By Muhammed Abdullahi.
One bright morning during the 18th century, the great economist, Vilfredo Pareto, was in his farm when he suddenly happened on a discovery that eventually formed the kernel of the Pareto principle. The mathematically-inclined Pareto noticed that a small number of peapods in his garden produced the greatest amount of the peas. This set Pareto’s brain racing. He began to imagine what the result would be if what he discovered about the peapods was applied to real life situation.
Being an Italian, Pareto began to analyze the distribution of wealth in his native country of Italy. To his surprise, he realized that an estimated 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by just 20 percent of the people. Just like it was with the pea pods in his farm, Pareto discovered that the greatest amount of resources in his country were owned by a small minority of the population.
Of course, Pareto’s analysis in other countries produced basically the same result. A tiny minority always earned the greatest part of the total resources that accrued to most nations. While the amount of benefits that accrued to the small but lucky minority are never the same across countries, the trend is similar and consistent in almost all the countries Pareto studied.
Two centuries since Pareto drew the attention of the world to the inevitable truth about the glaring inequality everywhere, I cannot help but hear the voice of the great economist reechoing again last Friday from the Babangida Hilltop Mansion in Minna. As a large number
of Nigeria’s big men and women gathered to celebrate with the family of the former President as he gave out his daughter in marriage; all I could see was the 20 percent that ‘eat’ 80 percent of Nigeria’s resources. It was a gathering of the minority big gods who eat the sacrifices of the majority but tiny and inconsequential mortals.
The 80/20 rule, or if you may the Pareto principle, does not apply only to Nigeria. Just four years ago, it was reported that 8.4 percent of the world population owned 83.3 percent of the wealth in the world. WhatWhat the picture of our big men and women gathered last Friday in Minna revealed was therefore more than a community of collective oppressors and enemies. It was a vivid portrayal of the power of accumulative advantage that may forever keep us enslave to the desires and choices of these big men. But someone has a contrary opinion, and it is a positive one.
“It’s envious to dwell on the 34 or so jets that attended IBB’s daughter’s wedding. One thing is sure: those folks are some of the smartest Nigerians alive. They’ve outwitted, outsmarted, outfoxed and outmaneuvered the rest of us. We can shout, cry, curse and sneer all we can, but the reality is that they are the ones dominating us. Can we change that? Yes, of course, we can. Can we make them pay us back? Absolutely!!! How? Register to vote. If possible, join a political party. If you can, contest for a public office. Vote your conscience. Vote sincerely and patriotically. We can actually make these people, all of them, history by 2019 or 2023 at the latest.”, a guy who goes by the name Emeka submitted.
Now, let me subject Emeka’s grandiose optimism to a reality test. But before that, some few questions: why is it impossible to break the elite circle? Why do a few people, the likes of whom we saw at the Hilltop Mansion in Minna, enjoy the greatest benefits in life? To answer these questions, let me refer back again to what the scientists call the ‘theory of accumulative advantage’. I will explain the theory first with an analogy.
A part of the solutions to unseat the Nigerian political elite, which many have proposed and which Emeka, quoted above, repeated was that those of us currently outside the circle of influence should contest elections and take over from the present governing elite. At the moment, there is a widespread advocacy to push the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill so that young people can dislodge the political old horses. Since being young in itself doesn’t win elections, what are the chances of success even if young people are allowed to contest against the established political ‘big boys’? Imagine that the #NotTooYoungToRun bill is passed into law and a 25 year old is allowed to contest for House of Representatives election, either in a political party or as an independent candidate. Then, we have two 25 year olds contesting for the same position. One is a struggling young man of 25 contesting election in a predominantly poor and desperate community, and the only thing he has are his educational qualifications, good grammar and the passion in his eyes. Then the other, also a 25 year old, is a Harvard educated son of a former Senate President whose father also happens to have strong and well oiled political structures across the State. Now, don’t forget, both candidates will be contesting elections in a poor community where the only language people listen to is one that guarantees that their bellies are fed, even if temporarily. You will agree with me that ab initio, the two candidates are contesting from positions of unequal advantage.
From his advantageous position, the fortunate candidate, the son of the former Senate President, has a better advantage to mobilize votes and pull crowd, which places him at a very obvious advantage to win the election and even a bigger opportunity to establish a political footprint till the next generation of his family.
For example in my home State of Kwara, Dr. Bukola Saraki today is sustaining the political legacy of his influential father who himself was a political colossus during his time. Dr. Bukola Saraki, like his father before him, is also a political enigma today largely because he had a father who gave him a head start politically. And If the #NotTooYoungToRun bill is passed into law and Dr. Saraki is ready to transfer the political influence held by his family over the years to the next generation; then with his firm control of Kwara politics, something that was basically hereditary, no youth prompted by #NotTooYoungToRun can successfully contest election against the son of the leader, Seni Saraki, even if they are of the same age.
In the year of our Lord, 2003, when Dr. Bukola Saraki contested his first election as a politician, he was just 41 years old at the time. He contested against a sitting governor, late Muhammed Alabi Lawal, who was 57 years old. However, it was obvious to the political observers of that era that late governor Lawal was not contesting against Dr. Bukola but his father, Dr. Olushola Saraki. As it was then, so would it be in a post NotTooYoungToRun Nigeria.
Many hopeful young people promoting the #NotTooYoungToRun today would discover too late, if the bill becomes law, that they have only worked for the political elevation of more silver spoon kids. Many ordinary young Nigerians who think they will attain political recognition with the passage of the bill would of course attain the satisfaction of exercising their rights to contest elections. However, they will simply keep squaring up with the sons and daughters of the rich and the influential, but in actually fact will keep competing against their fathers and keep losing. This process will be repeated again and again until the privileged children of power who have more advantage than their political opponents also become the new governing elite and dominate the entire political landscape. The advantages their families have accumulated over the years would entrench them in the system, and any new person or family just acquiring any relevance would only be playing catch up. They, the advantaged families, already have the head start that will possibly keep them ahead forever.
The elite circle sustains and reproduces itself, and it doesn’t welcome intruders. And as long as the “accumulative advantage” which works in favour of the rich and powerful endures; the opportunity they get to dominate the rest of us would get even bigger over time. Like they say, “one plant only needs a slight edge in the beginning to crowd out the competition and take over the entire forest.” Those we saw last Friday in Minna already possess an edge over us, and their turning out in large numbers to honour just one of them is a glaring reminder that for a very long time to come, the Pareto principle, or if you may the 80/20 rule, will subsist in our country.
__________________________________ *This article was first published on 17th May, 2017 by THE DISCOURSE Magazine. It features here as part of ‘WHEN I USED TO WRITE’ series, a compilation of the previous writings of the author.