By Adagbo Onoja
It is exactly a week today, (Tuesday, June 18th, 2013) that Peter Anyang’ Nyongo’o, a Professor of Political Science and a Senator of the Republic of Kenya came to Nigeria, delivered a paper on a weighty, all-inclusive topic as “Governance in Africa: The Challenges of the Next 50 Years” but without his intervention becoming a subject of critical reviews and a huge debate in the Nigerian media.
The first 50 years of independence for virtually every African state has been a nightmare for everyone else but those who eased themselves into the power loop, either through election, selection or military coup. The governance arena has thus been dominated by very clannish so-called leaders who privatized the public space, vandalized common patrimony, sublet national interests to whoever it pleased them and stayed on in power till God mercifully took them away in disgrace.
So, the only plausible reason for this observable but certainly an inadvertent blackout for Anyang’ Nyong’o must be the earthquake in “our great party”, the PDP. It is pardonable that the climax of the peculiar contradiction whereby those who really know the pains and pangs of forming the party have never ran the party is bound to be very dramatic. And it has been no less, to the extent that an Anyang Nyongo’s intervention could not get the attention it deserved in the Nigerian media.
I probably need to explain what I mean by those who formed the party never running it. In that sentence, I am simply saying that I would be shocked if PDP would be what it is today if an Alex Ekwueme or an Adamu Ciroma or a Solomon Lar, an Iyorchia Ayu, a Jerry Gana or a Sule Lamido were in charge of the soul of the party. These are those who are still alive. Three others –Bola Ige, Abubakar Rimi and Francis Ella are dead.
Many people claim they formed PDP. Yes, we agree with that but we also know that the day the party was proclaimed was not the day the party was formed. Before that day, there were people working in several ways on the party. We are referring to the activities of those who put heads together and, among other things, wrote a letter to General Sani Abacha at the height of his power, asking him not to transmute into a civilian president. Some of us recall the interview of Chief Solomon Lar where he detailed the scenario in the Villa on the day he went to submit that letter to Abacha. These are what we refer to when we mention the names above. There is nothing more patriotic than what they did at that moment. So, we know them as the founders of the PDP.
This is one way of saying the PDP was a project of radical tradition before it was taken over by hijackers, magicians and dreamers. Whether there can still be a reclamation, a re-incarnation and a renaissance will depend substantially on how this is tackled because, everywhere else, the party question is the most serious question in politics. The outcome is always disaster where a ruling party has politically ill-educated mandarins.
This diversion came about in the attempt to put my hands on why Anyang Nyongo’s lecture didn’t get that space in the Nigerian media. I may be wrong. There could be a million other reasons but it is the truth that PDP has consumed disproportionate share of media attention for the wrong reasons of late. To the extent that someone we can say is the man without whom the news about African politics is no news did not get that attention.
Apart from Professor Wamba Dia Wamba in the DRC, Anyang’ Nyong’o is about the only other African academic of note who has made a successful transition from academia to politics. Both of them are now senators in their respective countries. But in the case of Anyang’ Nyongo, he graduated from party building to being a cabinet minister before winning election as a senator. So, he is a credible source of wisdom on the subject matter of governance in Africa in the next 50 years. His credibility is enhanced by the fact that he published a lot on African politics as an academic before becoming a practical politician.
And it is further enhanced by the fact of being a former minister of what we call National Planning in Nigeria. African ministers of National Planning are among those late Julius Nyerere classified as structurally running the risk of being seen as beggars because their job entails begging development partners. The other two are ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs. Again, Anyang’ Nyong’o must be one of the few who can say today that Nyerere was dead right on that or totally wrong.
I must add to this brief the point that Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o is an American educated Political Scientist. That means that he was groomed. For, American social science is functionally strong. So strong that, in fact, American universities must be the foundation of American power. In any case, Nyong’o went got a First class from Makerere University, one of Africa’s top flight universities till today.
So, the transnational NGO, Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD) as well as the NEPAD Office, Abuja and Africa Vision 525 got it right when they jointly brought him to speak on the above topic. Many of us who attended the lecture at Rockview Royale Hotel were certainly not disappointed. He not only raised issues, he also presented scenarios about Africa that are quite unsettling. I am still hoping that the full text of his intervention would be published so that no one is robbed of the painful pleasure of reading at a go.
But as also a journalist, my expectation was particularly to pin him down to an interview, the type of interview in which I ask only the type of questions that I consider relevant, hardly the stuff that an editor would halt production in anticipation. But, how else would an interview with an Anyang’ Nyong’o be if the question were not going to include the followings, among others:
(1) What comes to your mind today when you think of the Dar debate, the Kenyan debate, the Ibadan debates, the Zaria debates and so on?
(2) Yourself and someone like Professor Ernest Wamba Dia Wamba appear to be resolving an age long debate in African politics- the question of whether activist scholars should get involved in government or not. What trend are you observing or can you for see across Africa?
(3) Could it be that Africa has lost the discourse and the discursive wars? Nowhere has Pan-Africanism, African Socialism, national liberation or post-colonialism have been sustainably operationalized. Instead, they have been shoved aside in favour of democracy, Responsibility to Protect, Humanitarian Interventionism and what have you.
(4) When you recall the debate between Ali Mazrui and the late Archie Mafeje, who would you say today got it right?
(5) Do you think Africa can get out of the mess it is in, with particular reference to the African State or whatever passes for the state in Africa?
(6) You made a ‘snappy’ reference to what Nyerere once described as ‘football democracy’ in your lecture as the last albatross on Africa’s neck. Football democracy was, of course, Nyerere’s own paradigm for the culture of politics as cut throat competition and the dribbling, mischief and sham elections we have in most of Africa. What, in your view, is the foundation of the peculiar football nature of democracy in Africa?
(7) Would you like to take another look at the Single party controversy? Was it that hopeless in the light of 1989 to date?
(8) To what extent are you prepared to ignore the civilisational debate in the explanation of the African crisis? I mean, the Asians have done it to the point that people are talking of Eastphalia, as opposed to Westphalia. The Latin Americans are doing it. Not only are the Africans not doing it, they are also not manifesting any signs that they know how hopeless their situation is. You only need to listen to most of the African leaders to come to this conclusion.
(9) In some of your papers before you became a practicing politician, one of your arguments is that the problem goes beyond people electing their leaders and that the more central issue is about people controlling those who were elected or selected. From your own assessment of the trend across Africa, are we making progress or regressing in terms of people controlling those they (s)elected
(10) One phrase I would like to abstract from your lecture the way I heard it is where you said that “society has not been constructed in any positive way in Africa”. Can you put your finger on the most decisive force responsible for this?
(11) My last question, Prof, is this and it stems from the fact that you were in the university system. Why shouldn’t the present generation bulala your own generation by any means for, above everything, vandalizing the universities? Makerere University in Uganda where you got the first part of your education was a world class university as far as defining Africa was concerned. So also was Dares Salaam in Tanzania where the Dar debate took place. Here in Nigeria, the universities were absolutely very good. We know this by the issues they took on and the way they approached the issues. Then everything started collapsing, a free fall at the end of which only the rubble is left. Why did your generation do this to the present and in-coming generations?
Unfortunately, no such interview clicked. I am still looking for the person to blame for it among Professor Okello Oculi, Dr Jibrin Ibrahim of CDD and myself. But I would keep my questions. They don’t get rotten. But the point is that the earlier we begin to listen to the educated, informed and experientially qualitative voices of the Anyang’ Nyongo’s across Africa, the better. This is because it is already trite thing now to say that the world has left Africa behind. Far, far behind!