By Chris Anyokwu
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him: This is what Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, says:Let My People Go, so that they may worship Me” (Exodus 9: 1). Who is this personality of power and influence called Pharaoh? According to an online source: “Pharaoh is the common title used for the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty (c. 3150BCE) until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE. Thus, Pharaoh used in contemporary times designates not an Egyptian king or its secular president but a very powerful political figure, either in military uniform or a civilian dress, say an agbada or babanriga in the Nigerian context. Pharaoh, typically, in our modern-day usage carries decidedly negative connotations intimating offensive aura of oppressive power and highly intolerant of dissent. How, then, does the designation of Pharaoh fit into the Nigeria situation? Are we Egyptians in some obscure wayor are we copying ancient Egyptian monarchical structure of governance?Not at all. Or, perhaps, we are, afterall!
Let us examine the facts, the issues… I’m sure, most of us saw the Arise TV interview granted by Chief Dele Momodu, CEO/Publisher, Ovation Magazine, celebrity columnist, business mogul and, lately, presidential hopeful. In the interview, Momodu revealed quite spectacularly and startlingly that he had saddled himself with the desire to search out and present to the Nigeria electorate a credible and competent candidate for the position of president. That was way back in 1998. He had flown all the way to Geneva, Switzerland to meet up with Alhaji Lukman Rilwan, the then Nigeria’s Petroleum Resources Minister. Right at the OPEC headquarters, the two patriots had discussed the forth-coming elections (1999). Chief Dele Momodu had told Rilwan that he, Momodu, wanted Nigerians to vote Chief Olu Falae as the next president and wanted Alhaji Rilwan to help him sell the idea to the Northern power-brokers.
According to Momodu, Alhaji Rilwan, upon hearing what he had told him, permitted himself a long hearty laugh; that kind of laugh that brings tears to the eyes. Thereafter, Alhaji Rilwan had proceeded to disillusion Momodu, curing him of his political naivete. Alhaji Rilwan had famously declared: “The owners of Nigeria have rejected Falae, and have chosen Chief Olusegun Obasanjo instead”. End of discussion. Pray, Baba mutum,Alhaji Rilwan, are you by any chance suggesting that there are people, perhaps what Wole Soyinka once described as “a tiny but powerful cabal”, who own “Papa’s land”? (apologies to Sunny Okosuns). Hmn, the Ndigbo have a saying: “a na-enweobodoenwe/The community is owned by some people! Interestingly enough, Chief Dele Momodu was expansive and generous enough to reel off at his fingertips the names of the so-called “Owners of Nigeria”; and revealed to the bargain that all but one of them are still hale and hearty and chatty! And curiously, also, nearly all of them are retired military top-brass! Whereupon Dele Momodu counselled the electorate to put the brakes on their mad rush to procure their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), preparatory to the exercise of their franchise. He insisted that Nigerians must first of all go and plead with the “Owners of Nigeria” to let go, to release us, the people, from their vice-like, strangulating grip, their asphyxiating chokehold (cf: George Perry Floyd Jr. murdered in like fashion by police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis, 2020).
Again, we ask: how come these ex-military guys are so powerful even in retirement? Some hypotheses might proveilluminating in this regard. The nature of the postcolony is evidently a contributory factor. Let’s keep in mind that its origin and foundation in quasi-military diktat of the erstwhile colonialists has continued to dictate its present-day state. To be certain, the colonialists deploying gunboat diplomacy had in the course of time used police constabulary to effect the so-called pacification of the subjects (cf: Achebe’s Things Fall Apart). Unsurprisingly, the mental universe of the colonised subject, robbed of agency and imbued with mimicry, is shaped by command-and-obey routine, a human ape or parrot! Small wonder, then, in the wake of the departed colonial conquistador, our local comprador-bourgeois class, comprising the politicians and the military class, have inherited all the repressive and dictatorial tendencies of their alien models. Accordingly, the notion of citizenship does not really exist in Nigeria, and has never existed in Nigeria. What, however, exists is the amorphous and nebulous social formation known as subjects, a carryover from slavery, colonialism and farther back-traditional monarchical society and culture.
Therefore, the Nigerian is not, strictly speaking, a citizen (from Greek civis) but a subject, a notch or two higher than either the galley slave or the chattel slave. His chains are no longer the clinking metal manacles of yore but the Rousseauesque omnipresent mesh of psycho-mental thraldom. His miseducation which conventional wisdom calls western education coupled with his material privation helps to keep him perpetually under, ever solicitous, ever dependent, hungry and, hence, angry (cf: Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’sA Raison in the Sun). Interestingly, the powers-that-be love to husband and harvest this “hunger” and “anger” for their own benefit, namely: intra-class eliteentrenchment in power-play.
The biggest lie in political history is the universal notion that sovereignty lies with the people; that power belongs to the people. I laugh in tongues! The people are what they are – expendable cannon fodder to the elite, mere multitudes long on brawn but short on brains; a class-in-itself needing to morph and transform itself into a class-for-itself. The fate of the nation hinges critically upon this yawning gap between these contrasting levels of political consciousness of the people. Salvation, or, better yet, freedom, thus, lies in the progressive conscientisation and mass mobilisation of the largely docile but potentially powerful multitudes.
The biggest lie in political history is the universal notion that sovereignty lies with the people; that power belongs to the people. I laugh in tongues! The people are what they are – expendable cannon fodder to the elite, mere multitudes long on brawn but short on brains; a class-in-itself needing to morph and transform itself into a class-for-itself.
Furthermore, the so-called “owners of Nigeria” can be likened to what is referred to as deep state: “A deep state is a type of governance made up of potentially secret and unauthorised networks of power operating independently of a state’s political leadership in pursuit of their own agenda and goals. In popular usage, the term carries overwhelmingly negative connotation”. “Historically (a deep state) designated a well-defined organisation which seeks to function independently whereas the deep state refers more to a hidden organisation seeking to manipulate the public state”. “Potential sources for deep state organisation include rogue elements among organs of state, such as the armed forces or public authorities as intelligence agencies, police, secret police, administrative agencies, and government bureaucracy. The intent of a deep state can include continuity of the state itself; job security, enhanced power and authority, and the pursuit of ideological or programmatic objectives.” The deep state can operate in opposition to the agenda of elected officials, by “obstructing, resisting, and subverting their policies, conditions, and directives” (see Wikipedia.com).
From the foregoing, it is clear that the so-called “owners of Nigeria” share a lot of similarities with a deep state. These militricians, or if you prefer, militariat as power-broking Leviathan lurks in the shadows, brooding minatorily, working the levers. And tell you what, they are fabulously rich like the Arab sheiks. Why so? They, most of them, own oil blocks for instance. Only the other day, on the floor of the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang (AkwaIbom North East) revealed that Northerners own over 80% of Nigeria’s oil blocks. This unsettling revelation came during the NASS debate on the contentious and vexed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Senator Ita Enang, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, urged the Senate to cause the immediate revocation of all oil blocks licences and their redistribution, in accordance with the Federal Character Principle. On his part, Senator Olufemi Lanlehin (Oyo South) praised the maturity of his colleagues in considering the bill. He encouraged the Senate, therefore, to look into the “absolute and sweeping powers” granted the president in Section 191 of the bill.
What has become clear is the fact that our power-holders are more interested in how to share the nation’s cake, not how to bake it. Apart from their ownership of oil blocks, the so-called “owners of Nigeria” control the security apparati of Nigeria owning, largely, to the life-long tradition of command and loyalty in the military. Once a soldier is always a soldier and loyalty to a ranking officer is the most cherished principle of military behaviour, something akin to the Italian Mafiosi code of loyalty (omerta). Having at their disposal, wealth, power and influence, these kingmakers can and do control, like “puppets on a string” a la Bob Marley, traditional rulers, career politicians, bureaucrats, corporate bodies, of course, the military and civil-society organisations and the media. What’s more, these powerbrokers do not want to fade into irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Being elder statesmen merely, for these powerful guys, is simply distasteful. They always crave more – more power, more influence; they strive perpetually to the status of deity. Are they bothered about growth and development? About the happiness of the poor masses? Do they think or look to improve the quality of life of the people? Not by a long shot. It is the same mind-set, the same lofty insouciance that oversees our egregious infrastructure decay – road/rail networks in a state of terrible disrepair, poor and inadequate housing, healthcare, transportation, education, potable water, everything in shambles! Sadly, Nigeria is a Generator Nation, that is, the entire country depends largely on imported generating sets for energy sources. The energy sector has been in dire straits forever. We flare gas in the Niger Delta while Nigerians resort to the use of firewood for cooking. The price of cooking gas is absolutely unaffordable and the prices of petroleum products continue to skyrocket. Yet Nigeria is an oil-and-gas giant? Ours is reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink!” Our rulers have been unable/unwilling to fix our oil refineries in spite of the billions of naira purportedly expended on the so-called Turn-Around-Maintenance (TAM). How about the endless racketeering surrounding the PHCN, with the iniquitous estimated billing system? Therefore, with little or no power supply, your eardrums are deafened by the noise of generating sets coupled with the noise and air pollution, a major concern for climate-change advocates who are clamouring for greater decarbonisation of our world. How about the health hazards of our gen-dependency?
So far, Nigeria has been unlucky with its minders, usually impositions from the top, and not the people’s choice. Is this a democracy? What do we call our system of government? A government foisted on the people by a selectorate,rather thanby the electorate. Sadly, as Dele Momodu warns in his interview, Nigerians are not likely to have democratic governance for the foreseeable future except the Pharaoh “let my people go” – let the electorate determine its own fate, and, more crucially, let their votes count. As they say in political parlance, democracy is not the voting; but rather it is the counting of the votes cast.
*Chris Anyokwuwrtes from University of Lagos.