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Is the ruling elite of Nigeria by chance or by choice?


French newly elected president Emmanuel Macron (C) shakes hands as he leaves after an information day for La Republique En Marche party candidates for the upcoming legislative elections at the entrance of the Quai Branly museum on May 13, 2017 in Paris. The two-round parliamentary elections wil take place in France on June 11 and June 18.<br />CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

Emmanuel Macron has forced us to look at some issues concerning our political life in Nigeria. He might be centrist and unaligned to left or right. He might quote Deng Xiaoping to the effect that it did not matter the colour of the cat as long as it catches rats. Still Emmanuel is a child of the French system that breeds its leaders. He attended the Ecole Normale d’Administration (ENA), the equivalent of Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) in Britain and the Ivy League universities in the United States of America. After over 60 years of constitutional politics, do we have anything similar to these elite systems for preparing Nigerians for political and business leadership?

I start with a quote from a piece written by Simbo Olorunfemi in premium times: “Nothing in our system takes the process of leadership and grooming seriously. We make no visible attempt at succession planning. Nothing prepares our leaders for the demands of public office, except for some informal grooming mechanism, headhunting for all sorts of motives, making it a family affair or and generally leaving it, just as we do with everything else, to a game of chance.”

This quote and political and business rulership reminds us Nigerians all, of what Bishop Matthew Kukah said concerning the paradox of life in Nigeria and I quote: “The smartest students pass with First Class and get admitted to Medical and Engineering Schools. The Second Class students get MBAs and LLBs to manage the First Class students. The Third Class students enter politics (really Bishop, did you know at that time about dancing Dino?) and rule both the First Class and the Second Class students. The failures enter the Underworld of crime and control the politicians and businesses. And best of all, those who did not attend school become Prophets and everyone follows them.”


Sometime about two or three weeks ago, three men met in Minna. All three men are military men. All three men have been military heads of state. One man among the three men has also been a civilian head of state. The media dubbed the three men the directors of Nigeria plc ltd. that directorate and their company CEOs have been in charge of Nigeria, for good or ill, since January 1966. They started formally as the Armed Forces Repair People until 1999 when they abandoned the forces and took on the guise of Good Natured Nigerians Providing Services.

We must blame our political scientists for not yet identifying a ruling elite in Nigeria. Enough politicians and businessmen and women have practised in Nigeria to provide enough material for such a process of identification. I would like to propose, against my fellow public intellectuals’ assertion that we do not have a system that has been producing our political and business elite, that we, in fact, do have. Wallahi tallahi, we have even two systems. These are the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Nigerian Traditional Ruling Families.

Let us begin with the Nigerian Traditional Ruling Families as a system of providing leadership in politics and business. During the colonial period the British used traditional rulers to manage the country. They called it indirect rule. They got what they wanted. They maintained peace. They traded with the natives and exported the produce of their sweats. They collected taxes. And they paid the salaries of workers, little as it was. All these they did using the traditional rulers. And where these did not exist, they created them. So today, all over the eastern region crowns of one form or another sits on brows that never sweated into headgears, never mind jewelled crowns.

These traditional rulers had the means and they educated their children in the new training places of the colonial masters. Invariably, a good percentage of the early western educated Nigerians were children and wards of these traditional rulers. How else do we have so many princes and princesses among a Class of republicans, citizens of the federal republic of Nigeria?

And check out the number of educated obas, obis and emirs sons of obas, obis and emirs who have succeeded their illustrious fathers after a spell in the civil service or in the Armed Forces or in private business.

The Nigerian Armed Forces as a training ground for politicians and business people has not been accepted by the academic elite of Nigeria. But accepted or not, it is a place where the majority of our heads of state have been trained. The Armed Forces as a political organisation has ruled Nigeria longer than any other political “party.” If, in terms of their performance, we have been none the better as a country of abundance and fecundity, it is not because they did not come out of the Armed Forces system. Rather, what we could look at is that, in spite of not being trained as politicians and business people, they came out and promised to do everything and anything with immediate effect.


It is a recorded fact of Nigerian History that the late Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello went from secondary school to secondary school in the then Northern Region encouraging form five boys doing their WAEC examinations to consider joining the Nigerian army after their graduation from secondary school. Many of our present and past rulers of the military era are part of those begged into the Nigerian Armed Forces.

And if you care to ask the military elite who continue to rule Nigeria in a robe of mixed camouflage and adire, they will tell you, with pride, that whatever they did not do, they kept Nigeria together. There is no officer in today’s Nigerian Armed Forces who can carry out a coup d’etat against the government in power. This is because the government in power is in fact a military government with a small per centage of pure ordinary civilians.
So, we do have a ruling elite. They have not been much of a successful rulers. They have not been able to do what elite rulers do in other systems and make the country of Nigeria a greater success than mere survival. Those coming behind them have their work cut out for them. Provide some quality to the survival.

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