Whether President Muhammadu Buhari can still undo the damage that the parochial outlook of his appointments has inflicted on his reputational aspiration is open to debate but he got it right for once in constituting his economic advisory team. He got it right on two points.
The first is the relative inclusivity of the team. His appointments have not always been this balanced. In this case, there are the regional and faith balances. The degree of fragmentation in the contemporary world makes inclusivity to matter because it is no more true that anyone ideological identity or tendency can adequately speak for everyone. That is the old ruse propagated by tireless promoters of homogenizing grand narratives.
The second and even more strategic point here is the predominantly statist character of the appointees. In other words, many of them are either theorists and/or practitioners of state interventionism. Dr. Shehu Yahya, for instance has published an acclaimed paper on that. One doesn’t know what many years of international banking might have done to his economic thinking but it is unlikely that whatever shift might have occurred would have been at a tectonic level. Professor Charles Soludo is no less a statist. Although he was a key actor in Obasanjo’s de-statising NEEDS document, he is also the one who declared at the University of Benin in 2006 that the world was waiting for Nigeria as the next China. Anyone who made such a statement at that time was/is someone to watch. The less said on a Prof Ode Ojowu, the better, being among those who couldn’t wait to rush back home from where they got their PhD just to put their knowledge at the service of the Nigerian State many years back. And so on and so forth. For the very first time in the Buhari regime, intellectuals of statecraft are mounting the saddle in one major sphere of state power.
How great this economic think tanking would have been if it was done around September 2015. Perhaps, the Buhari regime would have been more like it was imagined. The late Umaru Dikko once told Daily Trust in an early 1999 interview that, in every government, the centre of power is a permanent revolving door. He was responding to the poser as to whether the Shagari regime in the Second Republic would have been able to gather itself as to take Nigeria anywhere. As far as he was concerned in that interview, the key tendency that shaped the Shagari government from 1979 to mid 1983 was being replaced by a different tendency. That is to say that if the December 1983 coup did not take place, Shagari would have performed. All that now is counter-factualism except that something similar could possibly be happening to the Buhari regime. Only time will tell!
It bears repeating whether the president can still achieve recovering the Nigerian State and reconciling Nigeria. At the minimum, it was even taken for granted that the president would forcefully assert the Nigerian State in the economy. Let foreign investors or private initiative reign but let state owned companies in certain crucial areas also partake in the economy because of the locale of economies such as Nigeria’s in the international political economy. So far, the regime has moved in a completely different direction from such nobility by scripting privatisation and concessioning, jailing those it could have easily prevailed over through discourse, replacing programmes with so much ineffectual propaganda and by increasing the VAT rate recently, for instance. Who knows, it could still be morning yet on creation day!