Agbonifo: development conference, not economic summit



Soyinka’s Call For An Economic Summit

Caught in a frenzy for unimpeded change, here and now, but disillusioned by perceived gaps between expectations and reality, many Nigerians have questioned the leadership capacity of the President Muhammadu Buhari government. Entertainment of Prof. Soyinka’s new idea of a national economic conference has been advanced as further proof of the president’s cluelessness. Other than being clueless, Buhari is accused of political partisanship on account of jettisoning the reports of the National Confab and industrialisation blueprint of the Jonathan administration. The ab initio charge of partisanship is at best premature. Any intelligent engagement with the president’s action must create space to consider why he may have ignored the report/policy in question.

We deny Soyinka cognitive respect to assume that ignorance about the reports informed his advice to the president on the need for a new economic conference. Whatever blueprint unproblematically accepts the ruling elite’s arrogation to themselves of power to determine for Nigerians what is and what is not negotiable, leads nowhere. Soyinka holds that the language of ‘non-negotiability’ is subversive because it is designed to stop ‘intelligent confrontation’ with the issues whose resolution is essential to guarantee the continuity of a true nation. It disables a definition of ‘the precise nature of the problematic: that is, are we trying to keep Nigeria a nation? Or are we trying to make it one?’ The philosophical and methodological basis of the reports are not at all obvious or verified as having engaged robustly with the nature of the problem they tackle.

The president must not be stampeded into embarking on a journey that leads nowhere. Because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, good intentions are inadequate. Perhaps, that explains Soyinka’s recent advice. Emphasis on, and unproblematic acceptance of dated reports to deal with domestic and external conditions and problems that they hardly anticipated is itself highly problematic.
Nigeria Is Like The Tower Of Babel

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Economic development and industrialisation are supposed engines of national progress. Such engines cannot function maximally and deliver their promised cargo under a divided house. The Bible iterates the limitless and effortless developmental possibilities inherent in a unity of purpose, vision, drive and collective human endeavour in the Biblical Tower of Babel.

The same metaphor underlines how easy human collective efforts can crumble and the hard-earned achievements of generations go waste where confusion and mutual intelligibility reign. Nigeria is like the Tower of Babel. It is not accidental or normal that despite periodic episodes of national or individual achievements on the global scene, the country is often returned to the elementary basis of national life, to deal with again and again the question of separatism: whether Nigeria exists or not, its secular character, resource control, and fiscal federalism.

The basic ingredients of nationhood remain contested and unsettled. The Ogoni conflicts with the state and Shell, the violent conflict between the state and MEND, Boko Haram terrorism, MASSOB, and the IPOB represent the unsettled nature of Nigeria.

Now, what is the problematic? What is the precise nature of this problematic? And how has it been defined by the ruling elite; including the two reports in question? The pursuit of economic development and industrialisation in the context of such unresolved crises and failure to define the problem exactly amounts to taking two steps forward and three steps backward. The two reports did not, and do not afford the critical space to define precisely the fundamental basis of our national problems. Therefore, its prognosis is purely inadequate to the challenge of moving the nation forward.

The Poor Are Yet To Benefit From Past Developments

Development and industrialisation are benign processes of human progress. We all need development and the benefits that it engenders. However, the benefits of development are not equally distributed. The supposed benefits of development could benefit some people more than others. But development has a dark side too! Often, the poor and less powerful are pressed to bear the negative effects of development. Moreover, development has implications for environmental sustainability. Too often, development entails biogeochemical displacement, including removal of forest cover, land degradation, river and air pollution, and the destruction of wildlife. Worse still, as Arturo Escobar argues, development embodies cultural, ecological and economic dislocation. It is not clear how the two reports have engaged with these dimensions of development and its multifarious impacts. Moreover, what tools and mechanisms do the reports advance for dealing with the dark side of development?

A development blueprint that cannot account for the role of power relations in the distribution of development goods and bads or that is ill-equipped to tackle its environmental and cultural imprints is a destitute development, indeed, a developmess! A true process of development is impossible in a sociopolitical context marked by contestation of the very basis of nation being. Indeed, the trajectory of development under the First Republic proves the case. Because of a lack of unified national purpose and political rivalry among nationalist leaders, development projects that are cost effective and with nationwide benefit were jettisoned for costlier economically disastrous but political expedient alternatives.

Development Should Be About The Nature Of The Character Of The Domestic Society Too

Development is not only about the place of Nigeria in the world. Development is not simply about the character of economy the nation aspires for in whatever futuristic vision. Moreover, development is not confined to cosmetics in or outside the country. Development is more; it is also about the nature of the character of the domestic society, the nature of the relations between state and society, and between the peoples that compose the country. The pertinent question is are we building a just, equitable and egalitarian society or an unjust society? What solutions do the elite and establishment scholars proffer for resolving such problems? Why have they remained intractable?

A development blueprint that excels in cosmetic facade but is hollow in the very basic conditions of domestic coexistence are self-destruct and self-delusional. There may be an abundance of economic models gathering dusts in the universities and government circles. What is the quality of such models? Were they produced to address on-the-ground economic problems or produced for the instrumental end of securing academic promotion? What alternative understanding of the world can models produced in an era of neoliberal ascendance by scholarship already disciplined by neoliberalism? What is the analytical and transformative utility of such scholarship? Who paid for the studies on which the models are based? What values informed the choice of issues, hypothesis and methods deployed in the studies? In a rapidly changing world context where global economic parameters are in a flux, no government can afford to base its policy actions on dated theories, models, and assumptions, as well as epistemologies and ontologies that are anti-people.

Development Conference Not A Bankruptcy Of Ideas

It would not amount to a bankruptcy of ideas for the Buhari government to convoke a development conference. Many of the economic or developmental problems we deal with as a nation relate to events in the global system over which we have little control. Therefore, as Ake argues, ‘Development requires changes on a revolutionary scale; it is in every sense a heroic enterprise calling for consummate confidence. It is not for people who do not know who they are and where they are coming from; for such people are unlikely to know where they are going.’ Now, I have made the above arguments to underscore one point; there is nothing sacrosanct about the existing two reports.

Political Will Needed To Confront Nation’s Problems

What Nigeria needs is the political will to confront its devils. If development efforts are to yield the desired results, inward development and transformation of interethnic and inter-religious relations must be undertaken single-mindedly. Relations among groups and individuals must be transformed, rooting and securing them in the constitutional provision of Nigerianness, equality and human rights. Whatever derogates from such principles in ideas and practice must be decisively dealt with. It is either we are a just and secular country to which all forms of injustices, ethnic chauvinism, systemic and callous oppression of the less powerful, and religious bent submit or we are not.

Freed from the shackles of its sociological demons, and backed by the overflowing energies and support of its citizens, Nigeria can proceed to erect technologically based economic superstructures that are effective and enduring, given their embeddedness in the vitalising tissue of freedoms in a truly united homeland. Deviation from the norm and rule is a normal human condition that cannot be abolished.

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