Nigeria is, in all probability, heading for a repeat of the errors of the 1976 Purge. One of the consequences of the Purge is the question the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi put to Chief Obasanjo who was the military Head of State then. Awoniyi wondered to Obasanjo if there wasn’t a problem with the logic of the Purge. Those who were purged were treated so because they were considered bad eggs for the system while those retained were held up as the great guys as far as serving the system was concerned. But Awoniyi did not see anything stopping those purged from using their knowledge of the system to reposition themselves as the dominant elements within a few years. According to Awoniyi who told this story several times, Obasanjo had no answer and his fears were exactly what happened.
That is also why the cartesian attitude to the Tinubu administration amounts to courting danger. It is not clear if a concept denoting a country where everyone prefers danger to safety has come into existence but the idea of such a country can be illustrated, using Nigeria.
The Bola Tinubu administration is up against enemies, opponents, critics and even those who despise it. This is nothing surprising, given the controversy surrounding the outcome of the February 2023 presidential poll; the political personality of the president, especially his battles since 1999; the casual manner the president handled the fuel subsidy policy and the misery it has subsequently created or deepened and, lastly, the residual animosity against the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the low quality of (presidential) leadership in the past eight years, a reality in which the president had a hand in bringing about, almost single handedly. To make matters worse, the Vice-President for the past eight years was his own nominee. So, there are too many great reasons for anger against a Federal Government led by the Asiwaju.
However, the government has set up shop and it is still within the first 19 minutes if it were a flight. That is usually a very tense moment for even the most practised pilots. So, everyone is asked to take the seat belt as if it is medicine against death. It is done with the appointment of service chiefs and the heads of the national security set up. If the applause has been so muted, it will be the post-election mood rather than lack of appreciation for the pick and/or the distribution of the appointees along ethno-regional and religious lines, those identity tracks stopping the watch in Nigeria and, well, everywhere else in the world too. The next item on the agenda is constituting the Federal Cabinet. That is where the disposition to ceaselessly courting danger is manifesting most at the moment. How is that so?
There are several other minor contours but let’s just take the broadest two. The first of the two would cover the devil-may-care Nigerians who are all out to get appointed into the cabinet. These are those we see, hear and read about, executing hot pursuits in all directions to get into the ministerial list, come what may. This medium is neither condemning nor endorsing such elements or their moves. In truth, some of them are some of the nation’s best and brightest.
At the other end of the spectrum or the second set is the set of Nigerians who would not mind the label of the principled, the decent, the self-respecting and the reasonable. They are collectively marked by keeping a long distance from the government, perhaps until the tribunal rules on the election petitions. Still within this club are those who are keeping a distance from the government for personal, ideological or partisan reasons.
The danger in all these must be clear by now. While those in the first set make their moves without a care for whether they have got anything qualitatively new to offer in relation to lifting a nation that is on its knees in all respects, those in the second set are equally not bothered by the dangers of staying away. They do not care that those they consider unprincipled, indecent and unserious would have taken positions and consolidated control of the government, reducing the principled and decent ones to spectators as long as this government lasts.
If this is not practicing living dangerously or ceaselessly courting danger, what can it be? Assuming the Tinubu administration consolidates power, then those who are thought as unprincipled or unserious will define and dominate the field of play for the next four years. And if this ‘Baba’ who is taking ECOWAS leadership contrary to the perception that he is too unwell goes on to a second term, then it would have been another eight years of same set of ministerial players.
This is the basis of the reference to the Awoniyi-Obasanjo encounter earlier on. Nigeria is down. To get it up requires many things but the most needed of those things is what is called agency. Agency itself is also contingent but it can make all the difference in a second. Unfortunately, agency is not bought in the market. It is produced. In other words, it is also partisan and dislocated but that does not challenge the wonder of agency. It is the reason why an Ataturk, a Lee Kuan Yew or a Mandela can be so unforgettable.
It must be recognised that it is the right of anybody or groups to wish to be given ministerial appointment. But the problem is where a certain sort of people/groups dominate the quest when the situation at hand demands more of a different set. But what does anybody do if the ‘correct’ sets are not out insisting on being included. Given the confluences of the dispossessed and excluded that it deals with or should be dealing with, it is shocking why the Nigerian Left, for example, has not advanced to demand for three slots on the ministerial list: Agriculture, Labour and Productivity and Education.
Could its absence be because the state is an instrument of the bourgeoisie? Such a concern would look like the only credible excuse for abstinence since Leftists are not puritans or partisans in a crude sense. But would it actually be credible? Does the word bourgeoisie have a fixed, universal meaning? Not even Marx ever said so. If the concept has a settled meaning, why is the insistence on qualifiers such as metropolitan bourgeoisie, lumpen bourgeoisie and so on? Or why then the differing approaches to modernity by different bourgeoisies? If the meaning of the concept is also contingent, then how might its control of the state be automatic, without roles for intervening variables? Is it not a paradox to believe that any set of actors control any space in that manner and, by implication, render pointless a struggle which is counter-hegemonic?
The Tinubu administration is what anyone makes of it. It has no universal character. Not even an individual, much less a government, can have a universal identity. If what it is depends on what any set of players make of it, then the Left which has the greatest stake in rapid change has no reasons for not seeking insertion in it. And doing so in any government at all. Can anyone imagine what would happen to Nigeria in four years were a Femi Falana and two others be part of the impending cabinet as candidates of the Left? One has to be interested in Falana because it is one thing to talk heavy Socialist grammar on newspaper pages but to have the technocratic skills to research, document and translate core principles into practical outcomes. Falana is my example of that in recent years. There are many people in that category, some of whom cannot be mentioned here because it will run against propriety. Prof Jibrin Ibrahim can be mentioned. He is not anybody’s ‘boy’ but his own man. However, it is not clear if he still uses Jibogram – his scale of judgment against the system. Age and experience would seem to have mellowed him. But he has got the perspective and would not jump ship in pursuit of filthy lucre. Above all, he is capable of creative Marxism.
The misguided puritanism that seems to have taken over men and women of perspective, skills and pedigree in Nigeria will lead to a social situation worse than what obtains now. In the absence of some of these people, characters with tragic sense of entitlement are circulating and taking control of critical spheres of power. They are so myopic that unless and until they are personally and physically in trouble, they don’t care. Many are terribly ignorant, totally lacking in the basic idea of what a minister needs to do. A particular minister in the Buhari Government was surprisingly shocking in pedestrianism, irrespective of his well-heeled background.
The saving grace might be if the president finds a fallback in a kitchen cabinet or what the late Prof Sam Aluko called the ‘government of the night’. Obasanjo was its most versatile practitioner, sometimes going very far to get an individual. That was how he got the political scientist from the DRC, Prof Nzongola Ntalaja and through him, the late Prof Bade Onimode, even though he laughed Onimode to scorn on the ground that a Marxist who was also a pastor cannot be taken seriously. Before Obasanjo, IBB was the mandarin in that act but he had too many palm kernels in the fire that they couldn’t help him land safely. General Sani Abacha, his successor, was more successful than him. The joke during his time was that any issue dealing with the political waited until Dr. Sam Ikoku was brought before the Head of State. And any issue dealing with the economy meant sending a presidential aircraft to pick Prof Sam Aluko from wherever he was to the Villa. It got to the point where Aluko would give a press conference countering what Ani, the Finance Minister would have said a day or two ago. But can a kitchen cabinet compensate for an engaging federal cabinet at a time of political cholera like this?
Glory be to God that Adagbo Onoja, the author of this piece ,is not even around Nigeria to seek to be a minister now, much less desirous of ministerial appointment as for anyone to think that this piece is a subtle expression of interest. The point is that Nigeria is lagging behind for no good reasons. It is in grave need of the men and women with a sense of urgency about what is to be done and how to do it!