By Abdul Mahmud
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”, that great Italian Marxist, scholar and politician, Antonio Gramsci, posited in his ground-breaking prison writings, ‘The Prison Notebooks’.
There is a sense in which this Gramscian articulation of the old dying and of the new that cannot be born speaks to our condition, which at once highlights the “deathbed convulsions of the old”, or what former President Obasanjo famously referred to as “the departure lounge” convulsions of the very old order he represents, and the construction of a new order that exhibits a certain pessimistic outlook that sets limits on its own will and capacity, while striving to break with the old, though he was concerned about the equivalence of death and birth – the dying of the old order and the stillbirth of the new order – in the rise to power of the Italian Fascist, Benito Mussolini.
For Gramsci, Benito Mussolini was one of the morbid symptoms of the interregnum, of the period between two debilitating epochs – death and birth, and of the “new fascist order” that exhibited the cruel and totalitarian character of the old order. Here, equivalence is at once discerned in the sameness of the totalitarian and repressive powers mobilized by the old in the new, and in the identicalness of forces of the old order passed off as liberating forces of the new order. In the transition of the old to the new, the new, if it transits at all, becomes the split image of the old- an identical twin of the old, so to speak.
The dying of the old and the new that cannot be born underscores a certain reality that focuses the morbid symptoms of every interregnum. But, the morbid symptoms of now don’t always show up for the sake of it; they show up as signs of strange interregnums, poor political and electoral choices, actions and inactions, tribal and clannish politics, and as signs of a certain coming and going and coming, a caricature of the Hegelian dialectic process – the transition of the old order to the new order and of the new order to the old order, without distorting the natures of transitory orders. Here, if my reading is correct, my sense is that certain strange political choices and considerations have ways of producing intended consequences- thrusting political leaders who are the morbid symptoms of the old dying order.
In the run up to the 2015 presidential election, Nigerians, who were tired of the hope-shattering hegemony of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), longed for a progressive change that would herald the country of their dreams. The expectations of Nigerians were those of Argonauts in search of gold in the mythical fields of memory, so they built myths around memories of once-upon-a-time and rescued memory from forgetfulness. They proceeded in earnest, searched and found the messiah in another epoch, in the military interregnum wedged against the floundered epoch of civilian rule. It didn’t matter to them that the messiah exhibited the strains, symptoms, and perhaps, the draconian character of military interregnum which produced him as Head of State first time around. All that mattered was change; change from the crop of kleptocratic politicians to the possessor of the martial promise of the erstwhile militarist order, made to appear as the real deal only by the pretentious attachment to the higher call of nation-building, epoch-making, and to the moral discipline of power.
Change happened, President Buhari was thrust into office as the ultimate agent of change, as one of the morbid symptoms of an interregnum that still makes the birth of a new order impossible. Isn’t it ironic that in seeking to birth a new order, a new lease of life is consistently granted to the old order that represents all that is wrong with our country, thus providing impetus to the pervasive sense of ethnic supremacy that shapes the governance of now and the great variety of morbid symptoms that appear with change? The present always has a past. But, in President Buhari, you find a past that lends itself as the antithesis of the new and as a representation of the status quo: the old that is NOT dying, but hanging on a wing and on a prayer.
Of truth the morbid symptom of the Buhari-interregnum, made more profound by the consequences of the electorates’ poor choice, Buhari’s body language, his actions and inactions, nepotism, cronyism, bigotry, unforced errors, his unwillingness to be disciplined by power and by the constitution, and self-alienation from reality, than by his hallowed attachment to time, highlights an anti-dissensus, the type that makes every political leader behaves as if he is imprisoned by his own shadow. This should not be so since prefigurative politics, to paraphrase Jacques Ranciere, allows every political leader to act because he is free- unshackled by pomp and power.
As I reflect on the latter part of Gramsci’s quotation, “in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”, I sense emerging morbid symptoms which appear as exceptions to the basic law and as the overarching protection that power provides to armed Fulani herdsmen, and I am concerned about the way criminal laws are suspended and exceptions made as to their application to these armed herdsmen.
Beyond the armed Fulani herdsmen revealing themselves as morbid symptoms, power presents them as the new Nigerian exceptionalism. I would rather imagine that the morbidity of the symptoms the herdsmen display would have made them to withdraw into their shells, but no they shame science’s form book by doing the opposite: thrusting themselves into the odious limelight as killer squads. This could have been made possible by the president whose return to power has helped to create the conjuncture where power defends murderers and spits on the graves of victims of the terror of herdsmen. To enjoin survivors of herdsmen attacks to return to their communities and live in peace with murderers, as Buhari recently enjoined Benue leaders, shows a President who is blasé about the threat armed Fulani herdsmen pose to national security.
As attempts are made by power to mask the present, the ethnic supremacy capital armed herdsmen latch on extends as far as the frontiers of terror. The present which harks to the past cannot evade eagle-eyed citizens who detect other small symptoms of now: the symptoms the likes of Audu Ogbeh exhibit when they insist that the ECOWAS Treaty on Movement of Persons and Goods allows the government to throw our country’s borders open to all shenanigans, including fugitives from the law, murderers who are on the wanted lists of their countries’ crime agencies. How daft.
The mask is a mirror, and while it hides those who arm the herdsmen and makes them anonymous, it also helps President Buhari to constantly look at himself. The mask can only serve its purpose for a while, one day soon survivors and ordinary citizens will forge a common front, or what Ernesto Laclau calls “a chain of equivalences”, to lift the mask to reveal the faces of the marauding killer-herdsmen and their enablers.
The Agbekoya Farmers Association – the traditional association of local farmers of the southwest – has already declared its intention to defend its members. Hear the President-General, Agbekoya Worldwide, Kamoru Okiki Aremu: “We won’t take this lightly. We can no longer fold our arms while they have field day mowing down our people. We are ready for whatever happens. Enough is enough. We thought we could live together in peace, but these ones don’t understand the language of peace”.
Nobel laureate, Professor Soyinka, has also called for “organized resistance to the menace, describing the armed herdsmen as a new breed of Boko Haram and internal colonialists”. “The important thing is the consciousness of a need for organized resistance against the incursion of cows. In Ogun State, we have formed a form of informal organization called OSHA, Ogun State Hunters Association and we intend to collaborate with similar movements, the police and the military”, the renowned playwright said in an interview he granted to Channels Television.
Meanwhile, this is the conjuncture President Buhari has taken our country.
Abdul Mahmud is President, Public Interest Lawyers League, Abuja, Nigeria.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.