By Professor Anya O. Anya


There is also the American Revolution (1787), the Meiji Revolution (1860) in Japan and the communist revolutions in Russia (1917) and later in China (1947). The incomplete revolution in Korea led to the division of the Korean peninsula to North and South Korea with two political and economic systems. As we can surmise not all revolutions ended in inclusive political and economic systems. As it has been observed, the rich countries of today are those that undertook the journey of industrialisation and technological change and the poor ones are those that did not. As Acemoglu and Robinson have stated: “World inequality exists today because during the 19th and 20th centuries, some countries were able to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution and the technologies and methods of organisation that it brought while others were unable to do so. Technological change is not only one of the engines of prosperity, it is the most critical one”.

Moreover, the societies which permitted and provided relevant incentives to their citizens to invest in new technologies which enabled them to grow rapidly in contrast to the nations firmly in the grip of extractive political and economic institutions which could not generate such incentives. Spain and Ethiopia before the dawn of the 19th century were in the grip of absolutist control to the extent that the environment provided no incentives and the incipient economic institutions asphyxiated whatever initiatives that could thrive.

In Nigeria, colonialism strangled whatever progress that could have arisen in the political and economic sphere. Before then was the slave trade that exported the best of the human capital of these societies. The damage to the indigenous Nigerian political and economic systems can best be appreciated when it is remembered that the Itsekiri nation had ambassadors to the Portuguese royal palace in the 16th century even as the streets of Benin City enjoyed street lights at night long before London could enjoy the same facility.

The situation in South Africa is of special interest. There was a dual political and economic system operated such that African miners’ wages fell by 30% between 1911 and 1921. By 1961 despite relatively steady growth of the economy, miner’s wages were still 12% lower than they were in 1911! On the other hand, South African Whites had property rights, invested heavily in education, while the extraction of the minerals, gold and diamond, was firmly in the hands of the White South Africans who sold them at phenomenal profits to other individuals in the global market. Over 80% of the population was excluded from any meaningful economic activities given the chokehold the White population exercised over the political system under the apartheid system. Black South Africans were precluded from using their talents and skills to become business men, entrepreneurs, scientists or engineers. While the Africans grovelled in poverty, White South Africans luxuriated in affluence comparable to the best living standards of their cousins in Europe. This oppressive extractive system could not last forever. By 1970, the South African economy had stopped growing and by 1994 apartheid finally crumbled as did the Soviet-Russian system a few years earlier.

Governance, development and concept of the elite

Governance systems emerge in response to the political and economic institutions that arise in societies. It could be feudalistic as we saw earlier which is often dominated by an oligarchy. Often the interplay of forces leads to the emergence of particular forms of governance which may redefine the particular political and economic system. For example, in 1688 Britain underwent the Glorious Revolution which transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation. People fought for and won more political rights and they used them to enlarge their economic opportunities. The result was a fundamentally different political and economic direction which gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and a new pattern of economic development and prosperity.

This created a new environment that spawned capitalism and the variety of democratic systems – social democracy, liberal democracy, liberalism, etc. All these were anchored on the need for the practice of representative democracy. In most societies, alongside the political, social and economic changes, a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power or skills emerge in the society. This is the power elite who through their control of the governance systems, manage the policies and the process of national dialogue and consensus building. In Nigeria, for example, it was reported recently that 80% of the N5 trillion debt owed to the banking system is held by no more than 20 individuals and their corporate buddies! Without question, the value system, the sense of ethical responsibility and the obligations which such an elite espouses can make or mar the future of the society and may therefore foreclose or accentuate the possibility of a social cataclysm or revolution.

In Britain, for example, the first five decades of the 19th century, perhaps up to 1850, was a period of increasing social unrest arising from economic inequities and political disenfranchisement. The Luddites led a fight against the introduction of new technologies. Alongside this was also an emerging consensus among the elite that the buildup of social unrest needed to be turned away by meeting the needs of the mass of the people, even if it included parliamentary reform. There was a strong mantra represented in the phrase noblisse oblige – “nobility obliges”. In other words, leadership imposes responsibility and obligations on the leadership. While a school of thought within the elite toyed with the idea of repression in other to avoid opening up the political space further, they ultimately pulled back from the brink. New reforms were granted because the elite thought that reform was the only way to avoid another revolution and the imperative of securing their rule. As the Earl Grey, Prime Minister (1830-1834) who presided over the passage of the Reform Acts observed: “The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution: reforming to preserve and not to overthrow”

Pluralism and inclusiveness which much of the reforms induced creates positive feedback between inclusive economic and political institutions and led to the development of inclusive markets which facilitated efficient allocation of resources and greater encouragement for individuals to acquire education, new skills and to pursue innovation. In the United States, the rise of the Robber barons and their monopoly trusts in the late 19th and early 20th century underlines the fact that the presence of markets is not in themselves a guarantee of inclusive institutions since markets can be dominated by a few firms charging exorbitant prices and blocking the opportunities for the entry of more efficient rivals and new technologies. When the Robber barons posed a threat to the inclusive political institutions the free flow of information engendered by the free media served to mobilise friendlier forces that countered the unhindered monopolies that were threatening the foundation of inclusive political and economic institutions.

  1.   Lessons for Nigeria

Having now taken a snapshot view of global development, the environment that conduces to desirable and acceptable outcomes, the character and values of the elite and the leader who can drive the social system to the desired end, we need to situate these lessons within the context of the Nigerian environment. In tackling the challenge we need to answer three questions –

  •     What lessons have we learnt that are applicable to the Nigerian situation?
  •      What is the current state and challenges that faces Nigeria at this juncture in her history?
  •     What must we do to steer the ship of state to the desirable and equable harbour?

It is now obvious that successful societies in terms of prosperous and peaceful development are those that have striven for inclusiveness in the midst of diversity in their political and economic systems. The elite has dominantly worked within a context in which the emphasis is on their responsibilities and obligations to the society rather than their rights and privileges. The leader has usually been a knowledgeable person with character, who stands out by his personal self-confidence and humility. He/She need not be a know-all but his persona must exude trust with a capacity to mobilise citizens across boundaries and dividing lines.

Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a multi-dimensional crisis. We are in a political, social, economic and moral crisis. Cardinal Okogie was quoted recently to have diagnosed our situation when he observes that we are allergic to the truth and are addicted to falsehood. The depth of the moral crisis cannot be more aptly stated. What is the evidence on the ground?

The cacophony of voices on the political issue of restructuring is a measure of the level of dissonance in the political system. Nigeria is a diverse society that is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Not surprisingly our pre-independence leaders chose a federal system of governance which will over time build a united but diverse nation of shared values of inclusiveness and national purpose. The military intervention destroyed this foundation and planted the seeds of division and centrifugal political forces. There cannot be a peaceful nation unless we return to the basics of federalism as the foundation of our national enterprise. The political challenge is how to operationalize Chapter II of our constitution- the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Unfortunately it would appear that current political actors do not see and do not hear.

With regard to the economy we are faced with two fundamental obstacles: while our economy is growing at the miserly rate of 2%, our population is growing currently at 3.8% nearly double the economic rate of growth. So there is a fundamental dissonance between our demography and our economy. Additionally, the Debt Management office tells us that our debt as of 2015 was a little over 12 trillion naira but is now over 25 trillion naira as of 2019. In other words we have borrowed in 3 years more than we borrowed in 30 years previously! Much of the extra loans have been applied to recurrent expenditure given that most state governments could not even pay salaries. Indeed it has been alleged that we spend 60-70% of our total earnings in servicing debts i.e. paying interests (NOT re-paying loans). In spite of these, the fact is that the normal metrics of economics continues southward – unemployment, inflation, productivity are not giving us cheering news either. The empanelling of an Economic Advisory Council is a step in the right direction but we must remind ourselves that these brilliant and eminent economists are no magicians. We must face the gravity of our current situation. In this context we must appeal to our leaders to wean themselves from an emerging attitude that is not helpful in our present circumstances: the tendency, to reply without deep reflection and usually with opinions rather than facts to any comments on our economy or other affairs often occasiond by new facts from research, whether from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, foreign and local respected think tanks etc. The well-known advice is here relevant: when in a hole stop digging. It is also important to put in a word relating to the matter of trust. Absolute trust in a leader is vital. A leader who will lead in an era of change must enjoy total confidence and trust of the citizens.

The social crisis is as frightening as the economic crisis with tales of banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, insurrection, militancy and the rampaging herdsmen. It would often seem as if the apocalypse has arrived. Historians of British history suggest that our situation is comparable to the situation of Great Britain in the years 1800-1850. The emergence of a leadership that understood and read the times accurately and accepted the responsibility and obligations of leadership made the difference. They steered their society away from the brink, embraced social and technological changes that ushered in the Industrial Revolution. The lesson is that it is possible to rechart a new course and there are Nigerians who have the capacity to steer us away from the brink if we are prepared to mobilise our best and brightest in a new challenge to rebuild and restore the dream of Nigeria. As an aside it is also important to observe that the campaign against corruption is an important issue on the social agenda. But corruption is a symptom not a disease. We must reexamine our strategies on this matter in order to tackle the disease and not merely the symptom.

What gives me confidence that we can face the new challenge to rebuild a new Nigeria are two facts of our present reality – as difficult as the circumstances are, our youths are doing fantastic things: unremarked and uncelebrated. Beyond the hordes of the unemployed and the uneducated are also battalions of brilliant men and women who do the unexpected that often challenge their peers in other nations. To challenge and incentivize them should be the current priority. They are there if we look carefully.

We must learn to celebrate our successful and exemplary citizens. In this regard let me ask the fatuous question: where was Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Ernest Azudialo-Obiejesi, Leo Stan Ekeh, Aig Imoukhede twenty five years ago? They are all products of the modest economic reforms that came after the debacle of the Structural Adjustment Programme particularly in the Oil Industry, Banking and Technology. If there is any regret on the modest success of those years it is the fact that we did not have the sharpness of mind and heart to ground the new wealth in the productivity of our people and hence develop an equitable process to share the new opportunities with the mass of the people. Consequently, we have allowed a grossly unequal society to emerge hence the social crisis. We can tackle it by understanding the seeds of our success and the genesis of inequality which is presently a decomposed fly in the sweet smelling ointment of our success. If truth be told we were able to engineer reforms in the private sector with incentives but did not institute an equivalent system in the public sector. The situation in the public sector has been worsened by the repudiation of the principles of merit, competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence in the public sector despite the stipulations of our constitution as enshrined in the federal character principle.

The failures in the public sector has seeped through into the political space and has insidiously corrupted the politics and management of the society by institutionalizing a culture of greed, mediocrity and self-aggrandisement as the reward for political engagement. Indeed, if the uncomfortable truth must be told the opinion of the younger generation is that no one who has participated in the politics of Nigeria in the last thirty years should be allowed to participate any further in the politics that hopefully will usher in the new Nigeria going forward. The politics and economics of the new era needs a new culture that sprouts from a new mindset of the leaders.

Where can we begin? We must start from the recognition that the current situation is beyond the capacity of our political elite: it is beyond the capacity of APC as a party and government. It is beyond the capacity of the PDP or indeed any of the multitude of parties. We need to start again by instituting a new programme of national regeneration, restoration and renewal. We must mobilise our people beyond the political parties, beyond the ethnicities and other diversities and, beyond the limitations of our current situation. In this effort we must commit to Non – Violent Communication (NVC). So where are the wise elders? Where are the insightful statesmen? And where are the brilliant and industrious youth who are prepared to rebuild from the foundations?

I am done. Thank you all for your patience and tolerance.




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