A Case for Transformative Pragmatism?


By Paul Obi

In a back page piece entitled Elites Consensus and Nigeria  Post-Elections, published in THISDAY, Wednesday 14th December, 2022, Director of the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought Dr Sam Amadi put forward the prognosis or the discursive engagement Nigeria ought to have post-2023 general elections.

Amadi’s  argument hinged on transformative pragmatism and how to get elites consensus in governing Nigeria better, and for public good post-2023. The piece was more of a classic and intellectual engagement – that’s obviously lacking in the Nigerian discursive space.

While Amadi’s ideas of an elites consensus, as a beacon  of hope on how to reset Nigeria – a move from the clientele state to productive nation sounded germane and critical, it fell short of facing the pragmatism expected of any diagnosis in rebuilding Nigeria after 2023. The fact is that any diagnosis geared towards rescuing Nigeria from the present nadir and economic collapse with the current crop of leaders as the drivers will definitely not be feasible. In the piece, Amadi argued vehemently that “an essential nature of the lever that can transform commitment from self-enrichment to a developmental bargain is that it should be able to converge public good with private interest… This realism of changing the structure of socio-economic relationship without damaging the interest of the central bureaucrats is a feature of transformative pragmatism and is recommendable to other transitional and developing countries like Nigeria,” he added.

Conversely, the incentives to protect “the interest of the central bureaucrats” is not tenable  given that the elites scavenge on even modicum of benefits meant for the masses. Although, the main gist of Amadi’s piece focused on how to get the Nigerian ruling elites on the simplest terms of development and economic growth,  its submission that transformative pragmatism can be spearheaded by today’s political elites in Nigeria turned out  to be problematic. Because, the idea of putting the nation-state front and centre: scaling up policies, sticking to implementation templates and avoiding the loopholes of corruption and state capture are non-existent. Rather, a preponderance of the Nigerian elites is caught up with the vagaries of state capture. To reset a country like Nigeria and get her focus on transformative pragmatism,  you have to first crush and replace the politics of self-internetwork the ideals of broad national development,  equity and social justice.  In some instances, Amadi cited examples from South East Asia, Asian Tigers and China as well. Granted, these countries combined authoritarianism and dictatorship hand in hand with development in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; the reverse was the case in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.

What was the difference? In those Asian countries listed above, the challenges of neo- feudalism fuelled by ethnicity and religious summoning in Nigeria were not present. Thus, autocrats’ and even despots were able to galvanise their nations for developmental bargains. The common denominator of governance was growth and the material benefits of the citizenry. That ideology sort of became full blown DNA of nation building and national consciousness towards economic growth and public good. Two, state institutions in those Asian countries were strengthened and fortified to clip the thievery wings of politicians, such that, misappropriation of public funds amounted to self-immolation. A story of Lee Kuan Yew’s friend coming suicide for sleaze than faces his Prime Minister  friend remains a case in point. In the Nigerian case, ethnicity and religious bigotry were weaponized in such a way that they became the engine rooms of Nigeria’s neo-feudal and neo-patrimony state, and even shield for the perpetuation of a graft culture.

Again, the biggest challenge with Amadi’s piece was to have argued that the post – 2023 general elections should squarely be about building consensus among the present crop of elites who were first the architect of Nigeria’s misfortune and national misery. How do we build a national consensus with presidential candidates whose emergence at the parties’ primaries was dollarized, transactional, and more of a pay-to-play kind of outcomes? How do we foster elites consensus from a clientele political elites whose main thrust is the distribution of public till among co-evals and cronies? How do we reset Nigeria and enthrone transformative pragmatism in a rentier economy where those we are expecting the transformation from are part of the deep state? These are salient existential gaps with Amadi’s extrapolation and the post-2023 national consensus conversation.

Critically, the dialectical standoff between the Nigerian ruling elites and masses within the political economy sphere must first be resolved and disentangled for the country to encounter transformative pragmatism. For example, Richard Rorty in his book, Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism (2021) maintained that a proper placement of a fair and liberal society should begin with the understanding of “reason -passion distinction as paralleling the distinction between the universal and the individual… as well as between unselfish and selfish actions.” More fundamentally, if the 2023 elections, specifically the presidential race is to act as a catalyst and guide post to resetting Nigeria, it must begin with rejecting the ruling elites and their clientele systems that have weaponised poverty and pauperised Nigerians. Transformative pragmatism should be the one that reject clientelism and prebendal politics, while embracing incorruptible leaders and electoral outcome that is championed by the general population, not the Emì Lo Kan voyage nor the dollarization of our politics. Let truth and public good define our agenda for transformative pragmatism, ahead of and after 2023.

Obi is a journalist and research fellow at the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, interested in media, elections, politics and democracy.

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