Nigeria: A Pathology of Malignant Statehood

Nigeria: A Pathology of Malignant Statehood

Tuesday, February 27, 2024 4:34 pm

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

Yet again, Nigeria is in crisis. This is so, whether acknowledged or not by the deaf and dumb political elite. The political elites are, of course, the unconscionable beneficiaries of the fragilization of this orphan state. To a large extent, the crisis of Nigerian statehood is contrived by human beings. The trouble with orphan state spaces is that they are characterized by an unending struggle for the partisan appropriation of the totality of the state space by all its internal potentially hegemonic forces. The underlying principle of the struggle for totalistic appropriation of the state space is that of minimal or no investment at all in the search for optimal dividends for as long as feasible. Such mantra elicits guile, deceit, insensitivity and dishonesty of purpose and process in practice. Perhaps hypocrisy is an apt description of the fundamental premise of the nature of such interactive process at all levels; individual and institutional.

The turmoil that is generated by this struggle for appropriation is the source of the malignancy of this traumatized polity. In this turbulence, the often validated illogic driving the internal processes of appropriated spaces-across political, social or economic realms- is permanently contrasted and in confrontation with another more liberal and rational logic that is associated with a comprehensive and constructive process of political settlement premised on rationality and logic of both process and substantive outcomes. This alternative counter orientation is derived from a people’s near absolute identification with a nation as the concrete expression of an abstraction that is founded on a common understanding, a sense of common ownership and popular heritage by all or at least a preponderant size of the constituent groups in the state space. Some may refer to the latter process as nation-building or state consolidation. This is the essence of the social contract in real-time. It is also political development at its deepest expression. A deconsolidated political entity depicts the complete failure of the state to penetrate society.

The multidimensional tensions in Nigeria arise from the perpetual struggle for partisan hegemonic appropriation at all levels, rather than a search for genuine joint and common commitment to joint and common ownership of the national and state space. In more recent times, the embarrassing devil-may-care attitude to fairness and justice of the Muhammadu Buhari administration comes closest to the consequences of partisan appropriation of the political space. The old general seemed to have mastered the playbook that prescribes that ruthlessness, guile, deceit and a willingness to commit acts deemed unconventional by normal standards are requisite for political success. For success every such ruler must cultivate a corps of incentivized cronies, often shameless and conscienceless, especially sourced from opposing quarters, to rationalize their historic follies in office. This is often to the bewilderment of the populace.  The end result of such tactics is the deluge when they have left the stage.

The process works at two levels. The two-level dynamic of this partisan holistic hegemonic appropriation often produce paradoxes that exhibit the potential to endanger the very survival of the state. At one level, elite interaction across the divides in society is based on certain conspiratorial cognitive understandings that is trained against the population.  The outcome of that conspiracy is manifest in the operations of the class-instituted loot machinery (the political process) that is undertaken in the name of the constituent nationalities. At the other level are the pervasive noxious fumes and latent fury that are unbundled as by-products of the interactions at the first level that intoxicate the exploited underclass. That ensuing fury poses a threat to the longevity of the system. The system is thus characterized by dissonances in the non-negotiable interests of the rulers as a collective group and that of the people whose interests they rhetorically aver to pursue. Not bounded by rationality, logic or justice as well as any guardrails at all, Nigerian politics is transformed to an all-consuming maneuvers of the daring and the dubiously brave in the certain course of the annihilation of state and society. The illogic of the Nigerian political space is amply illustrated in going to elections in the tattered state of the Republic in 2023. Now, the deluge! The whole system is thus shorn of any semblance of logic, rationality and or legitimacy. Political parties play a major role in this.

Political parties are the articulators of the often irreconcilable fundamental partisan interests at the two levels of state functioning. Indeed one of the salient characteristics of the post-colonial African state is that there is no concept of the “political” outside the realms of the struggle of segments of fragilized and factionalised civil society for totalistic appropriation. The political process masks the formal interaction between the segments of society or inter societal contests for domination of the political space. The political party in the post-colonial African state is not grounded on ideological grounds. Ideological platforms may be presented by political parties, yet parties are not articulators of ideological visions. Political parties in the post-colonial African environment are the acceptable mechanisms for conducting formal inter-ethnic relations as long as they are dressed in the right garb of a political party. This is a critical distinguishing element in differentiating the political process of post-colonial states from the political processes of other kinds of states; the pre Westphalian, the Modern and the Post-modern state.

Political parties became for the twentieth century the sine qua non of liberal democracy, the means by which a chaotic mass public was transformed into coherent alternatives of both elites and program. The party became the means by which men could offer alternative policies and alternative administration. Experts note that the political party system was not only a device for broadening control, but it was a device for political integration as well.  Political parties in post-colonial African states serve opposite ends to these. Rather than broadening control over national society, political parties in young post-colonial states formalize and fossilize differences of worldviews along ethnic lines and make permanent lines of cleavages along ethnic lines. A political party in post-colonial African state conventionally brings together peoples of similar ethnic or tribal backgrounds and those who share common myths of antecedence to struggle for the domination of the political space. It is a parochial mechanism. To facilitate the articulation of this sectional goal, universal political goals and ideas are espoused to hide this generally acknowledged character of the ethnic grouping. The structure of political party system is closely aligned to the structure of contending tribes and ethnic groups in society. To comprehend the multiparty political process is to explore the overtly expressed currents of tribal and ethnic interests. There exit a dualism of the formal and informal faces of the political party system. This dualism pervades the whole life of the state and the multi-dimensional processes that constitute the internal dynamic of the post-colonial polity.

In Nigeria, the major political parties that have emerged since independence have been heavily tribal in character,. At independence, the Action Group, cloaked with its socialist ideas, metamorphosed from the Yoruba cultural organization, Egbe Omo Oduduwa. The National Council from Nigeria and the Cameroun had originally been created in Lagos, the Yoruba coastal metropolis, and led by the Yoruba elite. By independence, it had become the stronghold of the Igbos tribe and remained so until the demise of the first republic. The Hausa–Fulani of the north created its own Northern Peoples Congress whose agenda was to protect the interests of the northern tribes. The Northern Element Progressive Union of Malam Aminu Kano, was regarded as a repudiation of the conservative political agenda of the mainstream NPC. The party drew its followership from Kano area, where the leader came from. At the end of the civil war and the long interregnum of military rule, the Unity Party reincarnated the old Action Group, the National Party of Nigeria re-grouped all the major Hausa Fulani political actors, the National Patriotic Party (NPP) housed mainly the Igbos and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was a platform that regrouped the old northern radicals from Kano. The military in the post-colonial state environment may wittingly or unwittingly be a mechanism for the advancement of partisan political goals. From 1983 to 1993, the northern dominated military in Nigeria seized the political space. The reign of the military was to the eventual exclusion of Southern participation at the highest policy making organs of the state. The military acquired the notoriety of being the arm of last resort for the protection of the interest of the north. At the height of the General Ibrahim Babaginda administration all members of the Supreme Military Council, with the exception of two, were northerners. When a Yoruba politician finally won the Presidential election after a tortuous transition program, this was annulled because northern top brass of the military would not hand over power to a non-Hausa Fulani. Against the very partisan composition and policy thrust in government, the Nigerian military acquired the reputation of being the most potent political instrument of the Hausa Fulani north. The northern oriented military interventions have been adduced for the structural imbalances of the Nigerian federation. Realigning the imbalances to attain structural equilibrium has remained the recurring decimal in the crisis of the Nigerian state that is driving Nigeria to the precipice. That is for the charitable. The less seek a complete dissolution of what they perceive as a contraption.

The latest experiment at democratization has not ignited any constructive evolution of political parties. Though the ethnic flavors of political parties are now largely veiled, intra-party schisms are motorized by ethnic imperatives. The ethno-regional confrontations that characterized choosing a presidential candidate for the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) in the 2023 elections attest to this. Against this background have historically emerged three powerful ethnic groupings that are preeminent and consequential actors in the political process than the formal political parties. By attempting to shed their traditional ethnic character, the political parties had lost legitimacy and leverage for effective action in the perception of the mass uniformed about the true allegiances of so-called leaders of the various nationalities. In the stead of political parties have grown powerful tribal umbrella organizations Afenifere for the Yoruba, the Ohan’eze for the Igbos. For the Hausa Fulani the Arewa Consultative Forum, the defense of Hausa Fulani interests. Such has been the pervasiveness of these parochial organizations that some analysts have lamented the abandonment of any pretences toward nationalism and patriotism. Their activities are seen as tending toward the polarization of the country. Garba Ibrahim notes that “ the rot has gone much deeper, as former military leaders, retired top federal civil servants, high flying academics, former progressives and traditional rulers openly attend meetings organized by these parochial groups, where calls are made for sectional candidates for high office, and threats are issued to Nigeria…”

The point was in an earlier era more poignantly expressed by Anthony Enahoro, Nigerian elder statesman, who observed that “the failure of Nigeria so far may be attributed in great part to the perennial tensions and conflicts among nationalities, resulting from mutual insecurity,…. Rather than manage primordial identities, which are our nationalities, positively, successive constitutions have studiously and dismissively ignored them. But as disillusionment with the Nigerian project has grown, it is to these very celebrated identities that the people have begun to look for refuge. The defining struggle for partisan appropriation of the state space has thus entailed the institution of many unbridgeable gulfs in the imposed contours and the entrenched operational principles of the polity. The state space has been run in temporary navigations of the almost inhuman and inhumane labyrinth with most choices made as pragmatic irrationalities in the context of entrenched dichotomies and harrowing dilemmas defining the polity. Thus the nationalities that the colonial invaders thought that they had buried have forced themselves back into our collective consciousness. No amount of blank repetitions of hollow appeals can change those realities.”. In quasi Westphalian states, tribal and ethnic interests drive the political process and polarize society. Society is thus not autonomous from the political process. It is integral to the politics of the state. These considerations form the powerful undercurrents of the political party system in post-colonial African states. They also provide a context to the “Emi lo kan” syndrome in Nigeria.

These are grating realities that must be acknowledged. Society in the post-colonial state is therefore characterized by a dearth of internal cohesion that translates to a lack of coherence in policy formulation. This is as as a result of the multiplicity of power poles that represent divergent centers of policy orientations in the polity. This directly emanates from systemic value dissonance and the absence of a common or compatible worldviews among constituent units of society.  The component societies of the state revolve around different cultural sub systems. Cultural sub systems are those aspects of collective life which are shared across classes, differentiate a collectivity from other collectivities, are not necessary for species survival, have continuity amid change, provide significance to events, and goals for collective action, rely on the production and use of symbols and become institutionalized into systems of patterned activity. A good example is the vastly different approaches within Nigeria to recent developments in the Sahel. Since the state seeks to amalgamate diverse peoples from different cultural sub systems into a political community, the state started off burdened with a lack of common understandings about morality, social organization, social norms, basic philosophy on which social life may be predicated, sources of law, symbols and their interpretations, and meanings on which the patterned activities of each rested. There is in effect no agreed to overarching ideational foundation on which to build the national society.

Yet, these challenges are not insurmountable where there is fortrightness and honesty in managing the challenges inherent in the mechanically cobbled post-colonial state. The current state of affairs was not an inevitable destination. Even now, if the polipreneurs (political enterprenuers) in charge of the state would, rather than the continuous rationalization of the dreadful state of the nation, realign its obviously massive propaganda machinery toward a more rational interrogation of the malignancy of the Nigerian state, a good beginning may still not be too out of reach. The tendency to blame the citizen for the crisis, especially the economic crisis, reflects a crass dishonesty, complete lack of respect for the citizenry, dangerous lack of political imagination. That whole enterprise of orchestrated institutionalized propaganda to deny the stark existential realities of the people is too close what may be termed a blackmail of the victim of elite criminal irresponsibility. In the meantime, the pervasive hypocrisy of the pursuit of partisan hegemonic objectives by all forces while simultaneously proclaiming the inviolability of unity of Nigeria in perpetuity is incontrovertibly an assured route to damnation. A nation of hypocrites is a potent danger unto itself and, worst still, poses a danger to the global universe.

*Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. He is author of Sources of Conflict in the Post- Colonial African State (AWP, 2012).


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