One question that dominated at the presentation of Zainab Usman’s book on Diversification of the Nigerian Economy on May 14th, 2023, is why the Nigerian elite has not been able to transform the Nigerian society from an agrarian to an industrial one. Anambra State governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, first raised the question and all the other members of the power elite present at the event, including about four former governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria, responded to the question, each in his own way. That can be something to bring up another day but, for now, the issue on the table is what Kalifa Mohammadu Sanusi 11, the immediate past emir of Kano, said at the occasion.
The cutting edge of his own contribution is his notion that elite consensus as a requirement for transformative politics will be difficult to achieve in Nigeria of today. He didn’t and perhaps still doesn’t think there will ever be an elite consensus in the context of the degree of pluralism of today. That is, he is not necessarily opposed to it. Rather, achieving consensus in today’s setting is what he highlights. His response to that perceived difficulty is the interesting prediction that one fraction of the power elite – he mentioned the then in-coming (Tinubu) government – may likely plunge into a hegemonic move.
When President Tinubu constituted his cabinet recently, a well-informed academic pointed out that there are elements on the list with the competence to build and run a modern economy. There is no knowing how far other assessors will agree or disagree with him on that but what that suggests is the possibility of the fraction in power at the moment doing exactly what Khalifa had said – consolidating their grip on power in terms of potential for transforming into a fraction that can impose its will and order on the rest of the elite.
As at May 14th, 2023, Khalifa could not have anticipated the kind of opposition that seems to be building up against the Tinubu regime, both from above and below, manifesting particularly in the on-going judicial tussle. Or he might have been thinking that the Tinubu presidency would have the native intelligence and dexterity to manoeuvre through to a quick safe landing from opposition. Whether the regime is capable of the co-optation skills of an IBB remains to be seen. Recently, it got a Hakeem Baba Ahmed but how much influence can a more reflective Hakeem wield in a sea of doers is what also remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, imagining the possibility of the nucleus of an emergent hegemonic fraction of the power elite has been knocking off and on since Adams Oshiomhole Adams Oshiomhole got back his rhetorical verve last week to get the nation stirring again with the provocative home truth that “if this president is going to deliver on the renewed hope, he must devise new tools away from invisible banking to visible hands that can be held responsible and accountable for our collective future”. This cannot be dismissed as a one-off radical rhetoric, considering that, within the legislature where Oshiomhole is located are also to be found elements with all manner of radical orientations and pedigree. At the least, there is a Bamidele Opeyemi there, an avowed Tinubu loyalist but a product of a clear tendency.
Outside of the legislature, there are other elements too. Apart from the core technocrats in the financial sector, there is a Nuhu Ribadu, for example. Ribadu has patriotism. There is no doubt about that although the question lingers as to whether he can transcend a ‘law and order’ frame of reference in the way he sees things. Senator George Akume can also be mentioned because, during the 2016 debate on privatisation at the National Assembly, Akume took a very patriotic position that one thought could only come from a practicing radical activist. He said inter alia that: “If we want to sell our oil assets at this time when the price of oil has crashed, how much are we going to realise?”, adding that Nigeria would be making a mistake in selling the remaining national assets instead of rather focusing on industrialisation through agriculture. Today, he is serving the Tinubu administration as the chief scribe. Since meaning is specific, what he said in 2016 cannot be taken to have the same meaning in a changed context. But there is sense in citing him in relation to the contention about the possibility of a Tinubu nucleus. There are many other names that can be mentioned but which is not necessary as the point is merely to show that Cactus could be growing in the desert, to paraphrase a Bode Sowande expression.
The question that arises with this analysis is the capacity of a nucleus within the Tinubu firmament that can inject a more radical nationalist version of the ‘renewed hope’ mantra in relation to the dexterity that could enable the Tinubu fraction of the power elite to mould and operationalise a hegemonic consensus in the face of intra-elite challenges and opposition from below simultaneously. That is something close to an ideological rather than a purely bureaucratic back force as in Obasanjo’s 12 ‘disciples’ in those days. Such would be an interesting development to keep under watch since the Obasanjo team, in spite of their coherence, could not make any striking move in transformative terms, suggesting that an ideological nucleus is more strategic than a pack of technocrats. Obasanjo’s team didn’t score a transformative goal or Prof Chukwuma Soludo would not have asked why the elite has been unable to transform Nigeria at the Zainab Usman book presentation mentioned earlier. He was the scholar-technocrat face of that ensemble.
The point in this analysis so far is not necessarily that the Tinubu team is the best or the worst of the elite fraction to impose its will in terms of class hegemony. Rather, it is the more interesting possibility that a group with power in their hands can contemplate that and could go far, especially if they have ideological dexterity.
If Nigeria is lucky and the Oshiomholes are heard loud and clear, then something like Singapore could emerge as the model. As Lee Kuan Yew, pointed out, the transition from agrarian to a capitalist social order can be a ruthless process because it involves shifting agricultural products into industrial outcomes. Although Lee Kuan Yew was ruthless, he was so educated in his own approach to ruthlessness that Singapore’s transition remains the unsurpassable model. He rejected both capitalism and socialism and worked out what he called the Fair System which made what he was doing to be hated by almost no one.
Nigeria is not Singapore but Nigeria is lost in never-ending elite in-fighting and tussle for hegemonic ascendancy among themselves. Although there is nowhere in the world that the elite are not fighting each other as elite in-fighting is still the tradition of politics even in well-established communist parties. What is different about elite in-fighting in Nigeria today is what most analysts would put as absence of any binding narrative or pact or common ground to which every elite fractions subscribe. In a commoner term, there is no consensus or value framework which every one of them holds as sacrosanct or a red line which no one should cross.
An extra dimension of elite fragmentation in Nigeria today is the absence of a unique moderating factor. There does not seem to be any individual with the stature to call the warriors to his dacha and order them to reach a consensus. Obasanjo would have been one such person but, as Segun Osoba observed, “a man who is already in the ring (having publicly endorsed Peter Obi in the case of the recent electoral contest) cannot be the referee anymore. Muhammadu Buhari too does not have the neutrality to play the referee, being the one who conducted the election that is at the heart of the rift.
That leaves us with General Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar. It is difficult to know what General Abdulsalami might have been doing through the backscene. Distant perception would suggest that IBB can do something, given that, in his own case, most of the combatants on most of the issues will honour his invitation to a meeting or so it is believed. Again, only few can say what he too might have done behind the scenes. Nigeria is a complex society and there might be equally influential names not yet mentioned so far.
The point is that no one appears to have done it. Certainly, not that openly. Yet doing so openly is what is required because that is the only way to contain the polarizing implications of some of the tussles.
Three issues can easily be identified to justify a peace deal rather than the on-going fight to finish approach on some of the fronts. One, the misery index is rising. This does not need elaboration. Two, the insecurity crisis is also deepening and this too does not require elaboration. Many rural spaces well beyond the ones that make the headlines are simply no-go areas now. The last reason is the fact that there is no one fraction that seems powerful enough to impose its own will on the other fractions at the moment.
According to the late Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, the northern establishment used to be able to do this by aligning the rest of the fractions. Now, the northern establishment itself seems to have assumed the contours of the fragmentation moment. It is itself so badly fragmented, one more evidence that hegemony can never be stabilised.
The same fate that befell the northern establishment in relation to the power to convince and align other fractions has also befallen the Left. A combination of theoretical/ideological fixity and repression has left the Left fatally injured to play any role in moderating competing but weak elite fractions. The Left and the civil society are in the same crisis in Nigeria in terms of the articulatory influence to moderate the power elite.
But, without a hegemonic fraction, everything is in disarray, from conduct of credible elections to emergence of well organised political parties, religious harmony, development strategy, content and direction of education especially at the university level, foreign policy direction in the era of rising powers/peer competition, Nigeria’s responsibility to Africa and the unsettled aspects of the national question. Only elite consensus can manage each of these key areas of national rebirth. Yet, it is elite consensus that we are not seeing!
Only time can tell if Oshiomhole’s rhetoric is a pointer to an emerging hegemonic fraction capable of legitimising itself as well as the Tinubu administration on the basis of domestic resource mobilisation for rapid social transformation as against the current, uninspiring rhetoric derived from the pages of the so-called Washington Consensus that has simply expired.