Friday, 9th June 2023

Political power in Nigeria (12)

By By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
22 March 2023   |   3:12 am
This is the last part of a twelve-part serial on the dynamics of power in Nigeria woven around the evocative metaphor, the Lugardian Architecture. The latter is a dysfunctional entity with centrifugal and centripetal social forces operating under various togas seeking either to hold the entity together for enlightened self-interest other than justice or exit the house of Lugard for self-determination.

Lagos Governor and Ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate to re-election Babajide Sanwo Olu (C) waves to supporters after voting at a polling station for a gubernatorial and House of Assembly candidates during local elections, in Lagos, on March 18, 2023. – Nigerians vote in local elections three weeks after the ruling party won a presidential poll contested by the two main opposition parties. Africa’s most populous country will be voting for governors in 28 of the 36 states of the federation — the other states having already conducted by-elections — as well as for representatives in state assemblies. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

This is the last part of a twelve-part serial on the dynamics of power in Nigeria woven around the evocative metaphor, the Lugardian Architecture. The latter is a dysfunctional entity with centrifugal and centripetal social forces operating under various togas seeking either to hold the entity together for enlightened self-interest other than justice or exit the house of Lugard for self-determination.

In the 2023 election cycle, some of the operation variables, namely, ethnicity and religion that are fused in the dynamics of power in Nigeria triumphed disappointingly for many who were enthusiastic about the revamp of the ‘crippled giant’ (apologies to Professor Eghosa Osaghae), if not for anything but for the sake of the black race. Karl Marx once noted that “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce”. Despite the multiple analytical outputs on the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections and identifiable irregularities, chief of which was the refusal of INEC to operationalise the real-time transmission result to its portal (IReV), hopes were that the INEC would make good the March 18, 2023 process in ways that would vitiate the mistake of February elections thereby polishing its sullied image.

As it turned out, March 18 was a damper for many. Ethnicity, a non-derogatory referent for the other, was doubly substantiated in its bigoted possibilities. Lagos, the foremost metropolitan city in the country became its uncanny manifestation. Ethnic bigotry was taken to the extreme in the name of transient power, and the musician Folarin Falana, aka Falz, observed in a tweet that people were selected in Lagos, not elected.

It is the triumph of what political scientists like Thandika Mkandiware have identified as ‘choiceless democracy’. It should be noted that the voters’ repression by sheer violence that Lagos exemplified and the corresponding symbolic resistance indicates an unsavoury electoral future.

In gated communities, people brought out their ferocious dogs to attack political thugs in a pushback. Unless the current beneficiaries of the electoral robbery moderate themselves, future elections will certainly be bloody; it will be tit for tat.

As Andrew Duff, a member of European Parliament noted in his foreword to Friedrich Pukelsheim’s Proportional Representation, “Electoral reform is a delicate business: handled well, it can be the basis on which new liberal democracies spread their wings; it can refresh the old, tired democracies. Handled badly, electoral reform can distort the people’s will, entrench the abuse of power and sow the seeds of destruction of liberty”(see Friedrich Pukelsheim, Proportional Representation, Springer, 2014).

Nevertheless, we need to take back Nigeria and salvage it for the sake of the black race. As Nelson Mandela, the revered African statesman has rightly noted, no one will respect Africa until Nigeria gets it right. In this swansong, I reflect albeit briefly on future possibilities, in other words, underscore the big picture in our polity. The core referents in this regard are multiculturalism, people power, policy outcomes, and the allure of office.

In a psychology approach to multiculturalism, Blaine J. Fowers and Frank C. Richardson, define multiculturalism as “a social-intellectual movement that promotes the value of diversity as a core principle and insists that all cultural groups be treated with respect and as equals.” They recognise its heart in “a moral movement that is intended to enhance the dignity, rights, and recognized worth of marginalized groups” (Blaine J. Fowers and Frank C. Richardson Why Is Multiculturalism Good? American Psychologist, June 1996).

Joseph Raz sees it as“a sensibility which takes more seriously the otherness of the other, a sensibility which stops us from forcing our own ways on the other, just because he follows a different style of life, because he comes from a different culture” (see Joseph Raz. Multicuralism. Ratio Juris. Vol. 11, No. 3 September 1998, pp. 193–205).

We need to step out of the cocoon of scholarly abstraction a bit. In Nigeria, with different cultural geographies, the question of coexistence is a shared affinity; it is simply practical for us. In the Benin kingdom, the other is initiated into the cultural milieu of the host if found worthy, often within a decade. The other does not impose his/her cultural values on the host. The cultural difference withers away with its vestiges deposited in the abstract category of genealogy.

Modernity presents multiculturalism as a right category that seeks the respect of the well-being and dignity of the other; it is a plurality of cultures, hybrid, and new, in its dialectical transformation. In our modern cities, we inter-marry and have so many things in common, a new moral code evolves that makes the inhabitants of the city.

Somewhat a universalisation of partiularisms. Lagos exemplifies this modern reality, and it is the future destination of the country if it does not fall apart due to the mismanagement of our diversity.

People Power is a concept that duels in the realm of abstract, and occasionally objectified itself in the real world of social relations of social forces. It came into currency when the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown in the Philippines by its oppressed in the late 1980s. From the social contract prism, the people as the boss of the society have continued to manifest themselves. Political sovereignty resides with the people, not the interim wielders of power, apologies to Wole Soyinka.

The lesson of the February 25 elections is that the people are the ‘Oga’ of democracy. The angst of the people, embodied in a teaming youth population found vent in the Labour Party. It shook the complacent political elite in the country. For good or bad, the future belongs to people.

The warped political elite serenading the corridors of power, many of whom took refuge in the inner recesses of their bedroom, or ran across the borders, while others threw down the gauntlet and confronted the military, must understand this. If they do, policy outcomes will not be the same. Our people will be the alpha and omega of policy conception and implementation.

It is clear to us all that the winner-take-all mentality in our polity needs to be tamed. Liberal democracy that we copied from the West must be tamed to accommodate our partiularisms. Political actors in Nigeria must reduce the allure of public offices to allow for leadership as a service to the people.

In our polity, politics has become the only game in town in the realism of Jean Bayart’s assertion: “Goats eat where they are tethered” (See Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: Politics of the Belly, Polity Press, 2009); Akhaine, S. O., The Only Game in Town: Politics and Accumulation in Nigeria). We need to build an industrial society that gives jobs and rewards hardwork and innovation.

For many of my readers who have expressed interest in this serial, please note that it will be published as a book under the same title soon. I thank you as I drop the curtain.

Professor Akhaine was the former General Secretary, Campaign for Democracy in Nigeria during military dictatorship.

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