By Edwin Madunagu
The third segment of this appreciation of Anthony Akinola’s Democracy in Nigeria ended with my presentation of the author’s views on state welfarism, which he defines as the assumption of “responsibility of providing for the health, happiness and general well-being of the individual”. It is indeed pleasing to see that Akinola relates welfarism to democracy or, as our politicians would say, “democracy dividends”. But, as we also saw in the last segment, Akinola was of the opinion that, as at 2001, there were no funds to inaugurate a welfare programme in Nigeria (page 157). Ten years later, in 2011, Akinola was still of the same view.
To promise to mount welfarism at this time, Akinola argues, would be “tantamount to dangling a carrot before the eyes of the hungry and playing on the ignorance of the people” (page 157). This is a very strong view and it is correct – but only if you assume the inviolability of the current capitalist political economy – which the author implicitly does, as noted in the opening paragraph of the preceding segment. In his second essay on welfarism, The Pandora box of welfarism, Akinola offers a more effective and realisable solution to the problems to which welfarism is being considered: “The various governments should be supporting small-scale industries, investing in agriculture and education, with a determination to taking our young men and women off the streets and into the employment market” (page 159).
The author argues very perceptively and convincingly that “our young men and women should not be made to wish for their 65th birthday to come sooner that it should be” – a reference to Ekiti State government, which announced a plan “to provide” state pension “to citizens aged 65 and above”. He believes that the idea of state pension is at present unrealistic in Ekiti State, “one of the poorest states of the Nigerian federation, a state that totally depends on ‘handouts’ from Abuja for its survival” (page 158). Again, the author is right if the present political economy is decreed as fixed. (We may here simply define political economy as the system of production and class and sectoral distribution of wealth in a polity).
There are two other comments I have on Akinola’s views on welfarism. As I asked at the close of the last segment: Why are there no “funds” or “wherewithal” to mount a welfare programme in Ekiti State or, indeed, in Nigeria as a whole? My reading of Akinola on this question is that he blames a number of factors, including corruption (countrywide), government’s dependence on “handout” (Ekiti State) and general economic “downturn” (global). But there is no consideration of the political economy, the existing systems or structure of production and distribution of wealth (“market economy”).
There is no critique of the contract system (which I may describe as a breeder of corruption on a massive scale), the unequal exchange between Nigeria’s national economy and other economies, the national structure of income distribution including the massive, but “legal,” appropriations by “public officers”, the ruling socio-economic philosophy and the predatory class character of the Nigerian state which has mounted a “permanent war” against the masses of our people.
These – and, of course, corruption – are some of the main sources of surplus appropriation in the Nigerian economy. I would therefore propose: When you consider all these factors, you are likely to come to the conclusion that there may never be the “funds” or the “wherewithal” to institute welfarism in the country. That is, assuming that the existing structure of production and distribution has no alternative.
Akinola’s critique of “state pension” and his counter proposal – investment in agriculture, education, etc – brings to my mind two different perspectives on satisfying urgent human needs. One was offered by my late father long ago and the other by Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the oppressed, also long ago. My father’s perspective comes as a poser: “Dried meat is, indeed, delicious; it would have been wonderful to allow this piece of fresh meat to dry.
But then, what shall we be eating while waiting for the meat to dry?” I think the Ekiti state Government was trying to answer my father’s poser by instituting state pension for the aged while planning productive investments, which we see as medium-term projects. And we must not forget that investment in people-oriented programmes requires an ideological and political shift since it involves massive class re-deployment of national resources.
The second perspective on “poverty alleviation”, the one from Paulo Friere, rests on the difference between what he calls “false charity” and “true generosity”. True generosity, he says, “consists precisely in fighting the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life”, to extend their trembling hands. Real generosity lies in striving so that those hands-whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, by working, transform the world”.
Paulo Friere wrote from his base in rural Latin America where he was working with landless peasantry, the poorest of the poor. This type of statement, which, I believe, Akinola would endorse – as it generalises his own position – cannot, however, be directed at the Ekiti State Government under Governor Kayode Fayemi. But it can be directed at Nigeria’s ruling classes and Nigerian state as an entity.
The author tries throughout this book to be “level headed”, to be civil, decent and non-combative, to make his points as strongly as possible but without antagonising or deliberately courting antagonism. He is a convinced constitutional democrat who would want Nigeria to develop peacefully through continuous reforms, without revolutions or military interventions, convinced that “democracy, even as crude as it is in Nigeria, is more acceptable than the most benevolent of dictatorships”. (page 22). But Akinola almost lost his temper while discussing the “monster of corruption” (pages 131-153). He is not alone. It is on the question of corruption that he mentions the possibility of massive revolt and “violent revolution” in Nigeria. He warns at a point: “Corruption itself is one culture that could soon compel violence in the Nigerian polity”.
In the essay titled The iniquity of corruption, written in July 2011, Akintola says: “Nigerians now call for a revolution, which is to say that there can be no peace when the majority of our peoples live in abject poverty, while a tiny minority lives in gluttonous greed”. This is a categorical statement. It is as categorical as it is philosophical and radical. But he goes on to add: “The majority of our people love democracy and are peace loving; however, disruptive tendencies can find easy recruitment in the ranks of the uneducated and the impoverished. It is both in the short-term and long-term interest of our nation that we enrich our people educationally and economically. To be able to do this, we must put an end to corruption and greed”, (page 139).
In the latter statement, we see something that looks like ambivalence: to be for revolution or to be against it? Akinola is, however, different from some latter-day “liberal democrats” who know, deep down in their hearts, that only a revolution or direct divine intervention that can check the tide “iniquitous” corruption in this land and begin to reverse it; but they regard revolution, its leaders and its agents and foot soldiers as evil; actual revolutions are regarded as “disorders in nature”. Akinola’s dilemma is genuine. One can offer an opinion on this dilemma. But fake liberal democrats often behave like cats, which would like to eat fresh fish but would not want to wet their feet.
Under the essay Beyond mere grumbling, (still on corruption), the author says – in anger, I believe: “There is this assumption that politicians have sacrificed their time and resources to get into public positions because of their patriotism. This may be true elsewhere but not in Nigeria. Most of those who hold public positions in our society today are where they are because of the alluring prospects of power, fame and fortune. They would not be in politics if it were otherwise” (page 151). Then follows a “call for action” a page later: “if we are genuinely concerned about our plights and rights, maybe it is time we organize our lives into a non-partisan group, subscribed to by patriotic Nigerians across the various divides. The trouble with Nigeria is significantly that of a followership that would rather grumble, than act collectively in pursuit of desired objectives” (page 152). The essay was written as recently in October 2011. We shall return to this simple, but important, proposal.
In addition to its other attributes already listed, Democracy in Nigeria is also a narrative in the history of politics in contemporary Nigeria, particularly in the current political dispensation – which they call the Fourth Republic but I continue to refer to Obasanjo’s Republic. The book will be particularly useful to students of history and political science
• To be concluded next Thursday.