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Nigeria And The Mirage Of Progress

April 17, 2011

“3 things for Nigeria to progress: (1) Dismantle the Militaristic/Northern Feudal Oligarchy. (2) True Democracy (3) Destroy corruption. I hoped Ribadu, though Fulani, will organise progressives to achieve all three. He didn't. Then I hoped Buhari would, but his rigid morality failed us. All cant now be done but (1) can still be achieved. That is why today I will vote Jonathan. 2015 we face (2) and (3)”. – Deadly Truth Speaks

“3 things for Nigeria to progress: (1) Dismantle the Militaristic/Northern Feudal Oligarchy. (2) True Democracy (3) Destroy corruption. I hoped Ribadu, though Fulani, will organise progressives to achieve all three. He didn't. Then I hoped Buhari would, but his rigid morality failed us. All cant now be done but (1) can still be achieved. That is why today I will vote Jonathan. 2015 we face (2) and (3)”. – Deadly Truth Speaks

Ironically, the above quote, by a Facebook contributor, epitomizes why it would be difficult to achieve progress in Nigeria and that is why I chose the title above for this article, which is actually aimed on generating discussion around the hypothesis presented above in that quote. I’ve chosen to do this, because very often you get so-called Nigerian progressives stridently trying to convince others that our problem is “the North”. No doubt, the quote above is a personal assessment of our needs by the chap with the Facebook handle of Deadly Truth Speaks and I’m sure he reasoned this out earnestly, but earnestness alone is not enough. We need to look beyond our own immediate constituency and jaundiced history to understand that we are trying to build a nation not ethnic and sectionalist walls around ourselves.
Actually, I agree with him in part. I agree that true democracy is a sine qua non to national progress and disagree on the other two elements of his hypothesis. My disagreement on the question of dismantling what he calls the “Militaristic/Northern Feudal Oligarchy” is both conceptual and, as I have implied above nationalistic. However, my view on the point about destruction of corruption isn’t a disagreement properly-so-called, but rather a proposition to fuse the idea with his No (2) - “True Democracy”. I say this, because I believe the solution to corruption is actually inbuilt in the concept and implementation of true democracy. In other words, we need not make it out as if it is something we must campaign for separately. Indeed, rather than continually declaring “War on Corruption” with great media fanfare, creating emergency heroes from those fighting it or pledging to fight it and wasting the nation’s time and emotions over another failed programme as has always been our experience thus far, a no-noise, but effective treatment as proposed above with the fusion into our democratic culture is the only way we can institutionalize the fight against the menace! After all, in other civilized climes, rules about dealing with corruption and the everyday implementation of those rules effectively summarily part and parcel of true and operational democracies.
Okay, why do I say I disagree with the notion of dismantling what he calls the “Militaristic/Northern Feudal Oligarchy” on conceptual and nationalistic grounds? First, speaking nationalistically, I have stated above that we are trying to build a nation. If that’s our purpose, creating unnecessary dichotomies based on culture won’t take us far. Conceptually, there is nothing like that, because the industrial-military complex that holds Nigeria hostage is not regionally controlled. It is an oligarchy alright, but it is actually national in composition, only that it’s predatory, unproductive and consistently programmed to fail the larger nation with the aim of benefiting a few. General Olusegun Obasanjo (ret), General Ibrahim Babangida (ret), Lt General Yakubu Danjuma (ret), Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, Alhaji Ali Mungono, Dr Olusola Saraki, Major General Ike Nwachukwu (ret), Chief James Ibori, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, Brigadier David Mark (ret), General Muhammadu Buhari (ret), Major General Mohammed Magoro (ret), Professor Jibril Aminu, Lt General Joshua Dogonyaro, Alhaji Ibrahim Abacha, Real Admiral Allison Madueke (ret), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Major General Adeyinka Adebayo (ret), Chief Orji Kalu, Commodore Bode George (ret), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Admiral Murtala Nyarko (ret), General Yakubu Gowon (ret), Chief Olu Falae, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson (ret), Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Chief Edwin Clark, Commodore Diete Spiff (ret) and so on and so forth – name them – all do not come from one section of the country. They come from all over. What binds them together is their role in the conquest of the nation and the cornering of its resources. They are self-appointed representatives of sections of national stakeholders, who with such pretensions to representation, come together behind the scenes to imperiously allocate the control of the resources of the prebendal state to themselves, including the political power or influence to protect such interests. Top traditional rulers and religious leaders are permanent members as they can always be depended on to dilute or frustrate the democratic ferment in their areas of influence through a play on superstition, culture and tradition. I know that some would be shocked to find some names here, but that is only because anyone who does has no clue of the real picture. So, allow me to explain the origin and the structure.
Today, we are supposedly running a democracy after years of military rule. Before the military came in 1966, there was a period of civil rule in which our founding fathers and their lieutenants held sway. The young military boys that came in with Aguiyi-Ironsi through Gowon, through the Civil War to Murtala Mohammed, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida down to Sani Abacha did not run the country alone. They co-opted civilian politicians and leaders with whom they shared governance and created the prevailing political, economic, social and legal order in the nation. The fact that we have had a long history of bad governance and seemingly endemic corruption is therefore a function of collaboration between these persons through generations.
So, whether it’s under military rule or civilian rule, these persons, through a complex system of behind-the-scenes dealings and grooming, continue to perpetuate themselves, make policies and run the government to ensure the sustenance and subsistence of their class. That is why they and their children, relations, friends and hangers-on can continue to recycle themselves over and over on the political and economic scenes. It’s about control and protection of the stolen interests over the years. To them it’s survival; for Nigerians living on less than a dollar a day amidst scandalous oil wealth and natural resources, this is death.
Now, when it became imperative to privatize state enterprises, they appropriated those assets and shared it amongst themselves with a view to perpetuating the same system via the new medium. Their understanding is that as long as they remain the primary distributors of political and economic favours, principally through control of the oil wealth, they will always be on top of things. Power is just a means to keep that in their hands and that is why they will always bound together to protect their common interest against the interest of the Nigerian state and the Nigerian people.
Against this background, we must also consider the controlled schisms in the establishment arising from the fight for control of power and national resources. In other words, amongst themselves there is always a constant battle (not a war) for control. That battle is not about change for the betterment of the nation, but simply control. Under military rule, it expressed itself in form of coups; under civil rule, it is via elections. Thus, the mentality of stealing elections is a military carryover, because just like colonialism, military rule is about stealing a people’s right to freedom by force in order to control them. These persons, having imbibed such negative culture therefore see elections as stealing the people’s rights to control them by other means. So, all the failed elections we have had in the past are based on this paradigm.
However, something crucial and fundamental happened in Nigeria’s political history that has given our politics a near sense of ideological credibility somewhat by default. I say “somewhat by default” because only two men and their early associates made that ideological push with clear results. These men were Obafemi Awolowo and, to a lesser extent, Aminu Kano. It is in the context of what they have done and their legacy that I will be discussing the second part of Deadly Truth Speaks’ hypothesis.
Pre-independent and First Republic politics was largely a cultural affair. In essence, dominant parties in the regions, such as the Action Group (AG) in the West and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the North grew out of cultural associations. Even the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) which was before then a credible nationalist party diminished to a cultural and ethnic level in order to hold on to and control power in the Eastern Region, even as it had a towering nationalist figure in the person of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. But while the NCNC was strong on anti-colonialism and indigenous rule, it could not provide its teeming supporters with a definitive ideology of governance, except in the general sense of welfarism. It seemed that rather than provide a clear roadmap for post-independence development, NCNC’s unspoken ideology was ‘Self-rule first and all other things would fall into place”.
But, in the North, the Aminu Kano led political party, Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), which took inspiration from nationalist NCNC, unlike the latter, quickly developed an ideological base. The reason was clearly because of the cultural environment it operated. The North with its conservative culture has always had a monarchical political structure which survived colonialism, but which in an attempt to be modernized, merely transferred token power to politicians while real powers remain with the Emirs and the Native Authorities. The general alienation of the ordinary people (talakawa) was and still is much more visible there and in the pre-colonial days, these ordinary people had always found champions amongst Islamic scholars and teachers, the bolder ones amongst whom sometimes challenge the feudal system and gain some rights for the common people.
In Aminu Kano, the son of an Islamic scholar they found such a person and in establishing NEPU under a banner of a kind of Islamic socialism, he set an ideological divide with the conservative feudalists of the Northern political establishment. What Aminu Kano did in political terms through railing against what he termed the “Family Compact rule” (feudalism) and his call to the talakawa for a “class struggle” against the “vicious circle of the Native Administration” was a mere perforation of the huge cultural blanket underpinning politics and its development in the North, because most of the political figures and policy makers of the dominant Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) were people that had feudal relations or grew through the system. Thus, Aminu Kano’s call for the “emancipation” of the talakawa, the reform of the autocratic institutions and their transformation to democratic institutions in the hands of the talakawa “for whom alone they exist” and his call for gender equality were ideologically packaged for politics in what was clearly a culture war.
However, it was Obafemi Awolowo that brought better intellectual grounding and sophistication to ideological politics in the country. Though his party, Action Group grew from a cultural organization, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, unlike the Emirs of the North, the Obas of the West were less autocratic and therefore had lesser role in shaping the eventual political direction of the party that grew from it. Obviously, western education and mercantilism had created a class of citizens in these areas who were moneyed, widely traveled and more exposed to democratic culture outside and who, along with the Igbo and other Southern minorities exposed to same used this to engage the colonialists. Yet, while most political leaders were content to sit in expectation of indigenous rule for its own sake and when it came, operated it like that, Awolowo was far ahead of the rest in reading the world and understanding that successful economic and political system are not run on ‘try your luck’, but on plans and disciplined ideological parameters in the main. His famous speech, ‘Case for Ideological Orientation’ explained in clear terms that the ideology of the Action Group was Democratic Socialism. He went on to break this down and gave ideas about how specific policies would influence each sector and the people. When the time came to implement this as a government in Western Region, he delivered in spades!
For our purpose here, what is crucial to note is that this political culture created by Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano produced during the Second Republic, in which they were both active as leaders of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and People’s Redemption Party (PRP) respectively, a generation of politicians from the North and South who began to refer to themselves as “progressives” as opposed to politicians of the main National Party of Nigeria (NPN) regarded as conservatives. Like in the First Republic, when the alliance of the NCNC and the NPC formed the central government, in the Second Republic, the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Nigerian People’s Party joined up with the National Party of Nigeria and in both instances, the Azikiwe-led parties’ welfarist ideology was lost in political pragmatism and compromises. However, the ideological legacies of Awolowo and Aminu Kano has remained, but now politicians who call themselves “progressives” are only so in name, not in policies, as political desperation is the name of the game. For instance, it is not uncommon to see politicians who do not have a clue about Awolowo’s philosophy wear his trademark cap and/or glasses, declaring themselves progressives and heirs to his ideas simply because they are in Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) or Alliance for Democracy (AD), which are parties with their largest bases in the West of Nigeria and Lagos.
It is the above conundrum and confusion that produced Nuhu Ribadu, a seemingly radical former police officer who headed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as the unlikely presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria and by popular conception (at least based on the standards of today) the leader of the “progressives”, considering that the ACN is the largest party for those who ideologically are supposedly that way inclined. When Deadly Speaks implies that Ribadu being Fulani ordinarily shouldn’t qualify him to lead “progressives”, he is harking back to the cultural and ethnic underpinnings of this ideology, because even though Aminu Kano and Awolowo were more outreaching in the expression, Nigeria’s ethnic politics ensured they overwhelmingly had more adherents in their ethnic areas. So, a Fulani leading what some might consider a Yoruba party seems strange. Yet, the party isn’t Yoruba and, in my view, it isn’t progressive either. Sure, it has in its rank such progressive-minded individuals like Governors Raji Fashola of Lagos and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo, the new Senator-elect for Osun Central, Professor Sola Adeyeye and a few others, the party as a political vehicle has failed to articulate an ideological position or faithfully pursue it anywhere it’s taken power. There are two main reasons why this so.
First, one individual, Bola Tinubu seems to be sucking out all the air in the party. Between 2003 and 2007, Tinubu, a survivor from the old Alliance for Democracy (AD) electoral rout of AD governors in the Obasanjo tsunami in the West in 2003, used his executive position and, no doubt, questionable wealth, to build a political machinery first in the form of Action Congress (AC) and later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and began to use the party as a sword against the federal establishment and as a bargaining chip with them as well. In the course of it, he built a regionally formidable political grouping which gradually won back some of the stolen mandate from the PDP in the states of Edo, Osun and Ekiti. This feat made Tinubu a larger than life political figure as he was and still is known to be benefactor to these new governors and even others seeking elective offices under the banner of the party elsewhere. It is a statement on the state of progressive politics or what is left of it that Tinubu is so strong as to lay claim, even if debatably, to the title of Asiwaju, a cultural title first bestowed on Awolowo unchallenged. Tinubu fancies himself as the extant leader of the Yoruba politically and therefore the doyen of progressives. Of course, it’s a farce. He’s just a good player of the contemporary Nigerian establishment politics who is mainly using the ACN for his own political survival and recalibration. In 2007, he imported Abubakar Atiku, an essentially conservative politician (even though he was in the Social Democratic Party and was a loyal lieutenant to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua) into the AC to contest for the presidency against Musa Yar’Adua when Atiku’s natural party, the PDP, under Obasanjo’s control kicked him out. There are those who suspect that he did this in secret collaboration with Obasanjo, so as to give Atiku false hopes and ultimately bury his ambition. Well, what we know is that the latter lost woefully, but at least we could all blame it on the massive rigging by the PDP then, even as discerning people knew he had no chance, because AC went into that election lukewarmly. Again in 2011, Tinubu imports Nuhu Ribadu to ACN, played godfather to him and, as it would seem from results pouring in so far, has led him too straight to the electoral slaughter slab. Again, there are those who actually suspect that he did this in conjunction with Obasanjo to railroad the opposition. However, while all the stories connecting Obasanjo to Tinubu and AC and ACN presidential candidates are, of course, just speculations; there is no doubt that Tinubu has a personal agenda with his importation into his party of these persons. For instance, not a few noticed the report that he was being sent presidential jets to meet up with Jonathan even mere hours before the presidential election.
Secondly, Nigerian politics became influenced by events on the international scene such as the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the neo-capitalism of China and the general trend towards a less rigid, but more pragmatic new forms of economic and social paradigms in the West (for instance, the Labour Party in Britain and the ‘Third Way’) which led to an equally more pragmatic approach to ideological politics the world over. With the Russian state embracing capitalism and more or less giving up its international challenge of America for spheres of influence, political party developments in the developing world, especially where they are supported by Western finance and the ‘international community’, invariably took to the same trend of private enterprise, state abdication of economic ownership and free enterprise, thus rendering rigid Democratic Socialism somewhat otiose. So, in a place like Nigeria, rather than progressive politics to be represented by idea, it became represented by people and association.
As for the expectation that Buhari would lead the progressives, that is entirely misplaced. True, like Aminu Kano his candidacy appealed to majority of talakawa in the North and like Aminu Kano, he alienated a lot of the traditional power brokers, but the man has a history of draconian tendencies as former military head of state and nothing since he left office has indicated to anyone that he has had a Damascene conversion to progressive politics. He is always quick to talk of his conversion to democracy during the break-up of Soviet Union, but nothing has showed him as progressive, except his brief opposition to the annulment of the June 12 election, dalliance with the venerable Gani Fawehinmi and some members of the civil society who hitched their tent with him in this campaign. All this can be explained first, by the fact that common people in the North are seeking a hero and their being ‘conscientized’ to the injustice of the South taking away their ‘right’ to the presidency through Jonathan’s underhanded torpedoing of the zoning formula within the ruling party.
Also, the members of civil society or otherwise ‘progressive’ people joining him only did so because they bought this whole notion of corruption being our biggest national problem and he, Buhari being the most formidable candidate against it. With Ribadu in bed with Tinubu, they were left selling the snake oil of Buhari who jailed politicians of the Second Republic indiscriminately and instituted a “War Against Corruption” as the ‘iron hand’ Nigerians need now to get out of the profligate and corrupt grip of the PDP government. Seduced by the large crowds that usually welcome him all over the North, some avidly anti-PDP Southern ‘progressives’ saw him as the battering ram against PDP. From the result coming in, it doesn’t look like it will work. Even Buhari knew this when he wept at the close of his campaign, pointing out that this would be his last shot at the presidency. So, really, those hopes on him and Ribadu as champions of progressive politics are misplaced and I believe it will soon be further confirmed by their post-election politics and engagements.
I will like to end this note by saying something briefly about the election so far and the trend emerging. We have always had terribly compromised and failed elections for the reason I mentioned, which is that the establishment, with the military mentality of imposing leadership after stealing rights, also sees stealing votes as natural. Though, today, while one will not say this paradigm of failed elections has changed, we can say it is shifting positively. This shift, as being witnessed in the present election, isn’t instituted by the establishment or government but by forces and factors outside them. For instance, the statistics show that our country is far more populated by younger people, a lot of who never witnessed military rule. They are exposed to technology and the influences of other climes far much more than those before them. Also, political developments in other places mean pressure on the Nigerian ruling class to effect some sort of change, even as the impetus for that pressure emanated from the Nigerian people. For instance, the whole present hoopla about free and fair elections can be placed in that context of Nigerians, civil society and international pressures. I am writing this a day after the voting in the presidential election. While we await the full result, the feelers coming in are that if there is rigging, it isn’t as bad as that of 2007. But there have been clear cases of established monetary inducement of voters mostly from the ruling party. We will have to wait and see before passing full judgment on the elections itself, but if the early results are any indication, it does seem Nigerians voted on ethnic, sectionalist and religious lines, something we thought we had overcome almost 20 years ago with the June 12 elections, but which we have since discovered through subsequent elections, despite their rigging, to be alive and well. While the present expression is now not necessarily an indictment of those that stood for the presidential election, it cannot be good for the health of the nation going forward.
I would hope that whoever wins should not sit too long to celebrate before putting machineries in place to stop the bleeding. I don’t see how we can look beyond the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) as our vehicle to provide the solutions, because fundamentally, we would need to sit down to talk about exactly who we are and address those factors that create this crisis of citizenship. We have an INEC getting better with the use of technology as a means to curtail electoral fraud, so using it to conduct election of representatives of ethnic nationalities and other stakeholders’ groups into a Sovereign National Conference wouldn’t be a bad idea. Indeed, the Conference can sit from its formation to the end of Mr Jonathan’s term (if he wins) or Buhari’s term (if he wins). Both have indicated they are running for only one term, so that would be perfect. Thus, the new government to come in 2015 will be one decided upon and chosen by the Nigerian people themselves, with a Constitution actually written by the people themselves, with a nation confident in its new fair and equal beginning and with most old members of the present establishment looking very much like the retirees that they are or passing on, the future of our country would be assured in the hands of truly new Nigerians. Convening that Sovereign National Conference may well be the biggest legacy of the incoming government. I say this, because the way things are going and with the trend in this election, we may come to rue the days we ignored the warning signs and laughed off the idea of a Sovereign National Conference. We are in the Last Chance Saloon.
Kennedy Emetulu


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