By Jibrin Ibrahim
The media is full of articles; analysis, lists and complaints that the Buhari Administration is making appointments that are skewed towards the North in general and towards Muslims in particular. One of the most talked about is the leadership of security agencies in which only three out of seventeen positions are filled with people from the South. The other is the Board of NNPC, which is said to be skewed against the presumptive owners of petroleum, the Niger Delta. Last week, I read some of the President’s aides defending the Presidential appointments as fair and well balanced. I do not think they are doing their boss a favour.
Nigeria’s greatest game is counting allocation of jobs to people from different zones and we all know we are very competent in the technique. There is no doubt that the Buhari Administration has been allocating more top jobs to the North just as the Jonathan Administration gave more to the South South and South East. Let us not forget that at the beginning, it was fears by the Northern elite that early independence would create conditions that would lead to Southerners taking over most of the jobs that prompted the rejection of Anthony Enaharo’s motion for early independence. We have remained in that mould since then. I would like to see a Nigerian president break the vicious cycle and there is no reason why Muhammadu Buhari should not be that president. Tensions and concerns are very high and the promotion of a sense of belonging to all through balanced appointments can only be good for us.
The Nigerian elite does not devote massive time and emotion to federal character job allocation counting for nothing; they know that both wealth and power come from access to the State. In our political system, there is no autonomy between the hegemonic classes and the State apparatus. Controlling the State is therefore serious business that pushes the elite to all sorts of extremist tactics to secure access. In advances capitalist societies, there is a major difference between the politics of the bourgeoisie and that of the political elites. The interests of the bourgeoisie are the maintenance of law and order and the dispositions which regulate economic life and ensure the reproduction of the exploitative relationships vis-a-vis the productive class. On the other hand, the interests of the political elites are to preserve their privileged positions at the summit of organisations against rival elites. According to Richard Lachmann, the composition of the elites is the key factor, which determines the nature of political conflicts: “When a single elite rules, its interests can be analysed in Marx’s terms since their only opponent is the producing class. When multiple elites rule, their interests are directed against challenges from competing elites as well as from subordinate classes.” As soon as an elite group succeeds in removing its rivals, it tends to devote its organisational capacities to increasing its presence in State positions and reducing that of the other.
The one constant in all political equations in our society is the omnipresence of the struggle for access to the State. Political success is defined as the capacity to explore and exploit every available option to access the State through ethnic, home town, family and clan connections, political parties, the military, gangsterism, trade unionism and professional associations. As the membership list of the elite grows, the struggle for access intensifies and the potential channels used to secure access become less effective. In the 1970s, Bernard Shaffer of the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex made the argument that central to the theory of access is the imperative of making arguments about eligibility and priority in political encounters. If we devote so much attention to counting and comparing who got what position, it is precisely because we are seeking to justify who should or should not have access. Politics then becomes essentially a process of justifying the rules and qualifications for entry and exit from positions of State power. The “insiders” must be removed so that the “outsiders” can enter. In such a context, politics gets reduced to Gramsci’s war of movement versus his war of position. We should not forget that in spite of the language of political science, the state is not an entity that does things, only people can do things. Obviously, therefore, the people who can gain access to, and have a monopoly over State institutions control the authoritative allocation of resources.
The reality of access is that it is constituted by acts of navigation by political entrepreneurs in waters where the conditions and rules of admission are not clear, open or equal. The political market is not an economic market in the way it is described by neo-classical economists. In economies where the market is more or less open, the most important problem is that of the income at the disposal of consumers, access being easy if income is high. Nobody in such a situation is forced to resort to particular forms of influence and the market becomes a sort of “democratic” system of distribution. According to Bernard Schaffer, access becomes a problem from the moment distribution is done outside the open market. When that happens, there is the need to assert particular linkages in order to justify access. The problem, which at the beginning was economic, thus becomes a political one since the person who is looking for access has to use their voice to justify why he and not somebody else should have access to available positions.
The excellent study on the sociology of queues done by Leon Mann based on a survey of queues seeking tickets for the crucial final of the Australian Rules football at the Melbourne stadium is quite revealing about the behaviour of crowds seeking access. In a queue in which the rules are respected, the candidates are ready to pay the price, i.e. wait for their turn, but as soon as the rules are no longer respected and some people are served without waiting for their turn, the queues break up and end up in fights. We as Nigerians know this very well, as we never stay to take up our turn in the queue. So while queues are in principle democratic means of distribution since people are served according to the time they spend. In practice, however, privileged people often bypass the democratic principle of “first come first served” by using ethnicity, zones, religion and personal connections to leap frog their way to access. Political entrepreneurs are forced to develop strategies which will help them accede to power through their parties, cliques, factions, religious and ethnic affiliations, unions, ethnic militia, insurgent armies and so on. The outcome is a breakdown of order and hierarchies. The “normal” general principle is that people should wait for their turn before acceding to the highest posts, however, as everyone knows there are no sufficient tickets for the match, it is stupid to wait for your turn, it becomes imperative to jump the queue to accede, while justifying why the other has to be excluded.
Our politics has been becoming more violent, crass, venal and self-centred because each one that gains access thinks only of excluding the other and creating more access to their relations, family, friends, co-religionists and tribal cohorts. It is however possible to elevate politics and make it a process of open negotiation and compromise on the basis of inclusivity and balanced access. It is imperative that our governments at the local, State and national levels seek to elevate our politics.
Jibrin Ibrahim, PhD, is Senior Fellow Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria.
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