By Edwin Madunagu
Last Thursday, in the first segment, I presented some ideas on peaceful ethnic coexistence (apologies to Cold War rhetorics) from Professor Obaro Ikime’s History, the historian and the nation.
The conclusion therefrom and from what I had previously said on the subject, is that whatever geo-political structure is adopted in the country, whatever grouping or re-grouping you may think of, there will be no entity however small, where the population is not mixed: ‘indigene” and “non-indigenes” and even “first-come indigenes” and ‘latter day indigenes’. Implication? The impossibility of ethnic separation, as I have continued to insist. The proposed popular-democratic restructuring is a response to “ethnic disharmonies” and various forms of marginalisation.
In continuing this review, I would like to bring up a published book and a private communication. First, the book: People-Centred Democracy in Nigeria? The search for alternative systems of governance at the grassroots. The title immediately recommended it for another reading. Published in the year 2000, this collection of workshop papers by experts in the field was edited by Professors Adebayo Adedeji and Bamidele Ayo who also contributed to the 17-chapter book.
The workshop from which the book emanated was organised by the African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS) in 1997 in search for a “socio-political system that will make Nigeria respond to the demands of the modern age”. It was a “follow-up to the Centre’s 1993-94 studies of the role of indigenous modes of social and political organisations, especially community-based organisations and other grassroots institutions, in the governance of various ethnic groups in Nigeria until recently”.
The particular segment I re-examined closely was Chapter 4 on account of its survey of the history of local government in Nigeria from 1950 to 1997 “during which its fortunes rose and fell”. The chapter, titled Yesterday’s hope and today’s disillusionment: Whither local government in Nigeria?, was presented by Tunde Ojofeitimi.
The twin-conclusion I drew from Ojofeitimi’s paper was that local government in Nigeria has hardly existed as stipulated in the country’s successive Constitutions since independence, and that the only attempts to make the local government system exist as a tier of government came from the colonial administrations and military regimes after independence.
The private communication I mentioned was received from a female friend of mine. She is some years younger than I am, well-educated, well-read and well-travelled. In politics, my friend, who is a non-Nigerian living outside Nigeria, is an activist radical leftist, an internationalist and a feminist. She is a working professional and is married. She has a son who is also a radical leftist and presently a Marxist graduate student.
I deliberately sketch the profile of my friend in these terms so that the reader may be assisted to form a mental picture of the lady in question. She has followed my column in The Guardian since 2005 or thereabout and she and her family have given me many valued and rare books. A couple of weeks ago I requested her to respond to the series of articles I had written on the popular-democratic restructuring I am proposing for Nigeria.
The response came. She touched on several aspects of the proposal including: the rotational presidency; equal representation in some state institutions; the five-tier governance structure; recent revolutionary upheavals across the globe (Social Forum, Occupy Movement, Arab Spring, etc) and a critique of my practice.
I shall present, in summary, her responses on only the rotational presidency, equal representation, five-tier governance structure and her personal opinion of my practice. Other issues, as well as my ongoing discussion with her, will be shared in future – when necessary and appropriate.
On Collective presidency with rotational headship my friend said:” I am intrigued by the idea of the rotational presidency. I assume you are trying to encourage an ongoing conversation about this idea in Nigeria.
So I think it would be useful to continue to bring in other outside voices, legitimators and those who opposed it, that is, to play out the conversation in print. I can imagine that since ideological divides here are even greater than in Switzerland it might not work. But it is interesting topic for sure, in some ways akin to parliamentary coalition governments”.
On “equal representation” she said that with regards to giving “states with smaller populations” equal representation (such as in the Senate and the proposed collective presidency) most progressives she knew in countries that practise this principle (such as the United States of America) would be against it.
Why? “Because (since) poor people tend to migrate to large cities most of the larger states tend to be more liberal”. She would therefore prefer more populous states having larger representations. In systems of equal representation, she says, progressive legislations are often blocked by smaller states with smaller populations but equal representations.
For this same reason (blockage of popular progressive choices by conservative preferences), she opposes the concept and practice of “electoral college”.
On the five-tier governmental structure, my friend said she was “not won over”, and “not only with regard to cost”. Her argument: “In places where the state reaches down to the community level, the system seems to have created disaster”.
The examples she could immediately provide were the defunct Community Party regimes in eastern and central Europe, China and Cuba “where the party controls community life”.
The “worst example”, according to her, was the Cultural Revolution in China. When she lived in Mexico, “the party controlled things down to the local high schools. So each time there was a change of party, a bunch of teachers would lose their jobs to members of the other party”.
But she conceded that, “municipal governments do set up parastatals bodies at the community level, e.g. neighbourhood citizen commissions of various kinds”. The commissions, she said, “play an advisory role, sometimes a powerful one”.
My friend, however, insisted that, “the more the state controls community life, the less that grassroots organising takes place”. I agree. It is the danger of the state eventually controlling “community life”, which my friend warned against that made me reject the idea of incorporating community-based organisations or local branches of non-governmental organisations into the local government structure.
The suggestion was made by Dele Gege in an insightful paper, Crafting an enduring local government system in Nigeria: A case for multi-tier local government structure placed as Chapter 10 of People-Centred Democracy in Nigeria?
My friend believes that, “it is essential that police be accountable to someone other than the government”. She expectedly concluded her two-page communication on a personal note, and this relates to a discussion we have been having for a long time now. She acknowledged what she saw as “holding oneself to one’s principles” but sharply criticised “clinging tightly to them”. Reading and absorbing this criticism was like chewing a glass bottle.
I have chosen to enter no self-defence in this period of searching. What self-defence when the mass misery that propelled me into Left politics has deepened much further than met it when I made my choice about four decades ago?
I can only clarify and, thereafter, use others’ counter-ideas and counter-propositions to interrogate my own ideas, principles and practices. It is in this spirit that I now announce that I have gratefully admitted, for self-interrogation, all suggestions and counter-ideas. I shall, however, offer the following clarifications and reminders.
The Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1970) was a revolution in revolution, to borrow from Regis Debre. It was what it was called: a Revolution, not a policy decision. It was a mass attempt from the grassroots, inspired (not instigated!) by Mao, to deepen the socialist revolution that triumphed in 1949 under his leadership.
It was a revolutionary struggle to purge degeneracy, “reformism”, unprincipled liberalism and bureaucratism from party and state. When the revolutionary upsurge began to threaten the revolutionary state itself, Mao mobilized the coercive apparatuses of the state to stop it.
I offer no defences, no justification. I am only informing and explaining. Secondly, the one-party system, which the European Communist Party regimes operated, and which China and Cuba still operate, is not inherent in socialism, communism or Marxism.
You may recall the struggle waged by the Marxist Opposition in the Soviet Union and the struggle of Rosalind Luxembourg on five simultaneous fronts: against imperialism, left-wing reformism, left-wing dictatorship, anti-Semitism and sexism.
In particular, you may recall that she (and much later, Trotsky) insisted that “freedom is always for the opposition, because supporters of government already have it”, that the suppression of opposition parties would eventually lead to the suppression of dissenters in party and state and that to ban opposition parties was to ban “political life” from the country.
For me, personally, the consecration of the one-party system in the Soviet Union was a fundamentally wrong turn in the development of the socialist revolution in the Soviet Union – with tragic consequences for the socialist movement worldwide.
But what propagandists call the collapse of Communism makes no sense, not even as a short-hand formulation. What collapsed was the Communist Party regimes.