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Richard Joseph and choice of concepts for explaining change of govts

By John Amoda

A ONE day commemorative conference on Richard Joseph’s Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria was held at Eko Hotel, September 10, 2011. Unfortunately I learnt about the conference a day before it was held and was thus prevented by previous engagements from full audience participation in the sessions.

The conference from its array of resource persons and guests could be characterised as representative of Nigeria’s left leaning intelligentsia, academic, media and elected officials. The book written over 20 years ago was to be appreciated both in terms of its description of Nigeria’s politics, its prophecy about Nigeria’s post-publication history.

The conference promised some re-interpretations of the subject matter of Professor Joseph’s seminal book. My concern in this essay can therefore not be a review of the conference proceedings given the caveats above. My concern goes back to the crafting of the title of the book.

Professor Akin Oyebode pointed me in the direction I have taken in this brief appreciation of the book’s subject matter when he remarked that the title of the book could be but a scholarly rendition of the role of corruption in Nigerian politics; or better still a title characterising the analysis of corruption politics in Nigeria.

Oyebode’s rendition throws up certain questions about the history of the book itself. Its title indeed is intriguing and the author’s explanation of the fall of the Second Republic calls for a return to the history of “falls of republics” in Nigeria’s constitutional politics. The subtitle, “The Rise And Fall Of The Second Republic” has a causal link with the title, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria.

What is the theoretical import of such a link? Is it Professor Joseph’s contention that Nigerian democracy is republican such that the fall of the Second Republic is the fall of Nigerian democracy? In what sense are the transitions from colonial and military governments in Nigeria to be characterised as the rise of republics and the termination of civilian electoral policy the fall of the antecedent democracy?

These are one set of questions raised by the choice of explanatory projects viz- the project of explaining political change in Nigeria. The second set of questions arise by the implications of the juxtaposition of Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria. What happens to “Democracy” however conceptualised when it is contextualized by prebendal politics in Nigeria?

The juxtaposition of the two subject defining concepts gives rise to the following questions: Does the concept “Democracy” imply apposite politics, that is, a politics appropriate to democracy, warranting a positing of a paradigm of politics inherent in democracies? Is prebendal politics another way of describing the workings of Nigerian democracy, posited as a species of politics that results in the “fall of democracies?

Assuming agreement on the concept of democracy, what kind of politics is prebendal politics? Or is it only the character of the politics of the Second Republic? If this description is specific to the Second Republic, what is the difference between the politics of the First Republic and that of the Second Republic? Is it that Nigerian politics is generically prebendal and therefore efforts to found Nigerian republics are typically contextualised by prebendalism?

How is Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonial politics to be understood through such a construct of prebendalism? Do we not confront problems when we describe the sovereignty projects of Nigerian political parties, civilian and military as founding of democracies or republics or republican democracies or democratic republics?

The anti-colonial nationalism and post-colonial party politics in Nigeria has been essentially “successor politics”, that is, the politics of Nigerianisation of the administration of the government established for the imperial management of Nigeria as a province of the British Empire.

Decolonisation in Nigeria was the granting of “autonomy” exercised by the successor political parties recognised as the “representative of Nigerian Sovereignty”. Nigeria’s institutions of state security, defence and foreign diplomacy were, thus, the colonial adopted and conservatively adapted for use by the successor Nigerian elites. These institutions maintained the economic structure of the colonial province and the elite-mass differentiation of the colonial society.

Succession, not democracy has been the project of Nigerian civilian and military politicians. Displacement of civilian electoral parties has been the project of Nigerian Military. Democratisation of post-colonial or post military rule, not democracy, has been the agitations of factions and “minorities” of the Nigerian post- colonial civilian elites.

Within such a history, the establishment of democracy as popularised by Abraham Lincoln’s, a “government of the people, for the people and by the people” has to be seen as a project, a transformative project and in the context of the colonial and post-colonial Nigerian society, the founding of democracy must be in Nigeria a new species of poltical community project.

The fact is that Nigeria’s anti-colonial and post-colonial parties have been successor parties, the civilian anti-colonial parties groomed for succession by the British Colonial government; and the civilian post-colonial parties similarly groomed for succession by the military government through the process and arrangement of transition politics. Military governments explaining their overthrow of civilian constitutional governments on reformist grounds governed through the use of the apparatus of civilian governments with changes in them limited to modification of procedures.

Democracy has therefore not been the project of any Nigerian electoral or military government. In what sense then was Nigerian Politics of the Second Republic prebendal? How did Richard Joseph coin the adjective prebendal? Why was he dissatisfied with the adjective much in vogue in the usage of his teachers and mine, patrimonial, when in fact his coinage was still describing the same content of the “politics of societies in transition” between the modern and the traditional? I will argue that Richard Joseph’s usage of prebendal is no improvement on the term patrimonial.

He would have been saying the same thing with a title like the following. “Democracy and Patrimonial Politics in Nigeria” for his intent in the usage of prebendal is in my view logically conveyed by the adjective “patrimonial”. Why? Because both prebendal and patrimonial explain how office and service come to become ‘fiefs”, that is become means of accumulations. Patrimony according to Webster is:

1. Property inheritance from one’s father or ancestors

2. Property endowed to an institution, as a church;

3. Anything inherited, as a trait of character.

Prebend on the other hand is defined by Webster as:

1. The part of the revenue of a cathedral or collegiate church paid as a clergyman’s salary;

2. The property or tax yielding such a revenue,

3. A prebendary or his benefice. Prebendal, the adjective is defined as pertaining to a prebend or prebendary.

– Prebendary refers to a person receiving a prebend.

– Prebendaryship defines the office of a prebendary.

Applied to Nigerian politics, one who thinks that office-holding should be a public trust but sees officeholders treating elective or appointive offices as prebend, can say that officeholders politics is prebendal, for they regard their offices as prebends and compete for office for prebendal purposes. Nigerian politicians so characterized would be said from Richard Joseph’s idealistic viewpoint as transforming government into a prebendaryship.

The connotations of prebendaryship, linking officeholding with entitlements transforming electoral office into “benefice” is but a small conceptual step to the patrimonialisation of officeholding, implying inherent and inherited privileges linked to officeholding, and in this way transforming elected office into aristocratic office.

The purpose of such prebendalisation of elected office is therefore that which is also served by the patrimonialisation of elected office. If the above is Richard Joseph’s reading of politics in Nigeria’s Second Republic, his description of politics in Nigeria should be the “Prebendalisation of Electoral Politics in Nigeria” and not “Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria”.

Since no anti-colonial and post colonial electoral political parties has sought to institute a government of the people by the people for the people; since for none is Democracy thus defined a political objective or manifesto ideals, the matter of Nigerian Politics, then and now, can be said to be that of the prebendalisation or patrimonialisation of politics in Nigeria. This conceptualization of politics in Nigeria seems more descriptive of what politics in Nigeria is rather than what it should be.

Democracy as popularly conceptualized is thus the polar opposite of Prebendal Politics and can only be instituted through the Displacement of Prebendal Politics by Democratic Politics. When so constructed, the Rise and Fall of the Second Republic cannot be explained by Nigeria’s political history of prebendal politics if that which is called CORRUPTION is no other than Prebendal Politics.

For those interested in Democracy as a project of Nigerian politicians two things have to be explained namely: how and why electoral politics has mutated into Prebendal Politics in post colonial Nigeria; and arising out of this problematique how, the challenges of prebendal politics in Nigeria are to be confronted and mastered by Democracy- Interest Groups.

What in summary has been the import of our critique of the conceptual building blocs of Joseph’s Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria? It is that offices can be transformed into prebends and as in cases like those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Togo into patrimonies. The politics of such polities can be described as prebendal only because there has been prebendalisation of electoral politics and office-holding.

Thus defined Prebendal Politics is not to be equated with CORRUPTION POLITICS. There can be prebendal relations between an American elected official and the constituency he or she represents. This can explain why a Senator Byrd was elected for over nine times of six years term in the United States Senate. Mario Cuomo’s son is now a governor of New York State like his father before him.

The relationship between Lee Kuan Yew and the Singaporean electorate by the mutual wish of both parties was prebendal and patrimonial; in Singapore prebendalisation of elections in favour of Lee Kuan Yew’s party was based on results of the ruling party- they had earned the trust of the electorates, they did not buy the electorate or subsumed them under the ruling party.

“Dynasticisation” of officeholding as in the case with the Kennedy’s in America is thus a form of useful and legitimate patrimonialisation of electoral office. The relationship between the Republican Party and America’s rich and conservative elites can be said to be prebendal through trust.

There is therefore some form of prebendal politics that is approved as instance of Democracy and some form of prebendalisation of electoral politics that is viewed as anti-Democracy. Therefore we must still address twenty-five years after the publication of Richard Joseph’s Democracy and Prebendal Politics the issues of the prebendalisation of politics, electoral or despotic. We must still deal with the issues of rise and falls of republics in Nigeria. These tasks lie ahead, for there is yet no Democracy Corpse upon which an autopsy is to be performed.



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