On the Origin and Foundation of Inequality in Nigeria

by Jude Obuseh
Nigerian democracy

Man has dominated man to his injury

                      – Ecclesiastes 8:9

There are several overt and covert reasons why the Nigerian State has remained backward in virtually all segments of national life decades after it came into being. There are forces responsible for the relentless tugs on Nigeria’s fragile unity, and the disruptive inconsistencies in its operation. This emasculated and chaotic order of injustice was structured to serve the interests of some conceited elements within the body politic. Hence, rather than casting stones at imaginary Stephens such as “Colonialism”, “Ethnicity”, “Religion”, “Amalgamation” or “Mistake of 1914” and other contrived factors, which are mostly superfluous, we should channel our mental energies towards understanding the core factors constraining Nigeria’s march to greatness.

On gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria possessed seemingly inexhaustible agricultural and mineral wealth, an educated crop of professionals, a vibrant public service and an industrious population rearing to spearhead revolutions at all sectors. It was a gleaming land of opportunities; a land where people could dare to dream big dreams; a land where anything was seemingly possible; a land where even people of modest backgrounds could dare aspire to the greatest stations in life; a country where any hard working person had a chance to prosper.

Wolfgang Stolper (See Obadiah Mailafia, Vanguard, Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Page 31), the eminent American economist, who in concert with Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson propounded the “Stolper-Samuelson Theorem”, while describing the post-independence potentials of Nigeria noted that: “Nigeria had far better prospects than Singapore, Malaysia and India, with a civil service that was unrivalled in the New Commonwealth”. But what was required to harness these vast human and material resource, and jumpstart the processes of national development, was capable leadership; a dedicated group of patriots committed to the realization of the dreams of the country’s founding fathers.

All was set for this much anticipated transition, when some unforeseen challenges reared their monstrous heads: the emergence of imposturous Jackasses (the post-colonial hegemonic forces) on the political stage who were bent on sabotaging the success of the young, promising project; scavengers who, having been waiting on the sidelines to feed off the hard work of the nationalists, gate crashed the party. It was the onset of the “Gilded Age”, a transitory period when the external glitter of prosperity concealed a highly corrupt political core that reflected a growing gap between the very few rich and the many poor.  It was an age when the dregs of the society took the collective destiny of the people into their leprous hands; an era that gave birth to the unbridled traditions of deception, licentiousness, wastefulness, sycophancy and sleaze.

Aware of the enormous wealth the newly independent state possessed, and the potential influence she was poised to wield in the committee of nations during the coming years, the emerging political elite, shrewdly and brazenly usurped control of the apparatuses of governance. Committed to maintaining the colonial structures of dominion, Nigeria’s “new breed politicians” (apologies to Rtd General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida), very early in the country’s post independence history, strove to retain the traditional structures of dominion and exploitation inherited from their former imperial mentors. In exactly the same dastardly fashion as the savage events of 1884-1885, when the competing colonial powers of Europe (at a conference convened by the imperial Chancellor and architect of the German Empire, Otto Von Bismarck) met in the German city of Berlin to formally partition mother Africa among themselves, the new heirs of Nigeria audaciously hijacked the control of the state and its administrative machinery from the people.

Nigeria’s new political elite coalesced into a superintending bourgeoisie class, while the larger population was made to retain its vassal status. In the psyche of Nigeria’s new owners, she was to be run like a slave colony. The country’s new managers picked up the gauntlet from the defunct British brigade and ensured that she remained a two-tiered society consisting of the excessively rich and miserably poor; a society that is stratified on the basis of how rich you are, how much financial stake you have in government, and how much money you contribute to the appointment and remuneration of the management staff of the enterprise – political office holders; a society of two distinct classes of citizens: the “Real Citizens”, that is those who control the machinery for the authoritative allocation of values, and the “Associate Citizens”, the larger population.

The real citizens – the political elite – control all aspects of national life. They decide those that are qualified – or not qualified – to hold public office, decide the kind of policies that best suits the state, and own, control and distribute the resources of the state as they deem fit. The real citizens are the only ones who enjoy full human rights, for the state is supposedly theirs. For the associate citizens – the ordinary Nigerians – their membership of the state is a privilege and not a right. They are supposed to follow the orders of the real citizens and to refrain from complaining. The few privileges they enjoy are premised on how obediently they kowtow to the whimsical dispositions of their “betters”. That is why Nigerian laws are discriminatory in their application. That is why when a poor man commits a crime he is made to feel the full brunt of the law either through jungle justice or by other punitive measures deemed necessary by the apostles of moral correctness.

Juxtapose the above scenario with that of members of the establishment, who are treated with kid’s gloves even when they commit more grievous offences. In very extreme cases, they are kept under house arrest where they have access to all their previous luxuries, and if they are convicted – which is very rare – they are given very light prison terms to serve, compared to the magnitude of their crimes, and when they are released, some of us sow uniforms to celebrate them. Nigeria is simply a country made up of two separate and unequal classes; a tightly closed caste system; an immobile, hierarchical system where those at the lowest rungs of the ladder have no chance of ever advancing beyond their sub-human conditions: they are supposedly born into squalor and are expected to die in it.

That is why I cringe any time the word “equality” is mentioned as being one of the basic cornerstones of governance in this country. How can there be equality in a society where an ever widening gulf separates the super-rich from the deplorably poor? That is why any talk of a middle class having ever existed in this country should be seen as cheap propaganda fabricated and sold to the ever impressionable public by the ruling class to shield the merciless class war that has raged between the rich and the poor since the commencement of the “New Nigeria Venture”, a huge business concern with multiple shareholders.

The emergence of oil and the interests derived from its exploitation, coupled with its assumption as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, constituting large percentages of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), National Budget, Foreign Exchange Earnings and National Wealth (Owugah, 1999:105), in the later post-independence years, worsened issues as the elite forces burrowed their sticky fangs into the economy. To control this highly priced resource, the oil producing communities in what is today’s Niger Delta region (an area that has suffered incalculably from the destructive cum disruptive exploitative exploration activities of giant multi-national oil corporations, backed by the double-crossing interests of the reckless drivers of the Nigerian State) were compressed into something in the mold of Noam Chomsky’s Grand Area ( See What Uncle “Sam Really Wants”, 1993: Page 11. Odonian Press.), which was subordinated to the requirements of the Nigerian economy.

In furtherance of their deviously crafted economic master plan for self-sufficiency, the Niger Delta region was cajoled into fulfilling a purely service function as a primary source of income for the ruling political elite, a development that is responsible for the traditional cut-throat competitions among the elite forces for the control of this single supreme resource. The various well documented oil-related conflicts in the Niger Delta are fallouts from the extreme struggles for the control of this black gold by the country’s political elite some of who hold multiple directorships of the giant multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, with a sprinkling owning multiple oil blocs most of which were acquired with monies pilfered from state coffers.  The truth is that politics and oil business go hand in hand in Nigeria as the ruling political elite also double as oil barons. It is a conspiratorial order, for where there is big money, there are conspiracies.

The ruling elite’s overreliance on oil consequently festooned a weak, mono-mineral economic toga on the state. Supposedly constructed to operate with an enterprise philosophy, as obtains in core capitalist societies that are based on the principles of open, free market competition, the Nigerian version has no productive base. It functions like a superficial, pre-industrial system; a system where free enterprise is a supposition; an arrangement where operators having no financial, material, moral, legal, nor any base whatsoever, seize control of the state’s administrative machinery to guarantee the uninterrupted flow of the commonwealth into their private treasure chests: “Counterfeit Capitalists”, a categorization that is akin to ace columnist, Tunde Obadina’s Pretender Capitalists”(Africa Today, June 1999. Pages 36-37).

Judging from the manner Nigeria has been administered since independence, it would not be out of order to posit that the country has been under the control of a demonic “Political Machine”, a straight jacketed, personalized, impersonal system of administration that is configured to serve the larcenous interests of a minute fraction of the population. This political machine is an organized group of political entrepreneurs who control all aspects of the country’s politics and offer services to supporters and funders in exchange for political or financial support.

The political machine is organized like a pyramid. At the pyramid’s base are local ward workers and captains, who work to mobilize supporters for their political parties and report to a district boss. At election, the district bosses work to secure votes, by hook and crook, in all the electoral wards in his district. The ward and district bosses function as the hatchet-men of the machine – the local organizers who look out for the machine’s interests at a lower level. In return for their support, the lackeys of the parties are promised jobs, contracts, or political appointments.

At the top of the pyramid are the political “godfathers”- who control the activities of the ruling political party throughout the country. The godfathers control thousands of municipal jobs, especially those in the civil service. Whether or not the godfathers hold elective or appointive positions, they exercise overwhelming influences over executive decisions within the country. Nothing can be done without their inputs. Thus, like programmed machines, district captains, ward bosses and the big bosses at the three levels of government work in concert to elect their preferred candidates and guarantee the smooth running of the machine.

Once the political machine gets its candidates into office, it immediately takes advantage of the influence it has over the government of the day to engage in the worst forms of graft. From awarding overinflated contracts to its members, obtaining its share of monthly federal allocations to the state and local governments for its lynchpins, securing the juiciest appointments for its cronies, influencing legislations to serve the personal interests of its members, in tandem with other overt and covert pressures on the government of the day, the political machine acts like a government unto itself.

The political machine operates a patronage system in Nigeria known as the “Spoil System” – a system of rewarding political supporters with government jobs. The theory behind the adoption and application of this system is that “winning candidates deserve the spoils or benefits to be seized after electoral victories”. In this vein, individuals from legislators to the casual workers who mop the floors of government houses owe their jobs to patronage. As should be expected, most government employees are not usually qualified for the positions they ultimately occupy. Moreover, political appointees, whether qualified or not, usually use their positions for personal advancements.

However, as is usual with all patronage systems, fraudulent practices engineered by the spoil system ultimately results in incompetence and daily interference in the administration of government. With each new administration, many more challenges pop up. Instead of addressing serious issues that would better the lives of the citizens, politicians busy themselves hankering after contracts, distributing government jobs, and engaging in other lecherously debauched pursuits.

Nigeria’s native supremacists cut across minute segments of its multifarious ethnic, religious and other subgroups, a fraction of the populace who are involved in the reprehensible business of commandeering “our” collective wealth for “their” common good. You find them in government, as members of the diplomatic corps, as top brass of the armed forces (serving and retired), as members of the Council of State, as party chieftains, as contractors, as traditional rulers, as heads of organized religions, as heads of big businesses, as commanders of militant groups, as heads of organized criminal consortiums and in other contrived capacities. They constitute the legendary “Nigerian Political Establishment”.

The political establishment is an association of money mongers who are nothing but murderous backstabbers. Despite posing as representatives of their constituencies, they represent no one but themselves and their cronies. This assemblage of bounty hunters, form the soft-landing base that eases the business of corrupt enrichment, especially during times of national crisis when they take up the mischievous roles of “Peace Ambassadors” or “Emissaries”, “Citizen Diplomats” and other contrived nomenclatures that are meant to cloak their self-aggrandizing dispositions. They are always around, always recycled to keep the subsisting order of graft and deceit in place.

Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, leader of Nigeria’s first military putsch in his broadcast on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on the 15th of January, 1966, fittingly labeled these enemies of Nigeria as: 

The political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that seek to keep the circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.

Nigeria has been cursed with demon-possessed leaders; self-serving vultures without conscience; greedy mongrels whose primitive affinities and proclivities have inadvertently pushed the country closer to the precipice. If one may ask, since all these years, what have the ordinary members of Nigeria’s ethnic groups whose kinsmen have been privileged to run the country’s affairs at all the levels (Federal, State and Local) and arms (Legislative, Executive and Judiciary) of government benefited from them? Your guess is as good as mine! Power is all that matters to Nigeria’s ruling oligarchs, not the people’s welfare, which comes’ last on their scale of preference. The rule is that when you seek first Nigeria’s political kingdom and its accoutrements, you are guaranteed access to larger chunks of the national cake. Power is a currency that must be obtained at all costs. This “get and keep power by all means” syndrome, has traditionally defined the behavior of Nigeria’s ruling classes over the years.

Nigeria’s superintending grand-masters are like the maximum emperors of ancient China, both in character and mien. These human divinities, these mortal deities, these self-proclaimed cognoscenti, act like the forces of nature. Like the legendary Greek gods on Mount Olympus, they assume that air of extreme pomposity and immortality that supposedly sets them apart from common earthlings.   These individuals see the state as a robot programmed to assuage their kleptomaniac urges; a machine to be tuned at will to do their perverted biddings. They are driven, unflinching, calculating machines, who live in a world beyond the ordinary; a world where everything is seemingly within their reach. That is why they think they can take whatever they want, whenever they want without scruples. But in their arrogance, they ignore the existence of a more powerful force than them; a group with a better claim to authority; a majority from whom their authority should normally flow and on whom their continued existence depends: the people without whom there would be neither state nor government. They forget that even the gods without faithful, devoted worshipers’ soon loose relevance and wither away.

Nigeria’s political order can best be described as a shambolic, lugubrious  system of mediocrity where excellence is a misnomer; an unstable system run by failed rulers who cling on to the reins of power, despite having nothing to offer, until they are disgraced off the stage; a colony of proud, pompous, gluttonous wild beasts; an illegal, disjointed and monstrous order of slavery that has been perpetually in the leprous hands of political careerists who, having failed in their private lives, see politics as a safety net; an entity in the firm grip of yokels who should be quarantined within their natural abodes; a country led by yetis who have descended from their mountain habitats to cohabit with homo sapiens; a territory in the firm grasp of gluttonous groveling graspers from lowly backgrounds with several talents for mischief.

Some of the roguish characters who have ruinously piloted the affairs of the Nigeria State over the years include: failed doctors (orthodox and traditional), failed religious heads, failed bank executives, failed lawyers, failed businessmen, failed armed robbers, failed fraudsters, failed academics, failed occultists, failed husbands, failed wives, failed drug barons, failed prostitutes, failed parents, failed traditional rulers, failed farmers, to countless other failures too numerous to mention, Nigeria is an entity under the control of nonentities. That is why Nigeria still operates a Stone Age political system in the 21st century. No wonder there is a general systems failure at virtually all facets of national life.

This is an order of coups and counter-coups. (A coup within the context of this discourse connotes the illegal takeover of government by any individual or group, not just the military). This might sound surprising to some as the mere mention of “coups” reminds them of the military putsches that have punctuated the country’s political transitions over the years; the unsolicited interruptions that have slowed down the country’s growth and stalled its match to nationhood. But contrary to traditional definitions, the coups being referred to in this discourse are the unwarranted takeovers randomly orchestrated and executed by the country’s elite forces (homeland civil-military slave drivers) in their quest for power. These shylock power mongers masterminded the coyest, cockiest design in the political history of Nigeria, commencing in the years after the country formally gained its paper freedom, consequently setting the stage for the macabre dance of death that have become the hallmark of politics in these parts. Nothing separates the several fraudulent takeovers of constituted governments by the civilian members of the ruling class – the mercenaries in mufti – from the inglorious actions of their military cohorts: both brazenly usurp political authority under the flimsy pretexts of “political expediencies”, both are exploitative and hegemonic, both are illegitimate, both deny human rights and rely on the excessive use of brute force.

That is sadly the traditional order of things in this odious, villainous, illegitimate skunk of a state called Nigeria, a shambolic system operated by a hoard of senile, parasitic, visionless and directionless crop of yapping yahoos. It is a chaotic order in which the cruel domination of man by his fellow man has been injuriously executed with the kind of callousness rivaled only by the bestialities of the Visigoths, Vandals and other Barbarian tribes. It is simply a contemporary order of serfdom run by a pack of loathsome Hyenas.  It has ensured that Nigeria remains a commercial enclave run by political merry men and women, the happy-go-lucky ones who prevent others from joining their party. It is a merry-go-round customized to accommodate only a few privileged ones.

This personalization of the Nigerian State, which was meant to suit the fancy of the country’s political journey-men, formally laid the faulty, quake-prone foundation that has continued to define citizen-state relations in the “Federal Republic of Nigeria” till date.

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