Dying as activist intellectuals; as Pan-Africanists; each of you at a time anyone least expected and all of you in the month of May have added novelty to your own departure. Added to those attributes your respective framing of the essence explains the ritual of some remembrance every anniversary of the departure even as the difference between the living and the dead has terribly narrowed in Nigeria today.
No two persons are the same because each person is a product of differential conditions of becoming. This, however, does not preclude grouping of two or more persons into one broad category or another. Within that context, it is possible to bracket the two of you into radical activists and to remember you as such in your fifth and thirteenth anniversary respectively. That is Prof Abu Momoh and Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem, otherwise known as “the first African president” if we follow Prof Okello Oculi.
In other words, you are all dead and gone to your respective graves but what you defined to be the problems and the manner you all approached that has kept you as part of the conversation about who we are, (subjectivity); what we are here to do and how we might best do so. In this regard, the ‘African condition’ was the overarching subject matter you all tried to unpack. It would have been very interesting to have both of you around today espousing that subject, this being about the most interesting and exciting time to engage with it. All who are alive have a life time experience of witnessing reconfiguration of global power relations never seen before. The last time it happened, two world wars in the 20th century was how it was resolved. We have been told that, with informationalised capitalism, it won’t assume that violent form this time. The vow of “Never Again” is still echoing but the fear is that humanity might find itself travelling that horrible path again, what with ominous simulation broadcast of nuclear drone that sent fears into the minds recently, to quote a line from an email a global security scholar sent to Intervention thereto. It would have been great if people like you were around and providing context specific insights on the dynamics of this great transition from unipolarity in the immediate post Cold War to pluri-polarity as opposed to the dosage of downloaded stuff we have had to consume. It is understood that the electricity crisis and the state of academia in Nigeria have made it impossible for context specific intervention in the dynamism of the transition, particularly the war in Ukraine.
Great pan-Africanists that you all are, none of you though disputes that unpacking the ‘African condition’ is also about unpacking the Nigerian crisis, (or is it the crisis in Nigeria?). This is why you would all be very sad to learn that the crisis has gone from serious to breakdown. An unimaginable state of chaos has enveloped the polity. In the melee, the Nigerian State itself is basically on AWOL, the military’s acronym for “Away Without Leave”. It cannot be felt at the crucial moment when some lumpens exercise brutal power without authority in one corner of the country or the other, day in, day out for quite some time now.
Of course, this has both remote and immediate ‘causes’. The remote reason is the implosion of a society that has never benefitted from being mobilised along any enduring values either by any political parties or a national hero. The radical conscientisation that was building up at the start of the struggle for Independence was skillfully masticated and replaced with ethno-regional aparthood which has stood till today.
The immediate cause is the interpretation of the President Buhari statecraft of appointment as the unfolding of a hidden agenda and then the different responses to this perceived agenda. It doesn’t matter whether there is any such agenda or not. What matters in this sort of circumstance is the perception or the belief that such agenda exists and then the resulting alienation.
The result is the rise of centres of revolt underpinned by rigid binaries that can only be productive of anomie as is reigning today. That is to say that the fundamental crisis is the complete absence of the inter-discursive condition of emergence of what would have been a more acceptable anti-thesis of anomie. The violence across corners of Nigeria has stolen what should have been our happiest moments. This is more so that it has come with a conceptual headache in terms of what to call it. It cannot be state collapse in so far as central authority is intact and wielding a lot of coercive power. Again, that is another area your presence would have been helpful.
Of course, there are efforts at solution. The president vows each time the opportunity presents itself of handing over a united Nigeria. He may be speaking honestly but the problem with such proclamations is the question of what counts as a united Nigeria and how that might be determined.
The second effort at resolution is democracy. In fact, today is when delegates are expected to determine who flies the presidential flag of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP). That is a significant event because, the aspirant selected could become the next president. But who might that be? The ‘evidence’ suggests that it is either Atiku Abubakar or Bukola Saraki. You would not have forgotten Atiku Abubakar so soon. He was Vice-President to Obasanjo for that tenure of eight years. He has sought to be president of Nigeria for a long time. Some people have very low opinion of his capacity to be a great president. Others think that he is the one who can unite the country. Ideologically, he is a haphazard neoliberal. Senator Bukola Saraki is equally known to you all. The Northern Elders Forum, (NEF) believes he is the best guy for the job. Part of their standpoint is his smoothness, his being a Lagos boy; his marriage to a Yoruba lady and his being much younger. Also counted in his favour is experience spanning the executive and legislative arms of government. Lately, some are adding how he spilled the beans on the oil subsidy crisis in Nigeria that prompted the January 2012 revolt and how he equally reinforced the idea of the Buhari regime having been seized by a cabal. As at the moment of reporting, it is one of the two that will emerge the presidential candidate of the PDP.
This is to say that Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal will not get it because, as the argument goes, Nigeria is no longer ready for a president from the Northwest now. Tambuwal who though has made a gesture to national unity can thus only become the Vice-President if his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike, were to clinch the PDP card and offer him the Vice-President slot. But Wike is not counted to win, not because he is good or bad but said to have constituency crisis that will make his victory impossible by current calculations. In politics though, anything can happen.
The ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) will follow the PDP. There, the speculation is either the canonisation of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan or the anointment of incumbent Senate – President, Ahmed Lawan. In favour of Goodluck Jonathan is what some observers see as a kind of personal gratitude of President Buhari and his circuit for conceding victory in 2015. It paved the way for the president to equalize his traducers such as IBB, something that matters to him. Secondly, the former president has no record of joining the advocacy for balkanizing Nigeria. He is thus a safer bet. There are such other arguments as he not being a wicked mind. The plan might have suffered in the light of the visibility of Goodluck Jonathan in the past two days but, before that, the APC is strongly suspected of paving the way for Ahmed Lawan. According to some insiders, this is because, with only a few governors in the Southern part of Nigeria, it would be risky to pick a presidential candidate from that part of the country in contrast to the North where the party has 14 governors. Since no aspirant from the Northwest will sell in 2023, so the argument goes again, the only way out is an aspirant from the Northeast who can also serve as a checkmate for Atiku Abubakar, a frontline contender from the main opposition PDP. Senator Ahmed Lawan emerges as this aspirant. The problem would be how to deal with the likes of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Yemi Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi and the others in the party.
Whether this speculation turns out to be true or not remains to be seen but the fear among stalwarts is that President Buhari is up to a joker with the revivalism in the anti-corruption war of the past few weeks. Within the past two weeks, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, was arrested. The deeper meaning of that singular arrest and rapid suspension from office appear to be lost on Nigerians. Could a loyalist whose appointment in 2015 was personally decided by the president and whose other transgressions (such as the near failure of the 2016 budget) have been overlooked by the same president over the years be casually picked up and his suspension rapidly announced without it being a meaningful exercise?
Many, both in the All Progressives Congress, (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) doubt that it could be a conventional anti-corruption exercise. They are thinking it must be a prelude to dossier statecraft: if the president could sacrifice his loyalist, how would any presidential aspirant argue that it is witch hunting should dossiers emerge on him or her even after the party primaries.
It is not discounted that the arrest and disgrace of Idris could be an outcome of internal wrangling within the government. A particular minister is said to be powerful enough to cut down his contenders in that manner. That, it is claimed, was the experience of Ibrahim Magu of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC). In other words, things might have happened too rapidly beyond reversal even before the president got to hear. The counter argument is that time and space distinguish Ibrahim Magu’s experience from the current spadework in which a number of high profile politicians are being arrested by EFCC operatives across the country.
A different analysis still exists. Fighting corruption is the third leg of President Buhari’s agenda in power, at least as articulated in 2015. The two others are fighting insecurity and unemployment. While fighting insecurity has turned out to be a paradox for the government, insecurity having expanded beyond Boko Haram that was the issue in 2015, fighting corruption has not totally been so. It has not been a resounding success but not totally abandoned. With exactly one year left – May 2022 to May 2023 – the president might have decided to up the ante in the war on corruption.
Still, regime watchers believe the president must be up to a joker, deployed in a manner that would make the selection of presidential candidate, especially in the APC, more manageable for the powers that be. The strategy, as the argument goes, is that exposing any aspirants on grounds of corruption will be popular with the national audience. Even if it is not popular, it will be difficult to fight it. Such aspirants would also not be able to move to another party to accomplish their desires.
Instructively, the Federal Inland Revenue, (FIRS) has announced that tax update-ness will be enforced for each presidential aspirant. It could be the first leg of the feared process.
The fear, however, is what happens should the affected aspirants hit back with their own dossier on those they suspect to be their traducers. If that should happen, then there would be a war of dossers. Who stands to benefit from such a war? Can the war be such that would produce a progressive but unintended consequence(s) in terms of rupturing the status quo?
This update for the two of you is getting too long but we must briefly mention how, for now, there is not a single Left politician as a presidential aspirant on the platform of the two leading political parties. This is sure to leave you all perplexed that a radical political tendency which achieved so much in radical democratic politics long before Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe came up in 1985 with Hegemony and Socialist Strategy could suffer this fate in a vital space of contestation for power. Although Laclau and Mouffe’s analysis is certainly not acceptable to all but it is a text that hardly any centre of the struggle for democracy today ignores or has not critically engaged. It is not clear what possibility for distinctive Left role exists in emerging attempts at coalition and pluralistic struggle for democracy in Nigeria but that is the distinctiveness based on hegemonic articulation that would have given greater relevance to any such coalition effort. Sadly, it isn’t there and it cannot be acquired overnight if there had not been a clear Left platform articulating its standpoint and clarifying issues long before now.
Perhaps, all is not lost. After all, it is a journalist with Leftist bent who recently accomplished a comprehensive list of the problems or contradictions of the system. The massive circulation of Mahmud Jega’s list of the manifestations of the crisis in Nigeria attests to the accomplishment in that compilation even as the list did not become a subject of distinctively Left debate/politicization beyond social media circulation of the stuff.
Intervention reproduces Mahmud Jega’s list which goes thus:
I thought by now the Nigerian Presidency will be so unattractive that people will have to be begged to come and take it. Why should anyone be eager to inherit Boko Haram, terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, secessionists, communal warriors, oil thieves, sea pirates, depreciated naira, depleted foreign reserves, high debt service ratio, plummeting oil production, astronomical costs of diesel and aviation fuel, high unemployment, suspension of rail and aviation services, trillions in petrol subsidy, unimplementable Petroleum Industry Act, 13million out of school children, bloated civil service, ASUU strike, impending police strike, exploding illegal refineries, oil spills, River Niger flooding, advancing Sahara desert, shrinking Lake Chad, porous borders, flood of small arms, corruption, fake drugs, fake news, ritual killers, currency counterfeiting, frequent national grid collapse, hikes in DSTV, telecom and electricity tariffs, Ajaokuta Steel white elephant, partially completed Second Niger bridge, Apapa traffic snarl, off again on again COVID and fallout of Ukraine war?
Let’s not forget to quickly mention that the university system has been grounded for over three months now. None of the two of you needs any further briefing on that sector except perhaps the need to mention the emergent phenomenon an academic has called “non-academic students”. It is such a frightening reality because of the preponderance of that breed across the system. They are the undergraduates who, for whatever reasons, do not see or accept that academia and its protocols are part of their training.
Intervention believes Nigeria will survive because it has to. However, that does not serve as a license to ignore a disturbing exceptionalism about Nigeria: the country seems to be an exception to the rule of the ‘centre’ caving in and giving way to new centres almost everywhere else, particularly since the last 25 years. There was, indeed, the revolt against the military which is the equivalent of a revolution and then the popular revolts in 2012, (anti fuel subsidy protest) and in 2020 (#EndSARS protest) but they were all undermined by the status quo. And the point is made that not only did retired Generals dominate the show directly and from behind since 1999, nothing much has changed. Ethnicity, corruption and subservience remain the defining ethos in the rulebook.
Critics, therefore, think they are right to argue that nothing is happening in Nigeria in the scale of the comprehensive defeat of patriarchy at the family in most parts of the world to the defeat of dominant parties in India, Brazil, Mexico and now Australia to even the power structure at the global level which is going into pluri-polarity rather than multipolarity. The People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) – the dominant party since 1999 – was defeated quite alright but due to its own unprincipled management of the self rather than an organised contestation of it. Other than the PDP, no other significant centre of power has collapsed in Nigeria in the 2000s. The question posed is why Nigeria seems to be an exception to a global trend.
It is possible that life over there allows the two of you and other like minds who must abound there to hold a reflective session on this update. Thanks for your patience!