• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Nigeria’s developmental challenges and the urgent need for elite consensus (II)

Thus saith the lord?

As former President Olusegun Obasanjo was speaking, I felt a gentle brush on my shoulder, and turned around to see Mr Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate, walking in gently to avoid causing distractions.

He sat in the front row directly in front of me with Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, former deputy governor at CBN who now runs an NGO called Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation; Mr Pascal Dozie, elder statesman and founder of Diamond Bank, and Dr Okey Enelamah, former minister of industry, trade and investment. This was my first time seeing Obi since we left UNN together in the mid-1980s. There was a host of other professionals, businesspeople, politicians, etc.

I looked around the hall, and noticed that many people were taking notes. Obi himself was typing diligently on his handheld device as Obasanjo was winding down his presentation. “We have had a few rare moments of elite consensus, when the elite had stuck out their neck for national development’,’ the former President concluded, “And one of them was when they formed the G34 Group…’’.

This was the group that was established soon after the death of Gen. Sani Abacha and MKO Abiola by some eminent persons and led by the late former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme.

It later transformed into the PDP. It was one of the elite pressure groups that the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met when he visited Nigeria during the fast-paced transition government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar to encourage the country to stay the course. Annan later poured encomiums in his memoires on G34 for its roles in stabilising the polity in those uncertain days.

Obasanjo then invited Dercon to speak; his being the main act of the day. With 12 slides replete with charts and statistics, the professor started off with some sobering numbers. In 1990, 18 countries had both more than 8 million people and more than 20 percent of its population in extreme poverty.

Of these 18 million, only Ghana and Ethiopia had halved poverty by 2018; but seven countries more than doubled the number of people in extreme poverty – Angola, DRC, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia.

He then drove home the point that three key steps are necessary to achieve development through elite consensus or elite bargain: 1) The country must genuinely seek an elite coalition for peace and for stability; 2) The country should be self-aware as a state; not ideologically that the state should lead or not, but the state should appreciate its weaknesses and its strengths; 3) The country should possess systems of internal or external accountability, as the basis for learning.

Dercon identified three key factors that matter in development: a) A country’s history. Here, he acknowledges that colonialism really had debilitating impacts on African countries such as DRC.

He noted that natural resources have not helped Africa much; rather, it is the historical experiences of each country and the sensible policies they consistently pursue that conduce to growth and development; (b) A long-term vision of the country laced with a long spell of peace and development is also very important. Ghana is a good example. It is not also all about democracy, but a system of government that works for a particular country.

A country must therefore be self-aware that it can achieve what it sets out to do based on a system of meritocracy; (c) Stability and continuity are another important factor that promotes growth and development. It does not mean that there won’t be failures and mistakes along the way, but the country should pursue learning, accountability, meritocracy and performance. Kenya has shown some promise here.

Mrs Ofovwe Aig-Imoukhuede, the executive vice chairman of the foundation, had earlier told us of how she and Aigboje had met Dercon at Oxford during one of their visits and, wowed by the lecture he gave, they asked him to visit Nigeria and share his experience. He did not disappoint.

The other two moderators, Okauru, an accountant and change management consultant, remembered for her transformational leadership at FIRS, and Jega, former INEC chairman, who midwifed the 2015 general elections, also made enriching and incisive contributions to the conversation. Jega said that he had read Dercon’s book and commended him for the work.

He gave a conspectus of the book and promptly took up the Belgian author on two issues. If the elites have to agree on the direction of development, how is the elite bargain constructed? Who drives it? Okauru emphasised the important roles of good leadership and asked Nigerians to be more intentional while electing leaders.

Read also: Nigeria’s developmental challenges and the urgent need for elite consensus (I)

During the questions and answers session that followed, I asked about the impacts of colonialism on Africa’s development, while others probed on the roles of education and finance and national assets on development.

Moghalu chose to make a comment in which he identified four components of the Nigerian elites:

i) Former President and Heads of States; ii) top traditional rulers; iii) Top politicians and iv) Top businesspeople, including media owners.

He suggested that Nigeria’s former Presidents and Heads of State should be more involved in the leadership selection process like in Botswana, rather than allowing the process to run “like gambling enterprise’’ as we have now.

Moghalu asserted that our elites have failed to arrive at a consensus on Nigeria’s developmental challenges, and so the Nigerian youths are becoming a strong social force who may “force a change, and if things are not properly managed, it could go out of hand, depending on how the elections go’’.

He received a rousing applause. I’m sure that the statement had resonated well with Peter Obi whose main supporters are the young. I tapped him and asked him to make a comment. He declined. “I only came here to learn,’’ he said, smiling. After his comments, Moghalu made to leave. It was getting to the end of the National Conversation, but Obasanjo asked him to wait for his own response.

The former President noted that the reason former leaders don’t seem to be active in our politics is because the incumbent usually resents the active participations of the formers and if “you push too much, you may experience what happened to Obasanjo’’, an obvious allusion to his 1995 experience with Gen. Sani Abacha. We laughed.

Among other dignitaries at the event were Hajia Binta Ismail of the Nigeria Exchange Group; Hajia Mairo Bashir, a banker; Prof. Konyin Ajayi, SAN and Folusho Phillips, founder of Phillips Consulting and one of the brains behind Nigerian Economic Summit Group.

The Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation’s National Conversation on Elite Consensus moves to Abuja soon. I hope that the political class, especially the other major presidential candidates, will attend. This certainly is one of the best initiatives from Aigboje, the former banker-turned-philanthropist, and his wife.