By Doyin Odebowale
Nigeria currently experiments with civil governance after a considerable lull in political activities. The experience of the people since the resumption of civil rule in 1999 has been anything but encouraging.
All sectors of the country have been run aground by the mercenaries in government and their collaborators. Corruption and all acts connected therewith are actively promoted by functionaries of state.
Insecurity is now a major issue as nobody is sure of safety. The geographical space of the polity has been diminished, substantially, by a more organised and purposeful militia notoriously acclaimed as Boko Haram.
Party politics in a bourgeois democracy pretends to promote the concept of ownership of political parties when it is, in actuality, a veritable means of disempowerment of the people. Political parties should be the vectors through which programmes on social engineering are sold to eligible voters, ‘the people’.
The contest should be on the basis of ideas, and the electorate should be allowed to swim in the ocean of illusion on possessing the actual power to give life to their preferred wishes on this basis. In some so called ‘people’s democratic republics’, such exercise is considered a grand luxury which a centralist ideology cannot ill accommodate. The expression of preference is severely limited to what the deluded potentates bring before the people. As pernicious as this practice appears, it is more honest. Nobody is allowed to distribute dollars or hire private jets to sell a programme designed to ultimately dispossess the people.
The collective experience on the African Continent has been heart-corroding. The Nigerian situation tends, dangerously, towards the same monolithic approach for which Communist parties are reputed. There is the laughable and even tragic advertisement of multi-party presence. The so called parties are nothing but convenient platforms supported by statutes to seal the fate of the oppressed.
No serious analyst should waste precious time attempting to discuss their differences.
The fluidity of movement from platform to another in search of ‘meal tickets’ by party operatives in Nigeria should cause our political scientists to organise series of symposia, seminars and workshops. Anyone who is able to come up with plausible reasons, other than the predilection to perpetuate fraud, as justification for this unabashed display of moral turpitude by most Nigerian politicians, is a sure candidate for the Nobel.
It is against this backdrop that I intend to comment on the creed for service as presented by the candidate of the major opposition party in the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari. Let me hasten to say that I shall be casting my ballot for him if the incumbent occupier of the office, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the cabal goading him to perdition allow the election to hold. This, however, is without prejudice to my observation that his programme of action, well-intentioned as it may be, appears superficial, although his personality as a man whose life in both public and private spheres is marked out as exemplary.
Buhari’s redemptive creed for service is predicated on a false and sinking premise, namely, the dubious presumption of nationhood in a multi-cultural ambience. The politics of cultural pluralism does not permit this facile approach to issues. He possesses the necessary credentials to mobilise the polity for the real journey to nationhood. I have no doubt concerning that at all. But to leave the question of ownership of the whole process by the people hanging is naivety as its worst level. In talking about economy, provision of electricity, agriculture, access to justice, fundamental human rights, education, insecurity, health, diversity and the Niger Delta, the issue of the transitional status of the nation-state called Nigeria cannot be ignored.
Corruption, which has now been elevated to a national culture under the current political rulership, can only be tackled effectively and realistically if the question of ownership of the polity is addressed. The pervasive belief in the ‘turn-by-turn’ process by the bankrupt elites can only exacerbate the pandemic situation. The monolithic economy run by the country has encouraged a basically consumptive attitude.
It is not enough to announce that the economy will be expanded. How well can we address this problem without resolving the issue of ownership? Will our quest for diversification also follow the path of continued expropriation of the commonwealth by a rapacious cabal comprising the politicians, clergy, commission agents erroneously dubbed businessmen, mercenary academia, civil society operatives and labour unions?
The general intends to revamp the power sector to jump start the economy. He would have had no problems were he to rule as a military dictator. His first assignment would have been to tie some of the current buyers of the moribund but ‘unbundled’ PHCN to the stake and shoot them. He will be shooting some of his former colleagues involved in the current racket. These criminals are dancing ‘Disco’to the banks for generating darkness and asking the people to pay for electricity not consumed.
That will not be the final solution. He will have to present an executive bill to the National Assembly on devolution of power to the federating units. Why should states wait for approval from the Federal Government before they can generate electricity for their own people? The present arrangement is not sustainable. After privatisation, Goodluck Jonathan has continued to fund the new owners in utter disregard to the logic of the argument in support of the monumental fraud.
I agree with the general on the need for massive intervention in agriculture on the part of the government. This brings us back to the question of ownership. The current government boasts on its achievement in this sector. There was some talk about cassava bread among other inanities. There is also a reference on its card to the effect that it had reduced corruption in the distribution of fertiliser to farmers.
We read of such incomprehensible stupidities ad nauseam. The solution to this endemic problem does not only lie in sending many of these phantom farmers to jail. Government, both at the federal and state levels, must develop a national policy on agriculture. There were farm settlements in the defunct South West Region. The current interlopers have sold most of them to themselves and converted them to housing estates. This retrogressive step must be reversed.
Most people believe that General Buhari will ensure fairness in the dispensation of justice to the people. It is, however, simplistic to assume that once a process of ensuring quick dispensation of justice is put in place, then there will be no problem. Justice for who? The nature of judicial process in a transitional society is such that two distinct systems operate. One is for those who control the commanding height of the economy, while the other is reserved for the masses.
In Nigeria, it is possible for a big thief not only to bribe judges and prosecutors. He can also dictate the forum of trial and procure a perpetual injunction against the state from enquiring into the details of his malfeasance. A felon who gets convicted on the weight of damning evidence can pay ridiculous fines and walk free. Some serve their terms in five star hospitals and earn national honours as certified criminals afterwards. They get state pardon as stealing is not corruption in this clime and they are called upon for higher service as distinguished senators of the banana republic.
On the other hand, a miserable thief who has the misfortune of being caught while stealing a cow may lose his wrist under the Sharia criminal jurisprudence in a secular state. Some stay in prison far longer than the time they would have spent as terms if convicted for prescribed offences awaiting trials. They cannot procure the services of senior advocates and the media to hasten the process of plea bargaining like the pension thieves. They are not donors to the prayer empire of commercial Shamans. They are anonymous and must be so treated. The general will have to explain still what he means by access to justice.
As a corollary to that, even of more significance is the issue of education treated perfunctorily in his manifesto. The education of citizens is the most important function of the state, perhaps, after security. It cannot be reduced to the acquisition of “relevant skills in marketing”. Every serious society trains its citizens for development. The process is structured to derive maximum benefits.
If development is measured in terms of the extent of the people’s interaction with their natural environment, the education of citizens of any given society must reflect the challenges encountered, solutions discovered and applied, mistakes recognised and corrected as well as projection for the future. Education should not be deployed to support crass mercantilist ideology. Our people must learn to produce before they acquire marketing skills.
His background as a trained soldier of repute stands him in a better stead to discuss security than the current inept and corrupt leadership of the country. The best form of security lies in the welfare of the people. His antecedents as a combatant are reassuring. We know he will not contract out the policing of pipelines to glorified street urchins. Boko Haram and all other variants of social outlaws will find in his government a worthy adversary.
He will have to look, seriously, into the issue of restructuring the polity. Some handpicked jesters, many of whom have been responsible for the pitiable state of the country, just embarked on an expensive frolic purporting to deliberate on the challenges we face as a people.
A handful of them, rabid irredentists but mainly indolent and conservative elements who have made considerable fortunes fanning the embers of disunity, even insist that the implementation of their recommendations is the only way forward for the country. While we will not begrudge them the right to delusion on exaggerated assumption of relevance, the arrogance with which they pontificate on the solutions to the problems of the country, coupled with the combative apostasy of some gerontocratic elements, is symptomatic of the pervasive decadence in the polity.
Presenting a programme of redemption in a multi-cultural pluralistic geo-political space without paying due regard to nationhood is delusory. Buhari must begin to ruminate on strategies which will be put in place to address this fundamentum.
Doyin Odebowale, a lecturer with the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan and legal practitioner is available at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com