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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Nigeria at 63: A country still in need of a grand strategy

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By Abdulrauf Aliyu

When thinking about the next 63 years, I must talk about the field that has occupied most of my career and academic life, which is the field of strategy. Strategy as most us know has its origins in the military. The word is Greek in origin. Napoleon’s genius for repetitive battle field victory, especially against the Persians led Carl Von Clausewitz to write his seminal book “On War”, which has formed the basis in business, politics, economics, and other lives of understanding and using the idea of strategy.

In the words of Edwards Mead Earle, strategy is the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation to the end that its vital interests shall be effectively promoted and secured. As such, it is a very simple idea. The idea is that nations must have a vision, they must be organized, and their leaders and citizens’ energy must flow to deal with the problems that are in front of them.

In the last 10 years, I have been attracted to the notion of grand strategy, which also has its origin in the field of power politics and military theory. Grand strategy is a comprehensive approach to understand all elements that shape an environment, and therefore the choices that nations can or can’t make in terms of their goals and objectives. The crux of grand strategy therefore lies in policy, that is, the capacity of a nation to bring together all of the elements, for the preservation and enhancement of its long term best interests. Realist thinkers and scholars like Han Morgenthau, Sun Tzu, Thomas Hobbes and Thucydides are of the view that actors (nations) are in a set of power relations, and although they have choices, they must understand that they have constraints, and in this way, at the moment, Nigeria is adrift.
Nigeria has in the last 63 years has failed or unable to develop a grand strategy. She has had plans, policies, programmes and projects, but she has not been able to develop a comprehensive, agreed, or what Professor Kingsley Moghalu refers to as an actionable worldview that will allow her to understand and share a consensus at leadership level of how the country’s economic seeks to compete, shape herself and transform in the future – next 63 years. This is because, in many ways, our history dominates our thinking. There is also an absence of a believable view as to what the future must, and could look like.

Several decades ago, Jackson Turner propounded the frontier theory where he argued that a frontier is an open space that is contested. He also argued that, at one extreme of frontier is a stable and well established order, while at the other is openness, conflict, friction and opportunities. Simply put, there are three modalities to transform nations into a metaphor or an image in the frontier world which I believe Nigeria is today. There is a fort in which people protect their interests, there is a farm in which people exploit opportunities, and there is an open field of untapped opportunities.

In terms of who occupies a frontier, there might be five types of archetypes of human interactions. The explorer are those who go first, followed by the pioneers who move in and out of the frontier, then settlers who in the frontier schema settle where they are but don’t originally come from there. We also have the citizens who are permanent, authentic and fully belong where they are. The final category in the frontier are the colonialists who are exploiting the situation, but may never truly belong. In terms of strategic archetypes, there is the entry and extraction, long term accumulation and is importantly as the frontier closes and settles, long term commitment. The question begging for answers is whether Nigeria is as of today a frontier nation, or whether her leaders and citizens are frontier in their thinking and actions, and each and every one of us fits into that schema.

Given the longer view of our (political) history, we have been a constitutional democracy, on and off for about 30 years. Democracy is no easy mistress, and balancing out competing interests, and meeting expectations is extraordinary challenging for the Nigerian state, especially in the last 24 years.
As such, in my view, the frontier for Nigeria in terms of interests and expectations and opportunities is open and definitely not closed. This is because our geophysical nature, our multicultural diversity, our strategic position in the African economy, in spite our weak institutions, makes us a classic frontier nation.
In a frontier nation, there are three critical strategic capabilities that we may reflect on for ourselves as citizens and the Nigerian state herself. The first is thinking ahead, the second is thinking across and the third is thinking again. A simple analysis of Nigeria’s political economy since 1960 shows that we do not possess any of the capabilities.

So looking out into the next 63 years in our possibilities as a country, I will make some central observations, Nigeria is very fortunate to be blessed with abundant human and natural resources, however, we are still battling with poor state of social and physical infrastructure for an emerging economy of our size. We also have very weak institutions and private sector; high incidence of poverty, inequality and corruption; and above all bad governance. Hence, Nigeria must watch out about not becoming obsessed with achieving “economic growth” as a measure of national development, whereas economic growth is a prerequisite for progress, our ability to benefit from economic growth is significantly complicated by the fact that economic growth does not automatically translate into reductions in poverty given our high level inequality. Furthermore, If the economy is unable to grow, it will increase competition for a slice of the Nigerian cake, which has to be shared by many competing priorities, as well as the inevitable urge to opt for redistributive policies – taking from those who have, and redistributing wealth to the poor and needy.

God Bless all Patriotic Citizens!
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Happy Independence day.

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