Review by Abdulrauf Aliyu
In “Economic Diversification in Nigeria: The Politics of Building a Post-Oil Economy,” Zainab Usman, a US-based Nigerian political economist, explores a pressing issue that has long plagued Nigeria’s development aspirations: the need for an elite consensus. Usman’s book delves into the concept of elite consensus and its significance in Nigeria’s journey towards progress and economic diversification. While her arguments present a compelling theoretical framework, the practical challenges of achieving such consensus loom large, primarily due to the complex dynamics of Nigerian politics and identity.
Usman’s book is underpinned by the influential Political Settlement Theory, which posits that development outcomes in a country are shaped by the power dynamics and agreements among the ruling elites. Central to her thesis is the idea that Nigeria’s elites, including political, economic, and social leaders, must come together to formulate a shared vision and strategy for economic diversification, free from the confines of partisan politics and personal interests. However, as I delve into this thought-provoking work, it becomes evident that the path to elite consensus in Nigeria is fraught with challenges.
Firstly, one must consider who constitutes the elite in Nigeria. Usman’s definition of elites, while not explicitly stated, appears to encompass those in positions of political and economic influence. This definition may be overly narrow, as it overlooks the importance of other societal actors, such as civil society organizations, religious leaders, and grassroots movements, in the consensus-building process. A broader perspective on elites would be more inclusive and representative of Nigeria’s diverse society.
The primary obstacle to achieving elite consensus in Nigeria is the pervasive influence of identity politics. Nigerian politics has long been characterized by divisions along ethnic, religious, and regional lines. These fault lines have been skillfully exploited by political elites to maintain and consolidate their power. In such a context, expecting elites to transcend their identity-based interests and come together for the common good is a formidable challenge.
Identity politics not only permeates the political and governance spaces but has also started to seep into the economic realm. Nigeria’s complex web of ethnic and regional identities often shapes economic decision-making, leading to skewed resource allocation and stifling economic diversification efforts. As long as identity-based interests continue to take precedence over national interests, the prospects of achieving an elite consensus on economic diversification remain dim.
Furthermore, the absence of a clear roadmap for how this elite consensus can be achieved is a notable gap in Usman’s work. While she adeptly outlines the importance of elite consensus, she falls short in offering practical strategies to overcome the hurdles posed by identity politics and narrow elite interests. It would have been beneficial for the reader to have a roadmap that addresses the complexities of Nigerian politics and suggests actionable steps toward consensus-building.
Despite these challenges, Usman’s book serves as a valuable contribution to the discourse on Nigeria’s economic diversification. It highlights the critical role that elites must play in steering the country away from its overreliance on oil and toward a more diversified and sustainable economy. However, the real-world applicability of her thesis requires a deeper exploration of the intricacies of Nigerian politics and a more inclusive definition of who constitutes the elites.
In conclusion, “Economic Diversification in Nigeria: The Politics of Building a Post-Oil Economy” by Zainab Usman is a thought-provoking work that underscores the urgent need for elite consensus in Nigeria’s pursuit of economic diversification. However, the practical challenges posed by identity politics and the absence of a clear roadmap for achieving this consensus leave the reader with lingering questions. To truly address these challenges, Nigeria’s elites, and indeed the broader society, must engage in a more inclusive and open dialogue that transcends identity-based divisions. Only then can the nation hope to navigate the complex path toward a diversified and prosperous economy.