Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (3)
Undeniably, the expectation on Nigeria as a new country in 1960 was high, even among the European imperialists who plotted its strategic downfall, which plummeted the economic blueprint on which it was meant to embark on a journey of revitalization. In 1960, it was not hard to sight the prospect of a country that, despite all contradictions and strives, invested in human capital development to ensure that its people take on the baton of good governance to a height where nearly all other countries on the continent would have derived their encouragement, drive, and motivation to see a common direction for the journey toward true and absolute freedom. Countries that had bubbling intellectuals and ideological strongholds were very concerned about redefining their political future, rescuing it from the claws of the consuming ambitions of the supremacists, and redirecting it to the desired point where it would maximize all the potential with which it was naturally endowed. To achieve this, people endured a series of outrageous experiences, ranging from being battered by the European establishment to being mesmerized by their antics of political brigandage. Therefore, it was understandable that the hope placed on the country was high, and sixty years of existence has shown the country’s tragic situation resulting from various experiences of internal contradictions.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim is not a scholar whose intention is hard to spot. His intellectual disposition does not allow for such romanticism, especially when the public interest is at stake. He asked, mildly and straightforwardly, what dampened or deepened Nigeria’s woes to the extent that the goals and objectives collectively dreamed about in the 1960s became orphans with the dim possibility of success in the nearest future. This question had a deeper meaning than just interrogating the interviewee about the times and timelines when the collective aspirations of the country began to suffer untold consequences. Instead, it was an attempt to reflect on why the elites, especially the political elites, gave in to their provincial intentions, allowing the pressure to distract them from planting the country’s feet into a solid foundation where the future generations would have been able to continue in the manner that developed countries in the world today experience. This was necessary because it is considered that without understanding the fundamental challenges or knowing the foundation of problems, no amount of ideological baptism in socialism or people-oriented values will make a country pursue any development, no matter how small.
Professor Jega truly understood the import of the question, and from his immediate evaluation of the situation, the first thing that occurred to him was the mismanagement of opportunities. It is generally believed that no matter how impoverished a country is in human capital index or resources capacity, there is always an opportunity to rise if there is a true desire for transformation. In many cases, this transformation would begin with an investment in human resources because the first place where victory is usually promised to a people is their mind, and when that mind is poor and deficient, it is almost impossible for them to actualize the collective aspirations, even if it is just to breathe. This means that a country devoid of intellectual content or the human resources that come from it would lag behind others who invest in refining their crude human potential. The divestment of Nigerian politicians in human resources makes them mismanage available opportunities because they think of their provincial ambitions when the national dream should have been the only thing on their minds. However, the mistake of opportunity mismanagement was an inherited one. The colonial imperialists operated on the philosophy of divide and conquer to establish themselves fully in the country. Instead of deconstructing this dysfunctional system, the inheritors of the political system embraced it. Where they should have invested in the collective development of the country, their ethnocentric suspicion swerved them away.
Surprisingly, the mismanagement of diversity would not be the only elephantiac impediment that distracted the political merchants from their nationalist focus and installed mercantile socioeconomic and socio-political visions in them, which served their parochial ambitions. Assuredly, a level of practical happiness seized the political system of the country when the men in uniform took power, and because they came with the intention to instantiate changes, they were seen as vanguards who would redirect the country on the appropriate trajectory of progress through a transparent process. However, nothing of significant importance happened as they continued in that trend. Therefore, it would go to the level of thinking that the country’s problem was congenital, if not genetic, as the very improvements that all well-meaning Nigerians dreamed of were unceremoniously dashed again despite the reintroduction of democracy in 1999 in the Fourth Republic. The ones in the toga of fairness, whose political philosophy is naturally expected to be built on the foundation of people-oriented ideas, inherited the dogma, and their intellectual poverty was further revealed for the world to see.
Between the early inheritors of independence from the British government to their military representatives who took power from them by force and the ones that ascended the political power through elections starting from 1999, it is difficult to identify which one is more ethnocentric. The problem appears to be generational. Perhaps because of this wanton concentration on ethnic competition at every opportunity to serve in government, the space for nursing or incubating ideas in the heads of the average Nigerian leaders is occupied by a different thing, its devaluation to the country notwithstanding. And since ideas are the conceptual instruments of invigorating institutions and instigating every form of change that is seen in any civilization, their absence would inevitably result in a period of political interregnum, not necessarily in the sense that representatives in various positions of power would be absent, but in the sense that they would be there and yet would have no measurable importance or impact.
As Professor Jega implied, this is Nigeria’s situation. The absence of intellectual virility combined with a hallucinating sense of ethnic affiliation or commitment that rid leaders or any other individual of having the capacity to attend to issues of national concerns. The survival of conflicts, accumulation of violence, perpetual overstretching of institutions, increased productions of unemployable people, the astronomic explosion of inter-political greed, among others, are surviving evidence that Nigeria’s political system is not going anywhere. While these factors constitute a problem, they are a product of intellectual emptiness that has infiltrated the political fabric. Now the problem is multifaceted. Individuals who see opportunities to join politics in Nigeria either want to continue the trend or keep the system stagnant, thereby making progress difficult.
READ ALSO: What Is Our Understanding Of Modern Nigeria? – Reflections On A Book Presentation
Attahiru Jega is rather a positive vibe in himself. He has graduated from being a member of the public who rants about their existential challenges and whines about them from the beginning to the end of the day. Rather, as he identifies challenges, you can be sure that he already has a potential solution that, if tried, would yield desirable results. He noted that all said problems are devastating when considered intimately but that reforming institutions is one of the ways to relieve the people of the pains they have created. However, he highlighted that the idea of reforming institutions is a great one if the individuals who would head these institutions are mentally refined. No matter how beautifully reformed an institution is, when it is headed by individuals whose moral outlook is internally rotten, the results of such a setting would eventually be poisonous to its growth. Therefore, what is required to achieve this is the development of what the Professor called elite consensus. If considered very carefully, having a common vision for the country, especially among the intellectual and political elite, will naturally push them to design an effective framework for building a formidable political culture that would be the envy of the world.
While we would later address the culture of primitive accumulation of material possessions that result in broad corruption in the Nigerian socio-cultural trajectory, Professor Ibrahim seemed to have a more pressing issue that we must attend to. He raised the question of ideological suicide, or maybe evasion, which has permeated the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari and that Nigerians are currently expressing. From the earlier arguments raised by the guest, Professor Jega, he asserted that the emergence of the military personnel in the period gave the masses some hope. They believed the uniformed leaders would come with ideological clarity as vanguard military. Such a dream of self-reliance, which coincidentally was shared by General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 when he was the country’s military ruler, has departed from him, raising a genuine alert to the public about its implication on the country’s development. Buhari, in 1984, believed in self-reliance, and his ideological framework showed he was not interested in subsuming the country’s political and economic freedom under the perpetual dictations of the West. However, barely 35 years later, the man is going down perhaps as one of the presidents that borrowed the most money, this time from the Chinese government. So, what has happened? The question arises.
Amusingly, the question is not the only thing that arose. A dry sense of humour naturally forces one to smile or laugh hysterically. And the reasons for this are not foreign; they are things on which we can reflect. President Buhari is a septuagenarian, and one would not be mistaken to say that the brighter side of Nigeria, if it comes fast enough, will not enjoy much of his presence. If the good future we all envision and intensely await does not come at the speed we desire, it cannot be contested that he would not be there to suffer any of the consequences of his input. In essence, Nigerians need to be worried, especially because of Buhari’s ideological suicide from someone who did not believe in borrowing about thirty-five years ago to someone who now seeks financial aid to pay salary, service debts, and fulfil recurrent expenditure demands, among other things, from China. Ironically, China was not significantly better off than Nigeria in 1960 when the latter gained independence.
As a result, it leaves so much to be reflected on when there is an omen of a bad future, as it appears that the future of the younger generations is being mortgaged by the actions of this man and his administrative crew. Borrowing is not necessarily bad, but it becomes an issue when it reaches the stage when repayment becomes difficult, if not logically impossible. Such reasoning is very difficult to fault, even Professor Jega concedes, not because its undebatable foundation stares at everyone in the face, but because the consequences are already being felt.
READ ALSO: Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future
The problem is challenging, the future is gloomy, and the situation becomes direr as we continue to underplay how insincerity could become the basis of facilitating a deepening dysfunctional system. According to Professor Jega, while the culture of borrowing, which has now been entrenched in the political philosophy of President Buhari’s administration, the fact that it is circumscribed with insincere intentions gives valid reasons for the palpitations of the public’s hearts, especially for those of us who can tell the future using current events as an instrument of prediction.
Nigerians are cornered to believe that the habitual borrowing by the current administration is meant for the redemption of the economy, perhaps because of the conversion of the monies into infrastructural projects that would bring economic growth. However, the public is oblivious of the fact that the amounts of money spent on these projects are disproportionately inflated. Roads within walkable kilometres are said to be constructed with a huge amount of money more than what is spent to build longer and more durable ones in nearest African countries. When confronted with all these facts and realities, it is logical to conclude that the borrowing in which Nigeria has entangled itself in recent history has no iota of visionary reflection. Borrowing from China will have devastating consequences, especially when there are no rational means of paying back.
When President Olusegun Obasanjo lobbied in the international community to have Nigeria’s debts forgiven, he was dealing with multilateral organizations that operated on democratic culture and diplomatic tendencies. However, China does not operate on such a philosophical framework, making it more difficult for Nigeria to escape the commitment their perpetual borrowing has forced them to make. It is not difficult to spot China’s unforgiving attitude toward its debtors, considering that it has begun to take over the infrastructures in some African countries that were built with its unrepaid monies. So, it is sensible to desist from the culture of borrowing, especially from countries that would not mind dragging the integrity of the borrower country as a result of its leaders’ blindness. Also, it is forward-looking to consider internal solutions to the myriad of challenges that are facing the said country.
Again, Jega does not identify a problem without having at least a solution in mind. He asserts that the awareness of the potential consequences of borrowing by those who understand international politics and dynamics of power relations should motivate people to mobilise actions by the people. In other words, he believes that people should not fold their arms and stand aloof from governance because the responsibility of administration lies too on the citizens, only that their angle of functioning requires them to continually engage the masses and speak truth to power. People should not withdraw from the country’s political activities, feigning ignorance of what is happening or hiding behind the guise of not being in government.
The consequences of bad leadership, Jega argues, are not partisan, and neither do they respect political boundaries. Everyone would witness the repulsive consequences of irresponsible leadership they have installed, including those who made the political decisions that brought people to this raging condition and those whose silence is an accomplice to their evil perpetrations. To make the country come back to its appropriate position and rejuvenate the spirit of nationalism needed for the crystallization of collective dreams, we need a radical shift from the mindset that brought us to this condition in the first instance.
The interviewer, Jibrin Ibrahim, is aware that the prospect for the country’s economic redemption does not lie on relying on a single economic source, as Nigeria has done with crude oil since the time it was discovered. Much of our revolutionary transformations would depend on diversification; after all, many countries do not have crude oil, yet they are doing exceptionally well in their own right. In essence, he asked Professor Jega his thoughts about investing in agricultural productions as an alternative source of financial oxygen and which would bring stability to their engagements and all other things. Our guest addressed the question with a good sense of intellectual control. Among other things, he said that there is the need to have a developmental strategy that recognizes the rural nature of Nigerian society. This is principally necessary because it needs to generate a large number of economic values. However, this would be preceded by land reform, modernization of agricultural productions and engagements, and mechanized farming development. All these are important preconditions to be met before the country can be free from its overbearing reliance and compulsive dependence on the mono-economic source, which usually has unwholesome consequences for the country and its citizens.
The conversation between the two erudite professors, Professor Attahiru Jega and Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, was dominated by an evaluation of the Nigerian situation and how it has continued to be a source of worry to the people within the country and those in the diaspora. Indisputably, a level of emotional torture is experienced by anyone who believes that Nigeria should have gotten to or attained a level of greatness that would serve as the benchmark for measuring standard countries, considering the economic and political potential it has from the beginning of its very identity, after independence. People who understand all these and still realise that there are no prospects of salvation and development would never be condemned when they doubt the country’s future, mainly because they know that it could be generally impossible given current circumstances.
In conclusion, both the interviewer and the interviewee agreed that there is a need for the people in the corridor of power to be more open-minded. Nigerians must aggressively pursue the development agenda so that their conditions would not be aggravated by the decisions that they make today due to their selfish ambitions. It is difficult to deny that the country has the potential to become a shining light on the continent, but this can only happen if there is a clear-cut roadmap that will help the people navigate their way as they move forward. Without this, the dream of becoming the giant of Africa would be a mere fantasy.
This is the second report on the interview with Professor Attahiru Jega on December 12, 2021. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, exposes Nigeria in all of its ugliness while also offering a path out of the present predicament. This report covers the segment between Jega and Ibrahim. For the transcripts, see: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlwZfh5Ynh8 Facebook: https://fb.watch/9S6PBuNg0l/.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
Read more authentic news on our social media platforms
Interview With Beautiful Nubia
Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).
Sunday, March 19, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 11:00 AM Austin CST
Join via Zoom:
Watch on Facebook:
Watch on YouTube:
Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
READ ALSO: Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
NEW TIMES CULTURE
Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric
BREAKING: PDP Crisis Worsens As Chairman Ayu Steps Aside, Deputy Takes Over
NLC Directs Officials To Monitor Banks Over Cash Scarcity
Why GOFAMINT General Overseer Demoted His Deputy
BREAKING: UK Suspends Work, Study, Family Visas For Nigerians Over Ukraine War
BREAKING: First Nigerian Female Vice Chancellor Alele-Williams Is Dead
Opinion5 days ago
Opinion2 days ago
Unending Passion For Reform: A Peep Into My Memoir And The Future Of Nigeria
Opinion2 days ago
The Unending Quest For Reform – Tunji Olaopa’s Intellectual Memoir: A Commentary
Opinion2 days ago
A Savage Outing In The Name Of Electioneering
Opinion2 days ago
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir