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Monday, November 28, 2022

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A Pragmatic and Newly ‘Open’ Britain: Lessons for Nigeria

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Britain has assembled a youngish, technocratic and racially diverse leadership strike force to tackle its current economic challenges. Nigeria, which is even more deeply mired, has much to learn from the pragmatism of the United Kingdom. But current political campaign trends and indeed the frontline of the 2023 presidential election contest do not inspire confidence.

By Chudi Okoye

Whatever residual grievances we may (rightly) hold against Great Britain for its imperial atrocities, we should take a moment to applaud what is unraveling in that country with regard to the constitution of its new government. A new administration is evolving in that sometimes jaded democracy that indicates some sort of progressive thinking in the British establishment, particularly on the racial front. While no one should imagine there’s now a new dawn of post-racial Britain, it is quite astounding what is taking place.

Surprisingly it is not the supposedly progressive Labour Party but in fact the Conservative Party – the supposed bastion of British tradition and backwardness – that is championing diversity in government. Having already given the United Kingdom its only female prime ministers to date (Margaret Thatcher [1979-1990], Theresa May [2016-2019], and Liz Truss [Sept-Oct 2022]), the Conservative Party is now widening the aperture of racial diversity in the hierarchy of British government.

News emerged on Monday, October 24, that the Conservative Party had selected as its new leader – in a most efficient manner and by almost uncontested proclamation – a 42-year old non-White person, Rishi Sunak, a British-Indian of Punjabi ancestry and East African passage whose grandparents immigrated to the United Kingdom only in the 1960s.

Having been confirmed the next day, October 25, as the new British prime minister, Mr Sunak spent the day expeditiously assembling his governing team. In that assemblage, we find too a laudable intimation of a seemingly newly evolving Britain.

There is in the new team Mr James Cleverly, a Black man with a British father and Sierra Leonean mother, who is the Foreign Secretary. Mr Cleverly had been appointed by Mr Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, and he retains his position even though he had only backed the new PM’s candidacy at the very last minute. Cleverly was born in Lewisham, a south-east London borough which indexes 27% Black as against 13% in the nation as a whole. This clever Black man has become, for now, the global face of British diplomacy.

There is Suella Braverman, a 42-year old British-Indian with parents who emigrated to the UK from Mauritius and Kenya also in the 1960s. She reprises her role as Home Secretary, having also been earlier appointed to that post by Sunak’s predecessor.

There is also Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi who is now Chairman of the Conservative Party, an extremely important position for managing the nationwide party structure. He had held a varied portfolio in the brief administration of Liz Truss as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and Minister for Equalities. He was briefly Chancellor of the Exchequer under the preceding prime minister, Boris Johnson. Mr Zahawi was eleven years old when his family fled Iraq at the inception of the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Our own Nigerian sister, 42-year old Olukemi Olufunto Badenoch (née Adegoke), had been appointed Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade by Sunak’s predecessor. She had backed Mr Sunak in the latest leadership contest, herself refraining from running, and she too has been retained in her position. Ms. Badenoch was born in England to Nigerian parents, Dr. Femi Adegboke and Prof. Feyi Adegoke, and she spent part of her childhood in Lagos.

There is as well Mr Dominic Raab, a Briton of Jewish ancestry whose father had migrated to the UK from the now defunct country of Czechoslovakia, fleeing the menace of Nazi Germany. He’s the deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary.

In Britain, the four great ‘offices of state’ (i.e. the most senior Cabinet positions) are those of the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

As it is, three of those – Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary – are occupied by persons of minority heritage. The only exception is Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, who traces his roots to a family of landed gentry from the village of Baschurch in the Midlands civil parish of Shropshire. Even so, Hunt took over that important position, the second ranked in the British Cabinet pecking order, from another minority, Kwasi Kwarteng, a 47-year old born to Ghanaian parents who migrated to the UK as students in the 1960s.

With this extensive diversity at the very top of the British government, there is no question that we are witnessing one of the most inclusive phases in the constitution of the British government.

This trend might be seen in part as a new, if previously grudging, openness in British society, and there may be a sociological explanation for it. But it is also evidence of a deliberate tilt to technocratic pragmatism. These minorities now in the upper reaches of the British government got there mainly by meritocratic ascent. All are highly educated, and several attended elite schools. The new prime minister, for instance, attended preparatory school in the market town of Romney in Hampshire; boarding school at the exclusive Winchester College, also in Hampshire; and then Lincoln College at Oxford University where he graduated with a first class. He went on to obtain an MBA from Stanford University in the United States, studying with a Fulbright scholarship.

Kwarteng attended an independent preparatory school in London, went on to the exclusive Eton College, and then to Trinity College, Cambridge University where he obtained a double first class degree. He was at Harvard University for a year as a Kennedy scholar, and then later obtained a PhD from Cambridge.

Our own Kemi Badenoch studied Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Sussex, and later secured a Master of Engineering degree. She worked as a software engineer at Logica, studied and obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree, and then worked as a systems analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as a director at the wealth management private bank, Coutts & Co, the eighth oldest bank in the world.

These cats have stats! They are youngish and all extremely qualified, and they form part of a formidable team now being put in place to run the British government. This technocratic team is being assembled because Britain is in dire straits. The country hasn’t quite got all the cylinders of its economy firing in the post-Brexit era, and the ruling party is assembling a strike force to rescue the country, led by an Indian wonderkind. It is not unlike what we have seen with major American corporations – including Microsoft, Google, Twitter, FedEx, IBM, Adobe, Gap, Starbucks, etc. – as well as European juggernauts Barclays and Chanel, among others, that sought out Indian CEOs to initiate a turnaround or drive growth whilst going through a period of uncertainty. The Conservative government of Britain is clearly toeing this global path of technocratic ascendancy.

This enlightened pragmatism is winning the UK government approving reactions from across the world. The financial markets, earlier jittery about the previous government’s confused plans, are warming up to the new administration. An earlier plunging British pound is picking up handsomely; the UK government bond rallied as the new team began to emerge, even as government borrowing (measured as PSBR – Public Sector Borrowing Requirement) is returning to earlier levels – before Truss and Kwarteng issued their trickle-down mini-budget shot through with debt-financed tax cuts for the rich. The new chancellor, Hunt, will set out his fiscal plan for the government on November 17.

Even as the market warms to the new team, or seems to, the world has also welcomed the talented diversity at the helm of His Majesty’s government. US president, Mr Joe Biden, who had been rather dismissive of Liz Truss, sent congratulatory messages expressing his astonishment that it was the Conservative Party that plucked a man of Asian descent to be prime minister. Well wishes have also poured in from India, Europe, and elsewhere.

One amusing – or shall I say, ironic – message came from Muhammadu Buhari. Yes, our very own Buhari. The man who has presided over the most extensive and most venal Fulanisation of the Nigerian government had the impudence to send the UK government a message applauding its openness and diversity. He said:

“As the first Prime Minister of British-Asian descent and the youngest in about 200 years, these milestones will be especially inspiring for young people across our 2.4 billion-population, 56-nation Commonwealth.”

This is par for the course for the Fulani revanchist in Aso Rock. We do remember, don’t we, Mr Buhari’s stout defense of the doctrine of self-determination in a speech he gave on 28 September 2015 at the United Nations, pleading the principle in favor of “the Palestinian people and those of Western Sahara” and urging that their “inalienable right must now be assured and fulfilled without any further delay or obstacle.” The same Buhari of course has sought to extirpate that very principle at home, seen especially in his vicious and vindictive pursuit of Nnamdi Kanu and his now proscribed IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) outfit.

No one, at this point, expects a sense of irony or self-awareness from this primitive man who it has been our unmitigated misfortune to have as president. But Nigeria, were it to attune itself to the zeitgeist, has much to learn from the unfolding scenario in the United Kingdom. A youngish, technocratic team of diverse racial composition is being put in place to pull the country out of its present challenges.

Over here, however, our country Nigeria which is in an even deeper trough – having been thoroughly misgoverned by a hopelessly incompetent, highly nepotistic and deeply corrupt administration, under the helmsmanship of the near-octogenarian, Buhari – is taking a totally different path. It is suffering the candidacy of two sickly septuagenarians, men who can hardly coordinate their reflexes and are totally bereft of ideas, in the 2023 presidential election.

Two countries, Britain and Nigeria, going through a period of crisis. One has engineered a leadership to meet the moment. The other seems to want, foolishly, to perpetuate its torment.

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