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Machiavelli’s political theory and leadership in Nigeria – Part 2

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
19 March 2020   |   3:12 am
All the institutions of state and its bureaucratic mechanisms: taxation, education, transportation and religion fed the accumulative goal of the colonising state.

All the institutions of state and its bureaucratic mechanisms: taxation, education, transportation and religion fed the accumulative goal of the colonising state. He seems to concur with the assertion of Walter Rodney that “the negative impact of colonialism in political terms was quite dramatic. Overnight, African Political states lost their power, independence and meaning—irrespective of whether they were big empires or small polities”.

The character of the post-colonial Nigerian state attracts the scrutiny of the author. The author re-echoing Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s viewpoint in his Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Africa qualifies the post-colonial state as a capitalist state, neo-colonial in substance and at the service of the accumulative goals of the metropoles. Re-echoing Hamza Alavi, it is an overdeveloped state, too complex for the ‘inheritance elite’.

This view has been modified by Eme Ekekwe who sees the tension in the post-colonial state in the stunted nature of the mode of production yet to attain the maturity of capitalist relations of production and the super-imposed equipment of a modern state. The output of the post-colonial elite has bled the country of its resource to the rebound of international capital while simultaneously under-developing the country. The rapacity of the Babangida regime in its abuse of power, coup and misappropriation and outright looting of state resources are well evidenced. So is the handling of power relations which engendered coups and consequent bloodletting.

The author re-engages the theory of the state to underline the nature of the ruling class in Nigeria through both the liberal and radical perspectives. The former being that which plays the role of an impartial arbiter arising from the state of nature to mediate the civil society and ensuring the rule of law and good governance and social order in the state while the latter denotes the state as a class instrument for the oppression of another class. Despite the clear path provided by the text’s political economy theoretical frame, there is no fixation to Marxian definition of the state as an instrument of class rule.

Both Ekekwe and Phillip Corrigan provide a nuanced understanding of class. Ekekwe cited generously by the author avers that “to leave the matter thus would however be to harbour a simplistic and vulgarized conception of the state. It would be quite difficult if indeed possible at all for the state to be a mere instrument of the ruling class since in fact that class is internally divided and subject to serious intra-class competition” (p. 156). Equally Corrigan argues that “The state is an arena of contention and conflict within the ruling class just as much as it is the instrument of the class” (p. 157).

Whatever your view on the state, the author contends that a neo-colonial state, without an industrial base, could hardly meet the basic needs of its people but vegetates in an uncertain future. The author speaks to the character the Nigerian ruling class as well as its ethnic characterology under the Babangida regime. The manner in which M.K.O Abiola was denied ascent to the presidency and his business liquidated accentuated the ethnic determinism of the ruling class in Nigeria. As argued elsewhere, the ruling class in Nigeria is a default class whose complexion is mediated by ethnicity, prebendalism and naïve class interest.

Babangida, the subject of analysis, once remarked, “Without Sani, I will not be alive today, without the North I would not have become an officer in the Nigerian army and president of Nigeria”. Nkenna Nzimiro cited by the author deepens our understanding of the ethnic phenomenon when he pointed to tiny arrogant actors who regarded themselves as princes in the corridor of power and looked down on others as the drawback of his regime.

For a class to emerge in the Marxian conception of it, transformation in the development of productive forces, in other words, mode of production is necessary. This for me is the bane of development in Nigeria even when inclined towards the liberal paradigm. In the final chapter of the book, the author makes some recommendations to the Nigerian political leadership: the need to respect public property, the rule of law and the judiciary. Indeed, he calls for abidance to the democratic recommendations of the Florentine political philosopher which the Babangida regime observed in the breach.

To quote Machiavelli, “it is not the wellbeing of individuals that makes cities great, but the wellbeing of the community and it is beyond question that it is only in republics that the common good is looked to properly in that all that promotes it is carried out.” This theoretical exercise assumes that both political philosophy and political theory occupies the same definitional roost and therefore the author assumes their interchangeability in usage. While we concede to him the liberty of usage he ought to have placed us on notice in a seminal academic endeavour such as this. Political philosophy concerns itself with apriori conception of man and nature, making sense of social relations, particularly the political implications of particular phenomena. However, political theory is more or less a formulation for a systematic understanding of political phenomena; it is somewhat eclectic and focused on power. However, by secularising the realm of the state, Machiavelli establishes the autonomy of politics as an amoral enterprise.

The author’s theorisation of the state deserves some accolade but fails to ground the ethnic variable which can no longer be dismissed as mere secondary contradiction buts finds expression in the default class conception as well as in the state-nation category. Also, a Gramscian insight on the issue of hegemony would have been invaluable. An exercise in the sub-discipline of political theory is to be applauded. Truly, there are few works in this category these days in our clime and should be encouraged. It is strongly recommended for all social scientists and the country’s political leadership. This book is well-written but a second edition in the near future can take care of the few editorial discontents.


Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at Lagos State University.