One of the paradoxes of nations in distress is their capacity to spawn strange political species. It is a colourful laboratory indeed teeming with bizarre specimens, outlandish crossbreeds and other genetic absurdities. As the colonial nation-state paradigm finally unravels in Africa leading to its superannuation or sublation as the case may be, we have all become spectators of a great historical drama.
Some African nations have been able to weather the storm with minimum stress and bloodshed. This is because they are more ethnically or religiously homogeneous, more harmonious in their original configuration or blessed with a visionary pathfinder. They have managed to overcome the crippling limitations of colonial cartography and have moved on to face fresh challenges of history.
It is in Nigeria, the most commodious and unwieldy of these colonial contraptions, that the existential drama of being and becoming has turned out to be most cruel, most absorbing and blood-consuming. We had all thought that with the retreat of the military from the political space, Nigeria has turned a new corner. Alas, it has turned out to be a false dawn.
There is no foundation or basis for that optimism. In the Fourth Republic, Nigeria has witnessed a sharp resurgence of divisive and nation-disabling politics, a separatist religious ploy which could have eventually consumed the nation, several armed critiques of the state, the rise of non-state actors wielding veto power over the state and the ascent of non-state and anti-state politics bypassing and even challenging the traditional channels of state politics.
In Marxist telos, the state is projected to wither away after all class divisions have been abolished and transcended in a new society. This makes eminent sense since the modern state is viewed as the site for the resolution of elite conflicts and the aggregation of competing and countervailing elite interests. But it has turned out to be a profound ideological delusion. As a matter of fact rather than wither away, the modern state is proving more powerful and recalcitrant.
But in contemporary Africa particularly in Nigeria, the state appears to be withering away in a remarkable retreat and rollback of its primal function and fundamental raison d’etre. The Nigerian postcolonial state is dissolving without having secured the nation or solidifying the very ideal of nationhood. It is leaving Nigeria in a sorry mess.
If we are going to be honest and frank with ourselves, this crisis of nationhood began early enough in the Fourth Republic and with the Sharia political gambit. It was a morbid political gamble, an attempt to further divide an already fragile and fractious polity. It was a mortal blow struck at the secular roots and foundation of the modern nation-state and would have eventuated in the dismemberment of the nation as a corporate entity.
It was just as well that the whole thing collapsed like a pack of cards. But the genie of separatism has already been let out of the bottle. Political Sharia has spawned many imitations and mutations, the most dangerous and alarming being the Boko Haram insurgency which has been going on for twelve years and which has completely devastated the north east of the country.
With the spectacular success of its kidnapping industry and extortionist franchise and not a little inducement from rogue state actors, Boko Haram has now morphed into banditry and mass abduction which have turned the north west and north central corridors of the country into a living hell. Taking their cue and inspiration from a successful brand, native and non-native marauders have invaded the entire south of the nation in a killing, raping and kidnapping spree.
Like a disoriented mammoth at bay, Nigeria is bleeding on all fronts. As gallant and forbearing as its men and officers have proved, the Nigerian armed forces cannot fight on many fronts at the same time without something eventually giving. Not even the best armies the world has seen can surmount this, particularly when they are traversing hostile local territory.
With Boko Haram and its adjunct ancillaries laying siege to the entire north, with what appears like an urban guerrilla movement taking root in the old east and with the west playing host to restive forces of dissolution or disintegration, the entire nation has become one vast theatre of multiple hostilities. It will take a massive dose of reengineering and reconfiguration to bring an exhausted and demystified post-colonial state back into contention.
Whether that feat of reinvention will serve any useful purpose in the current context remains to be seen. But the profoundly ironic fact remains that even to negotiate the reconfiguration or structural adjustment of the nation, we need the semblance of a functioning state or we may find ourselves on the road to Mogadishu or worse still the slide towards Darfur.
This is a fate Nigeria must avoid at all costs. Let us begin to pick our way through the landmines. Of the remarkable developments of state distress and national trauma hobbling Nigeria, none is more fascinating than what we have termed, for want of a better term, as the rise of non-state or anti-state politics.
An insurrection is an armed critique aimed at state capture for the purpose of its reconstruction or dissolution as the case may be. A political party is a congregation or conglomeration of people for the purpose of capturing state power and reorganising the nation along their political ideals as the case may also be.
Non-state actors may also exist for the sole purpose of predatory extraction of resources as we have seen with kidnappers and marauders or for the overthrow of the existing status quo or political order as the Boko Haram insurgents claim.
All these forces are in contention in contemporary Nigeria. But how do we situate mass and largely uncoordinated movements drawing strength and sustenance from mass discontent with politics and the postcolonial state itself and whose sole objective seem to be the dissolution or disintegration of the nation? If they transmute into an armed rebellion the puzzle resolves itself.
But since they lack the nous, capacity and wherewithal to transit into regular political parties, they will continue to stoke the fire of disintegration until something gives. This non-state or anti-state politics is the greatest threat to party formation and the survival of the Fourth Republic particularly in the south.
It is this phenomenon that has birthed non-state political actors such as Sunday Igboho in the west and Nnamdi Kanu in the east. Feeding on and off the raw emotions of disappointed, disillusioned and disconsolate masses, they represent a new equation of anti-state rally and exertion in post-independence Nigerian politics. As the Yoruba proverb puts it, the ant cannot wear trousers but it can surely remove trousers.
Nnamdi Kanu appears to have mastered the art of “silence, exile and cunning”. Being a novice in the game of state-baiting, It is possible that before too long the brave and daring Sunday Igboho, either from the arrogance of ignorance or through a combination of political overstretch and overreach, may find himself fatally neutralized, politically speaking that is.
But this will only give fillip to more potent and sophisticated forces already waiting in the wing ready to pounce at the appointed hour. Yet despite the ominous augury, it is not clear whether the two state parties are sufficiently exercised by this potent threat to their suzerainty and supremacy.
In the past fortnight, a town hall meeting organized in Anambra State to shore up support for Charles Soludo’s gubernatorial aspiration was broken up by gun-wielding anti-state actors with state casualties. In what may turn out to be his political swansong, Soludo himself has let it be known that no political ambition is worth the life of a chicken. Even chickens deserve a better fate.
In the same east that is already preyed upon by marauding herders, a serving governor this past week alerted the nation of a plot to make the entire region ungovernable. As we were putting this together, report came of the killing of three policemen at a highway checkpoint by executioners disguised as mourners. Meanwhile in Osun State, the authorities have just suspended three secondary school principals for disseminating the gospel of secession.
While all this is going on, the two state parties appear to be hooked on ephemerality and pomposities of office. With no clear cut ideological differentiation between them and with the involuntary homogenization of the Nigerian political class proceeding apace, politics as the ameliorative pursuit of a better society and the greater happiness of the greatest number has disappeared.
It is this collapse of ideological politics and the lack of a clear cut visionary blueprint for rescuing Nigeria from the current ethnic and fiscal morass that is fuelling the current wave of anti-state politics and the strident calls for the dissolution of the country. Those who refuse to take a wise cue from history are condemned to become victims of its harsh and alienating necessities.
If it is of any comfort, it should be recalled that Chief Obafemi Awolowo fought bravely and sternly against the homogenization of the Nigerian political class and the absence of clear cut political ideals and ethical values. It is the main reason why he never got to rule Nigeria.
The pan-Nigerian critical mass needed to galvanize Nigeria to greater political glory was simply not there and is still not there. To rule Nigeria requires hectic consensus forging and bridge building even among political scoundrels merely gaming for personal advantage or ethnic exceptionalism.
Awo was acutely aware and critically alert to the fact that to become president or prime minister under such conditions and in such circumstances is to become permanent hostage to retrogressive forces who are only interested in the preservation of their feudal privileges rather than the political progress or economic development of the nation.
But that is the way it is at the moment and there is no way out of this Nigerian conundrum as long as the balance of forces remains with the prevailing status quo. As we have noted several times in this column, Nigeria is permanently rigged against rationality and modernity as a result of its lopsided colonial configuration.
Despite the fact that the tragic events of the last six years have tasked the patience of the average Nigerian beyond the limits of human endurance, the structural contingencies that have held the nation down and which have made it impossible for the colonial gridlock to throw up its best eleven remain very much in place.ADVERTISEMENT
This is why many have come to the conclusion that the only option available to the nation is either a radical reconfiguration or its peaceful dissolution. It is also the reason why non-state or anti-state politics has become a more attractive option than the conventional route of regular politics.
So what is to be done? It may yet amount to locking the door of the stable after the horse has bolted, but the only way conventional and regular politics can help resolve the historic impasse and head off the forces of disintegration is to bring ideology back to the framework of contemporary Nigerian politics and to take a second look at the mode of leadership recruitment while forswearing nepotism and self-preferment.
Too much devaluation and debasement of the noble art of politics is going on at the moment. In saner climes and more organic societies, the political elites sense when the hour of change is at hand and when the oddity of the knight’s move must challenge the established conventionalities of the chess game itself. Conventional politics can only postpone the day of reckoning. It cannot resolve the nation’s epic gridlock.
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