By John Abayomi
IF we understand how we became a country we would approach issues of insecurity quite differently.
Nigeria, a province of the British Empire, September 30, 1960 became a country a day later, on October 1, 1960. This statement raises two questions of classification. What kind of empire was the British Empire? What kind of country was Nigeria, that went to sleep the preceding night a province of an Empire and woke up the next morning a country? The second question is informed by the first.
The British Empire was a capitalist empire secured by the imperial state. As an empire it consisted of the imperial centre and its provinces. As a capitalist empire it protected a capitalist economy consisting of provinces constituted as its sectors. The British Empire was not a feudalist empire consisting of the British overlord coordinating subordinated kingdoms with their own economies and distinct societies.
When independence, negotiated aforehead, came on October 1, 1960, what was declared independent was a province of a capitalist empire and a sector of its economy. As a province it had no ruling class, no state, no autonomous economy, no nationality.
On October 1, 1960 this province became a country that had need for what it lacked as a part or province of a global British Empire; it had need for a state, a sovereign class, a nation building economy that formed and shaped the Nigerian nationality. The government of this province renamed a country was vested in an elite of politicians organized for elections on platform of political parties.
This briefly is the structural beginnings of contemporary Nigeria. What the country lacked at independence, namely: a ruling class, a state, an autonomous economy, a nationality, are elements of what we popularly describe as Project Nigeria or The Nigerian Project.
These elements are abstracted from the attributes of the Empire out of which a province was excised. Of these elements, the principal and necessary structure is the state. The state secures externally the autonomy of the society in an environment of hegemonic and imperialist parties and it secures internally the class that rules the society. States are made, not inherited. They are made by parties organised for rule over society, national or imperial.
The prominent fact in our post- independence politics is the decision of the political parties to use control of the inherited government of the colony of Nigeria as the means for creating the state. Electoral parties through this strategy of state creation were transformed into state creation parties and the colonial government was adapted as the agency for partisan rivalry over state creation.
We need to understand the implications of this decision. To do so we must begin with the 1959 Transition Elections which elected into office candidates put forward by parties recognised by the colonial authorities. The government they were to administer was the British Government in the colony of Nigeria.
This government had the colonial security forces and law enforcement organs to ensure the stability and legitimacy of British rule in the Province of Nigeria. State creation in this context necessarily entrenched ethnic partisanship in the contestations for power on the basis of electoral control of government.
It also transformed elections from a means of competition for the administration of government enjoying the legitimacy of all electoral parties into a process consummating ownership of the society and the sovereignty of the party with elected majority. Under the British rule of Nigeria, electoral competition was to determine which parties would govern, not which parties would possess and rule Nigeria.
Nigeria was not made a province of the British Empire through elections. It was thus made through conquest, pacification and secured control. The decision of the Nigeria Independence electoral parties to use control of government for state creation goals has transformed Who Governs Politics subject to constitutional electoral provisions into Who Rules Politics subject to the strategies of war.
Electoral politics has become the process of transforming office holders into rulers and electorally dominant parties into state making parties. Nigeria has thus been administered through this Janus-faced system, one face the face of the elected, the other face the face of rulers, and neither of the faces is a mask, they are faces of Siamese twins.
Elections are, thus, structurally incapable of resolving issues of Who Rules Nigeria for they have been corrupted by being transformed from the means of resolving legislative disagreements in the administration of government receiving universal support of the electoral parties into the process of capturing power by reducing rivals into subjugated rivals.
The British had prepared post- Independence Nigeria for liberal democratic politics in the assumed context of a state and class ordered society, in which electoral parties were organisations proffering rival legislatives programmes for governance. This was the plan for the Province of the British Colony of Nigeria September 30, 1960. The reality facing the 1959 electoral parties in the politically transformed society on October 1, 1960 was, however, quite different.
These 1959 electoral parties were in 1960 faced with the imperative of securing post-colonial Nigeria externally and instituting a secured rulership party or rulership parties internally.
Defence pacts could not and still cannot perform these two functions because defence of a sovereign cannot be outsourced nor sovereignty exercised by proxies. By 1959 governance Politics that was factional intra- party politics a day before had been transformed into a inter- party rulership politics a day after! From this perspective we can appreciate why Africa’s post- colonial politics has been Janus-faced and why elections including the recently concluded presidential elections in Kenya are inherently statemaking contestation affair.