Billy J. Dudley
By Tunji Olaopa
The state everywhere is an obstinate fact of the human society. This fact yields two implications for the growth and well-being of any society. The first implication is that the state exerts coercive authority over everyone and everything within its jurisdiction. Second, the state also represents the historical framework for harnessing human capital and channelling it, through policy, towards socio-economic and political progress. This is why history and political theory are replete with several attempts by several people—scholars, politicians and the masses—to capture and remould the structure of the state in the image of particular ideology, political preference or a particular vision of progress.
Consider two political theorists: Plato and Machiavelli. Plato lived in the early century at a time when democracy had already begun its decline in the Athenian state. One of the signs of the decline was the intolerance for free speech represented by Socrates interrogating the Athenian youths about their mind-sets. Socrates was subsequently put to death. This political act led to a desire in Plato to rethink the idea of the state that would make for a good life in the society. Today, we now read the Republic as the result of that reflection. On the other hand, Machiavelli, the Italian statesman and political philosopher, was more concerned with the day-to-day organisation of the state and the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Machiavelli’s famous work, The Prince, is a masterpiece about the necessities that constrain a ruler or statesman in the service of the state.
The discourse on the Nigerian state has benefitted from several attempts by scholars, from within and outside, who confronted its uniqueness and aberrations from a host of theoretical and methodological perspectives—Marxists, radical, liberal and Afrocentric—as well as a variety of dimensions—civilian-military, federalism, ethnic relations, socio-economic administration, governance approach, and so on. I have in mind here, for instance, Awolowo’s Strategies and Tactics of thePeople’s Republic of Nigeria, Peter Ekeh’s “two publics” thesis and Azikiwe’s notion of “diarchy”. Awolowo’s work has a democratic ring that is meant to sensitise us to the critical role the people will play in the enthronement of a genuine Nigerian republic. This is interestingly close to Machiavelli’s recommendation of a republic as the best form of government as long as it comes with huge popular support. Ekeh’s thesis, however, is singularly important because it demonstrates the peculiar evolution of the Nigerian state and its attendant challenges. And contrary to Machiavelli, Ekeh advertises the relevance of morality in a politics if it ever hopes to drive progress and the good life for the citizens.
The Nigerian state, at fifty two, has evolved over time since its naming by the colonialists; and so also has the myriad of intellectual interrogation of its foundation as a national entity. All these interrogations are significant because of their concern with the transformation of Nigeria into a developmental state that would be enabled to not only resolve the recurrent national question but also recapture the dynamics of popular endorsement lamented by Ekeh. The critical import of such an endorsement lies in its utility as the fulcrum for national integration that Nigeria has sought since independence.
The developmental state discourse became pertinent given the fact that there have been several socio-political and socio-economic impediments to the effective take-off of the Nigerian state with regards to the task of channelling its diverse ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural energies towards the achievement of an enviable national progress.
My fascination with the intellectual confrontation with the Nigerian national predicament arises from my deepest conviction that the Nigerian state is an evolving work in progress that could be reoriented with much political doggedness…and patriotic faith. In earlier essays, I have had cause to explore the unique contributions of those I have called intellectual-heroes— Ojetunji Aboyade, Akin Mabogunje, and Claude Ake—who were consistent not only in their beliefs about the possibility of rehabilitating the Nigerian national project, but were also dogged in their application of their disciplinary expertise towards the renewal of political and policy frameworks. Professor Billy Dudley belongs in that pantheon of intellectual and national gladiators. I graduated from the Political Science Department of the University of Ibadan where the legacy of Dudley is very difficult to gloss over. More than this, the administrative implications of his analysis are glaringly obvious in the day-to-day organisation of government business as we see it even today.
Thirty two years after his demise in 1980, Dudley still exercised a profound authority on our perception of the Nigerian state and how we should go about rehabilitating it. What separates Dudley from the other intellectual-heroes is the uncommon philosophical sensibility that accompanied his political analysis of the Nigerian state, energized by the ever-present figure of the iconoclastic German philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Dudley could be regarded as a child of his time:
His intellectual maturation was set in a context that produced some of the best scholars Nigeria produced. Dudley was at the University of Ibadan with scholars like Mabogunje and Aboyade. These two also preceded him in the inaugurals for the Faculty of the Social Sciences. Dudley was further preceded, as the head of Department of Political Science, by my old teacher of teachers, Professor E. U. Essien-Udom. I am immensely proud to state categorically that my politico-philosophical intellectual tutelage owes a lot to the same Faculty, though in my detour into the scholarship of public administration, the list expanded to include Professors Adebayo Adedeji and Ladipo Adamolekun, the latter having supervised my Doctorate. I was tutored in the science of politics by an incredibly balanced team of distinct scholars made up of the likes of Professors/Drs. Essien-Udom, Peter Ekeh, J. A. Ayoade, Tunde Adeniran, J. Bayo Adekanye, Larry Ekpebu, Busari Adebisi, Alex Gboyega, Femi Otubanjo, Fred Onyeoziri, Bayo Okunade, Adigun Agbaje, Kunle Amuwo, OBC Nwolise, Eghosa Osaghae, Jimi Adisa, and others including my colleague, Prof. Rotimi Suberu; while my technocratic teeth was cut under Aboyade in many capacities including as Chairman, and my boss in the Presidential Advisory Committee of The Presidency.
Professor Dudley shares, particularly with Claude Ake, the theoretical acumen geared towards the understanding and rehabilitation of the Nigerian state. While Ake came at the issues from a decidedly political economy perspective, Dudley employed a much more politico-philosophical analysis. His forte was the idea of political order and its ramification on the Nigerian political system. By the time he came to write Instability and Political Order: Politics and Crisis in Nigeria, Dudley had matured to a theoretical level enough to affect the course of political thinking in Nigeria. In the first place, that book confronted the military and the Nigerian Civil War regarded as the single most traumatic experience of political disorder the Nigerian state has witnessed so far.
His abiding goal was to tackle the question, with regard to Nigeria: What political structures and processes would be the most conducive to the maintenance of stability? This question places Dudley eternally in the firmament of political thought from Plato down to Machiavelli. Plato’s Republic was a philosophical imagination about the best way to nail the nightmare of disorder. And Machiavelli had a much more traumatic experience of instability in 15th century Florence that Dudley would have appreciatedin post-independence Nigeria. We can say that the Nigerian state is still battling with finding an appropriate answer to that question. For him, specifically, a polity is stable if “(a) structural changes within the system can be seen to proceedfrom the rules governing organizational processes in the society—what we may term ‘regulative rules’; and (b) such structural changes are endogenously generated.”
Again, like Claude Ake, Professor Billy Dudley did not leave the question of political order dangling for successors. He witnessed the terror of the Civil War, and thus recognized the urgency of confronting the recurrence of instability in Nigeria. Like Ake, he was urgently concerned about the possibility of national integration that would put the possibility of instability in Nigeria in permanent abeyance. If today, people vilify Machiavelli for advocating a hardball politics devoid of morality, it was essentially because he knew, first hand, the horror of incapacitating disorder at various levels.However, while Machiavelli recommended a “Prince” that must first learn “how not to be good”, Dudley recommended a sceptical citizenry that is able to hold the leadership to the responsibility of political virtue. This would constitute, for him, the first condition for structural changesgenerated endogenously.
In Scepticism and Political Virtue, his 1975 inaugural lecture, Billy Dudley brilliantly outlined a theoretical and philosophical process of aggregating and converting demands to decisions that would underlie order in the Nigerian political system. The question of political order, in the final analysis, boils down to the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and how that relationship is democratically mediated in practice. He presented a simple thesis: “…[U]nless a people cultivate a sceptical attitude, or alternatively, unless a governmental system accepts and tolerates political scepticism on the part of its citizenry, that citizenry cannot exhibit the property of virtuousness.” In this regard, Dudley would earn the posthumous admiration of Edmund Burke, the British statesman and political philosopher, who remarked that “The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them”. In other words, genuine freedom in any political system consists of a dynamic relationship between order and virtue in which the latter leads inevitably to the former.
Scepticism and virtue constitute the two horns of a national integration framework that would ensure a system of political order necessary for national development. On the one hand, scepticism implies, for Dudley, a process by which the citizens withhold assent to any policy or decision until the government renders a justification or reason for such a policy or decision. On the other hand, political virtue involves a serious and abiding loyalty or commitment to the state. Or, as J. S. Mill, the British philosopher put it: “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life”.This arrangement, within the Nigerian political system, harnesses the democratic possibilities offered by the leadership and the followership towards the joint venture of nation building.
Unlike the existing frame of democratic thinking in Nigeria which repeatedly identifies the leadership as the fulcrum for national progress, Dudley insists that both the Nigerian leadership and Nigerians demonstrate their patriotic commitment to the Nigerian state, and its transformation, through a democratic procedure of demand aggregation and justification of the policies of state. Thus, a government is not committed enough if it fails to adopt the code of responsiveness that requires that it constantly justifies its actions and policies. The citizens would also fail the democratic test if they resignedly approve government policies without a critical code of skepticism. The fortune of a stable and developmental state lies in this democratic give-and-take that is civilized i.e. does not degenerate into either cynicism nor the adversarial.
Nigeria’s journey towards the evolution of a developmental state began 52 years ago. Professor Billy Joseph Oritsesaninomi Dudley died twenty years after its commencement. He however left three books and a few essays that together constitute a framework of intellectual analysis on the possibility of Nigeria, and a democratic framework for considering Nigerian politics as the art of the possible—of interrogating our own willingness and political strength, and of collective decision to remake Nigeria in the image of our patriotic faith.
• Dr. Olaopa is Permanent Secretary Ministry of Labour in Abuja. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org