The award of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics to two Americans, including Prof. Oliver Williamson, is still eliciting interest among Nigerian scholars abroad, especially in the United States (U.S.).
At the centre is a Nigerian professor, who is being celebrated by his peers for having recognised and applied over a decade ago, the winning work of the Swedish Academy's honour in the field. The Nobel Prize went to Williamson in recognition of his now famous transaction cost theory.
But Prof. Nimi Wariboko, who had applied the theory about a decade ago, and other U.S.-based Nigerian scholars who are familiar with the works of Williamson and Wariboko on transaction cost economics, were also celebrating as the winner.
The connection between Wariboko's work and that of the Nobel Prize winner was explained by Prof. Toyin Falola of the University of Texas at Austin who is a prominent African historian in North America and one of the leading Nigerian academic scholars in the U.S.
He said Wariboko used "the theory of transaction cost (the cost of making and enforcing contracts) outside the market frame-work, as formulated by Oliver Williamson, to offer a fresh, bold and persuasive re-interpretation of the history, evolution and boundaries of the characteristic trading institution of the Niger Delta, the canoe house corporation."
Falola added: "This work provided new insights into the history of the Ijos (Ijaw) in Nigeria and tied the economic history of the canoe house ("wari") to mainstream economic analysis and thinking, and now to Nobel roots. Eleven years ago, this was a path-breaking and cutting edge thing to do in this area of African economic history."
Similarly, Prof. Ugo Nwokeji, who teaches at the same University of California, Berkeley, with Williamson, in a message, congratulated Wariboko "for your insight and sagacity in applying the transaction cost theory to the canoe house."
Nwokeji, himself a distinguished African Historian with particular focus on international commerce in the Nigerian Niger Delta, said he admired Wariboko's paper that applied Williamson's theory.
"With the Williamson Nobel award, the theory will certainly attract renewed attention from scholars in years to come," he remarked.
His U.S.-based colleagues noted that Wariboko was the first person to apply Williamson's transaction cost theory to African economic history. He did so in a 1998 paper: "The theory of the Canoe House Corporation," published in the African Economic History journal volume 26.
Wariboko is being commended by many of his colleagues in the academia for having spotted the excellence of Williamson's idea and its usefulness to economic analysis many years ahead of the Nobel Committee, and demonstrating a mastery of the winner's theory 11 years ago.
Wariboko published the paper while working at Wall Street as an investment banker after completing his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Columbia University in New York. The paper is regarded as significant and a leading work in African economic history.
According to Prof. Gareth M. Austin from the London School of Economics who also highlighted the link between Wariboko's work and Williamson's theory, "I too am very pleased that Oliver Williamson has won the prize, and I am particularly pleased that you applied transaction cost economics in a specific African historical context, and with plenty of insight. A really excellent article."
Wariboko graduated in Economics from the University of Port Harcourt in 1984 with a first class degree, earned an MBA at the U.S. Ivy League, University of Columbia in 1992, after which he moved into Christian ministry later in the 90s as a Redeemed Christian Church of God Pastor in Brooklyn, New York, leaving his lucrative job as a top investment banker in Wall Street. He later went back to school to complete a Master's programme in Divinity and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics at Princeton Seminary College.
At present, he is a professor of Christian Ethics and Theology, having moved away from economic theory. Many of his old scholar-colleagues are now asking him to reconsider coming back to economic history or finance. He has also taught courses in this area at New York University and Hofstra University, Long Island, New York.
They are also saying that with the award of the Nobel Prize, his paper will get a boost as African economic historians will pay more attention to it.
Incidentally, his brother, Prof. Waibinte Wariboko, who is also an Historian at the University of West Indies in Jamaica, observed: "It is always very elating when our theoretical propositions are upheld by other colleagues engaged in related endeavours. Congratulations: You appreciated the value of Williamson's theory and its applicability to areas he would not have dealt with. This is how knowledge grows."
Commenting on the development himself, Wariboko stated that the paper: "The theory of the Canoe House Corporation," in the journal, African Economic History, in 1998... has become my most quoted or referenced academic paper."
He added: " I was given a chance to teach at NYU and promoted to Assistant professor of social sciences on the strength of the paper and my book, The Mind of the African Strategists (1997). At that time when the paper came out, I did not have a doctorate degree and I was working on Wall Street. After the paper came out, it was Dr. Gareth Austin of London School of Economics who first made me to realize its potential value in November 1999 at a Conference at University of Texas, Arlington.
"I did not know at the time that I was helping to develop and extend an idea that would one day win a Nobel Prize in economics. I have got some goodwill calls from scholars who are familiar with my 1998 paper and its mastery of and effort to extend Williamson's theory to African economic history 11 years ago. Thanks to God!"
Even Wariboko's colleagues in the field of Theology in which he now specializes also shared in the celebration.
According to Prof. Peter J. Paris, Emeritus Professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton, he thought of Wariboko, when he heard about the rationale for the Nobel Prize in Economics, that is, the award Committee's "attempt to encourage alternative approaches to economics rather than the market alone. Your work is certainly along those lines and there can be no better encouragement for you than to be aligned with this year's awardees of the prize."
From Laolu Akande, New York