2017 played a joke on Nigerians. But for the ominous violence in Bwari Local Government Area of the Federal Capital Territory and the fuel supply crease, 2017 managed to end fairly peacefully. It ended in contradiction of its tension soaked start characterised by presidential ill-health and subsequent flight to London and all that. Thank God then that 2017 is gone with its own peculiarities and 2018 is now here. But will 2018 be a great year just because 8 has replaced 7 or 8 is greater than 7 in value? Analysts would say that a lot would depend on how we think about the world broadly, think about our country and about ourselves.
But even then, such thinking must take note of two processes. The first and most important is the Interregnum the world itself is experiencing. Interregnum here refers to the period of relative void when the old order has basically crumbled but a new one has not quite taken shape, much less understandable in terms of its most key features. These features are still to manifest fully, making it nonsensical to expect people to have understood, not to talk of internalising them. So, the world is without an ideological map because actually existing Communism crumbled twenty five years ago but neoliberalism which was the second ideological order is in ruins.
That is where the Interregnum is coming from. And it is a very difficult moment for every leaders, nations and communities across the world. The world has, indeed, jumbled its card and no one has successfully re-arranged it. Who will re-arrange it and when are questions no one can answer off handedly. Time once suggested that the world is in need of another Karl Marx. It is part of the nostalgia for the bipolar world order. But even if Marx were to re-emerge today, he would have to take some time before he can make any useful or powerful statement on contemporary capitalism. The capitalism he studied has totally metamorphosed into something else. Lenin would find it easier to connect with what is happening than Marx. Whether it is Marx or Lenin or Michel Foucault who gives the world her next ideological map, Africa would have to think very hard and quick or risk survival crisis.
It is in this light that what Nigerian leaders say about 2018 matter because they are a key face of the African agency. Taking the most important of what the Nigerian leaders are saying which would be President Buhari’s construction of Nigeria in 2018, what might be a reasonable expectation of 2018?
Although the president seized the initiative by discursively confronting an item such as restructuring, his New Year message left worrisome gaps. A discursive confrontation with an issue in contest is what leadership is all about. To that extent, it was fine he deconstructed restructuring in the address. The president’s position does not have to appeal to everyone but it leaves no one in doubt as to where the president stands, as a person and as the president. It doesn’t mean he cannot be faulted.
For instance, someone might ask: the president doesn’t want his fellow elite members to talk about ethnicity. Fine! He doesn’t want them to use religion. Great! But he didn’t say anything about how the elite might articulate or coin their responses to inequality which is the politics of restructuring. Yet, neither the president nor anyone for that matter can deny inequality because sexual, regional, generational, ethnic and other forms of inequalities are inherent to capitalism. The elite know that restructuring will not take the country anywhere but how do they respond? What if the president came up with a checklist?
The same brilliance is sadly not there in the substantive or core issue of the address which is the mission scorecard. In the first place, it was never clear throughout whether the president was re-writing his Manifesto after three years into the first term or presenting a Manifesto for his second term. Most of the projects are due for completion in 202 or thereabout, three years into the second term should he be re-elected. It never came clear why he is still making promises at this point, signposted by aspects such as 2018 promising to be pivotal in the regime’s quest for change or how it is “going to make significant in-roads in advancing road, rail and power projects across the country”. Such statements will stand as depressing commentary on the regime because they suggest that the government has spent three years studying, appraising and mapping or defining catalysts for the change in question.
For those who recall how aspirant Buhari codified his mission, it was security, corruption and infrastructure. That was before Obasanjo advised that infrastructure be changed to the economy, perhaps to make it more holistic in coverage. So, the question of the current year being pivotal in the politics of CHANGE would remain shocking about the regime and its self-representation. The gaps are there in all other claims. The president gave his regime kudos in agriculture, for example, but there was no mention of what type of agriculture is at issue, (enhanced subsistence, commercial or mechanized); who are the target producers and what’s their potential in relation to food security, (especially products of high nutritional content); foreign exchange earnings and employment. There was not that categorical statement about what agriculture’s contribution to the GDP was and where this success story has taken it to now. Or is it that some people have not read the speech to that detail?
He celebrated regime intervention in energy, using the 7000 megawatts attainment in electricity generation. Commendable as relative stability of electricity supply in recent months in some quarters might be, the question is if the president can say that the cost of energy in Nigeria is such that enhances the competitiveness of Nigerian products today. Above all, he evaded the issue of who grounded Nigeria again in fuel supply crisis. Instead of shooting straight, the president is promising to ensure that whichever group engaged in what he calls manipulated hardship is prevented from doing so again. Meanwhile, the president is the Oil Minister. That statement negates the logic of the hike in fuel prices in 2016 which, according to the government, was because a cabal was at work and there was no other response to its machinations. By following the narrative of hoarding even after independent marketers have strongly countered that, isn’t the president suggesting tolerance of forces beyond the control of the government but internal to it?
Although APC leaders such as Bola Tinubu talked about how financialisation has captured Nigeria at the 10th anniversary of Dr Bala Usman in 2015, the APC regime itself never makes reference to the extroverted character of the Nigerian economy. This remains intriguing to many. Yes, Tinubu is no radical but nothing says there cannot be such contradictions or nationalist elements among the power elite. Even if he was playing to the gallery, at least, he documented his position and circulated it. Let others do the same.
The New Year message of the president who is the apex of collective agency in Nigeria provides a guide to what to expect in 2018. When considered along the overarching global void in terms of an ideological map or the Interregnum; the premium on political office which has become a Mode of Production in a neocolony as Nigeria and the anxiety associated with the year most of the politicking for the General Elections in 2019 would take place, those expecting magic from 2018 might need to pray harder.
This is more so that a contradictory modernism is compounding the reality of the Interregnum by producing interests and forces committed to decentering practices but mostly without a thought to the imperative of recentering. That automatically makes anarchists of many of those seeking changes today rather than what they understand themselves to be doing. There is no level of development anywhere in the world today where the thing called the state is no longer needed. The state as a concept and as a practice is full of contradictions but the beauty of it is in its key contradiction – the state can be used for good just as some elements can seize it and use it for bad, problematic as the concepts of good and bad are when not qualified.
It is the combined reality of the Interregnum and the decentering character of politics today that makes leadership such a primary requirement for moving Nigeria out of the social stalemate it has found itself. That is the leadership that particularly understands and appreciates the two processes as they play out in Nigeria. A leadership that is capable of weaving a banner of hope via epistemic authority and the imperative for negotiated accommodation. Negotiated accommodation becomes such a crucial variable in politics in a complex setting such as Nigeria where the diversity of cleavages makes foundationalist thinking dangerous. The leadership in question is not necessarily the incumbent president or governors or the local government council chairmen. It is the class leadership of the Nigerian power elite.