Even the most dismissive of the progressives in Nigerian politics must have got the message that even as there might not be anything approximating a Marxist Moment in Nigeria yet, the seed has been planted in a very green space and that things might never be the same again. It is probably instructive that the seed was planted in a week of frightening violence in Kaduna and between the military and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. Beyond the deaths in each of these cases and the memories of bitterness it would produce across the divides, there is nothing close to a smart, credible investigation of any of the two violent conflicts that would suggest that Nigeria is being governed. It will just fizzle out with time. Since this lack of technical competence and competence in governance has been the heritage of power for a long time – military and civilian rule- there seems a clear message that the power elite in Nigeria has neither the ambition nor the capacity to govern and that, if care is not taken, what can be called the ruling class in Nigeria can, consciously or otherwise, sink the country. It would appear the message has been received.
In other words, the power elite might have finally succeeded in provoking a Marxist current that can produce a Marxist Moment, regardless of how long it takes and what form it does – Enterism, electoral politics, radicalization of democracy or a Socialist Revolution.
How it would happen that a national ruling class in an age of nationalism would fail so completely to build a nation and a state corresponding to Nigeria’s over-abundance must be the mother of all puzzles about postcolonial Africa. Nothing, it now appears, would move them to do that. In May 2016, something happened. Then British Prime Minister, David Cameroon, declared right in the week President Muhammadu was in London to attend one of those discursive practices how “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”. In 2018, Donald Trump followed Cameron by declaring Africa shithole. Within Africa, Nigeria is the butt of jokes and yabbis because of a unique failure of elite leadership. Not any or all of these cases of derision or contempt of their foreign patrons would move them towards anything that breaks from the beaten path of self-humiliation. The philosophical poverty, ideological timidity and policy childishness is such that it has become embarrassing arguing that there isn’t something of an endemic catastrophe with the concept of leadership in Nigeria.
As it is today, education, health and infrastructure are in shambles. No better evidence is needed than that majority of those who can afford it have sent their children to other countries to be educated. Only those who cannot afford medical tourism patronise national health facilities. Meanwhile, the elite are busy proving ex-University of Ibadan’s Prof Onigu Otite right when he said that it is an unconstituted class. Obasanjo, the most politically prominent of the elite, indirectly affirmed this in 2001 when he said that what Nigeria has are baby capitalists. But, how could they be so baby capitalists to the extent that they are so badly fragmented today? Or to have been totally unable to even maintain what the colonial state and the first generation of leaders handed over to them? Take industrialisation, for example. The Northern and Western premiers in the First Republic settled accounts with their masses through industrialisation. It is okay now to say that was through Import Substitution Industrialisation, (ISI) strategy which has inherent limitations. But, why has it been impossible to add value to what that set of leaders did? Is Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria or the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife comparable in any ways to what those institutions were between 1970 and 1985? Today, they are seeking escape from the mandate of class leadership by selling off State Owned Enterprises, (SOEs). As someone remarked at the Marxism Conference, unlike before when state enterprises were inefficient but at least functioning, 80% of them so far privatised are not working. They have totally gone comatose, whether it is NITEL or Ajaokuta. One of Nigeria’s elderly professors told the story of how the origin of the crisis in the university system today is wholly traceable to a decision the Obasanjo regime took in 1976, collapsing (university) education almost irretrievably thereafter.
Look at how capital cities are managed in Nigeria. It is said that the way a capital city is managed reflect the quality of a ruling class because the capital city is the seat of the political power of the ruling class. Nigerian capital cities are incredible spaces of chaos, be it Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Portharcourt. Enugu which used to be an exception in terms of an organised, solemn city has since fallen to chaos and depravity. Each of these cities is a jungle in which the commercial, residential, religious, educational are lumped together, producing unspeakable noise that make people deaf without knowing the source of such deafness and without many even knowing they are actually deaf. It is possible that President Buhari, Atiku Abubakar and the other numerous presidential candidates would be addressing social transformation in Nigeria during their impending campaign. So far, they are not speaking to that. They are still speaking the language of their patrons: reform, public-private partnership, privatisation, etc.
Instructively, Marxism Conference leaders are talking about return to humane alternatives to democracy that has been emptied of its content. And the example used is the conduct of last primary elections. It was a charade across the parties with very, very few exceptions. If the national establishment in the leading African country is not ready for the minimum of liberal democratic principles and practices in a dangerous world made so by a rash of extreme right-wing ideologies, then it is calling forth an alternative. The leaders might have in mind the point by one of them in the late 1970s that, for Africa, it is either Socialism or barbarism. That was what Claude Ake said. It has not been Socialism across Africa. Rather, it has been barbarism across the continent: from Somalia to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Mali, Libya and contemporary Nigeria which boils in violence permanently now.
Of course, Marxism, Socialism or radicalisation of democracy are complex and complicated processes, with different meanings for different people even among Marxists. The return of the Marxism Conference tradition suggests awareness of the imperative of taking another look at these black boxes. It is not possible for leftists engaging in two days of reflections and bush clearing not to appear on the radar of contending centres of power across the world, particularly a highly publicised conference as this. There has emerged nothing in the form of a communiqué. Beyond the historically contested grounds in Marxism, there are four things that might require keeping in mind as far as a journalistic production of this type is concerned.
One would be the position by a much younger conference attendee that academic Marxism is in trouble but not revolutionary Marxism. What an enigmatic intervention! It is not a false statement because we cannot dismiss the everyday acts of resistance on street corners, against local oppressive structures and other spaces of everyday. To the extent that these are not structured by any formal theories of resistance, they can be called revolutionary Marxism, with Marxism put in inverted commas perhaps. But it is not true either that we can distinguish academic Marxism from revolutionary Marxism. Every form of practice is a product of its discourse or narrative or storyline, each of which is another name for theory. In this lies the significance of what yet another of the elderly professors said about the need for Marxists to be so thorough in conceptual and empirical grasp so that when a Marxist says, this society must be changed, he knows what he or she is saying and those listening to him are persuaded by his representation of the situation. In other words, no hero worship, no impressionism, no mystification, no extreme wickedness in the name of the ‘revolution’.
The third but absolutely very significant development is the unpacking of the nature of capitalism that Marxism confronts if it must successfully radicalise democracy in Nigeria. The contention is that it is extractivist, violent and criminal in character. Characterising it as essentially capitalism limited to extraction of liquid and solid minerals without caring about how Nigeria might add value through manufacturing serves an alert as well as strategy functions. The alert there is the specificity it draws attention to: capitalism may be global but it is not experienced the same way across the world. The strategy implication is self-evident – straight to the point.
Lastly, the location of this Marxism Conference in the labour of “our heroes past”. Key Note speaker and the Planning Committee member who spoke at the opening session did this very well. It bears recalling the names of such heroes: Amaechi Mbazulike, Osita Agwuna, Mokwugu Okoye, Eskor Toyo, S G Ikoku, Baba Omojola, Tunji Otegbeye, Bade Onimode, Omafume Onoge, Aaron Gana, Bala Usman, Claude Ake, Festus Iyayi, Samir Amin, Dani Nabudere, Raufu Mustapha, Sam Moyo, Tajudeen Abdulraheem, Saidu Adamu, Abubakar Momoh, Bamidele Aturu and Chima Ubani. Bjorn Beckman and Yusuf Bangura were mentioned but in terms of their inability to attend the conference at last.
It would seem so much achieved within so short a time!