James O’Neill, British economist, Goldman Sachs’ ex-philosopher-king and the oracle of global rising economic powers, has finally elaborated on the logic of his latest coinage MINT, (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) as the next set of emerging market powers in a few decades ahead. Listening again to his investment banker minded journalism on BBC Radio 4 recently, I could see more clearly the problematic nature of his inclusion of Nigeria in that bracket for any student of politics of development. Instructively, Nigeria was a grudging and last minute inclusion, replacing the more qualified but demographically disqualified South Korea. The inclusion of Nigeria is problematic in that the logic of its inclusion has ignored several issues that are at the heart of Nigeria’s unique and embarrassing underdevelopment. That is the country’s lack of the power elite and state coherence to achieve. In other words, Nigeria is not so much about sorting out the electricity supply crisis or fighting corruption but fundamentally a crisis of state.
But let us begin by admitting the genius of O’Neil’s inclusion of Nigeria on that list. It is doubtful if any other thing has had the healing effect that oracular construction must have had on national psyche in Nigeria. This is a country which has been used to hearing it is heading for implosion for so long. And then suddenly, it hears that it is heading for the club of the prosperous and powerful. It must have been a pretty good New Year gift because things are so bad that Nigerians must have thought the world has forsaken them to their oily fate.
One is not currently in a position to ‘‘read’’ much of the Nigerian press and what they made of it but the fact that a mandarin of Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) has made elaborate but propagandistic reference to Nigeria’s membership of MINT is one admissible evidence of my claim. We are even lucky that the current regime in Nigeria is not very creative in self-projection. Otherwise, O’Neill’s proclamation is the sort of thing a Nigerian regime with a brilliant information management strategy would have so systematically appropriated for propaganda purposes not only because of O’Neill’s oracular standing in this matter after the success of his BRICS semantic adventure but also because the idea of Nigeria joining the prestige club of developed economies is a most useful constructivism or ideology, if you like, around which an effective politician rather than a transactional leader or regime can quickly mobilize the entire country.
But and this is a big but, there are a number of peculiarities that O’Neill’s MINTing of Nigeria either ignored or could not appreciate. This is apart from the thesis that three decades is too long and would be a case of too little, too late for Nigeria to be attaining in the late 2020s the level of development that it should have attained several decades ago. These peculiarities constitute what I refer to as the Nigerian Exceptionalism but which operates as a direct opposite of say, American Exceptionalism. While American Exceptionalism is a brilliant power elite’s manifesto for “accumulation on a world scale’ or what Michael Desch calls America’s liberal illiberalism, Nigerian Exceptionalism is the unbelievable lack of agency on the part of an otherwise sophisticated African power elite. Totally overwhelmed by its privileges and commodious life chances granted them by Nigeria’s excessive blessing in human and material resources, this ruling elite is completely and permanently incapable of any sense of shame that the country is still at the level it is today, development wise. This is one point that did not appear to have informed Jim O’Neill’s oracular enterprise this time.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, out-going governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, referred to this in his distinction of corruption in Nigeria from corruption in other countries. It is said that while Bill Clinton, a former American president was looking for apartment to rent in New York sometimes back, the typical Nigerian politician which could range from a councilor in a municipal authority to legislators, governors, ministers, heads of federal agencies and extra-ministerial departments and the presidency could afford to buy and maintain houses in most western capitals. Now, they are shifting to Dubai and emerging centres of entrepreneurial creativity in the Middle and Far East and they are not embarrassed by this.
One must thus reckon with something that, for want of a more appropriate concept for now, I would call the developmental sadism of the Nigerian power elite. Here, I cannot but again recall that statement by an ambassador to a delegation of a former Nigerian foreign affairs minister in Morocco in 2002 that the most princely building one sees in the country side in Morocco is most likely to be a public primary school or so. This is not the kind of statement anyone can or is making in Nigeria which, unlike Morocco, has oil money. O’Neill can bear testimony to the fact that Nigeria does not even appreciate the import of such a statement and the evidence would be in the school he visited in a Lagos suburb. Hence the thesis of the developmental sadism of the power elite in Nigeria.
So, Nigeria is so exceptional as to make any element of over confidence about it to be misplaced because, unlike other elite formations everywhere else, the Nigerian elite does not think for the nation. The result is that Nigeria, as it is, is an ungoverned space, not in the American sense of the phrase but in the sense that the Nigerian state is so incoherently constituted that it is comparable to the nuclear bomb. The tragedy and nightmare about the nuclear bomb is not so much that it will necessarily be exploded in a nuclear war but even more so by someone somewhere acting on wrong information or even misreading the right information or just being human.
To the extent of this comparison between Nigeria and the nuclear bomb in terms of the possibility of what the Nigeria Police would call “accidental discharge”, the notion of MINTing Nigeria looks an oracular misstep. More so that there are no signs of a collective rethink. This claim can be illustrated with the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), the ruling party today in Nigeria.
The PDP has a fascinating history if we discount the angry and justifiable abuses thrown at it today, the most remarkable and most recent being Kashim Shettima, Borno State governor’s piercing declaration that “apart from colonialism and slave trade, nothing so terrible has befallen Nigerians in the last 14 years more than the emergence of PDP rule at the national level”. Coming from one of the few educated and qualitative governors in Nigeria, this is a real statement for reflections, especially the coupling of the PDP with the slave trade.
Still, the PDP remains an exemplar in successfully contesting Sani Abacha, the late rugged military dictator who wanted to transmute into a civilian president in 1998. The PDP is also the first Nigerian post Independence political party which successfully transcended Nigeria’s impossible ethnic, religious, cultural, geographical/geo-political and tendency diversity. For these reasons, its disintegration is a cause for alarm because it will take time to build another such party which no one can associate with any ethnic, geo-political, religious or even tendency identity.
I always consider the activists of the defunct Institute of Civil Society the real founders of the PDP of today because that was the point at which the more difficult task of conceptualizing the party took place, making that level and those who worked on it the real founders of the PDP. That is why my list of founders of PDP is always a very essentialist list encompassing no more than Alex Ekwueme, Vice-President in the Second Republic; the late Bola Ige, Adamu Ciroma, late Solomon Lar, late Abubakar Rimi, late Francis Ella, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Sule Lamido and Jerry Gana. My list is, therefore, not a denigration of the founder status of other actors in PDP’s process of becoming.