The 2019 presidential contest evokes two fears for many. One is the fear of those who believe that President Buhari could destroy the country with his management of diversity considered to be generally mindless. The second is the fear entertained by those who believe that the Atiku Abubakar-Peter Obi combination could equally achieve the same mission through their sense of the state-economy nexus. Which of the two is a greater danger to Nigeria is the question.
Atiku Abubakar’s off-handed and devil-may-care pronouncements on the economy is already sending a worrisome signal to all who argue that the economy doesn’t work the way he thinks it does. The world capitalist economy has its own logic and follows a certain pattern, patterns and dynamics that risk analysts think Atiku either hasn’t sat down to comprehend or assumes would be different simply because he has more energy than Buhari. This is being compounded by Peter Obi’s claim that China is a private sector led economy in the full glare of all those who watched the appearance of the pair on Kadria Ahmed’s TheCandidates. It seems the programme has become the burial ground of presidential candidates, that being where President Buhari’s mental alertness was publicly interrogated recently in spite of Prof Osinbajo’s back-up services. Now, Obi has also gone there to advertise similar crisis of clarity about the political economy of the most important of the rising world powers – China. What might have happened? How could Peter Obi that some people see as the voice of new generation leaders go out for such assignment without the most basic briefs? A Vice-President and his principal anywhere in Africa who are not clear about the Chinese economy could be problematic.
Officially, China is a ‘Socialist Market Economy’. That is what it calls itself. It is some critics who think that, in truth, China is an example of ‘State Capitalism’. What does ‘Socialist Market Economy’ refer to? If you follow some recent authors, it is an economy which is market-oriented and market-driven for growth in a manner that is hardly distinguishable from any capitalist economy but, this time, driven by a socialist purpose. The implication is that the capitalist features one sees on the surface in the Chinese economy are circumscribed by the idea of social equity of Socialist nature. The ideological dictum for that is the expression “getting rich together”, meaning “getting rich”, (development) but doing so with rather than without equity. This is why we hear about China lifting millions out of poverty even as the economy appears on the surface to be capitalist, with all its rural – urban gulfs, income inequality and corruption. The Chinese Communist Party is the ultimate manager of the Chinese economy. Ultimately, it alone knows what passes or won’t pass. There is a great deal of diversity of actors – experts, ideologues, state officials, ‘entrepreneurs’, investors and sundry players but none of them operates beyond ‘red lines’ set by the party.
The Communist Party itself relies on cultural self-comprehension rather than any silly economic theories to run China. One of these is how China lost out to Europe by not being the site of the Industrial Revolution when it was already at par if not ahead of Europe much, much earlier, especially for those who follow Kenneth Pomeranz’s book, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. The second is the narrative of ‘centuries of humiliation’ and the third is the notion of China as a returning rather than a rising power. That is its sense of itself as returning to the position it was before it suffered setbacks.
So, when a potential Nigerian leader says China is a private sector led economy, he or she is telling the world that he didn’t find it worth his or her while to have understood the historical, civilisational and global dimensions of resurgent China. Nobody of Peter Obi’s standing in the Western world would make that mistake. Henry Kissinger even contended that China is not a state but a civilisation. It is a manifestation of the independent mindedness of the scholar that, even as a former Secretary of State, Kissinger could not but write that. In Nigeria, that independent mindedness could be costly for any scholar although Charles Soludo managed to say in 2006 that Nigeria is the next China the world is waiting for and Obasanjo did not appear to have sanctioned him, at least, not openly. His statement was, indeed, a critique of the ill-digested private sector economy Obasanjo was presiding over.
At the rate Nigeria is going in terms of the clarity of the typical power elite, it may be truer to say that they are a bigger problem for imperialism than imperialism being a problem for Nigeria. As one of the few African countries that can implement its budgets without much or any assistance from outside, Nigeria is not routinely dictated to. Rather, it is the collective political economy practices of the Nigerian power elite that is seen in several circles to be creating more problems than imperialist ambition on Nigeria. It is not that the APC is clearer about all these but, as the challenger, the PDP has a bigger task in terms of its clarity on the economy in general and China in particular. The mastery of the model that could lead China to overtake the Western world which consolidated social transformation since the 19th century is certainly a minimum task for anyone who seeks political power anywhere across Africa, said an observer. Can Atiku Abubakar and his team close the gap before D-Day?