Originally posted in This Day Live by Kayode Komolafe
Among the invisible dividends of democracy recorded in the last 16 years are the increased legitimacy of debates and the yearning for ideas as the bedrock of policy-making. This is manifested in the sprouting up of think tanks privately instituted to probe into problems beyond the surface. In other words, thinking is again being made central to problem solving.
Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to this trend because the public is so overwhelmed with existential questions requiring urgent answers such that talking about what should be the Nigerian condition in 10 years time seems a luxury. Who cares about what goes on at a think tank when he is on a queue at the filling station to ensure a little fuel in the tank of his car? Or you may ask: of what importance is the brainstorming of a think tank on global power to a man whose immediate need is to power the battery of his handset? Indeed, Nigeria still faces the basic challenges of numbers namely “counting our people, counting our money and counting our votes” as THISDAY’s Chairman, Nduka Obaigbena, would say.
Yet it is by having a big picture of what the future should be that the everyday problems could be strategically solved in the public interest. After all, time was when Development Plans would envisage the number of primary school pupils that should be in existence or the gallons of water that would be needed by the projected population 20 years from the date of the plan. That was before the neo-liberals took over the centre stage of policy-making with their ruinous socio-economic agenda. Many years before the Europeans arrived at the destination of European Union, the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, had envisioned an All African Government, that is a step higher than the current African Union. So it is fairly suggestible that Africa should restore the culture of thinking big and acting strategically as it grapples with problems of development.
It is in this context that the latest arrival in the community of Nigerian think tanks- the Gusau Institute (GI) – should be welcome. The home of the institute, founded by Lt. General Aliyu Gusau Mohammed, is at the heart of Kaduna, the capital of the old northern region. Among other important beats in his career, Gusau served as Director of Military Intelligence, Chief of Army Staff, National Security Adviser to the President and Defence Minister. A prized asset in the global intelligence community, Gusau is famously taciturn. But unknown to many the General, a genuine patriot, is very much at home with ideas and strategic thinking. In a way, the Gusau Institute is a way of giving a categorical expression to this passion.
The vision of the institute is “to be the number one global information resource centre on good governance and security issues.” The solid establishment of the institute suggests that it holds a tremendous promise. It has richly stocked physical and virtual research libraries, a computer training centre, conference rooms and even accommodation for visitors. According to Gusau, the institute would provide a centre for “gatherings on burning issues… to equip Nigeria and Africa with knowledge to solve problems.”
A fortnight ago, the Gusau Institute held its inaugural event. It was a seminar with the following theme: Power and Influence in Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa. Why the focus on the five countries? Together the five countries have 40% of African population, 60% of the continent’s economy and 58% of its military strength. Little surprise that the guest speaker, Dr. Jakkie Cilliers, described the five African countries as the “Big Five.” Cilliers is the Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) based in Pretoria, South Africa. His role in the transformation of the apartheid armed forces and the subordination to civilian control has been widely acknowledged.
He employed forecasting as a thinking tool to look at what Africa would be in 2040 using the Big Five as the pegs for the discussion. So what does Cilliers see on the horizon? “Of the Big Five, two currently punch above their weight – one that is rising, Ethiopia, and another whose growth is stagnant, South Africa. If Nigeria were able to take the necessary steps that would see far-reaching changes to the governance issues and social challenges that currently beset the country, it could become Africa’s lone superpower.” A manifesto of Afroptimism, a Nigerian patriot might be quick to say. However, Cilliers sounded more like an Afropessimist as he eloquently delivered his sobering lecture. For him, even by 2040, “in global context Africa is likely to remain pretty much where it was: at the margins of global power”.
In this exercise in forecast, Cilliers said that by 2040 Africa would have 22% of the world population with only 7.2% of the global economy. This would certainly present serious socio-economic contradictions to be resolved in the dreaded future. However, Cilliers identified integration and economic growth as the game changers in this grim projection. In Cilliers’ conceptual world, the ingredients of this global power include economy, demography, military strength, technology, government capacity and human capital. His findings are that in 2015, the combined power of Africa is only 9% of the global power. Africa is expected to increase its share of global economy from the present 5.1% to only 7.2% by 2040 in Cilliers’ forecast. According to Cilliers, “to a large extent, the increase in Africa’s role globally will be driven by the future weight of Nigeria.” Even then Nigeria “accounts for only 0.9% of global power today”.
The projection about Nigeria is conditional: there must be improvement in “ current domestic stability, governance capacity and political leadership.” While Cilliers evaluated the capabilities of Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa, he, of course, noted that the individual African countries have specific challenges of governance, security and development. For some Nigerians, Cilliers’ prescription may bring back the memories of the “Concert of Medium Powers” which former Foreign Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, ranks as his “ boldest move” in the the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida.
It would be great if the animated discussion at the seminar could be a foretaste of what the Gusau Institute has to offer. For instance, the first Chief of Defence Staff of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, posited that military solution alone would not be enough to combat the terrorism of Boko Haram. Not a few persons in the audience saw the strategy to defeat terror as a veritable topic for another seminar at the institute. Former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Professor Ango Abdulahi, said the content of Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy “should be the justification for the existence of any government in Nigeria”. This is the section that spells out the welfare and security responsibilities of the government to the people.
In response to Cilliers, Abdulahi said the guest speaker was “polite” in posing the leadership question in Nigeria. Abdulahi lamented “failure of leadership.” For instance, he recalled to the amazement of the audience that the annual budget of Sir Ahamadu Bello as the Premier of Northern Region ( now 19 northern states) was equivalent today’s budget of the Kaduna North Local Government alone. This prompted another professor to remark lightheartedly that even at old age Abdulahi was moving from the Right to the Left in ideologically terms.
All told, the question should be asked: global power and influence for what purpose? The answer to this question is important so that power and influence of a country would not be treated as if they are ideologically neutral concepts. Power and influence should be related to underlying class issues. Come to think of it, of what use is global power of a country to its people suffocating under burgeoning inequality and mass poverty within its borders? America is the country having the greatest power and influence. So what does that power mean to a man living on food stamps in Florida or the millions without basic social protection such as health insurance in the richest country on earth?
There should be a class dimension to the projection of Nigeria and other African countries as potential global powers.