• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Elite consensus and national development

Charting Nigeria’s path to renewal: A blueprint for forward thinking

Elite consensus is a phenomenon that most developed social formations have in common. The concept refers to a situation in which members of the elite are unanimous about the fundamental norms of the social system. As a group, they agree on the basic rules of the game and the imperative of preserving the political and social system. This is because the system has clearly worked for them.

Indeed, the stability of the system, even its survival, depends on the consensus of those who have been most successful in the system. Little wonder therefore that some scholars have contended that elites have a special stake in the continuation of the system in which their privileges rest. However, elite consensus does not prevent elite members (as witnessed in, say, the Bush-Clinton face-off) from disagreeing or competing with each other for pre-eminence.

Indeed, when comparisons are made between a developing social formation like Nigeria and the developed ones, there is often the lamentation that development continues to elude us largely because there is the absence of an elite consensus. As reductionist as this perspective appears to be, there is indeed a lot of validity to this contention. Yet, the situation was not always like this. In pre-colonial times, for instance, it is possible to identity the existence of an elite consensus in the various societies until, to use the classic phrase, “things fell apart”.

On this note, it is apposite to recall the kind of cohesion which held together diverse and episodic societies like the Sokoto Caliphate, the Oyo Empire, and the various segmentary societies in the eastern part of the country.

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Then came colonialism. This was clearly a divisive feature, which by its very nature successfully polarised the emergent nationalist elite. In the process, consensus was lacking such that, although the goal of “one nation” appeared to be the objective, such a goal remained a mirage.

The situation was certainly not helped by the educational imbalance which defined colonial policy. Evidently, a relatively western-educated South pitched against the North that was largely steeped in Islamic values was a recipe for the continued dissension between the northern and southern elite in Nigeria. Unfortunately, this anomaly has continued to define or, better still, undefine the Nigerian nation in the post-colonial era.

Even then, matters were not helped by a post-colonial dynamic in which the Cold War ensured a situation in which the elites were divided along the lines of capitalism and socialism. In the context of this Manichean divide, the two different ideologies competed for the souls and minds of our elite. The untoward situation was deepened by the factors of religious and ethnic differences. Thus, from the inception of modern Nigeria from 1960 till date, the elite class has been characterised by fissiparous tendencies.

Even in the post-Cold War, when it was thought that the ‘end of history’ had come, the untoward situation of elite dissension has persisted. Matters have rather been worsened by the fact that there is even an instrumentalist dimension to the divisive features which characterise our elite. This simply refers to a situation in which issues of ethnicity and religion are usually deployed by the elite in the bid to have privileged and undue access to the nation’s resources. The result is the recurrent phenomena of squabbles and conflicts among members of the elite.

All of these negative features invariably impose severe limits on development. This is why, as we survey Nigeria in contemporary times, what comes across with acute and numbing pain is not just the Boko Haram (BH) phenomenon. Rather, it is the fact that BH can also be viewed as the manifestation of a deep-seated fissure within and among the Nigerian elite.

It is instructive to note here that BH claims as one of its objectives the quest to Islamise Nigeria. Such a quest (valid or insidious) stands in sharp contrast to the presumed secularity of the Nigerian state. And we have used the word presumed in a conscious way. This is because, as can be seen in this period of electioneering, despite the secularity of the state, there is a visible deployment of religion as a veritable instrument of legitimacy and vote gathering. Needless to say, such a seemingly innocuous posture has the consequence of rupturing any form of consensus that the elite may wish to attain.

To be sure, the lack of elite consensus is not the only drawback on our quest for national development. Still, this much is clear: if we must develop, then some form of elite consensus must be forged.

But, of course, such unanimity cannot be effected in a vacuum. It must be done in the context of that subjective variable: nationhood. The seemingly much more sophisticated social formations have had the advantages of history and experience to come up with this desired variable of elite consensus. In the process, they have had to engage in wars, compromises and trade-offs till they were able to attain this prerequisite of development.

We therefore recommend no less to our own elite. For their own sake and for the rest of society, members of this select group must come together to forge a consensus. Otherwise Nigeria will remain trapped in the throes and morass of underdevelopment.