• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Nigeria’s developmental challenges and the urgent need for elite consensus (I)

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Nigeria’s mounting economic challenges have always been a source of worry for its citizens and uncomfortable embarrassments to many others for decades. We talk and complain about it constantly, and in election cycles as we have now, politicians keep chiming in with their opinions on how to deal with these difficulties. But lacking in these conversations is a consensus among the elites on what our national goal should be and how best to approach our developmental difficulties. An agreement among the critical segments of the society on how best to tackle its developmental agenda is so important that no nation can ever make progress without it. It is the major reason Nigeria has remained stunted, and is derisively being dubbed as a “sleeping giant of Africa’’.

Nigeria ought to be a wealthy country, given its huge oil, gas and mineral resources, vast fertile land and a young and talented population. Yet, according to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Nigerians are poorer today than they were just a decade ago, and 40 percent of our citizens live on less than $1.9 (N1,200) a day.

Aware of the centrality of elite consensus as a critical success factor in national development, the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation this week brought in Prof. Stefan Dercon, an expert in that area, from Oxford University, into the country to hold a conversation with hundreds of the Nigerian elites and members of the privileged class. Dercon is a professor of Economic Policy at Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, former Chief Economist for DFID and development policy advisor to successive UK Foreign Secretaries.

In his book, ‘Gambling on Development: Why Some Nations Win and Others Lose’, Dercon argues that the answer to a country’s development lies not in a specific set of policies, but in a key development ‘bargain’, where the elite shift from protecting their own positions to gambling on growth-based future for their nation. He explores why some countries have managed to settle on elite bargains favouring growth and development, while others, such as Nigeria, have not, leading to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions.

Read also: Oxford professor says elite consensus, others key to Nigeria’s development

The conversation, held at the posh Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, was chaired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, while Ifueko Okauru, a former chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service; and Prof Attahiru Jega, former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, were the discussants. Although the event coincided with the presentation of National Awards by President Muhammadu Buhari to some 400 Nigerians in Abuja, it was nevertheless well attended to the full capacity of the hotel’s conference hall. Many others joined through YouTube and Zoom.

In his introductory remarks, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, chairman of Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation, spoke of how nervous he has been about the nation’s troubled trajectory, and how strikingly similar these feelings are similar to the ones he had when he was preparing to buy Access Bank 20 years ago. “My nervousness about our country is largely in the sense of anticipating what we can do to save our country and how we can build a consensus of the important stakeholders around it. In the foundation, we have always focused on capability and competence, but these are not enough to rebuild a nation of our dream.

We must come with a consensus of the critical stakeholders on how we can build a prosperous and enduring nation. If we don’t reach a consensus on how best to develop Nigeria, the future of the country will continue to be dire; and my wife and I can’t live with the possibility of a failed Nigeria,’’ Aig-Imoukhuede said, with his voice filled with emotions. He and his wife, Ofovwe, cofounded the foundation, which is focused on building the capacity of the nation’s public sector through a number of initiatives.

Former President Obasanjo, who is also the chairman of the foundation’s Leadership Council, took off from there and emphasised the importance of the consensus among the elite, “so that we can keep doing what is right consistently and continually’’. He recalled his experience with Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore, some years ago. He had led some 40 young African leaders to visit the former Singaporean leader. “For three days we met and brainstormed with Lee and his team, and at the end of the three days, the young leaders were eager to learn the Singaporean magic from the former Prime Minister,’’ according to Obasanjo. “There is no magic wand’’, Yew answered, adding, “We did a few things right; and we continued to do that right.’’

I was pleased to see Obasanjo in person after a long while. He looks well and alert for an 85-year-old and sounds mentally fit, coherent and articulate; his voice, still strong and coarse, and not betraying any signs of weariness. It was my first time seeing him since I bumped into him in Hilton elevator 15 years ago. On Nigeria’s protracted problems, the former President said, “We seem not to take national development and growth seriously, but only individual development.”

The former President recalled that “in Ikoyi up till 1975, there were no fences around the houses and homes. National security was reasonably good and so was individual security as well. Today, we are competing with one another on whose prison walls around the homes are taller’’. This elicited laughter and applause. Aig-Imoukhuede had earlier introduced Obasanjo by noting that the three occasions the country seemed to have made remarkable progress were when the Otta farmer was at the helm of our affairs.