The 7th News Express Anniversary Lecture has come and gone. It was certainly a commendable way of adding extra value to Nigeria by the online newspaper in not only providing a platform for framing the Nigerian crisis but also assembling emerging signifiers of the middle class from all corners of Nigeria to attempt that. But what might be the most key point that everyone could be said to have come away with from the fascinating mixture of the speakers? The stars of the day were obviously the four loudest voices heard at the occasion.
The first of them is Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State and Vice-Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) in the February 2019 Presidential Election. To the extent that he could have been the Vice-President today, he is a speaker whose pronouncements give the society an idea of what the leading lights of the power elite are thinking about class leadership, industrializing Nigeria to take it to where it should be; management of diversity and so on. Although Peter Obi is not a philosopher of that class, being more into mercantilism, he has a singularity about him that puts him in a position to be reckoned with as far as articulating what can be called the vision and mission of his class. That singularity is the image of having been above prebendalism while in office. Whatever explains that, that image is sticking in his favour.
The second voice of note there is what News Express calls eminent lawyer and celebrated activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, (SAN). He too is a significant speaker, perhaps more from his past role than what he is now. He was president of the Obafemi Awolowo University Students Union Government at a time that campus alone in Nigeria apart from a few in the Northern part of the country was cult-free. However the campus accomplished that, it is to his credit as the student union leader. This is more so in the context of the state context and origin of campus cultism in Nigeria at the time. Worth mentioning to his credit too is the relative perfectness of the catering facilities at OAU, Ile-Ife at that time. The Students Union leader may not necessarily have much to do with such a campus wide arrangement but leadership entails taking the bad, the good and the ugly. What this background point to is that, aside from his training as a lawyer, he has had a taste of managing human beings at a different level and can pose a perspective.
The third voice is legal cum development expert, Barrister Bashir Madugu who though a PDP ideologue as the party’s former national officer, he is now an Honourary Special Adviser on Infrastructure to the incumbent APC governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum. Another voice there who can, again, be traced to the activist tradition, particularly of the Campaign for Democracy, (CD) is Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin. News Express fondly poses her as the International Woman of Courage which might have to do with the number of times she has been detained under military dictatorship. She chaired the event.
With the similarity in class location and professional background, they should signpost an aggregate middle class standpoint on Nigeria. The question is whether anything ties together their understanding of the crisis Nigeria on the theme of “Getting Nigeria Out of the Woods – A New Thinking”.
Dr. Okei-Odumakin essentialised corruption and the change of attitude she thinks is required to change it. Peter Obi disagreed, saying that corruption itself is a product of bad leadership. He even disagreed with the theme, believing that the problem have been thought out. What is required is just implementation. For Madugu, the issue to think about is “AfCTA and The Challenges of African Integration”. Using slides, Madugu took time to link the audience to the developmental implications of AfCTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) for Nigeria. For Adegboruwa, (SAN), if Nigeria is to get out of her permanent crisis, then “The Role of Rule of Law in Getting Nigeria Out of the Woods” is it. That is, there must be respect for rule of law as a sine qua non or it would the case of a rolling stone, gathering no moss.
The devil is in the details. This report cannot go into the details of each presentation beyond the above sketches which are just what are needed to answer the question of what direction the emerging middle class voices suggest about the future of Nigeria. What do the analyses of the Nigerian crisis in terms of corruption; centralizing rule of law; leveraging on AfCTA and bad leadership tell us in relation to rapid social transformation?
These options suggest that there is no push for systematic rupturing of the status quo among emerging middle class signifiers in Nigeria. Rule of law is a radical option to the extent that it is a leveler but law itself is a space of power relations. Enthroning rule of law will not automatically resolve the crisis of redistributive injustice. It will only blunt the extreme manifestations. Peter Obi is fundamentally correct to say that corruption cannot be understood in itself. He is also substantially right to say bad leadership promotes corruption. He is, however, subscribing to problem-solving theory by ruling out contextual investigation of the Nigerian crisis at every turn. But, every turn in the crisis demands new discursive data and voices on it. That makes continuous dialogue very important although, dialogue in Nigeria is rarely qualitative. It is mostly about threatening the other along ethno-regional divides which ends mostly in stalemate. Still, there are no conclusive thinking that would support Obi’s closure.
Until a different set of middle class activists speak again, this is the plausible reading of the mood of that class in Nigerian politics today based on the synthesis of the position of the four speakers. That class could embody sporadic outburst of #RevolutionNow but a manifesto for radical transformation is not a common article of faith for all its members yet. Rather, the aggregate sense of the class is one which believes the situation can be managed but there is no consensus on an overarching approach to that. Nothing from the emerging voices comparable to the views of the Prof Segun Osobas, Bala Usmans and Biodun Jeyifos that Nigerian capitalism is substantially speculative and unproductive or a categorical proposal for transforming what Akin Mabogunje, for instance, would call a pre-industrial society to a modern one. It is not clear if that is a minus or a plus for the speakers at the 7th News Express Lecture.
Congratulations to News Express for expanding the discursive and, by implication, the democratic space.