The missing link in the evolution of Nigerian politics in the last fifty years is the Zikist vision of a coherent nation -an economically prosperous and politically sovereign nation driven by a productive and empowered population, particularly a youth population, whose energy would instigate, and translate into what the great Zik termed the “risorgimento” after the great Italian nationalist movement of the 19th century.
The “Risorgimento” – which means “the great rising” or “the new uprising,” was given proper context by the philosopher, Benedetto Croce, as the emergence of new consciousness by which a new spirit captures and grips a nation towards its own renaissance. Azikiwe articulated this spirit of the “risorgimento” in his 1937 book Renascent Africa, and provided the template by which a new nationalist movement must emerge to guide the philosophical and historic liberation of a captive and colonized people.
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For the last fifty years, particularly following the end of Nigeria’s civil war, the nation, Nigeria, was held captive and colonized by a new force, mostly of the reprobate local elite, which has acted as a rentier class that has denuded Nigeria of the kind of economic prosperity that would have launched it to its historical place among the advanced nations of the world from the 20th century. That was the goal of the anti-colonial Nationalist Movement: to launch Nigeria from a colonized nation to one of the great nations of the world in the modern era.That movement and its aspiration was subverted just at the foundations of nation-building by external and internal forces that took over the nation.
National politics devolved into a gross, unwieldly quest for power, not to build the nation, but to amass inordinate wealth at the expense of the vast population of Nigerians.A brief interregnum of politics took place between 1979 and 1983, which was interrupted by a military coup. Nigeria embarked on an endless transition program under the military from 1985 to 1993, and with the truncated results of the June 12, 1993 election, lost an opportunity to rejig the politics of nation. In 1999, a new transition was forced on Nigeria, and a new republic was established with a hurried, very defective constitution.
The 1999 Constitution threw up a lot of political deadweights who have, in the period, and to all intents and purposes, run Nigeria aground. To be clear, in that period from 1999 when a new “civilian” government was installed, Nigeria has been looking for a coherent vision of itself. We have had ethnic dissensions. We have had religious dissensions with the Sharia issue cropping up in the upper North. We have had Boko Haram pushing for the Islamic state, and we have a new Biafran Separatist movement. We have since 2015, under Muhammad Buhari, entered the winter of our economic and cultural life as a nation.
The promises made by Buhari, and his party, the APC in 2015 to rescue Nigeria from the corruption associated with the PDP years turned out to be fickle. Under Buhari and the APC, corruption, incompetence, misgovernance, and poverty have quadrupled and unleashed apocalyptic conditions in Nigeria. Time has come once again, for parties to joust for power, and replace Buhari after his eight miserable years of blistering incompetence. The results of the presidential primaries, with all the vote-buying, and the dollar-fare that went on, disillusioned Nigerians and gave them an accurate picture of the bazaar called national party politics.
While millions of Nigerians were shouldering the weight of mind-bending poverty; businesses collapsing for lack of access to credit; and Nigerian students on forced extended break because of the strike of University faculty, these political parties and their aspirants to political office were spreading money – Naira and the US Dollars – like confetti to party delegates. It was both disheartening and disgusting to watch. But that is where Peter Obi took a swerve, and turned the tide definitively. He exited the PDP – the political platform on which he originally sought his presidential ticket. A week to the PDP Convention, he resigned from the party on principles – on the premise that he would not participate in a highly corrupt, compromised, and commodified political circus. He joined the Nigerian Labour Party, and went with him, the momentum he had built campaigning in the PDP.
Peter Obi’s momentum is revealing a very old tactical secret: it is appropriating all the methods which Dr. Azikiwe proposed and used as the means towards creating a nationalist political agenda. Peter Obi is adopting, even without saying so, Zikism, as the means to national rebirth. His campaign is deliberately pan-Nigerian. He has not staged his claim to the presidency on the idea of an “Igbo presidency,” but on the principles of a Nationalist Renewal contained in the original aim of Azikiwe’s National Renewal Group of 1944, which sought to create a large platform and an alliance of grassroots organizations, interfaith groups; civil society movements; and unified with the Labour Movement, then under the leadership of Michael Imoudu.
For the first time a massively, even loosely organized force, came together to confront the colonial establishment. This alliance with the Nigerian Labour Movement is therefore not accidental. It is strategic and it is historical. It is therefore incumbent on the Peter Obi Campaign to go look for the documents of the NCNC, dust it up, retrofit and adapt its salient goals, since it was a product itself of the union with the Nigerian Labour Movement. The Movement which Peter Obi currently leads seems ready to create that new Nationalist juggernaut that will confront a decadent neo-colonial elite which has become too self-confident, too bellicose; too self-regarding, and too embedded in the self-serving corruption that has doomed the Nigerian project.
Another key secret is that Peter Obi has also recognized, just as Zik did in 1937 in his Renascent Africa, that the salvation of the continent will depend on the rise of the African youth – those whom he called the “New African,” who must be empowered, prepared, and directed to unleash their enormous talent and energy in the revindication of the new African society in the modern era. This is the essential key of Obi’s appeal to the Youth. Peter Obi has recognized that the future lies with the youth, and the Nigeria youth now drives the Peter Obi campaign, just as the youths of the bygone era drove the Azikiwe campaign, and even formed the Zikist Movement, as the militant arm of the political movement which Azikiwe led.
The new movement under Obi has also seen the value of new media: it is today utilizing the most modern media system in the world to spread its message just as Azikiwe did in his time. The new online platforms of the so-called “Social Media” is the equivalent today of the Zik network of newspapers that spread from Ibadan to Warri to Kano, to Uyo, to Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Onitsha and with the motherlode paper of the Nationalist movement called the West African Pilot in Lagos.
The new generation is a natural indigene of the digital world, and have learnt to organize and communicate digitally. Much as Zik did with the papers, this broad Media network is spreading the idea of a Nigerian rather than a narrow ethnic movement, and building bridges, and forcing intense inter and intra-generational conversations outside of the modular spaces currently occupied by the increasingly flat-footed competition. This is one of the lessons Peter Obi has learnt from Zikism: communicate directly to the people; stand with them; jell with the common flow, and do not talk down on the people. Give them a message of hope and possibility. Show the light and the people will find their way. Embody the moral and missionary weight of National Renewal, and live with integrity.
Obi’s movement is also standing on the five cardinal principles of Zikism: what he describes as taking Nigeria from a state of “consumption to production”is what Zik encapsulated as “Economic Determinism.” Just as is the promise for Social Regeneration; Political Resurgence; Mental Freedom, and Spiritual Balance. The last particularly calls for tolerance and broad-mindedness against any particularisms. Peter Obi’s calls on his supporters to adhere to the principles of toleration harkens exactly back to the Zikist idea.
Spiritual balance also encapsulates the other principle of patience, which Zik himself pared down to recognizable language as : “Suru-Lere.” It advocates for decency in national conversations, and political disputations. As Zik once put it: “You Speak, I listen. You listen, I speak.” It is the rhetorical strategy of enlightened politics, and Peter Obi has absorbed these too. I think one final aspect, which needs to be touched on, and which many have not fully recognized is the key advantage that Peter Obi has over his opponents. He is Philosophically trained. As Azikiwe himself put it, one of his great advantages over his peers was that while most in his generation went to study Law and Medicine, he was superbly educated in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Anthropology – the Humane letters – by which enlightened public leadership is trained. Philosophy is the field through which high consciousness is attained. Peter Obi studied Philosophy at the University of Nigeria, the school Zik himself founded, and under philosophers like the renowned Philosopher of Systems, Innocent Onyewuenyi and theorist of ideas, Eze Ezenta, among others.
The impact of this must be osmotic and humongous in shaping Obi’s current trajectory and the nature of his evolving politics of ideas.