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Comment on reply to Amb. Princeton Lyman (2)

By John Moyibi Amoda
THE time has come, not for reform of election but for the confrontation of the fact that in Nigeria, politicians are first and foremost concerned with who will rule Nigeria and how the rule will be secured. Hence, I concluded in my response to Lyman thusly:

“As it is for the United States so it is for the Nigerian elite; state power security issues take precedence over intra-party and inter-party democracy and democratic government. It is important also for the difference between electoral parties and state power parties to be recognised. State power parties define the context and condition of the existence and relevance of electoral parties. The Taliban of Pakistan and Afghanistan are state power parties”.

This is why they will not subject their interest in power in Afghanistan to the vote. Any true friend of Nigeria and Africa must acknowledge the fact ‘that Africa is in the transition between the change of the colonial regimes and their replacement with post colonial regimes.

The transition is long and difficult and needs the development of strategic statecraft and not Sunday School moralistic scoldings”. With this explication my emphatic objection to Ambassador Lyman’s conflation of verdict and admonitory judgments can be contextualized. This is not an apology for Nigerian politicians.

They are playing the prescribed electoral games of politics with rules appropriate to those of sovereignty contestations. If we realise that this is the case we will recognise that state power conflicts in Africa are response to the facts on ground, that every player is in the game of sovereignty politics and it is not a game played by electoral rules.

If this fundamental fact is recognised the emphasis would be properly placed on how state power contestations can be constitutionally resolved- which is a task that only the parties in conflict can resolve and no outsider, no matter how well-meaning, can predict or determine its outcomes.

If we are to deal with every other issues raised by Princeton Lyman in the context of this primary of the sovereignty issue we would be in a better position to know why we have oscillated since independence between undemocratic civilian rule and authoritarian military rule, both being options thrown up by the politics of sovereignty contestations being converted into electoral politics.

The following excerpts from Claude Ake’s Democracy and Development in Africa throws light on structural determination of the conduct of Africa’s post-colonial politics elites. He explained corruption thusly:

“The need for a more secure material base drove the indigenous elite to increase statism of the economy. An increasing range of economic activities was brought under the control of the state, notably by nationalisation, to facilitate the appropriation of wealth by means of state power.

The use of state power for accumulation, associated as it is with statism, monopoly of power, and the interposition of coercion in the labor process, raised to new heights the premium on the capture of state power… To recapitulate, at independence the form and function of the state in Africa did not change much for most countries in Africa. State power remained essentially the same; immensely arbitrary, often violent, always threatening.

Except for a few countries, such as Botswana, politics remained a zero-sum game, power was sought by all means and maintained by all means. It is easy to see that the political environment at independence was profoundly hostile to development. The struggle for power was so absorbing that everything else, including development, was marginalised.

Those who were out of power constantly worried about their exposure to every kind of assault by a state that was hardly subject to any constitutional or institutional restraints. Since what mattered in this type of politics was the calculus of force, out-of-power elites strove constantly to put together a credible force to challenge those in power, or at any rate, to limit their own vulnerability to harassment and abuse”.

Claude Ake explained why all events of the post-colonial era have been determined by politics. “The African successor to the colonial regime consisted not so much of a capitalist class as a mix of salaried persons and petite bourgeoisie; pensioners, lawyers, engineers, doctors, traders, farmers, ex-service men, journalists, religious leaders, farmers, small contractors, and trade unionists.

There are people whose political power did not have a strong economic base. They did not have confidence in their ability to manage a capitalist economy, especially one they did not control. Other groups in the society were likely to be even less qualified to manage.

Although the ability of the new rulers to manage economic development was doubtful, as well as their inclination to do so, we on the outside have readily assumed that Africa’s ruling elite are bent on developing their countries. Our focus has been on the feasibility, success, or failure of African development projects, and particularly on how to improve their effectiveness.

“But what is the country that is being developed? Who is doing this developing and why? Consider for example, Nigeria. It is still a contested terrain of conflicting identities even after three decades of independence and still longer period of being one political entity.

Possibly some of Nigeria’s elites think of themselves primarily as Nigerians and place their Nigerian identity above all other identities. But many more are ambivalent about what their primary identity should be. And even more place their Nigerian identity below that of their local community, nation or ethnic group. In Nigeria, as in most African countries the state (read government) remains a battle ground where individuals fight for whatever power or resource they can capture.

In the struggle people may treat public office as a resource or appropriate public funds. Such behaviour has led to comments about public corruption, lack of accountability, and absence of public spiritedness in Africa, judgments that entirely miss the point. Because of the historical legacy and objective conditions of contemporary Africa, a national development project in most African countries is not a rational undertaking”.

I have quoted extensively from Claude Ake to show that the facts we observe do not speak for themselves. They have to be explained. Ake’s descriptions of African political behaviour are in black and white and he shows why African politicians behave as they do. Two decades after Claude wrote the above, Africa is still in the condition of Hobbes: state of war.

The questions of what class would rule and how that class will be secured is still the question of the day. Somalia is still a possible outcome for all such politics where these two questions have not been decisively answered. In the interim, the burdens of peace-making in the world are shared, and Nigeria has assumed more than its fair share while in the condition of unbridled power politics at home.

Government bureaucrats may wish for the country a place of honour, the international community may look to Nigeria to execute leadership in peace-keeping; the oil and gas multi-national are concerned with stable and assured access to both commodities, yet in all of  these, the politician’s focus is still on power and its secure exercise. We are more likely to go beyond blinding anger if we can afford the stoic discipline of the following analysis of Prof. Claude Ake:

“Three decades of preoccupation with development in Africa have yielded meagre returns. African economies have been stagnating or regressing. For most Africans, real incomes are lower than they were two decades ago; health prospects are poorer, malnourishment is widespread, and infrastructure is breaking down, as some social institutions.

Many factors have been offered to explain the apparent failure of the development enterprise in Africa; the colonial legacy, social pluralism and its centrifugal tendencies, the corruption of leaders, poor labour indiscipline, the lack of entrepreneurial skills, poor planning and incompetent management, in appropriate policies, the stifling of market mechanisms, low levels of technical assistance, the limited inflow of foreign capital, and low levels of savings and investment.

These factors are not irrelevant to the problem. Alone or in combination they could be serious impediment to development. However, the assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading.

The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development.

In what follows, I consider how African politics has been constituted to prevent the pursuit of development and the emergence of relevant and effective development paradigms and programmes. As noted, with independence Africa leaders were in no position to pursue development; they were engrossed in the struggle for survival and the need to cope with many problems threatening their countries and their power”.

Even in this condition, the bureaucrats of the governments of these countries subscribe to development and their politicians to the ethos of democracy; even in this condition the international community expect the governments of these politicians to participate in burden sharing, even playing host to refugees while in the throes of civil war.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.