DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
“We want to pass this message to all the international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta that the Nigerian military can’t protect their facilities. They should talk to the federal government to meet our demands else, more mishaps will befall their installations,”it stated. “Until our demands are met, no repair works should be done at the blast site.” — Niger Delta Avengers.
It was always going to come to this — the enactment of the power politics of the presidency of Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the prior Nigerian context of the balance of terror equation. The reason or excuse for this behaviour is the insinuation (right or wrong) of the discriminatory application and enforcement of the rule of law and accountability sanctions against factions of the Nigerian power elite. The dilemma here is that at this particular juncture in the cycle of politics and governance (change of government where a dominant faction of the political elite is being replaced by another) the application is inherently, universally and necessarily discriminatory. It is a platitude to argue that non incumbents cannot be investigated and called to account for stewardship of governance they did not provide.
But steeped in the vicious cycle of political underdevelopment and pervasive poverty of governance standards, efforts to enforce the rule of law and public accountability on any particular incumbent are liable to the charge of political scapegoating and persecution. It is to this extent, easy to foster the perception of ill motivated partisanship and parochialism on a possibly genuine endeavour to raise the bar of public accountability. Germane to the argument was the protest of former President Jonathan the other day that limiting the scope of the probe of Nigerian governance to his administration tantamount to witch-hunting and selective judgement.
The scriptural observation — all have sinned and fallen short of the glory — speaks directly to the vicious cycle of governmental corruption in Nigeria. Breaking out of this cycle goes way beyond the anti-corruption credentials and commitment of any elected president. It requires a concerted response and commitment to the rectification of the structure that renders Nigeria prone to the balance of terror draw back in the first place.
The balance of terror notion was introduced by the 1956 literature Nobel laureate and wartime Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, with specific reference to the cold war era, which bifurcated the dominant contending world powers into the USA dominated Western bloc and USSR-led Eastern bloc. Differently encapsulated as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), it was a characterisation of the equivalence of the nuclear capability of each bloc to destroy one another. It was touted as a negative incentive or deterrence to maintain the nuclear capability status-quo and restrain the impulse for global aggression.
It has a much more positive, benign and older counterpart in the concept of the balance of power. Balance of power is conventionally applicable to three contexts namely international relations, federalism, and parliament. In each case, ‘it respectively implies parity or stability between competing forces; distribution of power between a central government and its subnational governments; and the power exercised by a minor political party whose support enables a minority government to obtain office’.
Both — balance of terror and balance of power — are adaptable to the Nigerian situation and as a fact the latter is a solution to the problem posed by the former. In Nigeria, the balance of terror concept is defined and has manifested in the following observation — the survival and security of incumbent Nigerian regimes; the acquisition and retention of power, is ultimately guaranteed by the capacity of the power wielder’s ethno-regional origins to hold Nigeria to ransom.
Between 1966 and 1999 (giving allowance for the intramural squabbles of the ruling elite), the subsistence of the various military/civilian protégé regimes was guaranteed by the capacity of the Northern region, through the instrumentality of its stranglehold on the military, to hold Nigeria to ransom. This is more the case for military regimes, which, by definition is instituted and imposed by the fiat of the power of coercion.
The circumstances leading to the disengagement from military dictatorship and the enthronement of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 were a direct consequence of the crisis of the annulment of the election of Moshood Abiola as President of Nigeria (otherwise designated the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulment crisis). Given the unprecedented scenario of the limitation and exclusion of the presidential election field to Chiefs Olu Falae of the APP and Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP it is hardly contestable, in fact, logic and speculation that the Nigerian presidency was contrived and conceded to the Yoruba in 1999. It was similarly a fact that between 1993 and 1998, the Yoruba demonstrated a capacity to subvert the extant political order of Nigeria through an escalating and wide ranging options of agitation and propaganda. The successful demonstration of this capability ultimately compelled the compensatory concession of the presidency and the assurance of two term tenure for Obasanjo.
No region of Nigeria has suffered the dysfunction of the WAZOBIA domination of Nigerian politics worse than the Niger Delta. Coupled together from the Yoruba (WA) Hausa (ZO) and Igbo (BIA) linguistic for ‘come’, the acronym is employed to symbolise the hegemonic domination of the majority linguistic groups over Nigeria. In this tradition, the minorities of the Northern region enjoyed the advantage of the bond of overlapping identity mostly the northern Nigeria wide spoken Hausa language.
To a limited extent, this overlapping identity is similarly boosted by the scattered regional wide bond of the pre-colonial Sokoto caliphate imperialism. And of course there is the legacy of British colonial administration which governed the north as one region and thereby fostered another identity overlap. These were the enabling precursors to the sense of political inclusiveness of the three zones comprising the north. Thus the northern minorities tended to blend and partake of the advantages of northern unity.
The absence of a comparable identity overlap in southern Nigeria left the southern minorities isolated, incoherent, weak and relatively inconsequential. And then came the intervening variable of crude oil; and specifically, its exclusive location to the Niger Delta region and the political purposes it can serve. One of the peculiarities of the last presidential election in Nigeria was the contention over the role of the Boko Haram insurgency. There was a strand of opinion which contended that the perceived indifference of the Jonathan government to the insurgency served to mobilise opinion, especially in the north against his re-election.
Beyond this strand was the patronising argument in Western intellectual circles to the effect that the election of a candidate of common northern Muslim origin like General Muhammadu Buhari would prove a critical facilitator in overcoming the insurgency. Whatever its merits, implicit in this kind of proposition is an inherent liability to legitimise the logic that terrorism and sundry acts of political subversion should compel the concession of political power. There may or may not be a nexus between this logic and the resurgence of the Biafra secessionist agitation in the South-east, what is clear is the predication of the agitation on the relegation and marginalisation of the zone.
In recent media reports, there was the pathetic attempt by the Niger Delta militants kingpin, Tompolo, to revealingly dissociate himself from the supposedly new group of militants, the Niger Delta Avengers. He should save his unsolicited repudiation for the Marines or the Navy seals. Within the context of Nigeria’s political history, it will be naïve of any critical observer to imagine that Niger Delta political strategists would have ruled out a recourse to the instigation of the ultimate guarantor of political security and survival in Nigeria-countervailing balance of terror.
It was in the understanding of this context that I commended the establishment of the anti-corruption advisory panel by President Buhari in an earlier essay ‘I can see that President Mohammadu Buhari seeks an understanding (of the malaise of corruption in Nigeria) that transcends the anti-corruption credentials or lack of it of incumbent leadership. The composition of his anti-corruption advisory panel, teeming with professors, men and women of ideas, says as much. In a manner of speaking, he is looking to predicate solutions to the problem on a degree of theory and not predominantly on law and order disciplinarian approach. I give him kudos for this’.
In seeking redress, I made reference to the chairman of the panel, Professor Itse Sagay… “to the formulation he offers that the power to abuse office, to dispense corrupt patronage, is weighted heavily in favour of whoever wields power at the centre and that the Nigerian culture expects the incumbent power holder to employ this power as such and to discriminately favour his people. It is this formulation of the balance of nepotism, to corner national resources, that is at the heart of the ‘do or die’ battle to capture power at Abuja. To the extent that the profile of the Niger Delta kith and kin of Jonathan soared beyond others amidst the emergency billionaires created in the past six years-is the extent to which corruption will find adequate explanation and mitigation in the postulation of Professor Sagay”.
I similarly identified with the critical sociological observation of Professor Peter Ekeh “Acts of corruption in public office carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation from members of one’s primordial public (read ethnic affiliation). But contrariwise, these forms of corruption are completely absent in the primordial public. Strange is the Nigerian who engages in embezzlement in the performance of his duties to his primordial public-town union. To put your fingers in the till of the government will not unduly burden your conscience and people may well think you are a smart fellow and envy you your opportunities. To steal the funds of the (ethnic) union would offend the public conscience and ostracise you from society.”
In sum and consistent with my earlier submissions on the theme of the structure and processes of governance in Nigeria, I reiterate the prescription of federalism (balance of power) as the antidote to the associated maladies (chiefly, corruption and lack of public accountability) of the inherent balance of terror dysfunction of Nigeria’s quasi unitary structure and governance.