By Adagbo Onoja
‘Speaking is governing’ is a mini-theory of (presidential) exercise of power, almost funny in its claim that the ‘directional clarity’ exclusive to presidents and prime ministers, as the case may be, is demonstrated and enhanced by the possessive pronoun ‘I’ and the use of active words in the sentences a president deploys. Applied to President Buhari’s statement in New York to the effect that he is personally taking charge of the oil portfolio, what might we say is the direction of governing in that?
It should be fairly straightforward: the president is the locus of power, be it in the coercive, structural, institutional and discourse senses. His selection of a particular portfolio, therefore, means the greater centrality of that portfolio to power. Linked to other pronouncements thereto, we can then surmise the unfolding of something interesting: Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the GMD of the NNPC says if he were allowed, he would sell off the refineries. His is the point of view of the expert.
The President maintained in the 55th anniversary speech that the right thing is, “Those of our refineries which can be serviced and brought back into partial production would be enabled to resume production so that the whole sordid business of exporting crude and importing finished products in dubious transactions could be stopped” This would be taken as a consensus of the expert and political views. Two things emerge in that consensus when contextually analysed. First, there is commitment to undermining rentierism – looting, waste and inefficiency. In short, attacking accumulation by speculation! Second, there is a clear realisation that Nigeria must refine its petroleum or, like other commodity producers, it would remain unable to pull its weight.
If this is a correct summary of what is unfolding, then there is victory after all for a particular directive principle of state policy in contemporary Nigeria. It is debatable if there is a better argumentation of that than Mahmud Modibbo Tukur’s 1984 epistle to the incumbent president. The epistle titled “The Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (1984)” can be found in the book titled The Essential Mahmud: Selected Writings of Mahmud Modibbo Tukur. Edited by Dr. Tanimu Abubakar, the book is a 1990 publication of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria based Bala Mohammed Memorial Committee and the epistle runs from page 310 to 338, a 28 page affair. As most people would know, Tukur was an academic at the Ahmadu Bello University and President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) then.
It is a tough document, almost impossible to summarise because it is a thorough and convincing intervention. An attempt to overcome that difficulty by abstracting quotes out of it is not an easier option either as no less than 12 of such quotes could easily be identified, some of them very long. Yet, it is such a cogent document that must have something to contribute to what looks like a turning point after all on the Nigerian question. Yes, the Nigerian question!
I take my bearing from what I identify as the three most critical points in the letter under reference. The first is where Tukur was telling the then General Buhari, “Sir, I have no doubt in my mind at all that Nigeria is at a cross-roads and that a wrong turn can lead our people direct to Hell, on this earth, just as the correct turn will eventually lead these same people to Paradise, on this side of the grave”. Now, without blaming any individuals as such, Nigeria has been in Hell and there is considerable consensus that the key reason for that is the unregulated nature of capitalism in Nigeria such that it is not working for anybody beyond a few buccaneers and smart Alecs. Hence, the aptness of the word cross-roads! As it was 31 years ago, so it is.
The second vital statement in that letter comes in this quotation below: “Privatisation”, of necessity, assumes that any of the enterprises to be sold can be allowed to collapse without serious consequences to the country economically, militarily and politically. Such an assumption – namely that any of these enterprises can be allowed to collapse and liquidate – is patently wrong and needs no refuting. It refutes itself.
This being so, the proposal that these enterprises should be “privatised” has two very dangerous implications. These are (i) Either in spite of their being vital to the country economically, militarily and politically the FGN should sell them into private hands where, among other possibilities, they should collapse, or (ii) that even while handing them, dirty cheap to private profit seekers, the FGN should hold itself ready to salvage them with the infusion of public money in the very probable event of their being poorly managed to the point of having to liquidate.”
No comments! Except that it would be very interesting to listen to the privatisers and anti-privatisers around the president, debating this quotation with the president as the moderator. The quotation is 31 years old. Someone might be able to refute it. We may never know.
The last one is this quotation too: “I trust you will stand by our people, your only fort, your only shield, and by the long-term interests of this country, which you risked your life to rescue from a ruling group gone berserk. Let not the forces you vanquished defeat you, through ill-considered advice.”
On this too, I also have no new comments, having already relied on it to write two previous opinion articles to make my point. The first of such articles was “Guarding Against a Buhari Paradox”, (see The Sunday Sun & Newsdiaryonline, 12/04/2015) and in a more recent essay, “Peter Ekeh and the Missing Leg of the Anti-Corruption War in Nigeria” to highlight how problematic it is to confront rentier mentality without anticipating a backlash if there had been no mobilisation against it.
Of course, the dynamics have and are still changing. One, General Victor Malu’s analysis that if the trial of the politicians for corruption in 1984 had been done openly before the very eyes of Nigerians, none of the politicians would have had the moral courage to surface today, organize and block Buhari’s second coming is being fulfilled. Two, the country is in an agitated mood against corruption although the use of the primordial trap to create confusion in people’s mind cannot be overlooked. Three, the degree of corruption has been so mind boggling that the moral authority of those involved is simply non-existent. Four, the collapse of Western teichopolitics, (the politics of walls, fences and other barriers against the influx of migrants) from their Hellish existence towards Europe has sent fears to European political leaders to ensure that resources of the Africans work for them or they too will be in trouble from the influx.
When British Prime Minister, David Cameroon, spoke on January 24, 2013 at the Economic Summit in Davos as the Chair of the G-8, these were his words: “I want this G8 to lead a big push for transparency across the developing world, and to illustrate why let me give you one example. A few years back a transparency initiative exposed a huge hole in Nigeria’s finances, an eight hundred million dollar discrepancy between what companies were paying and what the government was receiving for oil – a massive, massive gap… Last year Nigeria oil exports were worth almost a hundred billion dollars. That is more than the total net aid to the whole of sub Saharan Africa. So put simply: unleashing the natural resources in these countries dwarfs anything aid can achieve, and transparency is absolutely critical to that end. So we’re going to push for more transparency on who owns companies; on who’s buying up land and for what purpose; on how governments spend their money; on how gas, oil and mining companies operate; and on who is hiding stolen assets and how we recover and return them. Like everything else in this G-8, the ambitions are big and I make no apology for that”.
That was 2013. It must be obvious that they couldn’t work with GEJ to carry out their threat, given the baggage and the harvest of scams before and during GEJ. Too myopic to read their global context, our local politicians continued the looting spree, unaware or careless that there has been a Western about-turn as far as serving as hide out is concerned. Now, they are being grabbed outside and taken back home. That is one major dynamic that has changed.
The last of these dynamics is the situation whereby, unlike in most other countries where anti-corruption or the movement against rentierism is the agenda of the civil society, it is the government/leadership that is leading the movement against rentierism in Nigeria at the moment. It makes the battle against rentierism easier. But as the last paragraph quoted above from Tukur’s epistle indicates, it is not easier in the sense of victory guaranteed just because the state is leading the move. It is not victory guaranteed because the people can still revolt against their own objective interests if not purposively conscientised on a major move as Buhari seems to be embarking upon.
There is a solid mobilisational document in Tukur’s epistle, with some editing by either the party or the Presidency. It is something that every citizen ought to read and master, with particular reference to why the emerging policy direction might be worth their while. The point is that if disciplining Nigeria’s unruly capitalism can be seen to be firmly on the card, then there should be no failure to bring everyone to a basic appreciation of that beyond the casual Cyberethnicity that frames what goes on in the name of debate in contemporary public discourse on the question of Nigeria’s way forward. Even the president would find certain paragraphs in Tukur’s letter refreshing if it is a long time he has read it, although it was to him the letter was originally addressed and the letter being the same minority report his government adopted in 1984, 31 years ago.
But, why is it important to be harping on this issue of disciplining capitalism since last April? One reason for that is what Tukur is saying about the Buhari persona in the last of the three quotations from his epistle. Assuming that Buhari can do something strategic is, therefore, not all idealism because Mahmud Modibbo Tukur was not the type who would refer to Buhari or anybody as being pro-people if it were otherwise. He did not need anything from government as to be sycophantic or fail to say his mind. What he said then and what some other people are saying now suggests certain potentials in Buhari that ancient fears might be hindering Nigeria from exploring more adequately.
Thus, while I take seriously the views of, say Balarabe Musa or Odia Ofeimum, I equally consider as engaging, Adamu Ciroma’s position in the run up to the presidential election, inviting the country to try this man who has managed to stay above many things most of us have not resisted. At that point, I saw Ciroma to be practically challenging Nigeria to experiment with idealism rather than try to be realistic in choosing for the next 4 years. Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah said earlier this year too that Buhari could emerge the Lee Kuan Yew of Nigeria.
It could be idealism but nothing happens without idealism. Buhari could, indeed, emerge a Yew, depending on which direction Nigerians push him if they have a same perspective on what can be said to be unfolding. Finally, there is no Nigerian leader who successfully practicalises an alternative business model to the unruly capitalism of the past 30 or so years who would not emerge the hero for it. And Nigeria is desperately looking for a hero whose moral authority can be a cementing factor.
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