By Edwin Madunagu
It is now time to conclude this appreciation. Anthony Akinola’s Democracy in Nigeria is appearing at a particularly depressing period in the history of the country: It is a period in which many sincere patriots are frightened and pessimistic about the future of their nation. And to be frank with myself, as well as with my readers, the current appreciation is, in a sense, a statement of faith and hope, a statement of optimism about the survival of Nigeria as a corporate political entity. I try to banish all thoughts about Somalia, Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
Even then, I would not have embarked on this appreciation, let alone utilizing that opportunity to restate my faith, hope and optimism, if Akinola’s book had not been an intellectual product that exudes not only honest patriotism and optimism, but also creativity, freshness and boldness as well as strong and resilient conviction – from the first page.
Each day that breaks witnesses literally uncountable number of productions, in various literary forms, on the same subject engaged by Akinola in his book – democracy in our country, Nigeria. But I would say with every sense of responsibility and moderation that most of these productions – or, more strictly, those that I see – are simply manifestoes of opportunism, cynicism and hypocrisy.
Although Akinola and I belong to different “ideological camps” with different sets of ideas on how (the route to take) to attain a genuinely human and humane Nigeria, I can affirm, also responsibly, that Akinola’s Democracy in Nigeria is not one of the mass productions on “democracy” I have just characterized. Each of the 55 essays in this book presents us with propositions or assertions for debate or reflection.
Beyond all this, however, is another attribute of Democracy in Nigeria: there are several ideas in the book that I can propose for inclusion in the radical left programme for a new Nigeria. These are ideas I had earlier described as “flashes of beauty” and “deep thought;” and if I may adapt a formulation in Andre Gorz’s Socialism and Revolution, I would call the ideas “humanist constants.”
These relate to elements that a national programme of whatever general ideological orientation must embody to deserve consideration at all. These include education, health, empowerment of human hands to work and create (not to be stretched in supplication to other humans for survival), fundamental human rights, political democracy as well as equitocracy. The last is a concept of democracy, which goes beyond “one person, one vote”. Collegiality, zoning and rotation – currently being bastardised in Nigeria-are all elements of equitocracy.
What I wish to do in the space that is left for me is to repeat one particular clarification, and then pull out some key propositions in Democracy in Nigeria for readers to reflect on. These I would take away as I close the book and place it back on the shelf. First, the clarification. Democracy in Nigeria had proposed in several of its constituent essays that there are no serious or substantive ideological differences in contemporary Nigerian politics. This proposition I had already refuted.
But I had also proceeded to propose that two or more political groups with ideological differences can combine to pursue a specific political objective or a small number of specific political objectives. If the objective of the combination is general, rather than specific, then the combination is essentially a merger and Akinola would be right – in that particular instance – that there were no serious ideological differences separating the groups in the first place.
Now, to the propositions. In the essay Beyond mere grumbling under The monster of corruption (Part 6), Akinola had said: “If we are genuinely concerned about our plights and rights, may be it is time we organize ourselves 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” (emphasis mine) (page 152).
He quotes his friend, the late Tajudeen Abdul – Raheem: “Organize, not agonise”. (page 152). This is an explicit “call to action”, arguably the most explicit in the book. The “various divides” mentioned in the “call” are obviously “ethnic” and “religious” and the unstated common platform for action is the popular-democratic platform, or the “humanist constants”.
In the fourth essay titled Presidency is the issue, the author says: “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 geo-political 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 geo-political 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). To this proposition, as I said in an earlier segment of this appreciation, I give a hundred percent “yes” vote. My only footnote is to the effect that the proposal should take effect now, for tomorrow may be too late.
In the second paragraph of the 5th essay, Democracy and structures of governance, Akinola says: “I begin my comment by summarizing democracy as an idea which, among other things, is about respect for the rule of law, free and fair elections and the freedom of the individual within the confines of the law. A nation may choose to put in place political structures which accord with its realities.
What makes such a nation democratic or not is the extent to which the principles of democracy are upheld in the society. Structures of political governance differ and vary in western countries. What we lack, and must seek to learn, is the primacy they accord to the principles of their chosen political systems” (page 37). My vote is “yes.”
In the 6th essay, Ethnicity as a permanent phenomenon, he says: “Ethnicity is one phenomenon we are not going to be able to wish away, no matter how much we try. Accepting ethnicity as a reality to be confronted is the way forward to achieving a stable, democratic nation. The magnitude of the problem posed by ethnicity in our society emanates from its centralized nature.
While it is perhaps inconceivable that a nation like the United States of America would disintegrate because of its ethnic components, the same can hardly be said about Nigeria. The ethnic population in America is dispersed, and that explains the major difference between that nation and ours” (page 41). My vote is again “yes” except that I would change “the major difference” to “one major difference.”
The following proposition is in the 33rd essay, The iniquity of greed: “The Nigerian politician wins regular lottery in corrupt practices or shady deals. The saving grace for democracy of today, if one must be honest, has been the distrust Nigerians have for the military. The experiences of governance between 1985 and 1998 do not recommend further military involvement in politics” (page 139). Historically true, although it can happen again without “recommendation.”
In the synopsis to Part 8, Religion and religiosity, the author says: “Nigeria is one nation where a supposedly well-educated person could blame the breakdown of their vehicle on the evil machinations of witches, believing there would be need for prayers. The pastor or imam or priest feeds on this type of irrationality for their own economic advantages.
However, the stability of Nigeria is hardly troubled by eccentric or excessive religiosity of the majority but by the determination of a very tiny minority to impose its values on the rest of society. Nigeria has suffered from all sorts of religious extremism in the past and is currently engaged in the battle with an extremist group whose sophistication in unleashing savagery has been unprecedented” (page 161). True, except that I would change “Nigeria………..is currently engaged in…” to “The Nigerian state is currently engaged in…..”
In the 54th essay, Still on rotational presidency, Akinola says: “We do not do not have a “rotational presidency” yet, what we do have is “zoning” by individual political parties. Once there is a rotational presidency, the rules guiding the principle will be elegantly stated in the national constitution with all political parties mandated to follow them.” (page 212). This is closely followed by: “Rotational presidency, if included in the constitution as contemporary realities suggest it should, it may not be a permanent feature no matter how lofty an idea we think it is.
It is customary practice in democratic nations with written constitutions to periodically review and possibly amend any provision of the constitution only when it may be deemed to have served its purpose. The idea of a rotational presidency cannot be an exemption. There is no doubt that a future generation will have its say in all of this, ridicule us if they so desire, but the duty we owe that future is to save the present” (page 215).
This is an elegant application of dialectics, and my vote is an unqualified “Yes”.