Nigeria is, today, a perfect example of the Risk Society. The Risk Society is not a theory of Nigerian politics but its main argument applies very well to Nigeria. Nigeria had no experience of a terrorist challenge to the state on the scale of Boko Haram. Now, it is going through that experience and the unspeakable stress on the society that comes from the challenge. Nigeria never knew any phenomenon called banditry on the scale being experienced today. These two nasty experiences are coming on the heels of insurgency in the Niger Delta, prolonged violence on the Plateau, a tradition of imposition of candidates, unbelievable rigging of elections and unthinkable level of corruption whose perpetrators ensure they win as highest bidders in the tribunals, courts and even in the media.
There are no other conditions of possibility for things to go out of control than a combination of these features. In other words, the society is pregnant with damned too many contradictions that can fuse and explode beyond capture in language. And this will happen in a manner that no one can escape the consequences although some people will always be smart enough to make their millions from it even when the bodies of victims are still to be buried. That is how deadly the society has become.
In this sort of situation, the appointment of the Chief of Staff to the President will always be a matter of public concern in terms of who is getting or not getting what has, historically, been the most powerful job in Nigerian history, be it under the military or civilian administration. It could be said that General Abdullahi Mohammed, the first occupant of the position in democratizing Nigeria was actually a co-president, sometimes with more Special Advisers on one realm or the other than even Obasanjo. His space in power was absolutely wide. So, it is difficult to understand where people got the analysis that this is just an administrative job involving merely managing the president’s men and women. Of course, the powers General Mohammed exercised came from access or association, the same type of power a wife or a husband exercises when the spouse is the incumbent. It is the power of access. That being the case, only a partially formed individual or a politically disorganized person will go to the office without being powerful, as relational as power is.
As such, it is saddening that Nigerians appear to missing the point again in the appraisal so far of the appointment of Prof Ibrahim Gambari, especially the popular but naïve thinking that his background has prepared him for the job or the alternative analysis that another Fulani and Muslim is here. While it is true that a Bala Usman or a Prof Sam Aluko or a Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is sure to arrive Villa with a force of personality guaranteeing of progressive fireworks if any of them were the appointee, any occupant of that office will still be what Nigerians make of him. This is not said in ignorance of the fact that there is no guarantee for public opinion to work just as there is no guarantee that the turbulence of power will enable Prof Gambari to bring much of the great positive and negative narratives of him to the current office. He has never been anything like Chief of Staff to the president of a country such as Nigeria and much of what he does now will be determined by the dynamics at work.
Taking the diffuse character of the power dynamics as well as the Risk Society scenario, it makes sense to argue for tabling truly popular agenda to the government and making it to oblige. So far, the enterprise of setting agenda for power in Nigeria has been largely weak, sectarian, insular and full of demagogy. They have been such that the government could dodge its edge because surrogate platforms taking the opposite position quickly and successfully turn the agitation to a case of two fighting: North versus South, Islam versus Christianity and so on.
The day agitation moves beyond this level to a formidable coalition of truly popular democratic interests against unreasonable electricity bills, the decapitation of universities, the level of corruption in government even now, the bareness of the health infrastructure, that is the day Nigerians will determine who and what Gambari and all his ilk in government are up to. In other words, let the speculation about whether he is good or bad get out of the way. Nobody and absolutely nobody is good or bad in him or herself. Every individual is a bundle of contradictions and only one aspect of that bundle comes out in every particular situation. To absolutise what any individual did or didn’t at any particular situation is not only shallow but also unhelpful.
Let there be a benchmark by which a Prof Gambari can be assessed at the end of the day. Such a benchmark must take the spectre of the Risk Society haunting this country into account, transforming it from what many are playing politics with today, either out of limited knowledge about the danger the Risk Society poses to all or just because they are incurably myopic. That is the myopia that seems to give them the psychological fulfillment in ethnicising or territorialising the reality of an unprogressive status quo that Nigeria confronts and which makes Nigeria not as organised as it should be.
A Prof Ibrahim Gambari or anyone for that matter is not inherently good or bad. He or she can only be what Nigerians make of him or her. Perhaps, it is too much to expect a pre-industrial society to overcome fault lines dating back to colonial manipulations and organise to unite and discipline autocrats and a shameless elite. But how else might such a challenge be resolved if not a popular front, a strategy which had worked before much, much earlier on?
As for Prof Gambari, it makes sense to draw attention to something called agency. And to the fact that this is still a largely pre-industrial society. Leading members of the elite which he personifies are expected to deploy this agential facility in favour of change. In spite of the limits of agential power, a Prof Ibrahim Gambari with good access to the president can, for instance, beat the governors of the North into line on the dangers of the football they are playing with the almajirinci. They are contributing to something that can consume everyone because they are unconsciously incubating people who would have no reasons not to embrace suicide bombing or mass killing should the opportunity present itself.
Or draw the attention of President Buhari, (if he is not too far gone) of the risks in his clumsy embrace of a very bad version of neoliberalism. The risk is that though Buhari did not inaugurate neoliberalism in Nigeria, (IBB did) but Buhari has taken it farthest. Today, this society is not carrying along about 90% of the population. Can there be anything more dangerous than that?
While previous leaders did not in themselves promise anything serious in terms of being able to do something about the neoliberal tragedy, Buhari packaged himself or spoke to ‘Change’, raising expectations to Messianic proportions. Five years down the line, there is yet to emerge that holistic imagination of the Nigerian crisis and much less the kind of dosages of state interventionism. To make matters worse, Buhari has presided over the ‘baddest’ leadership recruitment in recent history. Certain persons who ought never to smell power got it under Buhari. While there seems to be a corrective attempt in appointing Prof Gambari who is not likely constituting himself into a tollgate as others have done, so much have happened that speak to a president in trance, exactly the word Wole Soyinka used a year or so back. And Soyinka was and perhaps is a friend of the president. Where there is so much to do but so much left undone, agency should be a factor. Especially the agency of a Philosopher king, the scarcity of which is at the core of the Nigerian crisis!