Almost ten months after the conduct of presidential election in Nigeria, the fireworks over who actually won the election even after the apex has delivered its “final” verdict over the matter continue to ricochet across the polity. This degree of rancor and bitterness over an election is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, and it says a lot about the lack of elite amity in the nation.
When and where presidential elections are not based on clear-cut ideological contestation among the contending parties and where electoral disputes are not anchored on subsisting pacted negotiations among the various factions of the political elite, things normally degenerate into a duel onto death.
Consider for example the situation in 1979 when those marvelous UPN legislative gurus quickly settled in, or 1999 when Chief Falae was prevailed upon to withdraw his case just to guarantee the survival of the Fourth Republic. This would have been unusual in the current climate of mutual hostility accompanied by widespread hysteria. The usual elite dispute about allocation of resources and who gets what and when has degenerated into a zero-sum game where nothing matters anymore.
The lack of elite consensus affects not just the climate before election, the atmospherics of the elections themselves and post-election ability of the new government to hit the ground running. Enemy nationals abound in Nigeria, as this column consistently affirms.
They make life impossible for themselves as well as for others. They weaken further the resolve of weak governments and turn the nation into an anarchic and ungovernable entity. Faced with the possibility of economic and political extinction, the violated multitude look forward to delivery at any cost even where it means a deus ex machina.
This is why ordinary people even in so called advanced societies often wink or connive at the possibility or actual emergence of despotic messianic tyrants. It is the German Weimar Republic on postcolonial wheels and it is what led to the emergence of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and General Frank Franco in bitterly divided Spain.
Alienation from the state affects different sectors of the society in different ways. For the elite, it is a form of political and economic estrangement which can be negotiated at the shrine of booty sharing euphemistically called resource control. But when it is extended to the ordinary mass of the people, it is accompanied by a complete spiritual emasculation which leads to total severance from reality.
More often than not, alienation of the general mass of the people from the state is so severe, the defamiliarization of the familiar so aggravating, that the victim suffers a complete severance from the notions and nature of the nation as it is constituted or habitable. The victim is so decoupled from the realities of national existence that he becomes a complete alien or a total stranger to his nation.
Alienation is often more pronounced in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nations. The contradictions are so palpable and gripping that they alter normal perception and turn the average individual into an enemy national who hates everything about his country. When and where such passive, sullen hostility turns into an active confrontation with the state and its lawful agents or heralds unrelenting destabilization, the ruling class must be on Tsunami watch.
Fortuitously for Nigeria and many other postcolonial societies in Africa, elite yearnings for fundamental changes do not often equate to calls for the dismemberment of the nation even when some of the demands for change are couched in such volatile rhetoric. The political elite appear to be more interested in the overthrow and dismantling of the old hegemonic order.
But as observable on the actual field of play and contrary to the myth of elite consensus, what is often required in fractious, ethnically polarized polities is not complete elite consensus which is an impossibility given the structure and configuration of such societies but substantial compliance which allows the dominant ruling group to drive through fundamental political and economic reforms that open the society to egalitarian transformation.
Given the civil war experience and its lingering trauma, Nigerian political elite, except when they face the grave threat of being toppled from below by the rampaging mob of the disaffected and the furious hoi -polloi , are usually very wary of the rhetoric of dismemberment. The two extant attempts at mounting a full scale rebellion against the Nigerian state ended in dismal and desultory tragedies.
In the case of Isaac Adaka Boro, eighteen months after his rag tag band of riverine rebels was put to rout by General Aguiyi-Ironsi , he was already donning the uniform of a Nigerian Army major when he was shot and killed by a lone Biafran soldier hiding in a disused shed around Bonny.
Thereafter, his people nailed their flag to the hegemonic mast of northern political forces. In the case of Col Odumegwu-Ojukwu, thirteen years after fleeing Nigeria, he came back as a political agent of the same feudal bastion he had led his people against in a bloody campaign which devastated the old eastern region. All that was fiercely adamant and politically solid melted into thin air.
Those who know the true character and ideological brittleness of the Nigerian political class and its capacity for healthy and unhealthy compromises often betray a strange equanimity and unflappable composure in moments of grave national crisis which can be quite confounding to agitated onlookers and political neophytes alike.
In the wake of the tragic annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the ensuing national uproar, Dr Ibrahim Tahir, the late Talban Bauchi and Cambridge-trained conservative scholar to boot, cautioned those from the South West threatening fire and brimstone and the eventual dismemberment of the nation should the annulment subsist not to confuse their platform position with realpolitik. For good measure, the sharp-tongued, roly-poly intellectual dismissed the agitators as Oduduwa warmongers.
Many of us, this writer included, felt so outraged by this blithe and blatant putdown that we concluded that the remarkable writer and maverick author of The Last Imam had finally succumbed to the excesses of his sybaritic self-indulgences. By platform position, he meant hard public posturing taken as the take off point for hard bargaining and concession-wringing.
It was also around this time that Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, fiery ideologue and former governor of the old Kano State, famously declared that he was not in politics because of MKO Abiola. Rimi’s comeuppance would come later as the equally wily and punitively proactive General Olusegun Obasanjo refused to make him Foreign Minister, plumping instead for the less fancied but equally ideologically unstable Sule Lamido.
In an earlier nasty spat with Lamido, Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige let it be known that he did not suffer fools gladly. Both men ended up as full ministers in Obasanjo’s cabinet. The point to note is that after almost five years of low intensity warfare, a consensus was cobbled out in which the north conceded the presidency to the South. That was after the death of both Abiola and General Abacha. It was a deal that required substantial elite compliance, despite a sizeable number of naysayers.
It is to be noted that during the NADECO insurrection against the Nigerian military state, not for once did its Yoruba-dominated leadership advocate secession or the break-up of Nigeria. Dismemberment of the nation was not on the menu.
Bola Ige, widely demonized in the northern press as a Yoruba supremacist in the Rwandan Hutu framework, saw himself as a Nigerian leader of Yoruba extraction waiting in the wing rather than as a ruler of a Yoruba secessionist enclave. Not for once did he advocate for the dissolution of the nation.
In his widely read column in the Nigerian Tribune on Sunday, the fiery orator consistently declaimed that rather than advocate the breakup of the country, he longed to see the day when the shoe would be on the other foot for the hegemonic rulers who had held Nigeria to ransom since independence. That dawn of a new awareness produced a hybrid patchwork which left the man known as Cicero of Esa-Oke politically stranded and estranged from his colleagues.
The political dissonance and elite disharmony turned Ige into a victim and prime casualty of elite pacting. People fight for a particular ideal only to find that what they had fought for was not what came to be. Rather than rule as a Yoruba hegemonist, Obasanjo ruled like a pan-Nigerian nationalist. Widely admired for his sharp intellect and organizational acumen, the former governor of Oyo State was equally resented for his nettling tongue and abrading candour.
After a losing bid to become the presidential flag-bearer of his party, Ige teamed up with Obasanjo in a daring strategic gambit which split both his party and its cultural organization down the line. Neither fully recovered. But the die was cast for the sizzling and scintillating orator. An attempt to return to base proved a bridge too far. Ige was bumped off because the disruptive possibilities of his return to his political precincts were simply too enormous to bear for the new order and its orderlies.
The past twenty four years have proved that in a fragile polity and multi-ethnic nation seething with rancor and mutual hostilities, elite consensus is never a done deal. It requires constant nurturing and constant repairs. Obasanjo himself was almost surprised around the corner by his deputy who became his mortal adversary. His attempt at tenure elongation met with a resounding shellacking which struck deep at the foundation of the post-military polity.
The travails of Umaru Yar’Adua whom Obasanjo had imposed on the nation by fire and by force are quite instructive, particularly after the Katsina nobleman became hobbled and enfeebled by terminal illness. While the conservative phalanx rallied and railed at the prospects of being shortchanged, it required a doctrine of necessity to impose Jonathan on the polity. Five years later, the Ijaw man from Opia became toast when he attempted to overstay his welcome.
The current conjuncture is equally rich in superb ironies. Only those with their historical binoculars misplaced or mislaid will call it the dawn of a new order of ethnic exceptionalism. While the bold administrative reforms and the restructuring at the level of personnel have met with rapturous approval, many are also of the opinion that the brutal rightwing social engineering and neoliberal economic fundamentalism of the Bretton Woods institution is anathema to Awolowo’s socialist welfarism and the progressive egalitarian politics of the Yoruba people.
It will be a monumental irony if the Yoruba, the most urbanized ethnic group and their seething cities become the first people to chafe and publicly take umbrage at their own stellar son. But if care is not taken, the disaffection and dehumanization of ordinary people may tip the scale in the direction of anarchy and generalized chaos.
This is usually the playground of the mob and the graveyard of elite consensus. The post-Buhari polity with its fragile elite consensus and many enemy nationals trying to engineer the fiscal collapse of the country by putting undue pressure on the naira must be wary of the next few months.
Now that the road is clear of electoral disputes, pressure will mount on the Tinubu administration to deal with the economic miscreants who have brought us to this sorry pass. It will no longer be possible to look the other way as tales of deliberate economic adversity against the nation escalate.
As the inevitable reforms threaten the middle class with obliteration and the masses with pure extinction such as they have never known before, a way must be found not to give the impression that the government has sided with the tormentors of the people. One way of the doing this is to strengthen an agency like the EFCC in its offensive and crime-preventing capacity.
The other is to make sure that all the outstanding cases of economic crimes against the nation are pursued with vigour and integrity. If the truth must be told, the crime fighting agencies have come to a sorry pass. The president should immediately constitute an Economic Advisory Council with the capacity to think out of the box and avail him of countervailing notions of economic growth and development.
In ending, let us remind the framers of the new economic doctrine that no fractious, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation has ever survived the kind of bitter economic pills advocated for Nigeria by the IMF and the Bretton Wood institutions. Something always gives in the end. Let it not be said that we have pulled economic defeat out of the jaws of political victory.
Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.