By Edwin Madunagu
The last article in this column for the year 2012 (The country “we wish to see” (4), December 20, 2012) embodies a rough sketch of my proposal on the much-debated subject of geopolitical restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I indicated there that the sketch would be elaborated later. I intend to redeem that pledge in the present essay, and then proceed from there.
The central thesis here is that the various modern governance systems and structures, which Nigeria’s educated middle classes regard as models – including, in particular, the American presidential system and the British parliamentary system – are, in origin, products of concrete historical struggles and experiences: concrete, that is, in space and time. They were not offers from the “blues”, or products of dreams or sudden inspirations. Put more concretely, the ruling classes of the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, had to initiate civil wars (and in the case of the U.S., preceded by a War of Independence) – mobilising the common people behind them – to fight for, and consolidate, these governance systems. Later on, the struggles and strivings of the common people of America and Britain led to amendments and reforms, which are continuing.
The ruling classes of several countries of the world have adopted or adapted either of these two governance systems, or both of them. Each adoption or adaptation – including that of Nigeria – was also a product of concrete historical conditions, struggles and experiences. Even where there was an imposition, these general statements still hold – because there can be no imposition, properly so called, in a space where there had been no struggle.
At another level of historical analysis, it can be proposed that the governance system or structure in a given nation state reflects the balance of socio-political forces in that nation state. A concrete illustration is what has been happening in Egypt since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Furthermore, at yet another level of analysis, no system of governance – original, adopted or adapted – comes into being, or has been struggled for, in an economic vacuum, without each group of combatants embedding a desired or preferred economic system in its platform.
The American ruling classes gave the world the modern executive presidential system. Aspects of this system include the endowment of a single individual – the President – with the executive powers of the state, two chambers parliament, the rule of law, separation of powers, supremacy of elected civil authorities, etc. An analyst had suggested that the paraphernalia of office, which the American presidents enjoy, reflect the ruling classes’ nostalgic feelings towards the British monarch, their former colonial ruler. Each element of the American presidential system bears the stamp of concrete experiences and desires of America’s ruling classes. From time to time, the ruling classes reform, or are compelled to reform, the system to reflect current realities, the shifting balance of socio-political forces nationally and globally and the shifting minimum requirements of continuing class hegemony.
Just one illustration of what I meant when I said, in the preceding paragraph, that each element of America’s presidential system “bears the stamp of concrete experiences and desires of the ruling classes”. In his article, Atiku’s simplistic proposal, Dr. Anthony Akinola, a compatriot based in Oxford, United Kingdom, observed: “America’s founding fathers came up with the idea of a bi-camera Legislature as a way of reconciling the fears of small states about the possible dominance and oppression by the larger ones. Hence, states, irrespective of size and population, are represented equally in the Senate”. Based on “this important reason”, Akinola went on to say, “this philosophy of equality states via a second chamber would have been unnecessary in Nigeria” Why? Because “most of our states are of equal sizes; their historical origins differ from those of the American states”. (The Guardian, September 26, 2012). We shall return to this.
Our destination in this essay is the geopolitical restructuring of Nigeria; but I have chosen to approach it gradually. And in doing this, we remain with Anthony Akinola. I encountered the gentleman relatively recently. But within this short period, I have come to appreciate, as I said in the fourth and concluding part of my last series, The country “we wish to see” (December 20), that at a certain level, I share his views and premises on the question of socio-political restructuring. This, in spite of the fact that he does not appear to be a socialist, nor – I must hasten to add – have I demanded that he be one? He is an informed and cosmopolitan liberal democrat, and I am completely satisfied with that. His main focus in his numerous contributions to our national political discourse is what he calls Rotational presidency.
In one of his latest (and shortest) statements of the “Rotational presidency”, Akinola says: “I have argued for more than 30 years that the Presidency, in our (Nigerian) type of situation, should be based on rotation. Such a rotation could be between the states of the North or those of the South, it could also be along the six geopolitical zones. In designing a system of leadership rotation, what we must bear in mind is that the politician could be impatient in matters of selfish interest. Hence, the argument for fewer zones and a short tenure for the President”. (Jonathan and the Constitution, The Guardian, September 9, 2012, page 9). His premise, summarized in the same short Letter-to-the-Editor, is this: “cleavage, be it that of ethnicity or religion, is the worst of political problems. We are not going to be able to resolve the problem of cleavage by asking others to forget about what they hold very dear to their hearts. It is a problem that will not disappear, but can be managed”.
What we can directly deduce from this short presentation is that Akinola’s proposal is designed for Nigeria or any country “in our type of situation”. It is not a general prescription. For instance, he does not prescribe it for America whose type of “cleavage” the rulers of America have tried to “manage” by several other means, including bicameral legislature with equality of state membership in the Senate. On the other hand, Akinola draws from Switzerland, which operates a system of “collective presidency in which leadership is rotated annually” (Rotational presidency can stabilize Nigeria, The Guardian, Sunday, October 28, 2012). He notes that “cleavage problems” in Switzerland are “quite similar to ours” and that the country is “one of the world’s most democratic and stable nations”. I shall have cause to recall Akinola’s theses when I come to my own propositions.
In the opening paragraphs of his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), an analysis of the civil wars and class struggles in France in late 1840s and early 1850s, Karl Marx made two statements which used to be very popular not only with Marxists and Marxologists but also with analysts who might not even be aware of the origins or contexts. (Please, check Brumaire in the calendar of revolutionary France). The first statement is the opening paragraph of the book: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
Marx then illustrates this double-occurrence: “Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for Montagne of 1795, the Nephew for the Uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances attending the second edition of the eighteenth Brumaire”. (Note: The “Uncle” Marx mentions here was Napoleon Bonaparte and “Nephew” was Napoleon’s nephew, Louis. Both of them came to absolute power in France through coups d’état). Marx’s second statement is in the second paragraph of the book. But the part often quoted is the first part of the first sentence – not even the full sentence. That often quoted part says: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.” The “forgotten” part is: “they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”.
This “law” or “trajectory” of history periodically results in what Marx described as “the tradition of all the dead generations weighing like a nightmare on the brain of the living”, continuously offering itself for invocation or imitation by the living: “Thus Luther donned the mask of Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman republic and the Roman empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutioning tradition of 1793 to 1795”. Readers may interpret these passages in their own ways. But the passages have landed me at my destination: Nigeria.
The country ‘we wish to see’ (4)
THE COUNTRY ‘WE WISH TO SEE’ (3)
Values education for a new Nigeria (3)
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