The Tyranny of the Elite, By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
June 26, 2014
By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Gov. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state is a thorough-bred elite. He lost an election and conceded defeat.
Now that’s what I call fresh air. He could have done so many things, including going to court or going to war. He could have also grumbled that the masses voted against their own interest. But he didn’t. He probably saw the handwriting on the wall – the era of the tyranny of the elite is over.
From the East to the West and the North to the South, the Nigerian masses are beginning to see that the elite are not motivated to solve their problems but only interested in protecting their privileges. The masses are starting to rise up to demand a new social contract with their society and the leaders. In different ways, some good and some bad, the quest to redefine that fundamental relationship between the masses and the guardians of the state is going on in earnest.
A great deal of what is going on in the North is an effort to make that alteration. The northern elite have structured their society in such a way that the bulk of the benefits of the state come to just a few. The path to upward mobility is restricted to the families and friends of the elite. It was an unsustainable structure. For a long time, the elite in the North have maintained it by channeling the displeasure of the masses to things external. At one time the blame for the plight of the masses was heaped on people from other parts of Nigeria who resided in the North. That flame was stroked again and again. Later, the elite threw in an upgraded Sharia law to the masses as a way to distract them from the failure of the elite to provide opportunities for their people. They made no effort to implement Sharia Law on themselves as they continued to enjoy privileges, while the plight of the masses continued to deteriorate. It sets the stage for the next logical consequence. With the people typically blamed virtually out of the way, the eyes of the masses in the North are beginning to open. They are beginning to see that the children of the elite are not being subjected to the same ideology and deprivation that the rest of the masses have had to endure. The elite enjoy the good things of life: speak French, listen to Beethoven, master algebra, travel abroad and send their children to the best schools in the world while they let the masses wallow in poverty and ignorance. At the heart of some of the crisis in the North is a realization of this dichotomy.
In the South-South, the relationship between the Nigerian state and the region has been a matter of concern. Long history of marginalization and deprivation has created a level of distrust that has not been resolved. The grind of dealing with the aftermath of environmental pollution is a daily reality for the masses. Meanwhile, the elite of the region have been in cohort with the federal government. In the guise of fighting for the masses, they have amassed wealth for themselves and left the masses with nothing. A subculture of militancy has grown out of this. The elite in the South tactically embraced the revolting elements within the wretched poor and incorporated them in a wider effort to feed their perfected ransom-based economic strategy. What the larger masses left out in this scheme will do in years to come will determine the future of the region. The fact does not support the sustenance of today’s structure. The ways things are stacked up now and going by how a similar strategy in the North panned out, it won’t turn out well for the elite in the South and their foot soldiers of today.
In the East, another long history around the relationship between the Igbo and the Nigerian state exists. The wide migration of the Igbo across Nigeria means that when there is a crisis in any part of the country the Igbo are impacted. In interactions with the Nigerian state, the Igbo question immediately becomes glaring. The fact that there is no answer to the question is not lost on the masses of the East. While the elite of this region are doing everything to show that they are the champions of one Nigeria, the masses maintain their doubts based on the daily realities that they confront each day. Because of the Biafran-Nigerian civil war history, the Igbo elite find themselves in a dire situation. One group promotes the naïve idea that being steadfast in compromise will ultimately lead to a benevolent and just Nigeria. The other group who seek the largesse of the Nigerian state must distance themselves from any sympathy for the section of the masses that defaults to the Biafran ideal. By doing so, the elite in the East deprive themselves of the deterrent weapon that the elite from other regions have. For the rest of the masses with business and cultural interests across the country, denial of the shaky nature of the Nigerian state becomes their place of solace. With generational differences and cultural ethos that establish every man as the king of his castle, only a calamity as great as the pogrom of 1966 can bring these competing interests together. More than any other group, the elite in the East have their fortune tied to the fortune of the Nigerian state. It is to their interest that the Nigerian state is reformed to be balanced and fair to all. Events at the federal level can easily leave them vulnerable to charges of betrayal to their own people.
In the West, the relationship between the elite and the masses has been one with the most moderate success. The strategy of the elite is often passed along to the masses in sophisticated ways. And the masses, even when they are in revolt, are guided by a section of the elite. That is the reason the elite hardly criticize groups like the pan-Yoruba group, Odua People’s Congress (OPC). In fact, it is only in the West that a prominent leader of a group like the OPC was nominated to represent the region at the National Conference. No governor in the Eastern part of Nigeria would dare nominate a pro-Biafran leader to the National Conference. One of the natures of politics in the West is a strict resistance to external imposition of leadership on the masses. Such a perception can ruin the fortune of an elite. It appears to be an impending waterloo for Bola Tinubu’s APC’s gravy train. As 2015 comes around the corner and the battleground firmly remains in the West, the elite of the West will again have to make a tough choice. Will they go with their heads or with their hearts? Whatever choice they make, they will have to confront their masses who are good at separating the head from the heart. The success of the West is that it has imbibed a self-correcting feedback system which has saved its society from internal implosion.
The narratives that have been fed to the masses of Nigeria for ages have started to fade. It has always been: “the solution is easy. I’ll deliver.” If the solution is easy why hasn’t it been delivered yet? The masses are refining and redesigning their priorities. It can be said that there is a mini-revolution going on in Nigeria. Beneath the sociopolitical crisis in Nigeria one can find a simmering revolt of the masses. Across the country, this dissent has not been guided or channeled in a way that it will overturn the current sociopolitical order. It still has no shape or direction. But it is there and it is lurking in the dark. Those members of the elite who want to lead the masses tomorrow have to step down from their high horses and follow them. If the masses head towards the ditch, you run in front and redirect them. That’s the nature of the beast that we confront. If you’re an elite and you are not worried yet, it may just be too late for you.
Please correct me if I’m right.