By Akanimo Sampson
PEOPLES Democratic Party (PDP) presidential aspirant and former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, once declared that the thieves in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are bigger than the ones in the opposition PDP. According to Lamido, ‘’when they say we’re thieves, it is the smaller thieves that remained in the PDP; the bigger thieves are in the APC.’’
The obvious implication of this declaration is that the 2019 presidential race in Nigeria is a battle of political elite and power seekers who take delight in preying on the impoverished citizenry. In zoology, any organism that exists by preying upon other organisms is a predator. With these labels- parasitism and predatism- one can easily posit Nigerian leaders as a consummatory elite. Their looting spree tends to occur in response to a stimulus and that achieves the satisfaction of a specific drive, perpetually keeping their constituents in chains.
The tragedy of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 is perhaps, the lack of ideological content. Party stalwarts easily jump ship regardless of the outward appearances of the parties they are defecting to. Theoretically, the APC for instance, appeared like a party of the progressives with ‘’a little to the left’’. It was quite surprising to see the party open its doors to political elite with questions to answer over the looting of the public till. The PDP, a centrist party with ‘’a little to the right’’ may not have fared better in their plundering regime. But, the exit of the ‘’bigger thieves’’ into the APC is a dent on the Muhammadu Buhari’s messianic toga.
Like Sule Lamido said in an interview with Daily Trust, ‘’anybody who is sane should leave the APC because it is a contraption. They are all coming from their own homes into a rented house and it is collapsing. So, run away before the house falls on your heads. Those who came from the AC, PDP and even Buhari who came from the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) should move out and go back to their homes, because this house is caving in. Nobody is safe in that house.”
Ideologically, Buhari’s CPC had a much better progressive appeal than what is APC today, a party polluted by alleged corrupt politicians and former public functionaries. Three years after sacking the PDP from Aso Rock (Nigeria’s seat of the Presidency) APC has arguably failed to deliver good governance after raising the hope of the electorate. During the 2015 electioneering campaigns, APC literally blackmailed, terrorized and demonised the PDP out of power. After riding on the crest of mass popular support to gain power, the Buhari administration today takes delight in mocking the very element of power (youths) that made them.
Disturbingly, the ‘’thieves’’ battling for Aso Rock in 2019 do not appear to have a common ground yet on the issue of restructuring. For former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a serial presidential aspirant, the agitation for restructuring has placed the country’s unity in a dilemma. He was speaking in Kano in 2017 when he paid a condolence visit to Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje over the death of the Danmasanin Kano, Yusuf Maitama Sule. Atiku claimed that the call for restructuring has placed the country’s unity in a dilemma. He spoke in Kano when he paid a condolence visit to Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje over the death of the Danmasanin Kano, Yusuf Maitama Sule.
Atiku claimed that the demise of Maitama has further dimmed the hope of a united Nigeria, which is currently being threatened. Atiku appears to be a political leader full of inconsistencies. He cut his political tooth under the mentorship of the great Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, on the platform of the defunct Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN). Given the grassroots orientation of the PFN which later metamorphoused into the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), it will not be out of place to situate it as a party of the people. Before his questionable death in government custody, Yar’Adua stood out as a grassroots mobiliser who sought to liberate the down-trodden through the instrumentality of political power. He committed his enormous wealth into pursuing his political cause. The parasitic elite may have known his mission and therefore, conspired to short-circuit his life.
As a political apostle of the Tafida, it is always expected of Atiku to stand on the side of the Nigerian people irrespective of his huge business interest. The detribalised Yar’Adua made it possible for the late M.K.O. Abiola to emerged as the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate. If he did not intervene and endorse Abiola, Babagana Kingibe would have emerged the standard bearer of the SDP. Kingibe dominated the campaign field with his ‘’Nigeria Say Baba’’. As one of the key figures in the SDP Convention in Jos, the Plateau State capital, Atiku by now ought to know that the Nigerian people are yearning for a restructuring programme that will enhance their standard of living, restore their property rights, spark off healthy competition among the federating units, among others. Certainly, their agitation is not aimed at endangering the unity of the country, but to free her from the predatory elite.
Atiku’s chances of making it to Aso Rock in 2019 at the moment are not appearing very bright. But, situations could dramatically change in his favour tomorrow. However, the political machine he inherited from the Tafida is depleted. He needs to bluid a Plan B around the like of Sule Lamido. This former governor of Jigawa has a political past that is well connected with the Talakawas. He was schooled in the emancipation politics of Mallam Aninu Kano. Before October 1, 1960, Lamido and some of his compatriots were in the radical youth wing of the defunct Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) Under the leadership of the legendry Aminu Kano, NEPU was a thorn in the flesh of the conservative Caliphate that was propelling the defunct Northern Peoples Congress (NPC).
Another radical circle in the North then was the Habe Fulani in the Bauchi axis. They had a farmers’ party that affiliated to the socialist Action Group of the iconic Obafemi Awolowo. They formed part of the Action Group delegates to the 1959 London Constitutional Conference. Nigeria is in need of a liberator like Aminu Kano, and Lamido tends to approximate that.
With the worsening situation in Nigeria, it is only a social humanist that is capable of freeing the country from the neo-liberal reform policies of the plundering ruling circles. Their reform policies have resulted in more dispossession of the people from their resources and displacement of communities from their means of livelihood. Whether it is the Boko Haram driven displacement crisis in Northern Nigeria or the Oil curse in Southern Nigeria, the manifest fact is that deregulated commerce is causing more social and ecological destruction in Nigeria.
From the faces of the Nigerian people either in the rural areas or in the margins of the city centres, the ‘liberal’ politics of the coalition conservative circles, is not led by the people. It is corporate led. The current phase began in the 1980s with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposing trade liberalisation and privatisation. This phase was also accelerated from 1995, with the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).
In these 19 years therefore, the liberal democracy of first, the Olusagun Obasanjo and currently Muhammadu Buhari-led conservatives, has locked farmers, the fisherfolks and even some class of workers into more debt. As 2019, the country’s election year approaches, the popular masses across the political blocs are being caught in a dilemma whether to continue with the greed-driven (thieving) liberal policies or to opt for social democracy.
Like their mentor, most apostles of the late Professor Claude Ake, founder of the Port Harcourt-based Centre for Adcanced Social Science (CASS), who died in a plane crash in November 1996, tend to favour social democracy. For them, liberal democracy is incapable of bringing about a distribution of political power away from the predators and in favour of civil society, a re-orientation of public policy away from special interests and towards common interests. This in effect means taking the interests of the subordinate classes as the measure of all things. They are also insisting that liberal democracy cannot bring about accountability of power to those over whom it is exercised as well as effective popular participation in decision making at all levels.
With what have obviously manifested these 19 years, the Ake disciples are convinced that liberal democracy does not pay sufficient attention to welfare rights, collective rights and ethnic groups rights. Before he left this world, Ake had always maintained that democratic content of liberal democracy means essentially consent of the governed, multiparty pluralism, electoral competition and guarantee of rights including equality before the law. “The present reality is that the consent of the governed is now taken rather than given”, he said.
The Ake people also tend to be dogmatic about the relationship between democracy and development. As Prof. Andrew Efemini, of the University of Port Harcourt (UniPort) explained, “a truly democratic state would have the following features present in its polity – accountability, rule of law, predictability, competitiveness, autonomy of the state, and popular power. These features are necessary for realising sustainable development”.
But, could this explain why most of the states and some interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in tangible terms, is yet to make any significant contribution to the development of their areas? For instance, the peoples of the oil region are anxious to see their area transformed into a new Abuja. It is somehow very disturbing that with the “achievements” so far recorded by the governors of the oil states since 1999 and the supposedly enormous resources flowing in, the oil and gas region is still a far cry from Abuja, the metropolitan capital city of Nigeria. Much of the oil revenue from the Niger Delta, went and is still going into the development of Abuja and other parts of the country at the detriment of the oil region. Could this be as a result of the absence of deep-rooted democratic reform?
Perhaps, given the tendencies former President Obasanjo represented and the APC Reform Panel (the Nasir el-Rufai Panel) represents in the issue of the onshore/offshore dichotomy in oil revenue, it might not be entirely out of place for us to submit that the undying struggle of the peoples of the Niger Delta for freedom would lead to failure. In the same vein, because of the oppressive policies of the ruling circles, access to technology, technical assistance, and the lobby for favourable net financial flow to Nigeria would also fail.
Arising from the foregoing, the inference that could be logically drawn is that their neo-liberal policies whether driven by a conservative APC or his ally in the PDP could only lead to a more dependent Nigeria, a country whose worsening dependency situation would lead to more outcry for paternalistic interventions in her affairs.
With our experience of the Ibrahim Babangida years during SAP, the paternalistic prescriptions of international development agencies like the World Bank and the IMF, do not meet the standards and requirements for promoting sustainable development. Surprisingly, the United States has repeatedly told Nigeria and the other developing countries of the world that their economies “must” be open, transparent, dedicated to privatisation, with floating currencies, deficits under control and open to foreign investment. And often, the US used its effective veto in the World Bank and the IMF, to insist that conditions be attached to a deal with the IMF and even to a small loan from the bank.
While Washington DC has been very vociferous that democracy and good governance are vital in running an efficient economy, they have not been telling countries like Nigeria that their country runs huge budget and trade deficits as well as spawns such exemplary companies like Enron and WorldCom. Good enough, the active social formations in Nigeria have since realised that the US is leading a broad alliance of states in the task of pacifying and stabilising a global capitalist economy.
Under the elder George Bush’s vision, the US would be the primary protector of the international market economy and would reap strategic and economic advantages from performing that essential role. The high point of the new world order was the first Persian Gulf war in which a broad coalition led by the US repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The neo-liberal world order dominated by Washington, has produced and is still producing opposing tendencies. There are Islamic revolutionaries like the Boko Haram and their herdsmen wing, reactionary nationalism like Biafra, Oodua Republic etc, the AIDS pandemic, failed states, impoverishment and resource crises like in the Niger Delta.
As the forces of globalisation (free-trade) continue to devastate the Sambisa forest in the North-East axis, the mangrove forests of the Niger Delta and pollute their water sources with oil spills, the question that is begging for an answer as 2019 approaches is, will there be a confrontation between the political foot soldiers of liberal and social democracy?
As a refresher, it should not be forgotten in a hurry that globalisation received its first blow in 1999 at the WTO meetings in Seattle. The Seattle conference was not only disrupted on the streets by protests mounted by a wide spectrum of pro-people groups that had coalesced into an anti-globalisation movement, but inside the meeting halls, participants could not agree on a way forward to further reductions in trade barriers. Since then, international efforts to advance a global capitalist economy seem to have stalled.
Washington appears to be envisioning a world in which the US would spread market democracy and police world capitalism overtly, using its military supremacy to enforce an order that other powers would have to accept because they would have no alternative.
What are the progressives within the APC and the PDP going to offer the rural communities of Nigeria in 2019? Will they for instance, say their health care is non-existent and as such they are going to fix it by completely socialising all health care? Will they be in the creeks/deserts, educating the people, connecting the dots for them?
Some thoughtful liberals at the moment, appear to be generating social consciousness to keep the oil region for instance, from devolving back into the pack of murderous hyenas that was the region’s inclination. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that poorly educated people who have been screwed hard for decades since Oloibiri, are prone to cognitive dissonance. This implies that the authorities should be blamed for all their socio-economic and environmental problems just like what is happening in the North-East.
Since the exit of the military from governance, the repressive ruling circles have been so busy dismantling public educational systems. They seem to be getting away with it because they have no real opposition. even the liberal elements within the conservative fold have not insisted on equal free and universal education for every citizen and yet liberalism is supposed to be about leveling the playing field.
The current political dispensation has shown that we live in a very lopsided country, where some five to 10 per cent of our about 180 million people enjoy around 90 per cent of Nigeria’s income and resources. Many of them seem to be enjoying a standard of living their grandparents could not have dreamt 60 years ago. Millions of Nigerians live on less than a dollar or about N350 a day. In the Niger Delta like in the North, millions do not have access to safe water, hundreds of thousands of their children, especially girls, do not receive basic education. It is a moral issue, perhaps, one of the biggest facing Nigeria today.
But it also seems to be an issue of economics. When power seekers and the political elite see the bright eyed children in the rural communities of the oil and gas region or in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps or on the streets of the cities begging, leaping about and curious about strange faces to their ‘habitat’, do they stop to ask themselves how much intellectual potential that is being lost to the country because of their failure to bring whole regions into touch with basic living standards?
Often, when a major suicide bomb attack or oil spill occurs, public-spirited individuals and agencies, the petroleum industry tends to rally round to mitigate the damage while the oil company concerned, rushes in relief materials to comfort the victims. Yet, on a daily basis, people across Nigeria are dying of the diseases of poverty, such as malnutrition, unsafe childbirth, material, tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS.
It seems there are critical issues that the Nigerian people should examine, before they can come to terms with their future in the context of the 2019 politics. They will have to deal with the on-going pressures to further liberalise the country’s economy, pursue market as against a state dominated economy and the international community’s commitment to genuine democratisation process.
For now, in the weeks ahead, the popular masses, and the organised labour will have to decide on which democratic route they will take to achieve faster development from 2019. The political parties and their electoral candidates will have to present the electorate with broad-based choices. For instance, the parties and their candidates at all levels, would have to offer either liberal or social democracy. The pro-Buhari continuitists will have to convince us why we should continue to support the elder citizen’s resource-dispossessing and means of livelihood-displacing neo-liberal policies which are already widening the gulf between the rich and the poor. The popular peoples of Nigeria will expect the social democrats like the Sule Lamidos to be more articulate, be much more better organised with their social democracy mantra.