Many have pointed to the disinterest that Nigeria's elite show towards political engagement as the bane of the country's development. They accuse them of abdicating their role in the leadership cadre, saying they have left a vacuum that all manner of dubious characters continue to fill to run the country to ruin.
But last Tuesday's gathering in Lagos of Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Alumni Network in Nigeria, with others from universities like Harvard and elsewhere may be turning point in the narrative for a different, positive direction for elite's participation, or at best, engaging with the system. The network, presided over by Dr. Timi Austin-peters, held a colloquium on 'What President Buhari Should Do Differently in His Second Term' to get the economy working at optimum capacity.
In fact, an audience member dramatised how dangerous it was for the elite to surrender the governance space to those who they ordinarily look down upon. He said although he did not attend Oxford or Cambridge, but his children did and lamented the lack of participation of the elite in the governance process. He said his driver was in the decision-making committee of a political party in Obalende area and wondered how beneficial his decisions would be to him and his children.
Austin-Peters emphasised the need for thought-leadership in the country in aggregating ideas that would take Nigeria from where she currently is to where she ought to be, saying that such absence had imperilled development so far. He expressed the hope that submissions from the colloquium would be communicated to government for its overall policy formulation in the next four years.
While presenting the lead paper, a retired civil servant who was also an assistant to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Dr. Yemi Dipeolu, rather spoke on what the country should be doing differently from the last four years of Buhari's government. He argued that all segments of Nigerian society have roles to play in getting the country working again. He canvased the need "to save a little for the raining day. All developed nations take long term approach to development. Plan for the long term."
Dipeolu also enjoined government to take implementation of policies seriously and the need to invest in the future. He noted that Nigeria's investment in relation to her GDP currently put at 15.5 per cent was abysmally low, saying, "We must scale up investment".
Although he acknowledged that the Federal Government was trying its best in very difficult times, he insisted that the country was far from organizing its production system properly for effectiveness and efficiency. He noted that too many SMEs were saddled with trying to produce and market their products and services that a concerted government agency would have effectively done on their behalf for maximum profit and less stress, thus echoing the need for the old marketing boards that serviced small scale firms for growth.
"We should organise production, agriculture, research in a seamless manner," he said. "We don't have an integrated system across all sectors. We need government agencies to do exports and not leave it to individual SMEs to do it on their own."
Dipeolu also canvased for a restoration of and promotion of national value system, saying corruption disrupts social systems. He also expressed the need to create jobs for the teeming youths, but stressed matching education with skills.
A lawyer, Rume Aggreh, expressed what Nigerians expect to see their government doing in the next four years. First on her list is the need for interrelatedness among the executive, legislative and the judiciary arms of government. She advocated for an independent judiciary that is free from the executive and that appointment to the bench should not be political but through competence and merit. She also said the rule of law is key for a successful democracy.
Aggreh insisted that Buhari must set out his governance approach on June 12 so Nigerians know the exact policy direction of government "for us to see where government is headed in the next four years. Appointment should be drawn up with dispatch and on merit and government should stimulate the economy. Also, implementation is key."
She also spoke on security, arguing that there should be geo-political spread in the leadership of the service chiefs.
On education, Aggreh noted that education is key in fighting insecurity, as it would take a large chunk of out-of-school children from the streets and mischiefs. For her, education budget should be raised from seven to 21 per cent to stimulate growth in the sector. She also desires that the president speaks to Nigerians and not the usual taciturn style and reaction to issues that could have been explained before hand.
Collins Onuegbu, an engineer, tasked Buhari on his economy management style, saying he was impacting private capital negatively. He said businesses were finding it hard to understand Buhari's body language and the signals that emanate from it. He cited the instance of MTN Nigeria, which he said had twice suffered from the president's nebulous body language. He stated that just when the telecom company got listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) raided its premises. He noted that the development signaled serious danger to private capital.
According to him, "Signalling has been a major issue with this government; it has been very terrible. Is it what they say or what they do? Is that how to go about the Ease of Doing Business? We want a government that attracts market for the country."
He also carpeted government for its slow approach to dealing with issues. He said Nigeria's average population is put at 25 years, a demographic segment that is youthful and agile and which wants things done fast and in line with the digital age they live in, but that Buhari's slow style needlessly drags down their vibrant aspirations.
"Nigeria has become increasingly poor because we are fiddling," Onuegbu submitted, and charged BUhari to run 20 kilometres where eh ran five kilometres in his first term.
He also linked Buhari's government's policies as enablers of corruption, saying, "Our economic constructs are not being met. When Nigeria went into recession, each person lost about 65-70 per cent of their earnings/income. That automatically makes everyone prune to corruption. Government's strategy of fighting corruption is wrong. You can't stagnate an economy in the name of fighting corruption and expect it to work.
"Nigeria is poor, but government thinks it has money by going to borrow, but shuts out private sector that should have funded infrastructure."
Another legal mind, Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson, took on what he called 'Nigeria's Champagne-guzzling elite' who he said aided the upturning of Nigeria's core values in misdirected personal gains but actually ended up hurting themselves instead.
He also said there is "no organizing idea or principle driving the Nigerian society. Nigerian elite is generally vacuous and absent from the leadership of the country. What I think is that the elite is generally drinking Champagne (while the country go burst). Our elite have not thought about how the country should be organised."
He faulted Buhari's anti-corruption fight, saying until he makes an example of someone very close to him he would not be taken seriously and it would be empty fight. He also took on the judiciary, saying it was not only corrupt, but filled with incompetent personnel who take forever fiddling with irrelevant things that have nothing to do with the law.
"Moral foundation is the criterion of any leadership and you can't say one man is upright whereas everyone around him has their hands dripping in corruption."
He also carpeted the elite as they subvert the law and expect protection for themselves.
According to Candide-Johnson, "The law should be a religious worship that requires total belief. Nigerian elite don't believe in the law in Nigeria for effectiveness and efficiency. If elite don't have confidence in the law, the people won't have confidence in it as well and the elite are endangered as their prosperity and peace of mind are imperilled. Subject yourselves to the law and protect yourselves in your peace and prosperity."
Candide-Johnson said America was at the same corrupt stage Nigeria currently is in the first part of the 20th century, but that the elite organised themselves and ensured that they subjected themselves to the rule of law and the society began to be orderly.
Foremost economist, who also consults for government, Dr. Ayo Teriba, said shortfalls in 2015 made it difficult for government to provide stimulus for the economy. He, however, said the Buhari government came into office expecting to meet loads of money to spend without plans how to make money.
"The presumption in government was that their role was how to spend money, but they met an empty treasury," he said. "If people elected or appointed to government see their role as spending money, who is going to make the money?"
Terbia argued against borrowing, whether locally or internationally, saying government has enough wasting assets to augment short term fiscal needs.
"What assets does Nigeria have to unlock liquidity in the short term?" he asked. "Prisons, stadia, barracks, federal secretariat, old printing press on Broad Street are in prime locations across the country; so many property in prime locations. The prisons and barracks in GRAs could be relocated to the outskirts as some countries have done. Convert these assets to funds through privatization and concessions. The money to be unlocked is hefty.
"In his first term, Buhari assumed messianic role. This is wrong. We should move power and transportation to where telecos are and not government holding on and politicians arguing about delivering or not delivering. Whether diversity or whatever, Nigeria needs money by breaking its own monopoly on infrastructure."
Another panelist and engineer, Mr. Diekola Onaolapo, bemoaned that the intelligentsia is endangered specie in the country. Onaolapo said he thought Buhari came with something Nigeria lacked - leadership. But expressed how appalling it was that "we only trade people's future in what we can get in elections. Corruption, poverty and illiteracy have become endemic. Corruption is more a reflection of the environment you find yourself."
For Onaolapo, two principles govern a people's development - 'who' and 'what' - and that since 'who' has failed Nigeria, as the same people have kept on being recycled since independence, as they merely group and regroup to corner the resources for themselves, it was time to turn to 'what' - the systems the people operate and make them stronger.
According to him, "If you can't change the 'who', can you tinker with the 'what'? The only corruption Buhari could have fought is the civil service. But what he did is capital harassment. We need funding, but you harass local capital, which means you don't know what you want. Capital is very shy and does not like being harassed. You cannot harass private capital and expect to grow the economy. In fact, government should find a way of bringing in shy capital rather than chase and harass it away.
"With the civil service, you can change the narrative. There is inherent incompetence in the civil service. Public sector should be reformed. The president should begin to insist on competence and accountability. Reform the state and rebuild the civil service."
Onaolapo also canvased the need to produce for local consumption, saying a stimulated local production for local consumption would incentivize local operators and boost the economy.
"Nigeria is a very heavy consumption nation," he stated. "Nigeria's top exports are not more than two unprocessed products, but our top 20 imports are finished products. This shouldn't be. Buhari has the golden opportunity to lead in the direction of 'what' governs the country and not 'who' does."