Business and accountable governance obligations of leadership – Part 3
Continued from last week Friday
By 1961 despite relatively steady growth of the economy miner’s wages were still 12% lower than they were in 1911! On the other hand South African Whites had property rights, invested heavily in education while the extraction of the minerals gold and diamonds was firmly in the hands of the White South Africans who sold them at phenomenal profits to other individuals in the global market. Over 80% of the population was excluded from any meaningful economic activities given the chokehold the white population exercised over the political system under the apartheid system. Black South Africans were precluded from using their talents and skills to become business men, entrepreneurs, scientists or engineers. While the Africans grovelled in poverty white South Africans luxuriated in affluence comparable to the best living standards of their cousins in Europe. This oppressive extractive system could not last forever. By 1970, the South African economy had stopped growing and by 1994 apartheid finally crumbled as did the Soviet Russian system a few years earlier.
Governance, Development and the Concept of the Elite
Governance systems emerge in response to the political and economic institutions that arise in societies. It could be feudalistic as we saw earlier which is often dominated by an oligarchy. Often the interplay of forces leads to the emergence of particular forms of governance which may redefine the particular political and economic system. For example in 1688 Britain underwent the Glorious Revolution which transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation. People fought for and won more political rights and they used them to enlarge their economic opportunities. The result was a fundamentally different political and economic direction which gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and a new pattern of economic development and prosperity.
This created a new environment that spawned capitalism and the variety of democratic systems – social democracy, liberal democracy, liberalism etc. All these were anchored on the need for the practice of representative democracy. In most societies alongside the political, social and economic changes a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power or skills emerge in the society. This is the power elite who through their control of the governance systems, manage the policies and the process of national dialogue and consensus building. In Nigeria, for example, it was reported recently that 80% of the 5 trillion naira debt owed to the banking system is held by no more than 20 individuals and their corporate buddies! Without question the value system, the sense of ethical responsibility and the obligations which such an elite espouses can make or mar the future of the society and may therefore foreclose or accentuate the possibility of a social cataclysm or revolution.
In Britain, for example, the first five decades of the 19th century, perhaps up to 1850, was a period of increasing social unrest arising from economic inequities and political disenfranchisement. The luddites led a fight against the introduction of new technologies. Alongside this was also an emerging consensus among the elite that the buildup of social unrest needed to be turned away by meeting the needs of the mass of the people, even if it included parliamentary reform. There was a strong mantra represented in the phrase noblisse oblige – “nobility obliges”. In other words leadership imposes responsibility and obligations on the leadership. While a school of thought within the elite toyed with the idea of repression in other to avoid opening up the political space further, they ultimately pulled back from the brink. New reforms were granted because the elite thought that reform was the only way to avoid another revolution and the imperative of securing their rule. As the Earl Grey, Prime Minister (1830-1834) who presided over the passage of the Reform Acts observed
“The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution: reforming to preserve and not to overthrow”
Pluralism and inclusiveness which much of the reforms induced creates positive feedback between inclusive economic and political institutions and led to the development of inclusive markets which facilitated efficient allocation of resources and greater encouragement for individuals to acquire education, new skills and to pursue innovation. In the United States the rise of the Robber barons and their monopoly trusts in the late 19th and early 20th century underlines the fact that the presence of markets is not in themselves a guarantee of inclusive institutions since markets can be dominated by a few firms charging exorbitant prices and blocking the opportunities for the entry of more efficient rivals and new technologies. When the Robber barons posed a threat to the inclusive political institutions the free flow of information engendered by the free media served to mobilise friendlier forces that countered the unhindered monopolies that were threatening the foundation of inclusive political and economic institutions.
Lessons for Nigeria
Having now taken a snapshot view of global development, the environment that conduces to desirable and acceptable outcomes, the character and values of the elite and the leader who can drive the social system to the desired end, we need to situate these lessons within the context of the Nigerian environment. In tackling the challenge we need to answer three questions –
What lessons have we learnt that are applicable to the Nigerian situation?
What is the current state and challenges that faces Nigeria at this juncture in her history?
What must we do to steer the ship of state to the desirable and equable harbour?
It is now obvious that successful societies in terms of prosperous and peaceful development are those that have striven for inclusiveness in the midst of diversity in their political and economic systems. The elite has dominantly worked within a context in which the emphasis is on their responsibilities and obligations to the society rather than their rights and privileges. The leader has usually been a knowledgeable person with character, who stands out by his personal self-confidence and humility. He /She need not be a know-all but his persona must exude trust with a capacity to mobilise citizens across boundaries and dividing lines.
Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a multi-dimensional crisis. We are in a political, social, economic and moral crisis. Cardinal Okogie was quoted recently to have diagnosed our situation when he observes that we are allergic to the truth and are addicted to falsehood. The depth of the moral crisis cannot be more aptly stated. What is the evidence on the ground?
The cacophony of voices on the political issue of restructuring is a measure of the level of dissonance in the political system. Nigeria is a diverse society that is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
Not surprisingly our pre-independence leaders chose a federal system of governance which will over time build a united but diverse nation of shared values of inclusiveness and national purpose. The military intervention destroyed this foundation and planted the seeds of division and centrifugal political forces. There cannot be a peaceful nation unless we return to the basics of federalism as the foundation of our national enterprise. The political challenge is how to operationalize Chapter II of our constitution- the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Unfortunately it would appear that current political actors do not see and do not hear.
To be continued tomorrow
Professor Anya delivered this paper at the Second Annual Lecture of the Niche Newspapers in Lagos recently