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Nigeria’s elite as catalyst for good or ill

By Editorial Board
10 January 2021   |   3:06 am
By pontificating, as he did recently, that Nigeria’s elite are responsible for what their country is and what it can become, President Muhammadu Buhari was only suggesting the obvious.

Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/NGRPresident

By pontificating, as he did recently, that Nigeria’s elite are responsible for what their country is and what it can become, President Muhammadu Buhari was only suggesting the obvious. The elite can claim to be part of the country’s success, but they are definitely an inherent part of its problems. And they can do a lot better than they do at present to lift the country from its low ebb into a more befitting status.

Speaking at the graduation of the 78 participants of the Senior Executive Course 42 of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Buhari told the graduates the other day that ‘the bureaucracies to which you belong will either rise or fall on how ably you wield your powers’. The president spoke to a most appropriate audience. But it is not only the fate of the bureaucracy that hangs upon the quality of the elite. The fate, for good or for ill, of the whole society, is large, dependent on the quality of its elite, its body of leading lights.  Indeed, as elite theorist James H.  Meisel once observed: ‘the history of all societies, past, and future is the history of its ruling classes…’ 

Who are the elite? The elite as defined by various authorities are ‘the socially superior part of society; a group of persons who, by virtue of position or education, exercise much power or influence’.  They are a small group [relative to the entire population] of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in society’.  
For good reason, President Buhari rightly counseled the products of NIPPS to ‘wield your discretionary powers’ in the best interest of their country in their respective places of duty. The NIPSS is an institution where a selected group from the country’s elite – elite of the elite, so to speak – is further ‘refined’ to, in Buhari’s words, ‘exercise …official discretion with sound judgment and strategic discernment’. The 1979 Act that established the institute said that it is meant ‘to serve as centre where representations from all walks of the Nigerian life could come together by way of workshops, seminar, and other action-oriented courses, studies and conferences to analyse and exchange views as to long term national goals’. 

Section 3(1) of the NIPSS Act stipulates that ‘the institute shall serve as a high-level centre of reflection, research and dialogue where academics of intellectual excellence, policy initiators and executors, and other citizens with a high level of practical experience and wisdom drawn from different sectors of national life in Nigeria would meet to reflect and exchange ideas on the great issues of society, particularly as they relate to Nigeria and Africa, in the context of the dynamics of a changing world’. To this end,  the institute is charged by Section 3(2)(d) ‘to identify, encourage, stimulate, assemble, organize, and help deploy to the best national advantage, the country’s intellectual talents and experienced policy analysts who are likely to make positive contributions to the treatment of complex problems’. The institute is the veritable training ground of Nigeria’s power elite.

By definition, the elite possesses the means to define the values and the direction of the polity. And, the expected positive role and the duty of the elite in society is, in one important sense, to aggregate, articulate the yearnings, and harness the energies of the people to achieve the highest good of the greatest number.

If elite theorist Meisel is right that in sum, society reflects directly the quality of its elite, it cannot be confidently said that the Nigerian elite, have, individually and collectively done their country proud. The evidence of the sorry and worsening condition of Nigeria is glaring in the key indices of development and progress. The elite class is, separately and collectively, the leaders of the country. As many discerning and objective minds suggest, the Nigerian state appears to be failing; this is directly attributable to leadership failure and ipso facto, of the Nigerian elite. And, lest anyone forgets, Mr. Buhari has been a member of this disappointing group for decades. Indeed, as Nigeria’s president and commander-in-chief, he currently sits atop the elite community, with all the power, authority, and influence this position commands.  

Corruption, in its multifarious forms, is arguably the No.1 bane of Nigerian society. It has, in the words of Prof. Itse Sagay, ‘gotten worse and worse … with each new change in governance…’ He reportedly said the elite are to blame for the prevailing decadence because it sets the bad example. Sagay should know: he chairs the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).

It is apposite to ask if NIPSS, in its rarefied position as the highest training ground of Nigeria’s elite has, in over 40 years, discharged its mandate creditably. Regrettably, the state of the country does not earn this institution’s praises. What is the problem then? NIPSS must do an honest self-examination of its mandate, its operational processes and procedures, and also its impact on the polity. Only then can it redefine itself to effectively make ‘positive contributions to the treatment of complex policy problems’ of this polity. That is also when it can lead the larger body of elite to catalyse the development and the progress that Nigeria so desperately needs in this 21st century. 


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