AKIN OSUNTOKUN
AKIN OSUNTOKUN: DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA , Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

It is safe to assume that all enlightened Nigerians are agreed on the proposition that Nigeria is in dire need of a drastic reset and redirection towards a development oriented society. Rather than revolution, I call the need a shock therapy-‘sudden and drastic measures taken to solve an intractable problem’. This perspective is derived from the identification of the underdevelopment malaise of Nigeria as the syndrome of a consumption driven (as opposed to development driven) economy. The interminable socio political crisis Nigeria has endured mostly stem from contestations over access and expropriation of the national largesse. Needless to suggest that if our primary concern and motivation is the development of Nigeria, we would complement rather than antagonise one another. There would be no need to obsess for power in Abuja and the lesser tiers of government if the motive for political participation is to add value; to ask- as in the idealistic exhortation of John F Kennedy, ‘not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’.

Karl Marx and Max Webber of the differing socialist and capitalist schools of thought similarly (theoretically) attested the primacy of the work and productivity ethic to national aspirations for development. ‘From each according to his ability and to each according to his need’ is the utopian evangelical mission statement of Marxism. In his attribution of capitalist development as a derivative of the Protestant ethic-of being motivated to produce wealth as a calling (beyond the desire and gratification of personal consumption) Webber was making the same call.

On the main issue of the day, namely the proposal of a constitutional restructuring of Nigeria, both proponents and opponents are equally pledged to the common objective of the ethical overhaul of Nigeria. Where the two camps begin to diverge is the instrumentality through which this end may be best achieved. What then are the options available? The spectrum of options runs the gamut of the propositions of the political status quo bulwarks like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari to the fundamentalist repudiation platforms of Nnamdi Kanu. Between the status quo bound responses of the two Presidents and the extremism of the secessionist contenders lies the middle ground advocacy for restructuring.

Said Obasanjo “My own restructuring is what I have said, we have to restructure our mentality, we have to restructure our mind, we have to restructure our understanding of Nigeria. What country do we want? And if we decide on what kind of country we want, how do we get that country? All hands on deck, how do we get inclusive, how do we get every Nigerian feeling a sense of… having a stake in the country”.

On his return from extended medical attention abroad, Buhari reflected ‘This is not to deny that there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence. The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart’

On behalf of Nnamdi Kanu, Professor Ben Nwabueze stated their joint position thus “President Buhari will be looking for trouble if he tries to usurp the constitutional powers of the people to ask for a better Nigeria through a change in structure. The power to restructure belongs to the people, not the National Assembly, and the government must not toy with this for the peace of the nation. Kanu has mandated me to declare to Nigeria that he is ready to call off the struggle for Biafra if progress is made in restructuring Nigeria.”

The truth is that the election of President Mohammadu Buhari in 2015 was neither accidental nor unwitting. Those who voted for him knew precisely why they cast their ballots accordingly. The preference was attributable to either one or a combination of the following factors. First was the facility of the perennial ethno regional predicate of Nigerian politics; second was the reinforcement of the former by the near total ethno regional animus of the Moslem North on the perception of being cheated of their turn at the Nigerian political throne ( following the premature exit of late President Umaru Yar’adua); third was the rounded personification of this pan Islamic/regional irredentist outrage by the political profile of Buhari; fourth was the conspicuous and self-destructive incompetence of the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency; fifth was the allure of federal government power to the dominant faction of the South West political establishment; sixth was the covert support of the international community.

The most significant, for the purpose of our presentation today, was Buhari’s reputation of a tough minded anti-corruption, anti-impunity crusader. The reason it is significant is that the critical support of the national intelligentsia and the international community was predicated on the philosophy that whatever he lacks in detribalised nationalist profile would be offset by his potential ability to tame runaway impunity and paralytic corruption in Nigerian public life-the prioritisation of the utility of the latter over the deep seated misgivings of the former. The enormity of the scourge of corruption and impunity was reckoned to have attained such proportions that little else mattered. Buhari himself captured the rationale in the pithy campaign rhetoric that ‘Nigeria needs to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’.

On the assumption of office in 2015, the President wasted little time in giving credence to the saying that a leopard does not change its spots. On a goodwill visit to the United States and in the presence of bewildered American officials, he, in remarkable candour, wondered aloud why anyone should expect him to deal equally with those who gave him 95% and those who grudgingly gave 5%. In fairness, he, in characteristic tactlessness, was merely overstating an implicit doctrine of partisan politics. In the United States (redoubt of western democracy) for instance, brazen partisanship is exemplified in the standard practise of Democratic Party and Republican Party Presidents to alternately appoint ideological partisans to the bench. Pushing the boundaries of acceptable partisan behaviour, Buhari subsequently upped the ante to a point where legitimate partisanship degenerated to outright nepotism. Still, the prevalent opinion was that this disappointment is acceptable collateral damage for the promise of the anticipated deployment of messianic zeal to humble corruption and associated vices.

But in vain does Nigeria wait. Going back to the drawing board we made the following findings: First the fault does not all lie in Buhari’s star. Second is the limitation of the contextual difference between military dictatorship and democracy. By definition, democracy has to necessarily constrain the leadership latitude license of dictatorship and so the latitude that enabled Buhari to exercise those virtues (as military head of state) was rendered nugatory in a checks and balance participatory political milieu. Third is the toll of naturally degenerative advancing years-both physiologically and in old age compromised political character that could no longer meet the demands of ethically defiant aggressive leadership. Fourth was the desire to fill the vacuum for an Islamic North irredentist leadership provoked by the regional loss of political hegemony hitherto enjoyed unfettered before 1999. In other words, his political behaviour is liable to the interpretation of his return to the pinnacle of political power as a mission to re-establish Northern hegemony in the politics of the Fourth republic. These three factors constitute the hurdle that has precluded him from manifesting the anticipated shock therapy leadership utility.

Beyond Buhari and before 1999 there was the predisposition of projecting and perceiving military intervention in Nigerian politics as serving the shock therapy utility. However, after repeated loss of credibility and governance failure especially since the 1993 debacle, public perception of military rule intervention has become that of a cure worse than the disease. Whatever the extenuation, the reality today is that a combination of happenstances including governance inertia and poor crisis management skills has once again driven Nigeria to the cusp of acute socio political disorder.

The ramifications of a potential Buhari Presidency failure are far reaching. It will foster loss of faith in the capacity of the status quo to self-correct and undermines the notion that all it takes to solve the governance problem of Nigeria is a federal character search for the right leadership. In the aspiration for the socio political reformation of Nigeria, leadership change is the irreducible minimum-which falls short of the promise of other available options and beggars the following posers: When would the meritorious leadership emerge? For how long can Nigeria be subjected to the whimsical experimentation and expectation of the messiah? And If and when the messiah cometh, is his kingdom not subject to term limitation? I have argued several times on this page that it is scientifically wrong to predicate the enduring development of a modern society on individual leadership capacity and competence. Such a philosopher king predicated utopia belongs in the antiquity of Athenian democracy and the fertile imagination of Plato.

In the design of any human mechanism, science assumes the worst case scenario not the best case. If I may again borrow the American democracy analogy, the American constitution does not assume that good and competent actors would constitute government. As a matter of fact, it assumes the contrary and thereby instituted structural (federalism) and institutional constraints of checks and balances and separation of powers to limit the damage that mediocre or rogue leadership can inflict. This is the containment strategy whose utility is being presently validated in the reining-in of the one man wrecking crew of Donald Trump.

Political advocacy has been my caller identification and I shall remain true to myself once again. Since the departure and deviation point of 1966 we have experimented with a number of shock therapy measures and all seemed to have ended in futility. Shouldn’t we go back to the drawing board and embark on a journey of rediscovery? Beyond its theoretical and practical applicability to our unique aspiration for unity amidst diversity there is also the potential of restructuring (federalism) serving the utility of shock therapy-a structural reinvention of Nigeria, but a reinvention nonetheless.