The inauguration of Nigeria’s fourth, democratically elected President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has come and gone and he now seems to be on the pathway of defining his place in the history of Nigeria. The 53-year old zoologist, it would appear, is not one to allow such mundane things as humble backgrounds to dampen the heights of such definition’s horizons.
Born into a fishing community in Otueke, within Ogbia Local Government Area (where crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in Nigeria, at about the time of his birth), he has risen on the scripts of what many consider as “good luck”, inscribed for good measure as his name. Leaving the university to join the Peoples Democratic Party at its inception in 1998, he emerged as a humble, lacklustre deputy governor the following year, beginning the fairy tale of becoming governor by default, a humble Vice-President who once again by default became President on the death of an el-Cid of a President that Yar’Adua was, he is now axiomatically “his own man”, fit enough to “dream dreams and see visions”, for the good of Nigeria and Nigerians, as we could be wont to believe.
That vision, as President Jonathan has repeatedly stated, is not short of transformation. He made this clear time and again during his campaign even if in a manner similar to what James Brown described as talking loudly without really saying anything, since such statements were mainly couched in general and expansive terms. In his inauguration speech, a similar pattern was followed. He claimed that “the leadership we have pledged is decidedly transformative. The transformation will be achieved in all the critical sectors, by harnessing the creative energies of our people.” And, oh yes, he did point out the “critical sector” of power. In a country where hours of interrupted electricity supply is more of an anomaly, with concomitant consequences for industry, this could not have but been a welcome page in a book that seeks to re-write, indeed transform, our land. But when it comes to the “critical sector” of production, his horizons of “the Nigerian enterprise” are limited to making “Small & Medium Enterprise...thrive.” As he made his first appointment, being that of former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the long playing album of “transformation” was put on the turntable once more, with Mr President celebrating Anyim as “part of a team of champions to drive our transformation agenda”.
It might be morning yet on the creation day of a new Nigeria, but we cannot but ask ourselves “how new, are such claims of founding Nigeria anew by those who rule us?” Related to this is the added question; “to what extent have such promises ever been consummated?” While President Goodluck upbraids cynics like us that might ask and seek answers to these questions, that, “cynicism and scepticism will not help our journey to greatness”, asking us to “believe in a new Nigeria” of his transformative dreams without conditions, ghosts of the past tend to haunt the future when they are not exorcised today. This is why the Yoruba say, while a child looks forward when s/he trips and falls, the matured elder looks backward (to note the obstacle that caused the fall).
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa described October 1, 1960 as “a wonderful day”, after he was sworn-in as Nigeria’s first chief executive. He was of the opinion that the de-colonization process had been “thorough” and asserted on that fateful day that “Nigeria now stands well built upon firm foundations”. In less than 6 years history proved him and Nigeria’s elite wrong, leaving the millions of masses to bear the short end of the stick of a ruling class’ fractious hegemony, marked by immiseration, deprival of liberties, disillusionment and a civil war that cost a million lives. Alhaji Shehu Shagari who was privileged to be the first “executive president” of the federation in 1979 after the military had foisted a pseudo-American presidential system on the polity equally promised to transform the country through “green revolution” and the provision of housing for all. When he was overthrown barely four years later, there was mass hunger in the land with rice and several other staple food being imported and more Nigerians were homeless than when he became president. Alas, we were not to know then that, we hadn’t seen nada yet!
The present “Fourth” Republic has been much more interesting with regards to carefully sown seeds of illusions of transformation. Obasanjo at his inauguration in 1999 rightly observed that “the citizens developed distrust in government, and because promises made for the improvement of the conditions of the people were not kept, all statements by the government met with cynicism”. He then boldly declared that his administration “shall not fail” in transforming the sorry situation of Nigeria. We now know better. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Jonathan’s former boss taking his own turn at inauguration in 2007 said; “over the past eight years, Nigerians have reached a national consensus in at least four areas: to deepen democracy and the rule of law; build an economy driven primarily by the private sector, not government; display zero tolerance for corruption in all its forms, and finally, restructure and staff government to ensure efficiency and good governance. I commit myself to these tasks.” This programme of a PDP-driven consensus of the ruling elites in the country could only at best, be partially fulfilled, as Yar’Adua stumbled from partial soundness of health to his last breath.
Jonathan’s agenda for transformation seems very much a rehash of his former boss’ programme, reflective of an elites “national consensus”, which naturally is aligned somewhat with expectations of the people, to be able to win and maintain hegemony. “Statesmanship, vision, capacity, and sacrifice to transform our nation” becomes the new improved definition of the “servant-leader”. “A robust private sector” still remains the major engine-room that is expected to drive the process of national industrialization, though it would involve an ill-defined “collaborative effort”.
As with Yar’Adua’s, Jonathan’s programme is rooted in the same neoliberal logic that guided Obasanjo and his NEEDS. Jobs emerged from liberalisation, privatisation & deregulation, even if a far cry from the 7million that NEEDS aspired to “create”. But these “jobs” where such as graduates selling well prepared akara, able-bodied men and women selling “recharge cards” & sachets of “pure water” and of course, an expansion of the contract industry of “engineer photographers” and such likes. Jonathan also consummated the tortuous journey in the direction of arguably “free, air & credible elections”, which began with Justice Uwais and ended with Professor Jega. But the “demonstration of craze” which went with it could only pour the same old wine of elites into the new skin of “credibility” & “integrity” woven with the instrumentality of quasi-free & pseudo-fair elections.
There is little basis for optimism that the result of Jonathan’s self-declared quest for transformation would be different from that of earlier presidents. This is not about his being a good or bad man, with good or ill luck. Men and women make history, but the possibilities and limits of what and how they make history are set by the historically established socio-economic structures and political culture they inherit, and the extent of their readiness or capability to overthrow such. Transformation is nothing short of and cannot be achieved except by revolution. It entails qualitative changes within the fabric and soul of society. These could be through a “passive revolution” from above, such as that of Getuilo Vargas in Brasil, General Pak in South Korea or Ataturk in Turkey or through the revolutionary rousing of the masses from below by an expanding critical mass of working people and youth as we recently witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt. There is a link between both forms of revolutions. Passive “revolutions” more often than not are carried out by modernizing elites in the society who try to divert the upsurge of “massquakes” from below, by addressing the material needs of the citizenry using the instrumentality of developmentalist states.
Every single one of the late-industrialising countries that are today considered as “Newly Industrialised Countries” passed through some passive revolution or the other, at the very least. With massive state intervention, they built steel industries, and manufacturing bases for their economies. In Jonathan’s vision, power is stressed but only tangentially related to industrialisation. Constant power though, does not necessarily translate into an industrialisation programme. Before 2002, Ivory Coast had one of the most reliable power supply in Africa, but it still remained an agrarian country. Any programme for socio-economic transformation which prioritises “small & medium scale enterprises” over a state-driven heavy industry/manufacturing programme is nothing but a colourless dream.
The problem is however much bigger than Jonathan and by extension his predecessors. The structural problem in Nigeria can be easily gleaned in our relations with the Western champions of imperialism. Our elites have always been the most pliant of tools for the agenda of Europe & the United States of North America, in Africa. They have come to worship the devil of neoliberalism more than its Luciferan priests in those Bretton Woods cathedrals of Mammon, clinging to the illusions that with their faithfulness to the big Satan, we would somehow be transformed and become part of the G20, by 2020. This exactly is the creed of Goodluck Jonathan thus far. A rude awakening awaits not a few Nigerians that have come to have some faith in Jonathan and what he is somewhat deemed to represent, even if for no cogent reason beyond the most mundane such as: “he has good luck”, he is from the south south”, or “he is a Christian”. Such disillusionment might very well open the doors, or have it forced open, for revolutionary pressures from below that could initiate a mass based & popular transformation agenda that could genuinely further the socio-economic development of Nigeria and foster the self-emancipation of the mass of its citizenry.
Prof Adebayo Williams aptly grasped the situation at hand thus; “While we await the arrival of the Nigerian critical mass such as we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt, we can have some fun. The problem, if we must repeat, is not Goodluck Jonathan...He is part of a discrete historical process of which he is barely conscious; a minor actor in a great historical drama”. His transformation agenda similarly is a minor farcical expression of a dazed gaze into the horizons. But such a situation cannot last for four years, if it lasts a year. The question of transformation will still be so put in the unfolding period, and the main enquirer will not be Goodluck or his so far lucky band of buccaneering elites.