By Edwin Madunagu
The following statement should, perhaps, be made at this point: Crucial in understanding and appreciating Anthony Akinola’s Democracy in Nigeria is not forgetting that the author takes the country’s existing capitalist (“free market”) political economy not only as given but also as unchanging.
He takes for granted that carrying out the reforms advocated in his book would leave the basics of the capitalist (“free market”) economy not only invariant but also unthreatened. I felt Akinola’s silent assumption throughout the book but more strongly in his consideration of corruption and welfarism. I believe you will not, especially if you are a Leftist, be able to fully appreciate this book unless you take this point into account and see, in spite of this, what I have called “flashes of beauty” and “products of deep thought” the book embodies.
What I still have to say in this appreciation can be streamlined and re-arranged under five themes: The question of “ cleavage”: ideology, ethnicity and religion; the “leadership” question: “the “zoning” principle together with collective, collegial, rotational and single-term presidency; “welfarism” in a restructured economy; corruption as lubricant of capitalism; and the philosophy of hope. In continuing with the appreciation I may have to refer to ideas which, though Akinola’s, are not explicitly stated in this book but in his other works that I have also read.
In the Synopsis to Part 4, titled Jonathan and the zoning controversy, the author says: “The politics of Nigeria has little or no ideological content; what divides Nigerians are their ethnicity and religion” (page 79). Three pages later, under the essay History of leadership crises, the author repeats the proposition but adds a third factor: “The noises about the direction of the presidency in 2011 should remind us that our nation is not divided by ideology, but by religion, region and selfish interests” (page 82).
This proposition is repeated in several essays in the book. If you dig deep into, and analyse, Akinola’s third factor, “selfish interests” – unless it is a slip of pen” (which anyone who has read this book and other works of his will almost swear is not) – you will sometimes come face to face with what he seeks to deny, that is, ideology.
This point notwithstanding, I think I know what the author has in mind: I think it is a matter of emphasis; but this emphasis, which we may be tempted to overlook carries important implications which the author then employs theoretically – namely, that the political parties that now occupy Nigeria’s democracy space can coalesce into a handful of large and, perhaps, national, parties.
Akinola’s proposition can be reformulated as follows: Several factors, including ethnicity, religion and ideology divide Nigerians; but in politics (or the type of politics we used to call “bourgeois politics”) which the ruling classes and their power blocs completely dominate, ideology takes a back seat, and ethnicity and religion become dominant, though not exclusive.
If the author accepts my modification that rests my case; but if he rejects it I shall then take another step in another direction and propose that the fact that different political groups are found in the same party does not mean that there are no ideological differences – sometimes serious differences – between them. Groups with deep ideological differences may come together for a strategic objective, such as national liberation. Check the Kuomintang (KMT) in China during the anti-Japanese national resistance, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) in Nigeria between 1944 and 1950.
I do not want to be misunderstood on this question. So let me put my proposition in context. Akinola employs his own proposition – of no ideological, or no serious ideological, differences – to argue that the tens of political parties which now operated in the country can coalesce into a handful of national parties – a development which will now be strengthened if rotational presidency is adopted and inserted in the nation’s Constitution. See, in particular, the essay Fusion, not alliances (pages 113 – 115).
My counter proposition is in three parts: first, that there are ideological differences in Nigeria’s politics; second, that amalgamation of parties can still take place even in the presence of ideological differences; and third, that, conversely, the fact that this amalgamation takes place does not mean there are no ideological differences. However, as in the historical examples cited above (KMT, ANC and NCNC) the coming together of parties – I mean serious parties – with ideological differences is usually for a strategic objective. Once that objective is realized, or is in sight, the differences, hitherto underplayed, begin to surface and the hitherto monolithic party begins to “fall apart”.
The case for rotational presidency is, arguably, the strongest and most passionately argued proposition in Democracy in Nigeria. Reading through Akinola’s argument that literally litters the book and those works of his that are not accommodated in the book I think the full title of his proposition should be: Collegial, rotational and single-term presidency.
For the “collegial” part of the proposition, Akinola says in the essay Presidency is the issue: “The argument that a potential president should be intelligent, competent and patriotic cannot, in any way, be faulted. However, those with such qualities can be found in all the geopolitical zones of the Nigerian federation. The time will come, and it may not be long, when we see conventional wisdom in a remodeled presidency that is made up of an elected leader from each of the geopolitical zones. The position of president who combines the functions of Head of State with that of the Chairmanship of the Collegiate can be based on rotation” (page 35).
If the proposition had stopped here readers of my column in The Guardian newspaper would notice that Akinola’s position (formulated above in 2006) completely coincides with the position I have, myself, held for a long time. But Akinola had continued: “Because of the belief that Nigeria is one important nation of the world whose political leader deserves a face, the preferred model here is one on which a zone hold on to the position of Head of State and therefore, the title of President for the duration of a single term of whatever number of years the Constitution prescribes. The members of the Collegiate will be entitled to seek re-election. When we have done this we will have built our nation and its democracy on a rocky foundation” (page 36).
The whole “collegial” arrangement, Akinola suggests, is for the future. In the interim, he stands by rotational presidency. He also argues for a single-term tenure for the rotational presidency. In fact he think that anyone who supports the key arguments of rotational presidency will also see that a single-term tenure will strengthen it. He argues this last proposition explicitly in several other more recent essays including For single term rotational presidency (page 99 – 101).
I recall that Akinola wrote a piece, The case for a collegial executive, which was published in The Guardian of April 26, 2002. Five days later, on Thursday, August 1, 2002, my column carried my response, Collegiality or collectivity? My position in this response was that while applauding Akinola’s brilliant and rare proposition, what he actually offered was neither “collegiate” nor “collective”, but just rotational.
However, since I now assume that his 2006 essay, which I had already cited copiously and approvingly, supersedes that of 2002 (which is not even included in the present book), my 2002 argument is no longer relevant here.
In August 1988 I received, in my capacity as Acting Editorial Page Editor of The Guardian, two previously published papers written by Akinola on rotational presidency: Nigeria; The quest for a stable polity: Another comment and An open letter to the Constituent Assembly.
I considered the papers important enough to make personal photocopies and preserve in my library. They are still with me. The first publication was based on his book, The search for a Nigerian political system (1986). Ten years later, in 1996, Akinola came out with Rotational presidency (1996). All these go to show that Akinola has been long on this issue; and his position has been consistent.
In the essay Welfarism in a shrinking economy, Akinola says: “Welfarism is about the health, happiness and general well-being of the individual. A nation which assumes the responsibility of providing for the health, happiness and general well-being of its people(s) is regarded in political parlance as a welfare state.” (page 155).
The author identifies “free education”, “free health care’, “unemployment benefits”, “old age state pension”, “subsidised housing”, etc, as welfare programmes; and he approvingly recognises Great Britain and the old Western Region of Nigeria (under Obafemi Awolowo) as having practised welfarism. But he believes that welfarism depends critically on the “availability of funds”. In 2001 he said, in relation to Nigeria, that, “the funds are simply not there for an idea whose time deserves to come” (page 157). My question is: Why are the funds not there?
• To be continued