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Identity politics in Adesina’s political writings: Implications for 2023 general elections

By Lai Olurode
13 November 2022   |   4:10 am
Political and social theorists of the right and left have often been ambitious in their formulations, for two related reasons. First, they assumed that their theories and formulations and scenarios would endure forever or at least for long, which is not in consonance with the features of science. According to Max Weber ‘In science, each…

Political and social theorists of the right and left have often been ambitious in their formulations, for two related reasons. First, they assumed that their theories and formulations and scenarios would endure forever or at least for long, which is not in consonance with the features of science. According to Max Weber ‘In science, each of us knows that what he has accomplished will be antiquated in ten, twenty, fifty years…. We cannot work without hoping that others will advance further than we have. In principle, this progress goes on ad infinitum’(Weber, 1970:138).

Secondly, in their writings, they displayed blatant teleology in assuming no cultural variations and historical diversity. To them, the future is known. Thus, they conceded no breathing space to ethno-religious factors in social analysis. Whenever particularistic tendency rear it’s somehow ‘ugly’ head, theorists generally wave it off as either inconsequential or as resulting from incomplete modernization or false consciousness.

To even Marxist scholars, primordial loyalties have no space, a purely class analysis of social issues is acceptable. If those loyalties exist in the context of capitalist transformation of society, it must have arisen from inadequate penetration of capitalist forces of production and thus incomplete modernization.

But, recently, given the widespread resurgence of violence in parts of Asia, South America and Africa, ethnicity and religion (two major identities) begin to attract more scholarly attention. They begin to be assigned greater weights in political analysis and voting behaviour in particular. Globalization and market forces seem incapable of arresting or annulling the potency of ethno-religious identities in shaping political manipulations.

Ethnic and religious loyalties do not just disappear in the context of rapid social transformations of society. New technology and social media seem to be intensifying and consolidating identity politics and political mobilization. Evangelism and national languages and dialects are being smuggled into social media messages. Ethno-religious groups continue to pursue their competition for power and political supremacy online and there is no relenting.

To many politicians any means to power is acceptable.

As a concept, identity can be regarded as a science, in that it can be exact but it is equally an art in the sense that it can be employed creatively in a positive sense or in ways that are pejorative or destructive or reactionary. Identity is a double edge sword, it can be used as a shield to make one become an untouchable or sword with which one can fight glaring cases of unjust treatment. Individuals, generally, parade multiple identities. Africa and indeed Nigeria are versatile spaces for expressions of multiple identities. In grouping diverse communities to become geographical entities, the colonial project had created a cesspool of perennial centripetal forces which run counter to constructing national societies which are premised on accommodating diversity and embracing elastic tolerance threshold. People of diverse ethno-religious backgrounds were arbitrarily grouped and the much envisaged melting pot was never realized.

It must be recognized that identities are not singular or fixed. Identities such as ethnic or religious characteristics are multiple and can be paraded simultaneously by individuals who can even assume or display different identities in the cause of a day as occasion demands. Identities are vulnerable to manipulations by individuals and political entrepreneurs who can deploy/exploit/mobilize identities for propaganda and reactionary agenda. Indeed, manipulations of identities are at the roots of wars, social upheavals, communal riots political violence and revolutions all of which had been parts of our experiences as Nigeria.

Identities promote loyalty to noble and ignoble causes. The role of development, modernization, democratization and globalization in making blunt the sharp edges of multiple identities has not been a success story. Nation-building in the context of multiple identities remains challenging to independence and post-independence African leaders. Though, protracted wars had subsided in most of Africa, constructing national societies in the context of multiple identities remains intimidating. In parts of Europe and America too, nationalism remains a potent force to contend with.

Let me speak to the generic meaning and scientific meaning of politics. It is often said that we are all political animals and by that there is politics in all of us. We are all political players one way or the other. If we may ask, is there anyone who is not interested in the outcome of all events unfolding in society? Or is there that person who never bothered to influence happenings around him? To a lesser or more degree, we all care about events unfolding around us as we are bound to be affected by them. According to Max Weber, ‘We wish to understand by politics only the leadership or the influencing of the leadership, of a political association, hence today, of a state’. …Politics, just as economic pursuits, may be a man’s avocation or his vocation. One may engage in politics, and hence seek to influence the distribution of power within and between political structures as an ‘occasional’ politician.’ (p. 77-83). However, there are those who are professional politicians who live purely on politics, they devote the whole of their energies and time to politics. Whether we like it or not, politics, is either a vocation or as avocation.

In this presentation, it is my objective to point at how efforts at forming truly national political parties had fared in the context of multiple identities. This presentation will, in addition, allude to identify issues that have the potentials to alter electoral outcomes in 2023. Towards the end of my presentation, I will connect the Great Lam Adesina’s political writings to my findings that may provoke further discussions in the now popular concept of “Emilokan” as coined by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC’s presidential candidate in next year’s general elections. The idea of political trust, the principle of reciprocity, social justice and fairness will be germane to my analysis.

Party primaries
No doubt, the primaries had triggered controversies and immeasurable backlash that had been mostly rooted in political sentiments rather than raising concerns about good governance and ethical considerations in politics. It is indisputable that political administration in Nigeria had all the features of an oligarchy as depicted by Robert Michel. There are founders and there are joiners. Though, theoretically, all party members are equal but, some are truly more equal than the others. Political party administration is firmly in the hands of party leaders who are most often the money bags. Those who feel cheated in primaries often run for shelter elsewhere and oftentimes become factions. Discipline and party loyalty is weak. Movements in and out of political parties before, during and after elections are common. This was probably why late Chief Bola Ige, the cicero of Esa-Oke of blessed memory then described the five political parties foisted on Nigeria by late General Sanni Abacha as five fingers of a leprous hand. Anyway, that political parties, in spite of their inherent weaknesses had been able to hold Nigeria together, even if not entirely on the people’s terms, deserve an accolade.

PDP held its presidential primary election on May 28, 2022. Atiku Abubakar won with a total votes of 371 while Nyesom Wike had 237 votes, Bukola Saraki had 70 votes and Udom Emmanuel 38 making a total of 767 delegate votes. APC’s primary election was on June 7 2022. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu emerged as the party’s presidential candidate with 1271 votes by delegates, former Governor Rotimi Amaechi came a distant second with 316 votes and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had just 235 votes. As for the Labour Party, Peter Obi successfully emerged as its presidential candidate. There are yet other parties that had elected their presidential candidates, which space and time won’t allow us to discuss here. One of the major issues arising from the conduct of primary elections is the role of money culture in determining winners.

In my judgement and given the volatility of politics in Nigeria and the challenges of internal party democracy, the two political parties had managed backlash arising from the primaries with maturity. But certainly, APC had contained the aftermath of the primaries more effectively than PDP where disgruntled party members at the highest hierarchy continue to harbor some bitterness on grounds of disrespect for gentlemen agreement and insensitivity to diversity. Where political parties are in disarray before elections, any government that is given birth to will become inherently unstable if at all such a political party wins.

Conceptual definitions
Politics is about persuasion to influence that cause of action in one’s favour, seeking to influence people in power and leadership in order to gain an advantage or an upper hand, ability to have a favourable outcome in a competitive setting. In the perspective of Harold Lasswell, politics is about who gets what, when and how. Religion, ethnicity and population of voters in the register are willing tools of politics and thus of obtaining favourable outcomes.

Governance relates to the act of government – it could be good or bad. Good governance comes about whenever a government makes it possible for people to access essential material needs of life, when there is security of life and property – when there is ire owo, ire omo, ire aiku bale oro ati ire loko laya, ibori ota. When social conditions in a country is such that life is short, access to health is severely constrained, maternal and child mortality is high, many children are out of school, diseases are rampant and life is generally unsafe, there cannot then be a superior expression of poor governance. The concept of political trust is also germane as had been amplified in the new vocabulary of Awalokan and Emilokan. At a meeting of APC in Ogun state, the then presidential aspirant of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, fearing that some might have forgotten the imperative of reciprocity and trust in politics reminded Ogun state delegates that, Nigerian politics, being turn by turn, then Awalokan and more specifically, Emilokcan. This is a direct demand that the Yoruba in the APC having supported a northerner to clinch presidency, it is the turn of the Yoruba in APC to be given a chance.

Probable issues in 2023 General Elections
In this section, we wish to isolate some issues that are likely to affect or be affected by the outcome of 2023 general elections. At one level, they could be taken as independent variables and yet at another level, they become dependent. Certainly, election outcomes depend on some key factors. Either operating individually or simultaneously, these variables would impact 2023 elections. Let me speak to some of these variables:

Class and ideology:
Under normal circumstances, political parties could be described in terms of their ideological leanings and tendencies. Do the poor in Nigeria have a voice in any political party or are they randomly scattered in all parties? Any remarkable differences in the world view of political parties? The question to be asked is: Can we describe political parties by ideology in all honesty given the broad similarities in policies and membership? Within each of the major political parties, however, groups exist to the right and some to the left. If we go by how each party describes itself, then, we can say APC is patently progressive while PDP is conservative. Which party is for the poor today may be difficult to identify. An important question for research is people’s perception about the state of Nigeria’s economy and whether they are poorer today than yesterday. So, class issues and the state of the economy, including inflation rate and unemployment will be expected to affect election outcomes. The active role of youth, and possible manipulation of social media diverse platforms in social mobilization can only be ignored at the peril of political parties and candidates. Nigeria seems to be heading for a most competitive general elections in its recent history. INEC cannot rule out the possibility of a presidential run-off with all the logistics that this entails.

Ethno-religious factors:
Nigeria displays immense diversity. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended gives credence to our pluralism. There is the federal character clause among other provisions that seek political and economic inclusiveness. The Electoral Act, in fact expects candidates in elections at state and federal to display enough spread in their electoral strength before they could emerge as winners.

Permit me to commend the efforts Chief Bisi Akande, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Aremo Olusegun Osoba and President Muhammadu Buhari among others for successfully seen to the merger of their different political parties in 2013 to form APC. It was a master stroke that culminated in the revolution of the 2015 elections which was won by the opposition. The elections could be described as the triumph of democracy and governance over identity politics. In the then APC was the birth of a truly national society that was able to accommodate diversity.

Issues of ethnicity and religion had, by no means, been laid to rest, they remain as vibrant as ever. What triggered the best in Nigerians then were the dire state of the economy and security. Unfortunately, next year’s general elections would still be determined to some extent by Nigerians’ perceptions about ethno-religious identity and state of the economy among other related issues. Ethnicity and religion are, unfortunately, still in our thoughts and political calculations but, we must relate to them cautiously, lest, they trigger destructive backlash. It is uncertain the directions in which the variables of religion and ethnicity would affect 2023 elections, particularly, fielding a presidential candidate from the north by PDP as well as chosen same faith presidential and vice presidential candidates by APC. One of the arguments being canvassed by PDP is that its last president was from the south and that it is the turn of the north to produce a presidential candidate. But a faction in the political party seems to have conceded this logic but, remain insistent that the party chairman should by the same logic emerge from the south. This is the position of Governor Wike and five other governors in PDP. A faction of APC had also advanced the position that a Muslim-Muslim ticket is certainly insensitive to Nigeria’s pluralism and that it does not augur well for politics of inclusiveness. A counter position is being canvassed that in most of the states in the federation, same faith tickets had worked, even in Kaduna state with its immense diversity. And that even in Nigeria, it was not a new experience and that what is urgently required to fix our political economy is good governance, which is based on ethical considerations. Which sets of arguments would hold the sway would be revealed by electoral outcomes in 2023.

Power of incumbency:
With electoral reforms that were put together by Justice Muhammed Uwais which former President Goodluck Jonathan almost fully implemented by his appointments of Prof. Attahiru Jega and his team, power of incumbency had become less effective. Recent elections had shown that the present regime may not interfere with future election outcomes. Power of incumbency may not be of maximum advantage since the current president is not contesting but his party.

A relevant poser is that with the incumbent President not contesting, will he be able to deploy and mobilize his charisma behind his party presidential candidate? Our notion of party supremacy and party loyalty is important. The imponderables are wide. Further reforms had also been introduced into the electoral act that had strengthened INEC’s autonomy. On its own part, INEC has been deepening electoral democracy through electoral technology and thereby curtailing human agency e.g BVAS. Electoral outcomes in 2023 may not significantly depend on the discretion of electoral staff and the role of money.

Security conundrum:
There are two dimensions to Nigeria’s security conundrum. On the one hand and which is more fundamental is the reproduction of social life – security of basic needs of existence – food, shelter, clothing, etc. Then, comes in security of life and property, security from life threatening situations. Apart from the Nigerian civil war, Nigeria, in recent memory had never been this challenged in term of threats to the economy, life and property. Rampage by bandits and kidnappers had become widespread as Nigeria is close to the Hobbesian brutal state of nature. This state of generalized insecurity cannot but impact negatively on elections. For example, the indigenous People of Biafra – IPOB – is insisting that elections in the south east region might not hold while Kanu is in incarceration. According to Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state, the security situation in the northwest poses a serious challenge to next year’s elections in the region. Food insecurity challenges that we now contend with had been compounded by kidnapping of farm workers and farmers. If security challenges persist in areas where a particular political party has most loyal members and with large concentration of voters, they may be scared and stay away from polling units on election day. The overall outcome will be affected.

State of political parties and political trust: Internal dynamics of political parties and perceptions about leadership of parties would have implications for electoral outcomes. No doubt, political parties often display signs of poor health and internal conflict which had cost fatal electoral losses in the past. Antecedents of presidential candidates and previous social contracts sealed and delivered with electorates will have impact on final outcomes. Political leadership in Nigeria is perceived as ‘turn-by-turn’. Whether written or unwritten, rational Nigerians subscribe to the idea of power shift. If this is not endorsed across political parties or by generality of Nigerians, the issue of domination may become contentious in 2023. Without doubt, leading political figures in south-west threw their heavy weight behind a northerner Buhari in 2015 and 2019 which gave APC electoral victory. Will the northern political lights in the same party reciprocate this kind gesture or will it renege on political trust and dependability? Can electorates be trusted? How strong is loyalty to political parties that ethno-religious sentiments would not count in electoral calculations and permutations? Can we contemplate reactions to a northerner returning to power in 2023? How will the West and even the South East react?

Role of Judiciary:
The conduct of party primaries did not give much room for comfort. As a result, many cases are pending in court. Previously conducted gubernatorial contests are still pending in courts. Final determinations of some of these cases may depend on judicial activism. It is certainly harrowing that rather than electorates having the final say in election matters, this is being shifted to judicial officers to determine. There cannot be a better political corruption of judicial officers. However, the current Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola had on three occasions since his assumption of office cautioned members of the bench against judicial recklessness.

Sundry attitudinal issues:
These issues relate to those that may affect electoral statistics. Across the regions, people do not come out to participate equally in all phases of the electoral process. The level of voter education is not also uniform. These attitudinal differences will surely affect the size of voter register and voter turnout. Regions where more people get registered and voted in elections may be able to get their preferred candidates elected than the other. My study of electoral statistics had shown that voter apathy is pronounced in the south-west, the same goes for rejected and thus wasted votes. Are political parties providing voter education to enhance voter turnout and mitigate wasted votes?

Locating Lam Adesina’s writings in Nigeria’s political landscape
Were Lam Adesina to be living, he would have been a strong member of the progressive family and a front liner. He was a Utilitarian who desired the happiness of the greatest majority. He was a popular columnist with the Nigerian Tribune from 1972 through 1980s, 1990s and almost up to the time that he was elected as the governor of Oyo state in the year 1999. In the context of Nigerian politics, Nigeria Tribune that started publishing since 1948 was then a critical voice in Nigeria. His critical writings had caused him travails which included punitive and frequent transfers as a school principal from one part of the then western state to the other and also being named as a prisoner of war during the one million march in the hey days of General Sanni Abacha dictatorship. Lam was a Utilitarian par excellence and he himself confessed sharing the same philosophy with Obafemi Awolowo, a philosophy that preaches social justice, fairplay, intellectual brilliance and egalitarian order in society. Certainly, Lam was a Utilitarian and a friend of the masses, the poor and the Frantz Fanon‘s Wretched of the Earth. This is Lam’s ideology. This was what informed his writings since 1972 when he commenced writings in The Nigerian Tribune.

‘What could have been Lam Adesina’s position on power shift?’
‘I cannot understand in what ways those people who believe that unless they are controlling, the federal government will not function well, want us to have faith in their sermons for national unity’ (Nigerian Tribune, Saturday, March 8, 1986).

‘There are still those who say that, at all costs and by whatever means, they will not allow political power-base to shift an inch, little considering that a shift may have the desired salutary effects on the polity. There are also those who are vowing that, come what may, that seemingly entrenched and almost impregnable political power-base must shift for the good of all’ – Nigerian Tribune, Saturday, January 19, 1991.

Without doubt, Lam was certainly for power shift. It would be recalled that in October 2000, General Buhari led a five-man delegation of Arewa Consultative Forum to Governor Lam Adesina of Oyo state following skirmishes between Bororo Fulani and Yoruba farmers in Oke-Ogun. Lam pointedly stated that unless the then President Obasanjo was allowed a second term in office then, the Yoruba will be forced to review its participation in future elections. Lam Adesina was an apostle of power shift (Saturday Tribune, October 14, 2000). Had he been alive, he would certainly have joined his other Yoruba compatriots to advocate for power shift to the south and would have been hard on PDP.

The next related question to which we seek an answer is Lam’s opinion on ethno-religious diversity and the consequences for ignoring their potency. Lam’s caution on this sensitive subject goes as follows: ‘In the past, the bane of the Nigerian society was tribalism. Even though, the country has not fully succeeded in eliminating this cancerous disease, yet, it has fared better these days than in the past…There is usually no end to any religious war, for no side will ever accept defeat. The war continues for ever either in form of battles or in form of skirmishes unless all sides to the war agree to forget the causes of the war and stay together…We should learn to live together in peace, happiness and harmony in Nigeria. We need not shed innocent blood in the name of religion in Nigeria again. Most Nigerians claim to be worshipping Allah/God and He is not a God of confusion. He is a God of peace, progress and happiness (Nigerian Tribune, Saturday, January 2, 1988). This article was written when Nigeria under Babangida joined Organization of Islamic Conference (O.I.C).

Without any doubt, Lam Adesina had a robust and versatile mindset and would have argued in favour of a Muslim-Muslim ticket, for him this would not matter. Consistently, he places governance above politics and pettiness. He regarded these issues as residual and personal and should not for goodness be smuggled into the public domain.

Lam and 2023 Elections
The Great Lam could be regarded as a Utilitarian par excellence who wants the betterment of the majority. He fought for the masses, the downtrodden and the poor through his writings. His major concern is placing governance over politics and sentiments. He would have praised to high heavens, Buhari’s regime infrastructural developments in the areas of roads, railway and airports. He would have urged the presidential candidate of APC to use this as his campaign mantra. As a lover of education, he would have urged the Federal government to end the lingering crisis with universities for the sake of students, human development and poverty eradication.

On the strength of good governance, Lam would have still canvassed for a Muslim-Muslim ticket and that what is imperative in our country is building a nation that all of us will be proud of. Ethno-religious identities about who governs would not have mattered as governance architecture and the ability to deliver on promises. He would equally have endorsed power shift to the south as he would have lambasted plans by PDP to retain power in the north after eight years of rule by a northerner.

As a fair-minded commentator, Lam, in subscribing to the concept of Awalokan would have argued against Winners Take All with regard to ethno-religious identities. He would have been satisfied that the Yoruba had honoured its own part of the unwritten political contract, the ball is now in the court of the north to defer to political trust and to place Nigeria above ethnicity in spite of its tottering and fledgling democracy. We cannot afford politics devoid of ethical considerations.

•Olurode, a retired Professor of Sociology, University of Lagos, spoke at Lam Adesina’s 10th year remembrance held on Friday, November 11, 2022 in Ibadan, Oyo State.