By Tabia Princewill
IT is widely known and discussed in history books and colonial documents that the British handed over power to the most conservative elements in the North. In both the North and the South, colonisation reinforced elitism and autocracy by granting the Native Authorities unbalanced, undisputed and unquestioned power, which despite misconceptions about pre-colonial African society, was a novelty.
All over Nigeria, various groups had institutions meant to check the sovereign’s power: one can trace the evolution of African political thought during the colonial episode by analysing changing traditional sayings which went from emphasizing equality to excluding certain groups and people from leadership.
We’re yet to interrogate Nigeria’s place within global history or to fully understand what happened which is why one hears such trite statements as “there have always been and there will always be poor people in the world” therefore providing a defeatist excuse for patriarchal, unjust and unequal capitalist norms which are not, despite what many would have us believe the “natural” order of things.
New class of profiteers
In the 1950s-70s, Nigeria had an educated, non-conformist middle class which was capable of countering the ruling oligarchy empowered by colonial rule: Fela’s song “International Thief Thief” criticised local fronts for neo-colonialism who aided foreign governments and corporations in subverting the rule of law in Africa and cheating Africans out of taxes and revenue. Military rule and the “adventurers” in uniform were once seen as messiahs who would right wrongs and fight injustice on behalf of the poor and the middle class. All they did was create a new class of profiteers who were ironically less educated and exposed than the first generation of traditional rulers and civilian administrators whom the British handed over to. Yet again, Nigeria appears on the verge of returning power to conservative, feudal forces masquerading as reformist elements.
The progressive alliance which accommodated individuals who had no business being allowed to call themselves “change agents” have done what they always do, destroy everything from within, leading to calls to “change the change”. Consistently, Nigerians have allowed the most conservative forces and voices who have no interest in the expansion of economic justice or universal rights and freedoms to dictate policy and politics. Interestingly, some of the followers of Awolowo and Aminu Kano found themselves in the Bagandida and Abacha regimes, always giving one excuse or another for why they supported anti-people policies and the many unresolved corruption scandals. In 1959, the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, allied itself with the Niger Delta Congress, NDC. Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence as the PDP presidential candidate despite the tussle after Yar’Adua’s death, is less unusual than it is presented, if analysed in proper historical context.
The Niger Delta and the South East have often blamed the North for refusing restructuring, federalism or marginalising their regions etc. Yet, the Niger-Delta and the South East have consistently chosen to ally themselves with the most conservative Northern elements whose ideology is to counter poor people’s interests everywhere. PDP is the inheritor of reactionary politics of the Second Republic NPN (National Party of Nigeria), dating all the way back to the very conservative, elitist and colonialist NPC (Northern People’s Congress). The true story of the political choices which led to mass poverty and underdevelopment in Nigeria is yet to be told.
Progressives in Nigeria have rarely been able to stay together. Despite the incredible allegations of corruption against President Shagari’s government and the NPN, both Aminu Kano and Zik’s followers left the Progressive Parties Alliance, PPA, the same way Samuel Akintola allegedly betrayed Awolowo, and merged with the NPN. In many ways, Nigeria today is simply a continuation of the reckless, undisciplined politics of the second republic where money trumped ideas and party loyalty. All progressive alliances in Nigeria (all political parties for that matter) are troubled by elements who don’t wish to conform to modernisation or to party discipline.
Like in the Second Republic, party politics is still characterised by suspicion and confrontation between party executives and party members occupying government posts. To quote Senator Kabir Marafa, the lawmaker representing Zamfara Central Senatorial District: “Right from the outset, I have reason to say there are fifth columnists in the APC. There are people who are desirous of pulling down the APC, and they are within the party, and they have been working with the opposition all through to this point to ensure the APC does not work”. They say to dine with the devil one must use a long spoon. The spoon is never long enough in Nigeria.
In the quest to gain power and to build a mass movement, one ends up accommodating the very interests responsible for destruction. The real restructuring Nigeria needs can only be achieved by men and women committed to modernising politics and correcting the fundamental injustices in our society where poverty is seen as “God’s will” or simply “the way things are”. Beyond state creation or resource control (which would still be overseen by the same corrupt, selfish individuals), progressives must continue to highlight the real social, economic and historical issues killing Nigeria.
THE EFCC confirmed it’s working on extraditing Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum from the UK. Does Nigeria have the capacity to successfully try her? It should break all our hearts that we have more faith in the UK judiciary than our own but can we afford to keep rehabilitating and excusing those accused of destroying this country?
A generation of young people keeps seeing crime and injustice triumph over good, we should be afraid of what the future holds. Prof. Osinbajo is right to say we are fighting a battle for this country’s soul.
THE Buhari Media Organisation, BMO, reacting to Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate’s claim that he would pay “N33,000 as minimum wage” to over 100,000 staff, said “not even Dangote Group which is the largest conglomerate in West Africa has the number of staff claimed to be on Atiku’s payroll”.
Beyond this, shouldn’t we be worried? If indeed Atiku earns N30 million a year as earlier claimed, how can he afford to pay a 100,000 people N33,000 a month, fly hundreds of them to Dubai on private planes, etc., and still afford the upkeep of his wives, children, well-wishers, etc.? This economy of largesse where the mathematical equation doesn’t make sense, is part of the reason why our economy is in crisis when Nigeria isn’t awash with oil money, that is whenever the price of oil drops.
We have too many men and women living lives that their official “story” can’t really justify or explain. We also can’t afford to keep employing more political jobbers when the real productive elements of our economy have neither jobs nor prospects in a country where critical industries are comatose. If elections are simply a contest to keep politicians well-fed and merry, Nigerians know who to call.
It all begins with unsubstantiated promises such as reducing fuel price to N90 per litre despite analysts pointing out the landing cost of a liter of refined petrol is N158. On the subject of Atiku’s alleged “intimidation” because security and customs agents “screened” him at the airport, isn’t that due process for all incoming passengers to Nigeria, VIP or not?
Why would a “reformer” reportedly object to his bags being checked: isn’t that routine procedure anywhere in the world, including for ministers, business people etc.? In fact, proper screening is vital in Africa and Asia given how easy it still is for many VIPs to smuggle arms and currency.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.