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Machiavelli’s political theory and leadership in Nigeria

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Machiavelli’s Political Theory and Leadership in Nigeria deals with political philosophy and leadership. The author does this through the prism of the Florentine political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli. The latter’s philosophy is largely articulated in The Prince and The Discourses. The Prince is a systematic discourse on power, its nature and the mechanism of its acquisition and preservation.

Dedicated to the Medici family in Florence, arises contextually from the bowels of Renaissance Europe where a decentred and tumultuous Italy was at the epicentre of papal dominance. The Prince, made up of twenty-six succinct chapters, discusses the principalities and states of Europe, types of military formation and the role of the prince in the armed enterprise. It further discusses the character and behaviour of the prince drawing generously from historical personages like Cesare Borgia, King Ferdinand and King Charles VIII and King Louis the XII among others. In the words of Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, “Machiavelli is not concerned with how men do live merely in order to describe it; his intention is rather, on the basis of knowledge of how men do live, to teach princes how they ought to rule and even how they ought to live.” The Discourses is more or less a re-reading of the history of Rome. A “moral-political teaching”, its importance lies in its thesis on republics. To again quote Strauss and Cropsey, “… the Discourses state powerfully the case for republics while also instructing potential tyrants in how to destroy republican life. Yet there can hardly be any doubt that Machiavelli preferred republics to monarchies, tyrannical or nontyrannical. He loathe oppression which is not in the service of the wellbeing of the people and hence of effective government, especially of impartial and unsquemish punitive justice”.

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The above is the theoretical matrix of Eze Christian Akani’s Machiavelli’s Political theory and Leadership in Nigeria. It dissects the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida as a doctoral endeavour. This book wrapped up in 283 pages and organised in four chapters begins with an introduction that focuses on leadership and its essential character, namely, the power of personal example, selflessness and the pursuit of public good. Leadership it is argued is the problem of Nigeria which has resulted in the “denationalisation” of nation-building. Chapter two articulates mainly conceptual and theoretical framework. The author engages with power and virtue. Power has two major elements, namely, authority and legitimacy. In its transcendence, political power is control over the thoughts and actions of men in a political community and its constitutive elements are authority and legitimacy, the former denoting the quality of being able to command compliance without force due to belief in the right of the wielder to do so and the latter being the belief in a regime’s rightness to make binding decisions. For the author and other realist thinkers like Hans Morgenthau, the essence of politics inheres in the acquisition of power which is why David Easton defines it as the “authoritative allocation of values”. The Italian Virtue is the conceptual category the author is concerned with in this work, not the virtue of the moral hue. It covers ability, skill, energy, forcefulness, strength, ingenuity, civil spirit and courage. For Machiavelli, it is the distinguishing motif among princes. In the words of Quentin Skinner, cited by the author, “it is the quality which enables a prince to withstand the blows of fortune” (p. 20). He typologises Machiavelli’s points on the nature of Virtue and compares them with Babangida political exertions demonstrable in his flexible disposition, generosity, concentration of power, ruthless execution of friends and foes and passion in the study of historical figures like Hannibal and Alexander the Great. The author’s thesis is underpinned by a Marxian political economic framework that is dialectical-materialist in outlook.

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As Friedrich Engels notes “it is the science of the laws governing production, exchange of material means of subsistence in the society”. Chapter three provides the context of the emergence of the seminal text, The Prince. The hallmark of the renaissance epoch was the intellectual movement, namely, scholasticism and humanism. The former placed emphasis on dialectics, rhetoric and religious supremacy while the latter on the uniqueness of man with a view to freeing men from the obscurantism and shackles of religious dogma. In the words of the author: “preconceived ideas about things, religion and man were challenged and new theories emerged. The idea of liberty, freedom, good governance, and individualism became main points of political discourses” (p. 45). The renaissance movement led to the emergence of nation-states consolidated in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Before the consolidation of nation-states, Italy was disunited and broken into principalities, more or less territorial pawns of other Europeans states such as France, Germany and Spain on account of its resources. In the reading of Machiavelli, the unfortunate lie of the Italian state was engendered by the transcendence of the religious order, possessive individualism and political decay. No wonder, his appeal to the Medici family for a demiurge who would lead Italy out of degradation and exploits of the Barbarians. The Prince emphasises the importance of the economy of violence or surgical actions for the benefit of the state and warned the prince against the acquisitive rapacity in property and the comfort of women of the subjects in order to preserve his domain. In Machiavelli’s words: “We can say cruelty is used well (if it is permissible to talk in this way of what is evil) when it is employed once for all, and one’s safety depends on it, and then it is not persisted in but as far as possible turned to the good of one’s subjects.

Cruelty badly used is that which, although infrequent to start with, as time goes on, rather than disappearing, grows in intensity. Those who use first method can, with God and with men, somewhat enhance their position, as did Agathocles; the others cannot possibly stay in power”. Babangida whose regime this work engages with perhaps misread The Prince and similarly his biographers, one of whom titled his work, The Prince of the Niger.

The author goes further to lay bare the nature of colonialism in Nigeria. His analysis shows that the colonial superstructure was nothing other than an exploitative for the benefit of the colonising power.

To be continued tomorrow.
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at Lagos State University.

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