The Gofers And The Governors: In Defence Of A Mandate

Kenya and Nigeria have too many things in common that include Anglophonic and Ebonic features. But twin evidence has opined that instead of guaranteeing citizens’ basic right to vote freely, both governments and their electoral officials actively colluded in electoral fraud and violence. For President Mwai Kibaki to win an election that is openly balloted, a theorist has to revise the algebra in an open air to appease the masses.

For Nigeria, the election fraud and the replacement of direct military rule by a military-backed regime may finally expose the politics of those oppositionists, some claiming to be socialists, who said the struggle for the social interests of the Nigerian masses must be subordinated to a campaign for “democracy”. Our presidential election April 2007, appears to have been riddled with fraud and irregularity, with results skewed in favour of the ruling party

I felt we should deal with some of the contentious issues facing us today especially the new bold steps that our nation is adopting to promote growth, stability, development and democracy. We all have our fears, biases, ideas, and ideals about government, the custodians of state power, government policies, and the future of our great nation. We are all agreed also that things have not gone too well in the direction that we all would wish or want. In fact, leadership has failed us very badly and followership has become trivialized, commoditized, contaminated and corrupted. The challenge today is for all of us to join hands in finding democratic solutions to the failures of the past and the challenges of the present.

What is so interesting about our country and its peoples is that we all demand the good things of life: from good governance to basic human needs. There is nothing wrong with this. However, we demand these benefits from government forgetting that directly and indirectly we are all part of what is called “government.” More importantly, when it comes to expressing the necessary requirements to make the country capable of delivering on basic human needs, we tend to prevaricate, procrastinate, fractionalize our loyalty, find excuses, evade responsibilities, and privatize our participation in the national objective.

Of course, we all know that good governance is the ultimate answer to insecurity, human rights abuses, the suffocation of civil society, social injustice, unemployment and the marginalization of non-bourgeois communities and constituencies. Whether citizens are patriotic, hardworking, and empowered or not would depend on the context of government policy, the strength of the private sector, the nature of the educational system, the quality of governance, and the depth of sensitivity to the plight of marginalized members of the society. Before we look at the issues , let us make a brief excursion down memory lane into our recent history. After all, if you do not know your history, you are not likely to appreciate the world around you much less have a holistic strategy for engaging the challenges of life.

If our enemies are the political profiteers, swindlers, the men in high and low places who seek bribes and demand ten percent, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers and VIPs of waste, the tribalists, the nepotists, then I have a few questions for you bright and educated professionals today: Are the political profiteers gone from the Nigerian society? Are the bribe takers gone? Do they demand ten percent or more today? Are those that seek to keep Nigeria permanently divided gone? Are the VIPs of waste no longer with us? What about the tribalists? Are they gone? Are they weaker in their politics? What about the nepotists? Have they been reformed? If we can answer “yes” to one of these questions, we can end the lecture right here, go home, pop some champagne and sing halleluiah because our country has been reborn. Let me put it to you all (as if you did not already know) that our country is still in big trouble. These troubles were not created by some invisible elements or by God. They were generated and nurtured by people that live amongst us; people that we all know very well. Some of those that have encouraged, reproduced and sustained these negative features of our society are even right here with us in this room: all that I can say is — search your soul and tell yourself if you are part of the problem.

In many instances we have encouraged and protected these characters and this attitude has emboldened them to take more risks in perpetuating their dubious agenda. Today, we are all paying very dearly for the indiscipline, irresponsibility, arrogance, limited vision, wickedness and greed of this group. Unfortunately, their pathological fixation on irresponsibility, nepotism, corruption, waste, and other lucrative but unproductive and not really helpful ventures have percolated to the lowest ebbs of our society to such an extent that even ordinary people now mimic the decadent elite with some sort of silly arrogance. This is very unfortunate for a creative and hardworking people.

I want to make bold to say that the roots of the problems of our country can be found at five major levels: The nature of our history, historical experience and the consequences of that experience; The nature and character of the Nigerian postcolonial state ;The character, hegemony and accumulative base of the Nigerian governing (as against ruling) class; The nature of contestations and engagements within and between social classes; and The location and role of the Nigerian social formation in the global divisions of labor and power. It is the coalitions, contradictions, distortions and disarticulations arising from these factors and forces that shape the content and context of our politics and society. It is the inability of the state to emerge as a relatively autonomous force; the inability of the governing class to build hegemony and emerge as a ruling class; the contradictions of production and exchange relations; and the continuing marginal location and role of the social formation in the global power balances that have created the foundations for political rascality or indiscipline in Nigeria.

The consequences have been gargantuan. Cynicism and general distrust of government; susceptibility to manipulation; low capacity to understand and support good public policies; in fact, a general dedication, especially by the urban based elite, bureaucrats, politicians, and the so-called middle class to subverting public policies has become the norm. Thus, rather than build structures, ideologies, relationships, networks, and enabling environments to build a nation-state (if not a nation) out of the contending diverse interests, identities and nationalities that occupy our political landscape, the opportunistic politics of the power elite has rather, congealed alternative sites of loyalty and power. It has enthroned and reified norm-less politics, alienated significant communities that continue to survive and operate outside the hegemony of the state, and promoted a culture of criminality and shameless reliance on extra-legal processes and actions that now guide relations between the people on the one hand and the state and its custodians on the other. It is not an accident therefore that informality and informal relations continue to reign supreme whether it is to get a job, scholarship, admission, contracts, relate to public institutions and officers or whatever, Nigerians consider first an informal approach before or alongside a formal one.

No one believes in justice anymore. Few trust the police. No one deals with the customs without first thinking of how much bribe to pay. We evade taxes but want all public services to be provided by government. Even in dealing with the market, we are so used to free things that we want the price of goods and services that prevailed in the 1980s to prevail today. Why not, it is our money and we are entitled to operate within our own laws! Parents bribe teachers to ensure that their wards are passed in exams or promoted no matter the outcome of exam results. Parents hire persons to write JAMB and GCE and other exams for their wards. The wards, having taken a leaf from their parents, hire others to sit exams for them on campus. Cults reign supreme on campuses not libraries, social clubs, friendship associations, or political groups. It is so bad that in one of our famous (should I say infamous) state universities, cultists picked a young man from an exam hall and killed him in broad daylight! The social fabric of our society has gone to the dogs as merit, service, integrity and loyalty are shamelessly sacrificed on the alter of mediocrity, opportunism, corruption, ineptitude, greed, and socio-political rascality. People play and joke with the present and the future and believe that the stolen funds stashed away in local and foreign banks would save them when things fall apart. Please, take a look at Liberia and learn.

The rascality that I am talking about is the brand of politics or social engagement that lacks ideological content and context that is short sighted, disorganized, opportunistic, and incapable of building strong, efficient and effective institutions. This brand of politics is generally superficial, alienating, and pedestrian. It is often focused on the capture and deployment of raw power and its mobilization capacity is often limited or superficial. In broad contexts, it is anti-people. This is because issues of gender equality especially women’s rights, the environment, social cultural rights, community rights, minority rights, and popular participation in the making and implementation of decisions are often taken for granted, trivialized or simply ignored. Political rascality is essentially individualistic and is often expressed in the inability of politicians to maintain discipline within their own parties or constituencies. There is an excessive focus on building personality cults, subverting laid down rules, seeking short cuts to power, and using power to marginalize already voiceless and marginal communities and citizens.

Of course, political rascality is also a “strategy” for covering up monumental policy failures on the part of the elite. It shows up as a sort of “shakara” politics where critical issues and discourses are reduced to pedestrian levels and trivialized. Thus rather than present serious minded and focused well-thought out strategies or programs for change, the politicians engage in the politics of personality and diversions. Under this mould of politics, there is often a well-packed strategy of blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators. A steady strategy of depoliticization, defensive radicalism and de-ideologization become the basis of political relations and competition. In sum, it is nothing short of “political 419”. When political rascals get into power at any level, they use state power to visit violence, pain, and poverty on the masses. In the localities, they simply become leaders in the “local axis of evil” created to reproduce an existing unjust system. They use such opportunities to negate the public good and become clogs in the wheels of progress. Thus the state become an instrument of domination, exploitation and marginalization rather than the bastion of human rights, gender equality, social justice, environmental protection, eradication of poverty, and the sanctity of the rule of law.

Allow me to spend a few minutes on the type of elite that is, in large measure, making life impossible for our people today. These are the so-called big men. They are “big” because of stolen funds and because they stepped on the souls of millions of poor voiceless Nigerians to acquire their numerous cars, mansions, foreign accounts, and countless police and private security escorts and guards. What are they scared of? Whose goat did they steal? As Malam Nasir el-Rufai, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory noted recently in relation to the Nigerian elite: “We have a middle class in this country which historically have made money from doing nothing but living off public enterprises” (Newswatch October 2, 2002).The “big man” in Nigeria has always been and remains a danger to society. The evidence of elite failure (often based on government) is all around us. This so-called “big man” is a really dangerous, undemocratic character whose track record shows nothing but corruption, waste, violence, human rights abuses, misplaced priorities, and a pathological commitment to the recycling of mediocrity. The typical “big man” in Nigeria (with very few exceptions) has no respect or regard for women, much less gender equality. He is not interested in environmental protection. He is anti-intellectual and hates non-governmental organizations. He sees the media as a menace and minority rights hardly feature in his confused understanding of pluralism and social justice. He measures his worth or importance by the degree of poverty, disease and squalor around him. For him, rural people are idiots and illiterates and have no right to discuss national issues. The youth are stupid: after all they pay no taxes and have no grounds to comment on the challenge of national development. The so-called “big man” spends most of his time thinking and plotting how to corner public funds, subvert the course of justice, weaken public institutions to cover his criminal activities, and while constantly tooth-aching and bellyaching about how public facilities fail to work, does nothing about a viable alternative.

The “big man” is not ashamed to be in charge of an unstable, ramshackle, unsteady, inefficient and corrupt state or corporation in so far as all allocations can go into his private bank account. He insists on being called by all sorts of flamboyant names: “The Great Lion,” “The Big Goat”, “The Huge Lizard,” “The Killer” and “The Teacher”, “The Father of the Nation”, “The Rain Maker” to take a few examples. You know the other prevalent titles in Nigeria anyway! He carries himself as if without him the world would be destroyed by the almighty. His every word, even jokes are to be treated as law. He blames real and imaginary enemies, especially trade unionists, students, the IMF and World Bank and armed robbers for his policy failures. Impatient with democracy and due process, he contaminates compromises and encapsulates the other arms of government. He does not hesitate to eliminate or ruin his opponents. He constructs huge houses for his sycophants, mistresses and relatives. While closing local schools because of “irresponsible” and radical students, he keeps his wards at the best schools abroad. While reducing budgets to local health facilities, he regularly seeks medical check-ups and treatment abroad. He attends the Mosque and Church regularly and with fanfare but has a resident babalawo IIfa priest) in his mansion or village. His morality stinks as he sleeps with the daughters of his priests, friends and contractors. He fathers children all over the place but care little, if at all for them. Acquiring new mistresses is a hobby. He treats public resources as his personal assets and insists on being thanked for constructing highways and paying salaries to workers. He is very convinced that he is the nation’s best warrior, bureaucrat, thinker, businessman, accountant, and sportsman. Even when he can hardly read a legibly written speech, he considers himself the best orator in the world. Whether we like it or not, we do have a problem here and some of us in this room have relatives, parents, friends, associates and neighbors that fit this mould of behavior. What have you done so far about it? To the best of my knowledge, such an elite has never moved any nation forward. No wonder, by 1999, Nigeria was almost ready to give up, to put it starkly. Historical memory can be short. Many of us act as if 1999 was twenty years ago. We are set for business as usual. Yet, we must recall that Nigeria in 1999 had all the features of a failed state: institutions and structures had collapsed, political spaces were suffocated, civil society was intimidated, and government had lost all its credibility. Extra-legal strategies of engaging the state were commonplace; the judiciary had been corrupted and compromised, and citizens hardly devoted any time on how to uplift the nation. It is quite easy to forget the violence, corruption, intimidation, assassinations and negation of all positive values of society because of our newfound freedoms and voices. In 1999, leadership had been totally discredited. Institutions had stopped providing relevant services to the people, public projects were abandoned and public interest had been compromised. The economy was in shambles and all indicators of growth and development were in the negative. The values of probity, social justice, transparency and accountability had all become compromised. In fact, the rule of law had become privatized, as were the instruments of coercion. Creativity had been pushed aside as the society celebrated mediocrity and terror.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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