• Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Can Nigeria become a development state?


 Nigeria’s economy continues to astonish the world by sheer virtue of its ability to defy all the Newtonian laws of gravity. We have managed to retain an annual average growth rate of nearly 7 percent over the past decade in spite of the prevailing social chaos and collective anomie. Criminality and random, nihilistic violence remain the defining character of our social ethos. Our roads have the worst record for carnage in the civilised world. Corruption is a nightmare that refuses to go away. The majority of our people live lives of quiet desperation, imprisoned in millennial poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

In the North, bloodsucking monsters have taken everybody hostage. And the more they kill and maim the more people are hardened against them. The North is gradually returning to the Stone Age in economic terms.

The paradox is that, in spite of this nightmarish scenario, Nigerians continue to hope and to smile. We are probably still the happiest people on earth. The investors keep coming with their billions, buoyed by the high returns on investments and the unrivalled opportunities in the private sector.

The military action that President Goodluck Jonathan decided to launch recently in the north-east should have come much earlier. The state, as the German sociologist Max Weber defined it, is that institution which possesses monopoly of the instruments of legitimate violence. When a group of bandits, consisting in most cases of foreign mercenaries funded by the contemptible Qataris, Iranians and others, deploy sophisticated weapons against our country, it is the duty of any government worth its salt to rise up to the challenge. But such actions must always be guided by restraint and enlightenment. From Clausewitz to our day, military force must always be seen as the continuation of politics by other means. The door must always be kept open for dialogue and reconciliation.

When all the dust would have settled, the Federal Government must put together an economic package for the economic and social reconstruction of the North. Nobody with a heart can ignore the suffering of the people of that region.

In spite of the indecorous debates about 2015, those who are wise enough know that our ship of state stands at a dangerous and portentous juncture in history. This is not the time for politics-as-usual. This is the time to change our collective mindset and to rebuild our country on the foundations of justice, morality and peace.

I have written often on the imperatives of reinventing Nigeria as a developmental state. By ‘the developmental state’, I am referring to a country where the government has assumed the driver’s seat in propelling the course of economic growth and social transformation. A key feature of the developmental state is commitment to property rights, strong markets and to the sanctity of contracts. Beginning from President Park in South Korea in the 1950s, most Asia Pacific nations that have achieved rapid growth have also been those that have implemented courageous rural-agrarian reforms. The failure of the Philippines to join the ranks of the Asian Tigers has been partly attributable to the failure of its power elites to undertake much needed agrarian reforms.

Most developmental states have also invested heavily in human capital. They have given priority to ensuring universal compulsory education, expansion of higher education, especially in technical and engineering fields, and in the training and acquisition of industrial skills by their workers.

Developmental states also tend to operate a merit-based civil service; giving the senior mandarins the leeway to develop and implement policies for rapid growth and structural transformation. They have done this through the reform of the civil service, with functionaries that are well-paid and possess a vision of national destiny and purpose.

The late American scholar, Chalmers Johnson, in his seminal study of Japanese economic development, made a distinction between states with a ‘regulatory’ orientation and those with a ‘developmental’ orientation. He referred to the United States as a country that belongs to the first type. American industrialisation, as everybody knows, was largely spurred by the private sector, with government coming in merely as a regulator. American industrialisation was led by entrepreneurs such as Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller, with much of the financing provided by the likes of J. P. Morgan and the Rothschilds. The government of the American Republic saw its role essentially as that of mitigating the excesses of the capitalists and their ensuing cartels.

Japan, on the other hand, is the prime exemplar of a country where the state played a central role in the industrialisation process. While Tokugawa Japan was dominated by the Shogun feudal aristocracy, the imperial administration of the time took a backseat as far as economic development was concerned. However, following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a re-invigorated government took it upon itself to modernise the society and industrialise the economy. Thus the state assumed a central role in the industrialisation of Japan; a process which has continued to our day.

The political economist Robert Wade did path-breaking work explaining the centrality of governance in the making of East Asian industrialisation. The astonishing transformation in the economies of countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea provided a fertile ground for testing many theories about how developing countries could escape from the shackles of backwardness. China, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Malaysia have followed a similar model with remarkable success.

What the emerging economic powers have achieved, Nigeria can also. We have the innate potential to become a prosperous democracy and a light unto the nations. But this is where the philosopher’s task ends and the statesman’s begins. Our leaders must enter into a new covenant with God and with the people – a covenant of righteousness. It requires nothing less than a revolution in the ethos of leadership; in reinvention of government – in mobilisation of our people for national greatness and the Life More Abundant. 



Chef de Cabinet, African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.