DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun
Since I signed off two weeks ago, two significant developments had taken place in the United Kingdom, UK, bordering on leadership succession. I will look at them from the perspectives of generational leadership succession and renewal on one hand and that of social reproduction thesis. It is equally apposite to Nigeria as it grapples with another general election cycle especially in regard of the enthusiasm it has ignited among the younger generation.
In the UK the emergence of a new king and new prime minister is remarkable only in respect of its predictability and orderliness. It has adequately responded to the challenge of the management of the transition from former prime minister Boris Johnson to the new prime minister, Elizabeth Truss; and that of the world historic Queen Elizabeth to her son King Charles 111. The seamless change of baton from Johnson to Truss was facilitated by the political party system whose main function is political leadership recruitment. On her part, Truss is
distinguished by the uniqueness of being the third female prime minister in British history. The transition was also characterised by the minor drama of a gender swap in both successions. Truss (female succeeded Johnson (male) as prime minister and vice versa with the Queen and her son, King Charles 111.
The real news of the new prime minister’s incumbency is the ‘assemblage of the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in the United Kingdom’s history, with several top jobs given to Black and other minority ethnic lawmakers. For the first time ever, none of the holders of the country’s four so-called “Great Offices of State” — the prime minister, the chancellor and the home and foreign secretaries — is a White man”. This cosmopolitan composition notwithstanding little has changed to ruffle the British social class formation and representation. A class analysis of this ethnic diversity reveals nothing has changed.
‘More than two-thirds of the new Cabinet went to fee-paying private schools, including Braverman, Cleverly and Kwarteng, compared to just 7% of the British population as a whole. The past four Conservative prime ministers all attended the University of Oxford; of the last five chancellors, only Sajid Javid did not study at Oxford or Cambridge, the UK’s two most elite universities’.
‘Kwasi Kwarteng, who will take charge of the UK’s dire economic situation as chancellor, was born in London after his parents migrated from Ghana in the 1960s; the mother of James Cleverly, the new foreign minister, came to the UK from Sierra Leone, while incoming Home Secretary Suella Braverman has Kenyan and Mauritian parents. For that matter, the new secretary of trade, Kemi Badenoh, is the daughter of a friend, Dr Femi Adegoke, who passed on a year ago.
Back in Nigeria, this general election cycle has been characterised by the weaponisation of sociopolitical division; the highest bidder syndrome and the back and forth furtive behavior of the electoral umpire, so called Independent national electoral commission, INEC. Today the electoral agency will bask in the glory of the announcement of electronic transmission of results all the way, only to contradict itself with a counter announcement the following day that electronic transmission will stop short of the final collation stage and give way to manual counting. You can draw your conclusions. And of all the monitors and observers of the presidential primaries of the All Progressive Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, it was only the Nigerian security agencies including the EFCC that were not aware that the venues of the primaries were active criminal scenes of cash and carry politics.
Prior to 1999, there has been the failure of the political system to fulfill the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class-to assume political succession from one generation to another. This poverty is the corrolary of the disruption of military intervention in the politics of Nigeria. Conventionally and specifically, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties. Understood as such, the poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999. Before the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, military rule accounted for 23 of the 39 years of independent Nigeria governance. However, uninterrupted by extra constitutional intervention of the military and going on 23 years now, the fourth republic has been the longest subsistence of civil democratic rule in Nigeria.
In year 2001, I spotted an emergent generational gap and vacuum in the transition to the Fourth republic politics. To this end I and my peers gathered together to form a group called the progressive action movement, PAM, ‘which was conceptualized as a response to the gap and vacuum in leadership reproduction, to whose remedy we programmatically addressed ourselves. We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time.
In the formation of this pressure group, we anticipated the obidents movement by 22 years. Unfortunately, PAM failed to realise its potential and went into hibernation for lack of sufficient motivation.The dream is now being relived at the prompt of a pent up frustration and anger of a hitherto inept millennium generation (inclusive of generation z). They found a near perfect foil in the reformist candidature of Peter Obi who happens to speak their language. If luck is defined as a conjunction of opportunity and capability, Obi has become the lucky beneficiary of this moment, the activation of a politically dormant army of restless and bristling youths.
Before the emergence of the obidents, Nigeria was fated to the inevitability of the status-quo candidates of Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the potential president of Nigeria. These two are a made to measure personification of the social reproduction thesis. Both are a reproduction and continuation of the Mohammadu Buhari presidency in the character and ideological profile of their presidential tickets. There are two characteristics that define the Buhari presidency more than any other. They are fulani ethnic chauvinism and pseudo Islamic bigotry.
In continuation of the buhari ideology, Atiku personifies the former characteristic, while the latter is embodied in Tinubu’s muslim muslim ticket. They are different sides of the same coin. To appreciate how deeply cut, this ideology has permeated society, the son of the kaduna state governor, Bashir El Rufai, took to celebrating the occasion of the Queen’s death to rub it in “The British colonial establishment placed the North at the peak of power in my dear country. For that I will always be indebted to the British royal crown and the method of Indirect rule for my people and our dear monarchs. Rest in peace Queen Elizabeth”
At one point or another, it is incumbent upon me to enter the caveat that I have a good prior personal relationship with Abubakar and Tinubu. These are otherwise good men whom I would have counselled not to throw their hats in the ring this time around. This personal obligation ends where the love of God and country begins. Either candidacy is inherently inimical to the notion of a Nigerian nationhood. The last time I saw him (about a year and a half ago), I told Tinubu as much. For good measure I put my objection on record in this column the following day. It is trite but the point needs restatement. I deem it morally unjustifiable of the south west to contend with the south east for the presidency in this electoral cycle.
If the power rotation principle is in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice how then do we justify another contender from the south-west against the background of the fact that President Olusegun Obasanjo held the office for eight years (in addition to the eight years of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo)
and President Goodluck Jonathan from the south south for six years, when no one from the third zone has held the office for a day?
Two Yoruba precepts are in conflict here. One is the ọmọlúwàbí concept and the other is the proverbial rationalisation of selfishness ‘ọmọ ẹni ò sèdí bẹ̀bẹ̀rẹ̀ ká fi ìlẹ̀kẹ̀ sí ìdí ọmọ ẹlòmíràn’ (no matter how ill fitting the waist bead is on your child, you must not give it to another child). In contrast to this amoral vision of society is the concept of Omoluabi (one who behaves as a well born). It is embodied in the notion that ‘morality is the central cannon of Yoruba culture and emphasis on it is the cardinal article of daily life. Yoruba culture is defined by the incentives for good conduct and moral rectitude on one hand and disincentives/sanction against misconduct and evil behaviour on another’.
The utility of the Obi candidacy is that at the end of the day he did not require the extenuation of power rotation to the south east to catch the fancy of the most critical demographic of the Nigerian electorate. He emerged autonomously on his merit. He has done more. According to Sonala Olumehse “What is Obi, then? If you think of him merely as a contestant for public office, you miss the point. Obi is a conversation, a confession, and an opportunity to rethink. He is the epochal conversation Nigeria has not had with itself since the rails fell off following the civil war in 1970. He is a confession that this conversation—demanded far more by the #EndSARS generation than the Grand Ballroom demographic—is not optional”. And I couldn’t agree more with Dele Farotimi, on the postulation that without the intervention of someone like Obi, through whom the frustrated and angry youths could channel their indignation at the free fall of their country, Nigeria is plausibly headed towards an anarchic implosion.