It is amazing how two different books, by two different authors at different times end up with a same theme of implosion in each of the left and the right wing ideological establishments in Nigeria in the post Cold War. While Onyeisi Chiemeke’s June 12 Election: The Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left is exactly what the title says, Segun Adeniyi’s more recent book, Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria is the story of implosion within the Nigerian power elite. Both the June 12th, 1993 Election and the entry and exit of Dr Goodluck Jonathan from power are touchy issues in Nigerian politics, meaning that almost any book on them is bound to be simply instructive or interesting. The two books in view here all do.
Reading each takes one back to the gory space of each of the implosions, 1993 to 1999 in the case of Chiemeke and 2010 to 2015 in Adeniyi’s case. By those details, the books, individually and jointly, contain an element of what Shakespeare would call the seeds of time in relation to Nigeria. A country whose left and right wing politicians have each suffered implosions of the magnitude reported by each of the texts ought to worry about its future, especially when the implosions were, in each case, a crisis of mastery of and commitment to the articles of faith in left and right wing politics.
While Chiemeke’s June 12 Election: The Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left is a combat work in which the author arrives with an argument which he deploys every detail to sustain or prove, Adeniyi’s is an assemblage of the details about the defeat of an incumbent in the Nigerian context from the point of view of the key players. While Chiemeke’s achievement is the way his line of argument elucidate the paradox in the Campaign for Democracy, (CD)’s unravelling in the course of the struggle for the validation of the same June 12 that brought it into being, Adeniyi’s is the deployment of the self-reporting technique in such a way that got the power elite to write a testimonial on its class leadership. Tragically it was a testimonial of apologia.
A major distinction between the two books emerges in the way to the achievements. One has a formal argument, the other one has only an implied argument. All books do not have to follow such a strict regime and Adeniyi could shoot back by saying that reporting is also an argument in terms of who/what is included or excluded and in the totality of the views assembled on the development in question. But why he shied away from marching on to synthesising those details into a formal theoretical statement on Nigerian politics remains puzzling.
By not doing so, Adeniyi leaves himself open to the risk of some intellectual smartly doing exactly that, leaving him with no more than one line recognition in the bibliography. Apparently conscious of this disposition, Dr Chidi Amuta who wrote a critical celebration of the book in the remarkably elevated Foreword took time to excuse it by tracing it to a tradition of reporting special to Adeniyi and in which he distances him from the academic historian. Does such a distance exist? Taking the theoretical bull by the horn is what Adeniyi might have to come to terms with. After all, what is a theory?
In seeking to answer the ‘how’ of the left’s implosion in the course of June 12 politics, Chiemeke presents a thesis of left politicians who failed the test of dialectics, the special reasoning which enables leftists to claim superiority over liberals and right wing elements in doctrinal, organisational, ethical and demand management matters. From this perspective, his task came to supplying the evidence. There is virtually no segment of the 14 chapter book where such evidence are not on parade but Chapter Eight titled ‘Palm Avenue’ might be considered the most concentrated. This is in the sense that this is where the anti-climax occurred, the point where the masses had become sufficiently irritated by CD’s prosecution of June 12 by September 1993 as to urge soldiers on to shoot the comrades. It is also in this chapter that comrades and foot soldiers of the June 12 ‘Revolution’ began to suffer being escorted out of places such as Alade Market on Allen Avenue where they went to persuade the people to join street actions in support of the struggle, (p.83). And to think that these were instigated by another faction of the same CD rather than the military regime is the point for contemplation. By this time, disagreements within the fold and the use of strange methods in handling of contradictions were reaching breaking points.
It had not been smooth sailing anyway. The CD had come to be as a reaction to the crash of a popular democratic front that would have been much broader in terms of the fractions of the social classes involved. The National Consultative Forum, (NCF) serving as umbrella for an emergent, all-class front for opposition to the Structural Adjustment regime in 1990 fragmented further when the IBB regime locked the gates of the National Theatre where a variant of the Sovereign National Conference had been planned. A decision had to be made. What came out as the CD was that decision. It came as a front organisation, controlled but not run by the hard core socialists but by cadres who fitted very well in terms of leadership at that level. This is not to say that there were no officials of the defunct CD who was not also of the core. They were, however, few.
The tension between the socialist agenda and agenda of other forces at work provides explanation for the doctrinal clashes, the tactical blunders, infractions on praxis, traces of opportunism, the disease of treachery, temptations of showmanship and the incoherence listed by the author across the book. In other words, the author argues that the cadres lacked the theoretical sophistication that would be the case in, say, Latin America where anti-imperialism of those days had been more developed, the ethical grooming and grilling in the tactics of struggle as for the CD to have produced a radical outcome in respect of June 12. Declaring objectivity to be the burying ground of truth, the author made this claim quite early in the text by describing the CD as a movement without momentum because the left had, in his view, “journeyed far away under some reformist formulation of a unipolar world”. It is one way of saying, this cannot happen in Latin America where radical grooming is more thorough and popular struggle is much, more advanced.
Chiemeke’s book is a testimony from a core radical student activist moulded by the University of Benin. That is one other uniqueness of the book because it dilutes the hegemony of UI, ABU, Zaria and UNILAG in the story of radical nationalism in Nigeria. This book could thus be taken as a narrative of the same phenomenon from the UNIBEN sensibility or specificity. UNIBEN was where SAP riots by the defunct National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS), was inaugurated. The Babangida regime got the message of that inaugural action in terms of the organisational dexterity and intensity that was manifested and concluded about what lay in store for the regime as far as implementing SAP was concerned.
Part of the problem, however, was that the students who were the most tested elements in terms of sustainable street actions were substantially demobilized as the higher schools were all closed. This might not have affected street actions in key south-west cities but it made all the difference especially in the northern states and the east. A binary reading of this produced the truth about successful protest in the Lagos versus failure of protest in the north and the acrimony that followed. Was it that comrades in the north were not working hard enough or the condition of possibility was just not there? Relying on Che Guevara, the author suggests that the correct question would have been whether it was even necessary, from a strategic point of view, to stage an action in the north, for example.
The book raised and confronted many other questions. Among such questions would be why Chief MKO was convinced that the CD would spell doom for him? Why did he leave Nigeria before August 27th, 1993? Why were the late Beko Ransome Kuti, late Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana holding meeting with Chief Ernest Shonekan even as detainees in September 1993? What were the ‘real’ reasons for the hostility to the idea of the ‘expanded secretariat’ which, in the author’s view, gave the CD a much firmer grip on the society? Why has the slip not stopped after June 12 but rather intensified? Why do comrades who enter government behave very badly in virtually all cases as in the examples on page 319 and 323?
Each of these and related questions has attracted the analytical attention of the author within the key argument about a radical nationalist struggle that collapsed more from the weight of incompetence internal to it than what the enemy outside did to it. That makes this book a compelling read for both left and right wing politicians provided it undergoes a quick, tighter editing that frees it from long quotations, for example. A case could also be made for adding a little more optimistic verve although the basis for this is challengeable. What might be the basis for optimism about a national left that successfully lost everything it achieved when it was more difficult to achieve anything? What could be the basis for optimism for a national left which has in its cubicle many ‘baby socialists’ in the same manner that Nigerian capitalists have too many ‘baby capitalists’? What manner of a national left that has no presence anymore in today’s battle space of ideas? Someone might say that the fact that Nigeria degenerated so quickly to where it is today following the demise of the left is a basis for optimism because demise has within it the element of rising again. Part 2 of this review focuses on Adeniyi’s Against the Run of Play and makes a concluding comment on the two books in relation to Nigeria.