Sokoto colloquium: Scrutinising Nigeria’s potentials and way forward

When the flyers announcing the theme of this year’s colloquium (16th December 2023) – “Political/Economic Formulas for National Development” – one couldn’t help but get excited. Despite working at a university where expert colleagues analyse the state of the nation during daily breaks,  there was the feeling for fresh perspectives on the current political and economic implications of the recent ECOWAS sanctions on Niger and how they impact us, particularly Nigerian businesses in the North.

The excitement stemmed from two key factors. First, the colloquium was to be held in Sokoto, one of the Nigerian states bordering Niger, which bears the brunt of the sanctions most. Second, the convener, Mallam Zayyanu Yabo, is the current Chairman of the Sokoto Professionals Network, a body dedicated to showcasing the abundant economic opportunities within Sokoto and putting the state on the national map.

However, Dr. Chima Amadi, the keynote speaker and a scholar-businessman, not only impressed the audience with his expertise but also left participants with thought-provoking questions at the end of his presentation. After refocusing the theme solely on economics and development (much to my surprise not giving room for the ECOWAS- Niger political angle), he delved into defining “positive development” as possibly anything that leads to poverty reduction.

He then provided an insightful review of Nigerian economic history, highlighting the struggles associated with various economic frameworks adopted over the past 63 years since independence. These included ten different economic plans, Washington Consensus-inspired structural adjustment programs under Babangida, Obasanjo’s NEEDS (also Bretton Woods institutions influenced), and later approaches that haven’t strayed far from past strategies. Dr. Amadi pointed out that these national planning and economic strategies were often prescribed by agenda-driven foreign institutions, potentially lacking a comprehensive appreciation of Nigeria’s history, local realities, and perhaps even neglecting its best interests.

The result, as statistics sadly demonstrate, he concluded, is a Nigeria far from achieving poverty reduction and ranking low on every reputable international survey on human development indices.

The solutions, he suggested, might include, among other things, looking into the journey of some contemporary nations with relative success in economy and development. The Asian Tigers abandoned Bretton Woods institutions’ prescriptions and are far better off than Nigeria today. Perhaps, the Nigeria should focus more on local content, since development by its nature is organic and self-conscious, not externally prescribed and sourced!

This point resonated most with the audience and the panelists during the discussion session thereafter, as statistics reveal that about 65% of the country’s current GDP is not contributed from the formal structured economy that currently cannot be thoroughly analysed.

Among the lead panelists, one immediately pointed out how in some Asian Tiger countries, their indigenous cultural institutions before colonialism are still relevant constitutionally, providing needed social focus and keeping national planning consistent. An issue about the relationship between local businesses and research output from our institutions of higher learning was observed to be almost non-existent, with intellectual property laws seeming ineffective and indigenous ideas prone to theft within and across national borders.

Another erudite barrister, Kingston Chikwendu, building on an earlier submission about gender and youth inclusion, observed that the question of local content and inclusion stands front and centre even at the venue of the colloquium. He questioned why participants  gather in Sokoto, speaking in “exotic English” about economy and development in a language that the majority of the state’s economic demographic cannot understand. He suggested that in the future, provision should be made for at least a real-time translation of proceedings into Hausa, fulfilling the keynote address’s first prescription for local content and inclusion.

This last point reminded one of the often-repeated sentiment that “if our local languages had been our medium of instruction at secondary school level, where substances like sulphur  and potassium were taught in Chemistry classes as “Farin Kasa” and “Kanwa” respectively, we would have appreciated their value better and explored their economic relevance more.” Between the present generation and its forefathers and  grandmothers, one might have been able to come up with mixtures with the potential for inventions with significant personal and societal economic benefits.

For the  participants, the session was a high dose of concentrated intellectual elixir. Though the keynote address dropped the political angle of the theme, denying the gathering  the opportunity to see issues related to the ECOWAS sanctions on Niger and their attendant implications on Nigeria’s economy and security problems discussed, one can still safely say participants  got more than enough.

The Sokoto colloquium is putting the state in the news for all the right reasons. The session was attended by representatives of the Sultan of Sokoto and the state governor; and it received wide coverage by national news outlets. The deliberations are being heard by policymakers. One prays God  strengthens the will and wings of the convener as well as supporters across the nation. Nigeria is in dire need of robust policy review forums like what Sokoto colloquium offers.

Ibraheem A. Waziri wrote from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna state, via [email protected]