and classified as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank.
With all the similarities in terms of population, land mass, natural resources, decades of military dictatorship, etc., how is it that Brazil is considered a rich nation and Nigeria poor?
The answer is not too far-fetched.
For many years following independence, and guided by visionary leaderships – both military and civilian – Brazil has been successful in developing strong, self-perpetuating and self-sufficient systems and structures that create an enabling environment for the growth and development of the nation. In Nigeria, however, the dearth of visionary leadership and perpetual recycling of short-sighted military and civilian leaders have brought upon the country weak, or even non-existent, institutions and structures for growth and development.
Nigeria is mostly a one-legged stool economy that runs on oil. Constituting close to 90 percent of the nation’s foreign exchange, oil is what keeps Nigeria going. The annual national budget is based on, and subject to the variability of, the cost of oil per barrel. When the oil market sneezes, the Nigeria economy catches cold. Oil is to Nigeria what oxygen is to the human being. Without oil, the engine that runs Nigeria will quickly knock.
Meanwhile, Brazil without a single drop of oil - until recently - has been able to cultivate, and tap into, all the natural resources that the nation is blessed with. The country runs a diversified economy that includes agriculture, industry, tourism, etc. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry, logging and fishing account for a significant percentage of the country’s GDP. Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world, and Brazilian coffee ranks among the best in the world. The country is also the largest producer of oranges, sugar cane, cassava, soybeans and papayas. (Source: Wikipedia).
The enabling environment (systems and structures) created through good governance and long-term thinking leadership, has made it possible for Brazil to attract some of the highest revenue yielding manufacturing industries in the world. The country is home to Embraer, the 3rd largest producer of civil aircraft that is headquartered in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In addition, automobiles, steel, petrochemicals, and computers industries litter the landscape of Brazil, and together they account for over 30 percent of the GDP.
It has been 5 days since I arrived in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre – a quaint city with narrow roads and buildings with European styled architectures – the electricity has been steady, and not once has it fluttered. From the tap ceaselessly flows both cold and hot water 24/7. The road networks here are excellent; with adequate drainage system. And the bars on my mobile phone and my computer have remained consistently high at 4.
In Brazil, there is a universal healthcare system that provides free healthcare to all the citizens, so that no one goes without access to healthcare. The public healthcare is complemented by a private healthcare system for those who want it. The hospitals, which are some of the best in the world, are fully equipped and well run, and they are not where you go and never return.
The education system in Brazil has actually established good schools that produce properly educated graduates. The education system is the responsibilities of the 3 tiers of government – (national, state, and local) – and it is their job to manage and organize the education systems in the respective locales. The quality of the education system is reflected in a literacy rate that is over 90 percent – one of the highest in the world.
Unlike Nigeria where judicial appointments are mostly based on tribal origins and the so-called federal character, in the Brazilian judicial system, judges and other judiciary officers are only appointed and promoted upon passing a compulsory exam. The best and brightest candidates get to sit on the bench. The level of oversight and scrutiny makes it nearly impossible to have the Chief Justice of the Federation caught in a web of corruption and a scandal involving ill-gotten wealth.
Since independence, Brazil has operated a multi-party political system that is comprised of 4 major political parties with well described and very distinct political ideologies. In Brazil, if you are literate and between 18 and 70 years old, voting in elections is mandatory. The electoral process in the country is devoid of the rancor, turmoil, and post-election fire and brimstone typical of the Nigeria political milieu.
While not completely without the typical hiccups that characterize politics everywhere, the political process in Brazil has successively produced leaders who have contributed their part to strengthening the existing systems and structures in the country.
The successive luck – or the conscious effort made – in electing leaders that have what it takes to move the country forward is what separates Brazil from Nigeria. That is the difference between Brazil being classified a rich country where ample opportunities abound, and Nigeria a pauper nation, where its people scrounge for meagre existence on a daily basis.