Thursday, 20 June 2013
Still On Spectocracy: The Nigerian Opposition As Simulacrum By Pius Adesanmi
Apologies for the Patrick Obahiagbon-heaviness of this title. It’s just that there is no other way to capture the spirit of our treatise today. Besides, nothing stops you from the personal enrichment of looking up simulacrum and adding it to your vocabulary. Precisely because she is a simulacrum passing for the real thing, the nebulous beast we have come to refer to, at least since 1999, as “the Opposition” poses a far greater threat to our wobbling and kwashiorkored democracy than the corrupt establishment she purports to oppose.
As far as civic consciousness is concerned, the Opposition does not only produce far more spectacle and entertainment for the people (witness the entertainment provided by Asiwaju, as he boasted openly about the “millions of pounds” he spent corrupting democracy on behalf of an incumbent he was “opposing” in Ondo), she also poses greater danger by giving a battered and psychologically-damaged citizenry the seductive impression that a viable alternative is in the offing; that she is a harbinger of strategies, processes, and structures more progressive than the corrupt and integrity-challenged political mechanisms of the ruling party and the incumbent Presidency.
In essence, the gangrened Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan and the organized banditry of the PDP are less of a danger because they belong in the realm of the familiar. In fact, the people already have a symbolic, consolatory victory over this establishment because she has lost the ability to shock or surprise them. The figures of their loot no longer shock; the lack of vision, of moral fibre, of leadership qualities in individual members of this establishment, no longer shock; their unending capacity for cant and chicanery no longer shock; their bacchanals for which they privatize the resources of the state no longer shock; their ability to feign surprise when confronted with the condition of our infrastructure on their watch (one shed crocodile tears while inspecting an express way; another says a documentary about a police college was designed to embarrass him) no longer shocks. Nothing in the goatskin bag of wickedness of the establishment shocks Nigerians. They have lost the element of surprise.
This explains why the feint of hope the people have in “the Opposition” is more dangerous than the galling familiarity of the establishment. When the idea is in the air that there is a credible political opposition to establishment rot; when that idea rides on the personal capital of “opposition spokespersons” in parties such as the ACN, the CPC, etc; when the attacks by these “opposition spokespersons” on the President fills the airwaves; when these spokespersons enter the same trouser with the President’s lobotomized aides such as Doyin Okupe, Reuben Abati, and Reno Omokri, and social media is regaled with tales of such roforofo, the people draw false comfort from the illusion that the rapists of our destiny in the establishment are being given a run for their money.
There is psychic satisfaction in believing that somebody is at work on your behalf, fashioning alternatives of civic agency. You hear that Asiwaju will show them pepper. You hear that Chief Lagbaja, Honourable Tamedun, and Alhaji Lakuregbe will rob the noses of the looters in the establishment against the iron rod of justice. Ah, dem go take! This pyrrhic comfort sedates the people. Spectocracy is reinforced because the people forget to ask very critical questions about the nature of this “opposition”, its creds, and its modes of becoming. The people forget to ask whether the ethos of this “opposition” inheres in the people or, just like the PDP they claim to oppose, in party elders, party chieftains, and “prominent Nigerians”. The people forget to ask of the opposition: tell me why I should believe that the difference between you and the PDP is not the difference between six and half a dozen? The people forget to see that the lootocracy of the PDP is comfortably rivaled by the Babacracy of the Opposition.
This is what makes the simulacrum of an opposition that we have in Nigeria so dangerous. With spectocracy thus reinforced, the people even forget the basic definition of a political opposition in a genuine democracy. They forget that, since 1999, oppositional morphology and evolution in Nigeria can only give us one definition: a confederacy of out-rigged, out-maneuvered, out-corrupted, outfoxed former members of the establishment licking their wounds outside of the circles of power and waiting for re-entry. The establishment knows this; hence, they have no respect for the opposition. They know that their sensational exits from the party are all hot air. Like Atiku Abubakar, like Orji Kalu, they will come back and realign. The establishment has nothing but contempt for the opposition because they know that given the opportunity to rule, chances are the opposition would get to Aso Rock and build new banquet halls, build perpetual residences for the Vice President, travel to Germany for every headache, and assign military equipment to do Danfo runs for insufferable presidential houseboys.
Meanwhile, what does the opposition do while waiting for re-integration? They decamp noisily from the ruling party. Where they have the means from the proceeds of corruption, they start newspapers and begin to build other structures of mass dissemination. They make a lot of noise, aligning strategically with labour, civil society organizations, human rights organizations, etc. Gradually, the lines between human rights activists, civil society activists, public intellectuals, and social media activists on the one hand, and outfoxed opposition politicians on the other hand gradually recede and disappear.
At the height of his roforofo fight with President Obasanjo, Vice President Atiku Abubakar crossed over to the ACN, filled the airwaves with such seductively radical oppositional discourse that one would have mistaken him for Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka or Femi Kuti. “We must fight for democracy”, “we must resist this”, “we must resist that”. And the people, conditioned spectoracts that we are, cheered him on as the latest activist in town. We did not ask for the definition of Atiku Abubakar’s “we”. We did not worry that he has throwing around that “we” like his agbada, sweeping into its fold sacred territories of activism and heroism. We did not ask how Atiku Abubakar arrived at such an expanded definition of the “we” he was wielding around like a cutlass that it was almost possible to locate him, Joe Okei-Odumakin, Chidi Odinkalu, and Shehu Sani in the same oppositional imaginary. As for Orji Kalu, he even became a progressive, opposition columnist and his ghostwriters managed to make him sound like Okey Ndibe, Rudolf Okonkwo, and Sonala Olumhense.
Sensing opportunity, the establishment moves in, helping to endlessly expand the definition of “the opposition” in such a way as to empty it of meaning and coherence. For Reno Omokri, the President’s Special Adviser for Facebook and Twitter, “the Opposition” is anybody or anything with sufficient civic presence of mind to ask questions about whatever he divines as “notorious facts” on behalf of his boss. For Reuben Abati, “the opposition” is anything or anybody who does not understand his Oga’s misunderstanding of metaphor. These aides are not foolish. They are just clever by half, continuously expanding the definition of “the opposition” in order to render it useless as praxis and discursive category. With so much spectacle coming with the very idea of the opposition, the people can be forgiven for not even seeing that where oppositional party politics is concerned, the modus operandi of the opposition is nothing but a way of poorly photocopying the PDP from a different platform.
Consider the recent case of the merger of some political parties. It was on Nasir El Rufai’s Wall that I first caught wind of it. He had posted a media release signed, I believe, by one of the spokespersons of the parties aspiring to merge. The media release announced that the parties in question had constituted a committee of “eminent Nigerians” to work out the modalities of the merger and I screamed: there they go again! Yes, the names they announced are credible and respectable citizens, all elderly compatriots but that is not the point. The point is that the opposition was announcing such an important decision top-down, with its party base contemptuously treated as spectocrats. How is this different from the way the PDP treats the Nigerian people? When did the leaders of these opposition parties crisscross Nigeria, selling the idea of this merger to their respective bases? When did they organize townhall meetings across the country to sell that agenda? What kind of democratic mechanisms did they put in place to ensure that the party base had a say in the matter? Who, among the various party leaders, asked: do the people want this merger? Let’s go to them and find out. Nope, they just woke up and announced it top-down.
This is what happens when neither the establishment nor the opposition really needs you to run your life. This is what happens when the processes leading to the election of your leaders do not inhere in you. You are always asked to “await further directives”. Nobody consults you about anything. Whenever the time comes to legitimize decisions taken about your life in your absence, they distribute rice, recharge cards, and okada helmets to you. They send buses to bring you to the state capital or Abuja for a rally or for a party convention. They give you six yards of ankara with some money for the tailor. You appear at the rally, decked in the ankara, singing and chanting, and cursing President Jonathan and the establishment. You are too far gone to notice that those who sent buses to fetch you to the state capital or to Abuja have merely photocopied the methodology of President Jonathan and his own party. You are asked to come and vote to decide who, in a list of anointed candidates, would be the flag bearer of the opposition in the forthcoming presidential election. How they became presidential aspirants in the first place you do not know. They did not have to come to you in your village to sell a vision; they went to Baba for his blessing. They did not have to debate like Republican contenders debated over five grueling months, showing themselves to the American people, before Mitt Romney emerged victorious. A flagbearer is announced, you drink beer or Alomo Bitters and dance far into the night, chanting “winner o o o winner, winner o o o, winner, Baba you don win o, winner, patapata you go win forever winner”. You are convinced that you actually had a role in deciding the flagbearer of your party. The simulacrum of opposition has done its work.
This is not acceptable. You, Nigerian, deserve better than this insulting scenario. It doesn’t matter whether you are with the PDP or with the opposition parties. What we have for now are just variations on a theme of spectocracy. This is why those of us who are working on the spectocracy project believe that an alternative political movement is necessary as we begin the march to 2015. We believe that the Nigerian people have the numbers to force a paradigm shift from which shall emerge a political process and democratic mechanisms that inhere in them. We believe that the death of spectocracy is the only path to the dignity of the Nigerian citizen. For now, we are just a very small team of committed patriots determined not to accept Nigeria as is. We are working day and night behind the scene on modalities, structures, and logistics, powered only by our love for Nigeria and the strength of our conviction. Very soon, we shall go public and place the one choice for 2015 before you: accept the continuation of your non-being as a spectocrat or join the struggle to redefine Nigeria.