By Adagbo ONOJA
In the first part yesterday, Bayero University, Kano’s Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano argued that Nigeria is finally arriving at the destination that what he identifies as a certain peculiarly anti-modern cultural mindset in Nigeria has driven it into. Since the ‘atavism’ he inferred was the defining feature of pre-industrial formations, he must, therefore, be harping on how failure to industrialise has brought Nigeria to its knees. In this segment of the report, Professor Nicholas Akwanya does not disagree with that view because the absence of a middle class that he privileges in explaining the tumult going on in Nigeria now is only identifiable with a pre or semi-industrial society such as Nigeria. Even Dr Yima Sen who argues a policy discourse of the crisis agrees with this in relation to the nature of the ruling class in Nigeria.
It is great to see that none of the three discussants agree that this is a turning point. That is a major and interesting development to take away from the discussion but where is the border between a crisis and eventual breakdown? Is any core group in this country reflecting on the dangers of a modern society without a middle class? Where is that core group with potentials for clinical political supervision of transition from a pre-industrial to a modern state in Nigeria beyond the prevalent sense of democracy we have in Nigeria? In most other societies, this process was achieved in blood and fire. In modern times, it is achieved through creativity and innovation. Where are the centres for incubating innovation in a country that has deliberately destroyed its own university system?
The remaining two respondents on this discussion on the question of where Nigeria is today and why take their turn in this second and concluding part. Nigeria, it is argued, is comprehensively at war, the sort of ‘war’ imagined in Eedris Abdulkareem’s musical number ‘Jaga Jaga’ and in which the society is decentred. The songster’s language for that is the oxymoron “Nigeria Jaga Jaga”, following which “everything scatter, scatter”; from Boko Haram to Niger Delta Avengers, to Indigenous People of Biafra, herdsmen, kidnappers/abductors/smugglers and hostage takers. Add human/currency/drugs and arms traffickers as well as ritualists to that.
Today, it is so bad that even those such as former president, Obasanjo who thought that artistic impression of Nigeria as Jaga Jaga was unpatriotic have come round to agree that Nigeria is, indeed, Jaga Jaga and everything is actually scattered. But then, where is the country? Just tumult or is this the turning point some people have, consciously and unconsciously, been working for? That is a cause for worry, Nigeria having been projected to be in the region of nearly 500 million in population before mid century and, therefore, the third most populous country in the world by then. All the discussants have already been elaborately profiled yesterday and we would move straight to the engagement with the remaining two right away here.
Professor Amechi Nicholas Akwanya:
Nigeria is lost in wars, from ritualists, hostage takers, abductors, Boko Haram, herdsmen, Avengers, IPOB and what have you. What do you call this moment in Nigeria’s history? Tumult or a turning point?
I think it is a moment of tumult. There is a breakdown of many of the institutions that normally uphold the state. Everywhere you look in Nigeria, you see problems. Political leadership is the main point of where we can put the query. I do not think everybody is really playing the role of leadership in a non-interested way. It seems that some have other interests, maybe even personal interests in the way they lead or try to lead. When people lose sight of the leader, all kinds of things can begin to happen. That is when the leader is not inspiring them or far away from them so that they don’t feel his or her impact, then there is every chance that people lose direction and all kinds of things can begin to happen. There are problems in this country which have not been addressed and all these 6/7/8 wars you mentioned are names of problems. And these problems need to be addressed. I think that the last administration took a bold step in calling a national conference to look at some of the problems. That, I think, was a major, major step. It should have been followed through so that some of the problems that burdened some of the people could be addressed. To have set all that aside, I think, was a service to this country in my own thinking. It was an opportunity to address things that were bothering people. Now, there is a state of disconnect. There is need to cultivate a sense of nationhood, national feeling. You do that by first of all, showing that you are aware of the problems that people are worried about.
You seem to have confidence that the leader engaging the people could produce consensus
Yes. A great deal depends on leadership. A great deal! The nation state, as you know it, is something Europe gave to the world. You know how carefully the leaders are selected in a certain way there. The democratic process is the way of selecting them. But, when the leaders are selected, their business is to tackle those things the people are bothered about, they are seen to be discussing them in parliament or in congress or a place like that and formulating laws and solutions and showing that other parts are working towards the objective. They formulate the laws in response to problems of the moment, sometimes, they are reformed and there are checks and balances. That is the kind of thing I personally don’t see to be happening here. So, I use the word disconnect.
Did you read the communiqué of the last conference of the catholic bishops?
Yes, I read that
There is a portion there which talked about national rebirth after the trauma of Boko Haram as the main thing President Buhari should have been doing. Were you expecting that from them?
I was holding my breath for a long, long time waiting for that sort of statement from the Bishops,
Yes. For them to react in some way to the problems that were obviously affecting the body politics in this country. I thought they did a good job. Boko Haram is a big issue for them to address. You cannot have development without harmony and related issues of right of religion, all the freedoms. That would be a big concern to the Bishops. Interestingly, the Bishops come from all corners of the country. So, every part of the country is involved.
I have no problem with the Bishops and the point in their statement. My question is to what extent are you still hopeful of quality leadership from a political class that could not prioritise national rebirth and insist on it as the post election agenda exactly the way the Bishops did. Does anything worry you about that?
No. I did not expect the politicians to go that way at all. This is because most of them are partisan. And they take one side of any issue you can think of.
You mean they would do that even on the issue of national rebirth?
Well, except for the elected representatives of the people. Those are the only ones I would have expected to sit down to look at the country as a whole.
Am I right to say that you believe that if the president were moving right, the crisis, the tumult might not have arisen or been resolved?
No. I don’t think anybody has a magic solution to any national problem. Being a president doesn’t give anybody any special powers or special insight. But, ehm, that office gives one the facilities to reach out and get information about what is going on. And he gives to parliament and laws come out. This thing should not be a one man affair.
You characterised what is going on in Nigeria today as a tumult and you have also identified The Presidency as one place that has the facilities to move faster and move the agenda through legislation, through the law. If we move out of Nigeria, what is your sense of the global context of the tumult in Nigeria?
Well, indeed, I think that Nigeria isn’t doing enough of looking outwards, something that others are doing. There is no part of the world where there are no problems. Some even have very serious problems but these problems are being handled, some handled well, some not so well. I don’t think Nigeria should look at itself as if it were the only one saddled with problems. There are problems everywhere. In my own thinking, the one who is leading should see the country as a sacred task given to him or her. And all the elected officials, I emphasise elected, should see their mandate as sacred. They have very important work to do. And they should show that they believe in this country. They should show it. Every one of them should show it that they believe in this country and believe in the mandate. If people do not see that they believe it, then too bad. People have got to see that they believe it and show it. If that comes out very strongly in the way they carry themselves and the way they apply themselves to setting the broad agenda, that would be solving the problems because, there is a mentality that you are talking about, the ability to put everything to national interest and to see the big picture the way the Bishops did. If people do not see evidence of leadership in a clear direction, then that probably confirms certain things in their own mind. So, the leaders’ commitment, the elected ones I mean, that commitment will be reassuring to the people who can even accept to make sacrifices if it comes to that. But, as I said, they seem to be so far away from the real problems of the people.
Doesn’t your theory of disconnect suggest that the problem is simply ignorance of the role of mobilisation, of conscientisation in the body politics on the part of the politicians? That is, unlike the past when the mobilisational skill was there in every politician, that is not the case now. Most of the politicians today do not even know how to address a rally.
In the current situation, I think there is a chasm, there is division and partisanship. There is chasm in the whole process. People seem to me to be manning their fortresses and, instead of coming together, the politicians are not speaking with one voice as far as I can see. They are still deeply divided. People don’t believe one another. People don’t seem to believe some of the things the leaders say. That is perhaps because they are not perceived to be speaking from the heart. And so, that is the problem. I don’t think it is the weakness in political techniques. Rather, it is the problem of failure to come together. Every election divides. So, the first thing the elite or the leader does after every election is, gentlemen, it is all over, let’s come together again, where do we go from here? You reach out, and that’s because of the amount of work to be done. I think that, in this case, this division has lasted too long. That is when it should have happened. Even now, I don’t see it happening. The point a new government is being formed is the point to galvanise. And because that has not been done, there is despondency. Politics is a very serious matter. The politician shouldn’t just stumble into politics.
Your portrait of the elite tends to tally with Claude Ake’s own portrait of them as people with no ties to the country because they are speculators rather than investors in the country.
There is something that is deeply wrong in our society. I don’t know who invented the idea of national cake. It must have been invented long ago. I think it got into our psyche and we haven’t got it out. It seems that people are just looking for what they consider to be their share of whatever it is they think is available. The politicians outside in Europe and other places, their stake is in their country 100%. But, our own people, I suspect that this idea of a national cake poisoned the system long, long ago and we have not got out of that. We have not cast that poison out of our system. And so, people go into politics for the wrong reason. They are not thinking of public service. It is not a new problem because it has been there. The politicians have to lead the process of casting this poison out of the system by showing that they are not there for themselves but there to serve the public and let that be seen, let that be known. And before you know it, people would begin to get together. There are many bad examples that people are seeing. Young people are simply bidding their time for that day they would be able to get their own share of the so-called national cake. That is too bad. Too bad! How does it come into it here?
Well, I think we are not doing enough education in this country. That, maybe is the biggest problem in this country. That we are not investing in education. Was it Tony Blair who was saying that his programme would be education, education and education? And here, our people are just happy that schools are open even when there is no clear investment. The business of the schools is to create knowledge and they must be given the facilities to create and disseminate knowledge and create an intellectual culture in the mentality of our people. It is going to be a long process but if the people tasked to do that work are not given the facilities or encouraged, it will then take much longer than need be for the country to get out of the woods. So, education is in a big problem but that is what would help to change the mentality of our people. Mentality doesn’t change overnight the way the military wanted to do it through national orientation agency. It is worked on over a long period of time and unrelentingly and you get there.
Dr Yima Sen
If you were asked today where Nigeria is, given the numerous wars and conflicts going on across the country, ritualists, kidnappers, Boko Haram, Avengers, banditry and multiple arenas of negative accumulation via human, arms, drug and currency trafficking, where would you say the country is? How do we conceptualise this sort of situation? State collapse, breaking up or turning point?
I understand you fairly well. For a start, we are in the middle of a crisis –economic and political. There are a number of factors to which these can be attributed but economically, we have had a history of not planning and when that history catches up with you and especially when it coincides with the diminishing of your fortune, the weakening of your resource base, these are not good factors to come together. So, that’s where we are. I think we can pull out of it but depending substantially on how it is managed. I must tell you that some of us anticipated where we are. Of course, everybody knew there was massive corruption, that is why Nigeria was excited by the change mantra but, of course, there are some people who were bound to resist it because they were beneficiaries of the system under which such was possible. They will resist you and if you have a good tracking system, to monitor what they were doing, then they were going to surprise you. From my experience of twice working in the State House in Nigeria twice, you need to have a very strong adviser to the president of Nigeria on economic affairs. During the Second Republic under Shagari, you had Professor Edozien, one of these high ranking economists from the University of Ibadan. He was the adviser to President Shagari and I know that, under him, there was a particular young man who just completed his PhD from McGill University, (Canada). He got a PhD in oil economics with a distinction. There were others. That was also the team you had with the Vice-President’s side. There was Professor J. S Odama, coming in from Ahmadu Bello University, also very sound, old school economist. And he had his own supporting staff. From the office of the Special Adviser on Political Affairs, (Chuba Okadigbo) where I was a supporting staff on communications, I remember how many times I walked the grounds of the State House over to their office on what do we do politically on this or that kind of economic scenario? There was this kind of criss-crossing of ideas and think thanking that what came out of our pool of advisers was very solid. I saw a bit of that as well when I worked under the Obasanjo administration. We had very senior economists on all sides. We had Professor Mike Kwanashie. This man got a First Class in Economics from ABU, Zaria many years back, an old school professor of Economics. And these are economists who understand the peculiarities of the Nigerian political economy, the needs of the people. They are not just liberal or neoliberal or postmodern theorists. You might say that actually, you are talking of pro-people economists. It is not all economists we have in this country who are good for the people or the country. The Bretton Wood guys, for instance, are not oriented to push but oriented to control or contain a developing country. We are looking at professionals who can understand whatever monetary or fiscal policies in the context of Nigeria and Nigerians from a holistic standpoint. So, you need somebody who can interpret all the variables, forces, actors, interests pushing and pulling in the arena of production, distribution and consumption.
Your portrait doesn’t link the internal to the external grid and how they connect to the present chaos. What if you putting too much faith in the local dynamics and the capacity of the ideologically educated Adviser on Economic Affairs to the president?
Yea! Yea, I am giving a lot of attention to the national or local because, whatever you do internationally, it is determined by the character of the local environment. Because, with globalisation has also come certain developments which helps in combating imperialism. The knowledge system of the world has, for instance, substantially been democratized. What I mean is there is a torrent of knowledge or information available wherever you are in the world. And also because the manner globalisation has substantially weakened national barriers which opens many more possibilities. In the case of the international system itself which is where I think I get your point, well, there is nothing really new. I mean we have been with this system, from the slave trade to colonialism and then imperialism and neo-colonialism. And so, what is new about it? We know where we belong.
Well, wherever that may be, we remain there as losers. We have never been the winners on any serious scale. We still have no idea of being a winner in the system.
Yes, we know where we belong but there are a lot of things we can gain from the international system and we have even seen people actually maneuver the international system substantially. We have seen the Asian Tigers, we have seen China marketize on its own terms. We have seen India stick substantially to, if you like, protectionist policy and also cultural definition which allows them consume their goods and create a local economy along social democracy, far more sensitive to the weak and the poor. So, there are these things to learn from the international system of how other people could do what they did. Even in Africa, if you look at the experiences of Ghana and maybe Rwanda, you will see they have decided to target certain areas. The era of globalisation is about coming to globalisation creatively. You come to take and to offer. So, if I focus too much on the Economics Adviser, it is to say that we cannot go to globalisation empty handed.
I am not sure anybody kicks against that. The problem against a sense of so much room for autonomy and initiative of any advisers when we speak of Nigeria is the doubt over the emergence of a dedicated core of politicians capable of constructing a narrative of Nigeria that can ignite a new wave of Nigerianism. Or, is it that from your interactions as a politician, you are seeing something which the rest of us cannot see?
Well, that is an extremely good question because analysing or answering that question pushes you to come face to face with a very beautiful essay that was written by one of our late colleagues, Professor Claude Ake, He called it “How Politics Underdevelops Africa”. If you look at that essay, Ake is saying that the prebendal character of our politics rubbishes the original agenda of politics if you go back to Plato and Aristotle. If you go back to Plato, Aristotle, politics is about the provision of the good life or about the happiness of the people. But what Ake is saying is that politics here is not about that, not about genius and its connection to the provision of good life because of ideological poverty. And what we have seen in the history of political leadership so far is the way ideology actually informs successful political leadership. Leadership without ideology cannot deliver. When you stand on something, you work on policies that will address those issues. But when it is just a bland thing, just about administration and just being there with no vision or higher motive than perhaps social climbing or material acquisition, then nothing comes out. And that is emerging in Nigeria. I wonder if anybody is discussing it at all.
So, it is like we are back to the debate of yesteryears about whether the African ruling class like in Nigeria will ever locate a constitutive interest and do anything similar to what their European counterpart did?
Well, we had hoped that when you do get a ruling class, it is responsible enough and in the course of building up its own interest, it leaves something to trickle down. Then, at the very worst, it creates a large middle class so that we have the kind of society which Weber theorised in various ways. Because of the idealization of the world after 1990, we were hoping we would have an understanding ruling class that is able to organise merciful exploitation. You may have a point and that’s why I went back to prebendalism as well as Ake’s thesis because Nigeria is a good case study for those two positions. If those two things are happening, then I don’t know if the concept of ruling class that Marx had is going to help us, at least not the type that we know which has been hegemonic in much of modern history. You are really in bad shape when you are begging for a ruling class. May be we are hoping that we should have an understanding ruling class that can at least organise a merciful oppression