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How politicians make war on the Nigerian state

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On Sunday, January 19, 2003, The Guardian on Sunday published an article titled ‘The Politics of Last Resort’ written by Chuba Keshi. In that article, the author suggested that Nigerian politics has been a paradox of sorts. While it has been explained in its different dimensions using a myriad of theories, both the orthodox and the so-called radical, it can safely be said to have defied all known theories. Many governments, legislators and other elected office holders are failing, yet they are being returned in droves, save for a few exceptions.

Equally somehow, there seems to be a decreasing capacity for subsequent governments to effectively handle affairs of state, yet such inept leaders keep making it to seats of government. In the same token, nine to 10-figure state and national budgets still disappear without trace, it seems, yet the war on corruption has hardly found any prisoners. Further, there seems to be no questions asked even in the damning pillaging of the commonwealth as well as the debasing of the collective esteem of the citizenry.

The Politics of Last Resort (Samepage Learning, Lagos; 2017) explains that the rather wanton disregard for the sanctity of the collective wealth of Nigeria is a sort of “war” on the Nigerian state. In fact, the author defines “war” as the politics of last resort and delineates the phenomenon of war in Nigeria in different ramifications. The first is the untold plundering of the commonwealth in what the author sees as a conspiracy of sorts between those entrusted with leadership and the led. The latter, suggests the author, are guilty by way of not holding the thieving leaders accountable for their actions. The second rung of “war” is the unhealthy rivalry of uncommon acrimonious proportions among the different ethnic groups in Nigeria who by colonial design, dominate or are found in the different geo-political zones that make up Nigeria. The third is the outright shooting conflicts that have manifested in terms of intergroup skirmishes tagged ethnic, religious or inter-community conflicts.

Written in the best of journalistic prose, the 310-page book is divided into five sections of twelve chapters. Section I is introductory. The reader is introduced to the entity Nigeria in terms of its pre-colonial culture landscape. Essentially we are exposed in no small measure to what was an otherwise seamless trajectory of civilizations among the different ethnic groups and tribes that were to eventually federate into the Republic of Nigeria. These civilizations progressed until colonialism intervened from 1900. Very importantly, the author holds colonialism responsible for the myriad of distortions in the creation and cultivation of the entity Nigeria. The book also suggests that the emergent political and civic populations were complicit due to the way both classes responded to the event of colonialism.

The author describes the key constructs of discourse as indicated in the title’s rider. These are “conflicts” and “rent seeking”. Chapter 3 goes into an in-depth analysis of the theoretical foundations of the entire discourse of the book. It identifies a set of three conspiratorial ideologies that played out dialectically in the making of Nigeria. These, states the book, include the Ideology of the Dual Mandate; the Ideology of Divide and Conquer and the Ideology of Legitimation. The first two were exclusively propagated by the colonial masters to both justify their enterprise, as well as demean the African into submitting to the “messianic role” of colonialism. This was also professed by the “colonial ideology of legitimation”. These colonial ideologies were challenged by the African anti-colonial ideology of legitimation that ultimately professed equality with the colonial officials, and gave nationalist Nigerians the logical grounds to challenge colonialism. It also provided the impetus for the Nigerian political class to simply replace the colonial masters upon attainment of self-rule in 1960.

Section II covers Chapters 4, 5 and 6, demonstrate the conspiratorial roles of the emergent political class and the civic populace even though both were on the receiving end of the colonialism project. Chapter 4 deals with the retrogressive cultivation of the power class, while Chapter 5 deals with the tacit cooperation of the civic populace in the colonial order that oppressed them. Chapter 6 discusses the role of the other estates of the realm that were in collaboration with the emergent political class in the macabre colonial concert. Essentially, the entire section chronicles the myriad of measures taken by the colonial masters through their colonial ideologies to debase the African, while at the same time create deep social distance between one, mostly ethnic, group and another, and in-between groups.

Section III gives historical accounts of the character and content of resistance movements against the colonial and the post-colonial orders in Nigeria. Essentially, it identifies the struggles as those purposed to advance the survival of the groups not as Nigerians but as different ethnic domains and such other parochial groups including labour. Such a pattern of anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles only added to the deep social chasms in-between ethnic groups in Nigeria. Section IV is made up of Chapters 8, 9 and 10. The chapters discuss the new dimensions group conflicts took beginning from the severest of such conflicts namely the Nigerian civil war, as well as the ethnic crises that followed the war, the latter which became severer. It also showed how some of such ethnic and class struggles took the form of “religious conflicts.”

Section V covers Chapters 11 and 12, which crystalizes what had to become of the Nigerian State in terms of its actual constituent structure. Drawing from the systematic chronicling of political developments since 1900, the book demonstrates why and how Nigeria ended up with the unitarist federalism which it currently practices. This is contained in Chapter 11. Chapter 12 attempts to chart the way forward. It recommends that due to the way Nigeria was created and cultivated, it has been difficult, in fact impossible for there to exist a common set of values and indeed a national spirit among Nigerians. It argues that what the country has are different group, centrifugal loyalties which have been entrenched since 1900 and which have been the main cause of multilateral distrust among Nigerians. The book thus concludes that the only Nigeria that will work is that where power is returned to the regions under collectively agreed terms within a single Nigerian state.

What is outstanding about the book is that it gives a novel insight into the dynamics of the basic philosophies by which the Nigerian state emerged and was cultivated over time. The identification of the three conspiratorial ideologies and the manner of discourse of their dialectical dynamics is novel. It opens the reader’s eyes more clearly to the monumental damage of colonialism and the need for a deliberate redress of such damage. These make The Politics of Last Resort a must read for all students and practitioners of politics in Nigeria. However it is unclear from the book how the regions to which it recommends power will be organized in other to contain the damage of mistrust, even among ethnic groups within these regions. But then the rider to the title: “a foundational account on conflicts and rent seeking in Nigeria” clearly shows that the work is exploratory and descriptive rather that prescriptive. It thus opens up a good gap for further research towards a more concise and detailed prescription of the way forward for Nigeria.
* Ike-Okoh, publisher of The Government & Business Journal, was the pioneer editor, BusinessDay on Sunday


In this article:
Chuba Keshi
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