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Neo-Colonialism in 2023 Politics
BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
Sixty three years after independence it is distressing to observe that members of the Nigerian elite of different hues enthusiastically seek an external legitimation of the nation’s political process. This neo-colonial mentality has become manifest in the different stages of this electoral season.
It probably began when some governors protesting the outcome of their party primaries elected to hold meeting in foreign capitals, touring London, Paris and Istanbul. They held meetings in foreign lands to bolster their position and plan their strategies in the crisis bedevilling their party. These governors abandoned their desks and staged spectacles in the at the expense of their respective states. On one occasion, a former president even joined the meetings. On another occasion, a leader of the governors’ party also met the leader of the protesting governors outside Nigeria in the spirit of reconciliation. At a point the whole issue could be reduced to one question: from which region of Nigeria should the chairman of the party be chosen? To these peripatetic governors, this issue could not be discussed in Port Harcourt, Enugu or Ibadan. Neither could Makurdi or Umuahia provide a convenient venue for the strategy sessions in the neo-colonial thinking of these governors. This trend drew a sharp rebuke from eminent Nigerian experts in diplomacy. The Nigerian Academy of International Affairs (NAIA) said inter alia in a statement: “Let it not be the norm or practice that Nigerian leaders have to fly to western capitals to rule the country by remote control in the same way that many nonchalant governors rule their states from Abuja. During the gravest period of our existence, our civil war, peace meetings/conferences were held only in Africa. None was held in Europe or the Americas.” This admonition was ignored by these politicians who believe that even the inspiration for solutions to whatever political problems they have could be come only from abroad. In a clime where ideas constitute a motive force in politics, the damning verdict of the Academy led by a revered former foreign minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, would generate a serious debate in the public sphere. This is more so when you check the register of the fellows of the Academy in which you have respectable names such as those of Lt. Gen Martin Luther Agwai, Professor Joy Ogwu, Senior Advocate of Nigeria Odein Ajumogobia, Professor Hassan Saliu, Professor Jide Osuntokun, Professor Nuhu Yaqoob, Professor Alaba Ogunsanwo, Professor Eghosa Osagie, Professor Akin Oyebode, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, Ambassador Jaiyeola Lewu and Ambassador Kayode Shinkaiye. The Academy is doubtless an assembly of distinguished professionals and scholars of diplomacy and international affairs, some of whom are in retirement.
At the peak of these campaigns, some presidential candidates took turns to appear in the London Chatham House, otherwise known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Nigerian politicians have suddenly elevated this British policy institution to the level of an oracle. Going by the undue ferment generated by the outings in Chatham House you might think that the success of a candidate at the poll depended on the “performance” at the policy institute. What happened or did not happen to a candidate at Chatham House became veritable campaign materials in the hands of opposing political publicists. A good portion of each candidate’s campaign budget must have gone to the appearance before this think tank.
Even the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, was also guest at Chatham to make some “landmark” statements which he didn’t make before then at home. Yakubu’s appearance was reminiscent of that of Colonel Sambo Dasuki, who as National Security Adviser (NSA), actually gave the first hint of the postponement of the 2015 general elections at the same Chatham House.
A tinge of neo-colonial mentality became unmistakeable as you watched politicians embark on jamborees abroad to seek diplomatic blessings for their campaigns while ignoring institutions which are fit for the purpose of policy debates and discussions at home.
For instance, the leading candidates never appeared at any forum of the Nigerian Academy of International Affairs (NAIA), the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) or the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Neither was intellectual interaction with most of the universities considered a priority. To be sure, these are just few of the existing centres of ideas selected to illustrate the preference of politicians for exogenous entities in preference to local solid institutions.
The Lagos-based NIIA is a reputable think tank; but Nigerian politicians have failed to harvest its regularly produced ideas. Ironically, in the days of the military, the NIIA was relevant in shaping the nation’s foreign policy. Nigeria’s policies of decolonisation and support for the anti-apartheid struggle in Africa were intellectually supported by the 62-year- old NIIA. Ideas underlying Nigeria’s foreign policy in the 1970s were generated by the Institute. Young military officers attended the sessions organised by the institute. However, politicians today cannot be accused of paying attention to what goes on at the Institute.
The 44-year old NIPSS based in Kuru, Plateau State, is a centre for senior technocrats in the public and private sectors to interact and develop ideas to solve problems in the various departments of the national life. As a policy think tank, NIPSS has played host to a great number of Nigeria’s best and brightest during their course. At the end the course, Members of the National Institute (mni), as they are known, leave behind dissertations as testaments to the production of ideas against the background of their field experience. Yet, it is never a badge of honour for a candidate in an election to be advertised as having vigorous sessions with members of this eminent National Institute.
What is said about the contempt that politicians have for policy think tanks could also goes for virtually all national institutions. Politicians do not have regard for the nationalist sensibilities of their fellow Nigerians who think differently on this issue at all.
Besides, the general attitude of politicians (in and out of power) to these think tanks and other policy centres is a measure of how much ideas are considered as a factor in Nigerian politics.
The display of neo-colonial mentality has continued since the February 25, 2023 presidential election. The Nigerian media also seem to be seeking validation of their reports of the election and its aftermath by quoting the reports and opinions of foreign media, observers and other non-governmental organisations. Nigerian editors, columnists and television anchors borrow adjectives used by foreign newspapers to describe an election held in their own country. Some of the shallow and jaundiced reports of these foreign journalists would not merit front pages in the hands of great editors of the old in Nigeria. Today they are quoted authoritatively in the Nigerian media. This level of lack of professional self-respect is astonishing. The Nigerian media would rather quote Chatham’s verdict on the election rather report the views of Nigerian policy institutes. And all this is happening in post-colonial Nigeria in the bid to secure external validation. Nigerian journalists describe these views from abroad as the opinion of the “world.” Meanwhile, this world does not include China, Russia, India, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil or Mexico, not to talk of African countries. The most populous countries with a great degree of economic relations with Nigeria are excluded in the world that is not pleased with Nigerian election. In reality, the world whose verdict is final on Nigerian elections begins in some newsrooms in Washington and ends in some editorial suites in western European capitals.
In the normal run of things, foreign media organisations should be quoting the reports of Nigerian journalists from their various perspectives . It should not be the other way round. Talking about foreign observers and elections. How many Nigerian observers monitored the 2020 American presidential elections which Donald Trump and millions of his supporters still insist is “stolen mandate”? And what was their report like? Will New York Times or Washington Post ever quote the editorial opinion of a Nigerian newspaper on the primitivity exhibited as a mob invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021 to stop the conclusion of the American electoral process? Such a terrible blemish on American liberal democracy has never happened in the last 24 years of Nigeria’s experience with conduct of elections. Before then Trump told an electoral officer Georgia, “I just want 11, 780 votes” in his desperate bid to turn the victory of Joe Biden. Imagine a news organisation in the United States quoting in its report prominently a Nigerian journalist who says the American election is “shambolic” and “messy.”
No political system is perfect. Hence the American media make scathing criticisms of their elections without seeking foreign authorities to justify their positions.
That is the point at issue.
Similarly, the United Kingdom had three prime ministers last year. One prime minister was removed on matters of integrity including lying to the public and another was removed for poor policy articulation and sheer incoherence. Now that is not a tribute to the maturity and stability of the British political system. During the Brexit referendum, the Leave Campaign misled voters on a factual note. As a battle cry, the Brexiteers claimed: “We send the EU 350 pound a week” instead of funding the National Health Service (NHS) with the amount. Independent fact-checkers later found out that this campaign item was based on falsehood. The campaign was conducted in a post-truth context with fake news and disinformation competing with facts. Meanwhile, some voters might have been swayed to vote for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) based on this falsehood. In a desperate bid to strike a deal on Brexit, a prime minister misled the Queen to suspend the parliament (in what is called prorogation) so as to prevent a debate on the issue. Today, the country is grappling with the consequences of that democratic decision that was partly based on falsehood.
The British media will not quote the opinions of foreign journalists to validate their criticisms of the Brexit misadventure.
To be sure, the upsurge of neo-colonialism in the politics of 2023 is not a result of any imposition by foreign powers or interests. It is rather a manifestation of the neo-colonial mentality on the part of Nigerians. No one can blame external forces pointedly for what is happening. The organisers of Chatham House events did compel any of their guests to be present. Neither did any foreign medium force the Nigeria media to invoke its materials as justification for the local arguments. Instead of force, what is unfortunately on display is what the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, calls “ideological hegemony.” Many members of the Nigerian intellectual and professional elite act (perhaps unconsciously) under the sheer weight of the hegemony of neo-colonial ideology. What they regard as received wisdom (their world outlook) is actually a product of the hegemony of some neo-colonial ideologues. The control in this instance is not exercised with direct political or economic power. The control comes subtly through the superstructural elements- education, culture, religion, morals, media, public sphere etc., which all combine to shape people’s outlook. A consequence of that in Nigeria is the fixation with exogenous solutions to any problem as pointed out in the foregoing.
It is no good news that this is happening in Nigeria 58 years after Kwame Nkrumah wrote Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah argues that apart from indirect political and economic control, neo-colonialism could also manifest in the cultural and ideological realms.
The neo-colonial ideology is evident in the current state of things as foreign approval is sought at every stage of the democratic process.