Frantz Fanon, Umaru Yar’Adua, and the ‘Workers’ in the Niger Delta

by Pius Adesanmi

Does anybody know President Umaru Yar’Adua’s mailing address? I know he’s in Aso Rock but what’s the P.O.Box or the P.M.B.? I have a gift for him: a brand new copy of the last edition of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. It’s an excellent edition, translated from the French original by Richard Philcox. Earlier editions are a quasi-disservice to those who are unable to read Fanon in French. Since nothing works in Nigeria, I am counting on NIPOST to make an exception this time by delivering my package to Aso Rock in good time. To ensure a hitch-free presidential reading session, I am also willing to donate USD500, enough money – I hope – to buy one night’s supply of diesel for the standby Presidential generator in Aso Rock. If NEPA “takes light”, we don’t want to subject the President of Nigeria to the indignity of reading Frantz Fanon in a room illuminated by Aladura candles or kerosene lanterns.

The President may wish to ignore the Foreword by Homi K.Bhabha. That guru of postcolonial theory is always blowing dogon turenchi or big English and we simply can’t afford that now. So, let him start with the long preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. He needs not read the entire book though. I recommend chapter one, “On Violence”, and chapter two, “Grandeur and Weakness of Spontaneity”. When he is done reading, I suggest he keeps the book under his pillow, just beside his copy of the Holy Koran. He should re-read portions of chapter one every morning as part of his spiritual ablutions. If the President is in a generous mood, I suggest he recommends chapter one to all members of his kitchen cabinet, all members of his real cabinet, all the hungry hangers-on that are a permanent part of the décor in the corridors of power in Nigeria, and the throng of special assistants and special advisers who supply the President’s daily dosage of “ranka dede sir”.

The President should have chapter one translated into Hausa and distributed to those members of his extended family in the oil-dependent Arewa establishment who have been busy running their unwelcome mouths lately on the Niger Delta question. Whether the proposed asinine Niger Delta summit holds or not, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the illustrious author of the phrase, “Ken Saro-Wiwa is a common criminal”, should receive a presidential order to read chapter one of Fanon’s book. Finally, my very good friend, Ken Wiwa Jnr, who now serves as an inner-circle advisor to President Yar’Adua and who, apparently, is being pressurized to endorse Gambari, should never let his copy of Fanon stray too far. Those who murdered his father and poured acid on his corpse know why they need him now in Aso Rock. His name and pedigree are useable…

This is an assignment that cannot wait if we are to save the President from himself and from the deleterious counsel of his intellectually impecunious handlers. The President will need a jotter, a pen, and a dictionary as he approaches chapter one. The first exercise he needs to do is to remove the expression “the colonist” every time it appears in the chapter and replace it with either “the Federal Government of Nigeria” or “the Nigerian state”. When this is done, the President is ready for exercise two: remove the expression “the colonized” and replace it with either “the people of the Niger Delta” or “the Niger Delta” throughout the chapter. Furthermore, everywhere he encounters “the native”, he should replace that with “the people of the Niger Delta”. At the end of this act of textual domestication, the president should re-read the entire chapter for the effects of familiarization. The changes would have added local colour and flavour to the text and the message should ring closer to home and prepare the President for the next phase of our hermeneutic exercise. This should, hopefully, eventuate in a much-nuanced grasp of the dialectics he is toying with in the Niger Delta.

If we summon Fanon to the rescue, it is because the President has so far failed to put his University-trained mind at work in a manner that could reassure those who have set great store for too long by the bona fides of an enlightened President. Too many Nigerians have believed for too long that a mind shaped by the University at the helm of affairs would automatically translate into the sort of nuanced, refined, and sophisticated grasp of governance that Nigeria has never had. This logic would expect a Professor of Chemistry to offer a refreshing departure from the crude, pre-Medieval minds of his predecessors in office, especially in terms of his grasp of why the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s cash cow, is unraveling.

Rather, President Yar’Adua has been working with the insipid script of his half-illiterate predecessors, a script largely authored by and rooted in the neo-liberal predilections of Washington and London and their Nigerian quislings. This explains President Yar’Adua’s retention of a law enforcement mentality and diction; his preference for a Foucauldian discipline and punish praxis that has seen him allocate more Federal funds for the importation of arms for his murderous Joint Task Force (a legacy of Sani Abacha!) than he has allocated for the development of the Niger Delta; his tacit approval of the incendiary language of army generals who are waiting for his orders to reinforce genocidal mop up operations in the Niger Delta; the lazy epistemic framing of a complex liberatory process as blanket brigandage and criminality. Yar’Adua’s is a philistine misapprehension of a phenomenon that has clear historical modalities and deserves to be understood in that context.

Enter Fanon! President Yar’Adua’s road to understanding why his roof is on fire begins in the opening statements of chapter one: “national liberation, national reawakening, restoration of the nation to the people or Commonwealth, whatever name used, whatever the latest expression, decolonization is always a violent event.” President Yar’Adua needs to write the following questions in his jotter: (1) what is the latest event? Answer: the will to liberation from the clutches of internal colonialism by the nations of the Niger Delta; (2) is Fanon’s use of decolonization appropriate in the context of the Niger Delta? Answer: wallahi, it is! Afterall, Fanon defines it: “Decolonization is truly the creation of new men… The “thing” colonized becomes a man through the process of liberation” In essence, the subjects thingified (the neologism belongs to Aimé Césaire) by the Nigerian state are waging a war to become new men; (3) what does Fanon mean by “violent event”?

I suggest the President takes a coffee break here before we proceed…

Now, where were we? Ah, yes, violent event! You see, there is more to the violence the President is vowing to crush with his soldiers in the Niger Delta. Fanon attributes a “therapeutic” essence to that kind of violence. I daresay there is a spiritual dimension to it. Only victims of an original negation can author that sort of violence. That is what history teaches us. But that violence is also reactive. The original violence comes from the author(s) of the original negation, in this case the Nigerian state. This political entity has insisted on violence as the only term of engagement with the Niger Delta ever since oil was discovered. The Niger Delta has never experienced governance by the Nigerian state; it has always experienced the violence of arrogant governmentality.

Governmentality always contains the seeds of its own unraveling by insisting on the absolute negation of its victims through its instruments of supposedly legitimate violence and the crude deployment of what the French thinker, Louis Althusser, calls its ideological state apparatuses. Herein lies governmentality’s ironic capacity to create in the Fanonian sense. It creates in its victims the absolute conviction that its violent destruction is their only path to humanity, to dignity, to justice. To be, the victims have to negate their negation. I destroy, therefore I am. This is the Cartesian context of Okey Ndibe’s perspectivization of the Niger Delta tragedy as a “war we ordered”. What he failed to add is the fact that we were not even content with a drive through order. Rather, we ordered home delivery! This is bad news for President Yar’Adua: so long as violent thingification lasts, generation after generation of the oppressed Niger Deltans will be born into the absolute conviction that the unraveling of the Nigerian state is their only road to humanity! The President should ask himself this question: since oil was struck in Oloibiri, how many generations of Niger Deltans has the Federal government caused to be born into this absolute conviction?

The bad news does not stop here. There is another important question for the President’s jotter: when the Nigerian state creates subjects whose sense of being is framed by therapeutic violence, how do such subjects view their own praxis? It is auspicious that the Federal government calls its enemies in the Niger Delta militants. For Fanon has one or two things to say about the militant’s perception of the violence he instrumentalizes against the Nigerian state: “For the colonized, this question represents the absolute praxis. The militant therefore is one who works. The questions which the organization asks the militant bear the mark of this vision of things: “where have you worked? With whom? What have you accomplished?””

The militant therefore is one who works! By now, the President should be getting close to understanding the fact that the Niger Delta militants are men at work. MEND is working to mend its violated earth and to create new men. There is no Promethean narrative here. They are not going to steal fire from the Nigerian state. The fire is theirs. They must take it or perish. Call it camera obscura if you wish but that is their reality. They are simply not subject to the truth regimes and the modes of perception of the Nigerian state and Fanon explains why: “the colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end”. How do you stop men who must work in this Fanonian sense in order to simply be? Through knee-jerk acts of state terrorism? By promising to visit more violence on people born of and into epistemic, symbolic, and physical violence? Or by seeking to understand their historic praxis as the first precondition of atonement and restitution?

The course of events is sufficiently predictable. While it buys time with its silly summit, the government of President Yar’Adua expects the militant movement to somehow implode under the weight of its own contradictions. The militants have spilled too much innocent blood among the very people they are fighting to liberate. Acts of unbelievable criminality are a daily occurrence: assassinations, endless kidnappings for ransom. Women, children, and the elderly have not been spared, leading pundits to justifiably conclude that common criminals have hijacked what started out as a liberatory praxis. While it makes noise and talks tough, the Federal government expects a backlash.

Such conclusions miss the general morphology of liberatory struggles. History avails us of no single example of a broad emancipatory process that did not produce its fair share of opportunistic criminals whose actions do not fall under the umbrella of Fanon’s theory of violence. The French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, the Mau Mau war of liberation, the Algerian war of liberation, the Mozambican and the Angolan wars of liberation were all praxes of emancipation that passed through that inchoate phase. All sentiments have not properly congealed into the revolutionary process and this opens up cracks for would-be derailers of the process to indulge in unconscionable acts of selfish and opportunistic violence. Obi Nwakanma recently addressed this inchoate phase of what he calls the Niger Delta revolution in his Sunday Vanguard column.

Although the Henry Okahs, the Asari Dokubos and the Ateke Toms have shown themselves incapable of stopping the criminal deviance that is giving a legitimate liberatory praxis a bad name, it would be fool hardy to believe that such criminal acts, as regrettable as they are, will derail the entire process. Not only will the Nigerian state continue to dehumanize its victims and foolishly provide the casus belli that justifies the incipient revolution, it will never run out of silly and provocative ideas, given the fact that taking a sabbatical leave from one’s brain seems to be the most important criterion for working for the Nigerian state. Take the brain-dead example of the recently announced N50 billion Abuja boulevard! N50 billion of Niger Delta money to be spent on a needless boulevard and the concerned Federal Minister had only enough wisdom and sensitivity to announce the nonsensical project right in the heat of the Niger Delta imbroglio! This is more than an act of provocation. It’s an act of war, emotional war, and I would be surprised if the ‘working’ militants do not consider it so.

Let me reassure the President: Isaac Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa were progressive rungs in the ladder of a revolution that is yet to produce its own Guevara, Fanon, or Cabral. Ultimately, such figures will emerge to take the struggle beyond its current inchoate face and truly conjugate the energies of their long suffering people. Those who live by and benefit from the gigantic and murderous structure of injustice called Nigeria are on borrowed time. When what is going on in the Niger Delta truly catches fire, who no know go know (apologies to Fela).

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