THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (2)
Nigeria has been dubbed the giant of Africa for many reasons, most of which are not politically valid. Although there is a history to this phenomenal label, the tide of values that Nigeria generates has considerably waned to the point where one would question the political correctness of the expression that the country is the giant of Africa and the benefit the imagined giant adds to the continent. In the 1970s, when the country reached its peak in global economic growth and financial prosperity, it performed the roles of a “Big Brother,” providing money and human personnel to some African countries with weaker social and political strength to confront their existential challenges, and in some places, gave financial support to the ones suffering from the brutal hands of poverty. During this period, many countries in the continent benefited from the nation’s generosity, and it was understandable why it was tagged the giant of Africa. Many people have often questioned the logicality of this appellation, apparently because there was no official declaration from other countries to honour Nigeria for the saviour roles that it played during this period. Of course, this conclusion is not illogical, but when we are a people guided by ubiquitous yet unpronounced philosophy, it is not out of line to think or assume that a person who does great things is automatically accorded that social honour.
Fast-forward the period to about 40 years later, the declination of the country’s moral value and political importance is not only unprecedented but also so phenomenal that any attachment of giant strides to it is either a mere nostalgic ululation of its past or empty rhetoric meant to give the people and its figurehead government a false sense of superiority. This is not an attempt to disparage the people at the helm of Nigeria’s political affairs in the last 40 years but to interpret what they do in the offices and reach a solid conclusion. Any government that does not understand how to solve its security problems for more than 60 years of independence cannot be considered to know where it is headed because it does not even remotely appear like it has a blueprint. In essence, it would be a figurehead regardless of the physical size of the heads of their political representatives. Any nation that does not understand that education is the path to its future and has refused to spend a huge part of its budgetary allocation on it because of its ignorance of its cardinality to its development will not produce state-of-the-art thinkers. It would, therefore, not matter if the representatives are a group of professors; they will still be seen as figureheads.
It is because some people have understudied the patterns of Nigeria’s progress, and like many others who can predict the future from the content of the present, concluded that the country’s tomorrow is bleaker than the history of yesterday that they decide to consider taking a drastic approach to fixing their existential challenges. As a result, some have called for a revolution, others have called for secession, and some for devolution of power, all of which would bring substantial progress to the country if given careful and thoughtful attention. Asking why Nigeria cannot function like smaller countries such as Switzerland, Singapore, and many others was intended to reflect on the profound agitations of some concerned people who believe that the country’s potential is not tied to its large population but how they can effectively manage their resources. The importance of seeing the country from this perspective is to ensure an extraordinary step is taken to redeem the country in the political, economic, social, and philosophical sense. Nigeria, till now, does not have a working philosophy, a unique political culture, and no one can confidently say it has a national identity that can motivate its people to dedicate their strength and efforts to its transformation. Anyone feigning dedication to Nigeria in modern times is either seeking an opportunity to inflict maximum damage on the country by looting it at any chance or is doing so because the country is a source of their financial oxygen.
Professor Attahiru Jega stands firm on his position that greatness associated with countries is not a measure of their population or size. Countries could do good or bad irrespective of their size if the governance process is arranged so that the structures and institutions could address the fundamental problems confronting the country. However, he agreed that many countries that do well achieve that success predominantly because of their management abilities; it is also evident that some countries are bigger than Nigeria and are equally successful and well-organized. However, he addresses the important issue of the country’s ability to use or manage diversity, which has been its fundamental problem, leading sceptics to believe that the country’s problem is its large population. Nigerian leaders have shown a surprising deficiency in the management of diversity. They have moved so badly on this path that they are almost installing a culture of management sterility.
Anyone familiar with psychoanalysis would not claim to be a stranger to the concept of defence, a term used to designate activities or behaviour that make people run away from things that can potentially overwhelm them when they remember. In essence, Nigerian leaders use defence as a strategy to escape the reality of their emptiness. Religion and ethnicity are the two most effective cards that the serially useless political leaders play to deflect the attention of the masses and cover their ineptitude. A Nigerian leader would award a contract to cronies, increase the financial commitment in electromagnetic proportion, eventually do a shoddy and low-quality job to siphon the government funds intended for the project, and then play the ethnic card when public accountability comes to play. Ironically, there is a pool of members of their ethnic group wallowing in abject poverty and swimming in the pool of wretchedness, who have not caught their attention in any meaningful way. However, immediately this group of detached fellows hear that their roguish kinsmen are being questioned for their roles in fraud, they will constitute a formidable group to “save” their own. The poor defending the rich, a comedy on tragedy. They are not to be blamed. They are helpless because they are victims of the evil machinations of the Nigerian political jobbers who have perfected the art of tricking them persistently. So, governance issues and diversity management do not record a good performance from the Nigerian political representatives. Therefore, it reveals the reason for their phenomenal declination in the community of nations in the world and their eventual loss of self-respect. To this extent, the ones calling for separation, devolution, and revolution are not wrong within the context of their very agitations.
Many people have concluded that Nigeria is a welfare country that depends on a single resource, especially since crude oil discovery in the Niger-Delta region. This mono-economic mentality has necessitated Nigeria’s intellectual and political paralysis and tempted many observers to believe that the government itself has no business with the issues of development as one may have fantasized about. Professor Attahiru Jega, however, believes that the misappropriation of the fund generated is evidence of leadership dysfunctionality in the first place. Money and power are a bad mixture, especially in the hands of short-sighted ones who cannot peep into their future by looking at today’s actions. Money provides them with the luxury that intoxicates them to misbehave and momentarily forget the future they once dreamed about, and power blinds them from taking mentally applaudable steps that would transform the people and launch the whole community into a different enviable height. There are sufficient examples of irresponsible leadership with irreparable attitudes to lead virtually across all stages of representation in the country, and this explains why it is usually very quick for the people in the global North to pointedly identify countries in Africa as examples of regression, backwardness, and stagnation, and the reason is not racist.
Nigeria is crippled because of its leaders’ blindness, and the states and regions, which would have been doing exceptionally brilliant, depending on the federal government for revenues. The states that have abundant human and natural resources in parts of the country would have to wait for the federal government to survive, month in, month out. Regrettably, the region that provides the resources and the income that Nigeria generates is abandoned and uncatered for. It is devastated and oozing out the liquid of misery and anguish, suffering agonizing pains from the scars of degradation and unearthing its geographical landscape to get the resources that feed the country. That part of the country would have been strong if its resources were well spent and it was not mandated to survive only through its dependence on the federal government. Therefore, it is apparent that the narcissistic leadership style of those piloting the country’s affairs is to be blamed for sterilising the country’s power and might. When the Nigerian government pretends to carry out projects, it just must have been extremely and unjustly overfed from the nefarious ambitions of the disproportionate allocation of funds to itself.
Professor Olorode has been exceptionally grounded in the country’s affairs, an intellectual position he has attained through years of dedicated services and experience. He probed Professor Attahiru Jega in manners that revealed his philosophically profound ways. He introduced himself by recounting the numerous brave and selfless efforts that Jega has made towards the redefinition of the country at different fora. In addition, he explained that the trajectory of Jega’s socio-political importance is evident in his gravitational pull in the country’s politics, where he began as a partisan ideologue who believed in the entire and effective redemption of the country and snatching it away from the claws of the mercantile political jobbers who have no good intentions with leadership. From this position, Jega moved to being an umpire in deciding an important fate in Nigeria’s history as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and today he is back to the corridor of power, serving in different positions and offering his intellectual contributions to the advancement of the country. Jega is loaded with intellectual resources, and because he is often found in the corridor of power recently, several opinions have been raised to interrogate his involvements. Some class of people see that as the effort of the political class to incorporate him, but it is important to know if his decision to participate is a private one or for the actualization of collective dreams.
From Professor Jega’s responses, one would notice that the academics in the country find themselves in a very challenging and tempting situation because of their human capital and resources. They are aware that the political class in the country is essentially a deficit of ideas and that the only thing that mattered to them is the accumulation of wealth and the soiling of the people’s name in the process. Therefore, the situation is tempting to the extent that when they are called to serve in national positions, it is most likely that such is a bait to soil their name or provide an avenue for them to prove their intelligence, that latter of which is usually rare. Jega has truly participated in the project of advancing the country, and his positions hold experienced brilliant and revolutionary ideas that transform the areas where he is asked to serve. He has crisscrossed different spheres of influence, serving as a radical opponent of irresponsible leadership through his ideological commitment, and representing in some of the political roles where he had to act in line with the dictates of the government. His desire for a better Nigeria singles him out, and this has served as the basis for all his engagements and involvement in every position he finds himself in.
The former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University and the 4th Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission remains a liberal-minded individual who believes that isolationist behaviour would have no desirable outcomes on the polity, especially as the ones in control of it are not ideologically ready to change their ways. As such, sitting on the fence in matters of national significance and urgency would not particularly bring meaningful development. Subsequently, Professor Jega said he functioned either as an academic staff union leader or as an executive member of INEC and in other notable national positions, not by compromising his philosophical commitment to socialist and masses-oriented development goals. He has a good record of having continued in the path of his vision by adding value to institutions whenever he is provided with the opportunity to serve. He argues that his focus has been to add values to the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian citizens over whom the duty of transformation of the country is meant to be shown. Damage mitigation and post-traumatic effects management have been his cardinal job in the country, where he offers his contributions to reduce the damage that the selfish political leaders have caused. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government, like many others in Africa, have chosen to be immune to the decibel of the people’s voices and agitations, continuing on their path of irresponsible leadership without remorse.
Professor Olorode pointed out that some people’s decision to remain on the sideline is informed by the understanding that the Nigerian government is circumscribed by unfaithful leaders who have made strenuous efforts to sterilize the systems and institutions built to enhance crucial development in the country. He lamented that the institution in charge of elections in the country, for example, is relegated and deprived of the statutory power to make all the vital decisions that would affect the country’s electoral process. For instance, how would the country’s INEC not influence how electoral candidates spend their money or what amount of money each candidate vying for political office may spend? All inadequacies help install irresponsible leadership because it creates a dysfunctional system in the process. The candidate who can spend almost recklessly would have nothing special to offer the country since their primary intention is to recoup the money they spent in the course of soliciting the people’s support and goodwill. In essence, representation is commodified, and the assignment of quality representation remains unrealistic in the process. These measures frustrate the ideologically consistent Nigerians (or people) who seek to lend their intellectual excellence to the country’s advancement. Thus, there cannot but be some “fencists” who would arise because of this dysfunctional system and behaviour.
Meanwhile, the political class does not coordinate a country’s political system exclusively; the academic elites have numerous contributions they are naturally meant to make. Such public responsibility, however, has been systematically jettisoned by the academic community in the toga of National Universities Commission (NUC), who, in many cases, compromise on the sound principles of quality representation and have been too loose to accommodate otherwise inimical interests that would potentially jeopardize the interest of the common people. This knowledge mandated the question from Professor Olorode about Professor Jega’s position concerning the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who has refused to be consistent with the ideological convictions that brought about their creation in the first instance. Professor Attahiru Jega kept his cerebral energy flowing as he took on the question. He maintained his confidence that the gradual reduction in ASUU’s values and focus is inextricably linked to their departure from the ideological ideas that led to their formation. They have swerved from this fundamental trajectory, causing them to decelerate in great proportion. Without coming back to their initial objectives, they may continue in that way to the disadvantage of the whole populace.
The interaction between Professor Olorode and Professor Jega was energetic and educative. Through Jega, we learned that the value reduction associated with many institutions in the country, including but not limited to ASUU, is traceable to the inherent weakness of those who represent the public interest in the places where they are expected to function. Therefore, the fact remains that the idea of being ideologically weak exposes individuals to the temptations and pressures that come from the political class seeking people’s compromise. When they are not steadfast in their principles, they would most predictably have their ideological convictions crushed by those who have successfully traded theirs for monetary gains.
This is the first 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 Olorode. For the transcript, 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.
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Don’t Rule Out Possibility Of Military Coups In Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Others – Panelists Warn
Want Medicines, Food Blockage In Niger Lifted
African governments have been warned of the possibility of being upset by military coups similar to the ones that have taken place in some countries on the continent.
The warning came from some panelists at a session of the Toyin Falola Interviews entitled “Coups in Africa: Geo-Politics, Legitimacies, and Resource Management” which was held on Sunday.
At the virtual session which was organised by Prof. Toyin Falola, the panelists spoke on the problems of governance in Africa and how to stop military coups from occurring in African countries that are not already being ruled by military coupists.
The panelists included King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo.
They warned that it is an illusion to think that the recent military coups in Niger, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea will be the last ones in Africa.
The panelists raised the alarm that as long as the practices of democracy in Africa are plagued by Western influences and corruption that results in the impoverishment of the citizens, the military will always find excuses to make incursions into governance.
They also warned that countries where their leaders arbitrarily change their constitutions so that they can have third or fourth terms instead of two terms are prone to military takeovers.
The panelists also expressed the need to exercise caution in unleashing sanctions on Niger Republic because of the military coup.
They urged that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) , the African Union (AU) and political leaders in Africa should have a common template for defining coups.
According to them, there are military coups just as there are civilian coups. Thus, to them, if military coups are sanctioned, civilian coups which are fomented through the rigging of electoral processes should also be sanctioned.
They urged that ECOWAS, AU and political leaders in Africa should have a better way of sanctioning military coupists and their governments. They urged that the blockage of medicines and food in Niger Republic should be lifted since it is the masses and vulnerable people who are the worst hit by such a sanction.
Coups In Africa: Historical Antecedents, Root Causes, And The Systemic Way Out
By Toyin Falola
Military coup — and its sister-act, usurpation — have existed for centuries. Seventeenth-century England had its fair share of attempted and successful military coups. Eighteenth-century France suffered military coups. Even the eighteenth-century Oyo Empire, despite the ingenious move of having the war generals — Are — lived in a city far away from Oyo-Ile to avoid usurpations, still suffered deposition and military coups at the hands of Basorun Gaa. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, several countries of the world faced at least one attempted or successful military coup, from Asia to Europe to Africa. However, military coups have either fully become non-existent or significantly subsided worldwide, except in Africa, where there has been a fresh batch of military takeovers.
Truly, military coups have historically served several purposes. First, they have been an integral part of the growth and evolution of several countries of the world. Humans, by design, are curious experimenters. Therefore, it is only expected that several countries would have attempted military coups and the subsequent military rule that resulted from such coups as an alternative to the type of government they were practicing.
At its basest form, the motivating factor for military coups is a simple attempt to try something new, to see if there is a better alternative to how the country is being run. For this, military coups have served as the beginning of a learning curve for several countries, many of which have adjusted to find a system that works for them and will help them thrive — China finding solace in a communist dictatorship, the United Kingdom has opted for a constitutional monarchy, and for France, it is a semi-presidential government. These countries have gone through the proverbial fire of military disruptions and rules to become what they are today.
Furthermore, military coups result from a failing or failed system of government. Historically, military coups happen in countries experiencing turbulence — whether the turbulence results from a leader clenching on to power at the country’s detriment or widespread corruption running aground. We have also seen cases of coups due to the high-handedness and excesses of those in power. For every country that has experienced a coup, there is a backstory of oppression, corruption, dictatorship, stagnancy, and the suffering of citizens.
Africa is not the only place in the world where coups have happened. But Africa is currently home to the highest number of countries with recent military coups and takeovers. When the rest of the world aims for advancement and development, Africa is battling recurrent news of military coups and takeovers. There is something fundamentally wrong on the continent. While it is not out of place to blame the role colonization — and its resultant mambo-jumbling of people of differing races, cultures, and approaches — played in the disruption of the continent, it is important to note that Africa is not the only home of former colonies. India has never for once experienced a military coup. That is not to say India is perfect, but India is growing, evolving and learning.
Military coups have registered themselves as the transitional bridge in African politics. The poor leadership, country-wrecking corruption, mass abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, constitution, and citizens contribute massively to the military’s self-justification of military coups in these African countries. Ironically, the military that has often positioned itself as the restorer of law and order and the savior of the people is also notorious for committing the same or far worse offenses and abuse of power during their regimes. In West Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo experienced their first military coup less than 10 years after their independence. That speaks more to a fundamental problem or mentality that transcends political failure.
In Africa — especially with the recent military coups — there is more to it than military intervention. These coups and usurpation of power are beginning to look like the countries’ way of taking a stance devoid of the perceived cowardice of the deposed democratic leaders. There is a pattern to the military coups that have happened recently in Africa, as they have mostly been in countries that are former colonies of France.
Although it is being said that the days of colonization are far behind, there are indications of not-so-subtle neocolonialism by France within its former colonies, often aided by the French-state-backed elected leaders of those former colonies. In exchange for the pleasures of the French soil — akin to the resultant effect of the notorious model of assimilation and association — the leaders of these Francophone African states curry for the grace and favor of the French state, at the detriment of their countries and citizens.
There is also the hefty price for independence tied to the ridiculous agreements the French state has reached with its former colonies, including the enormous amount remitted to France annually for the use of the Francs CFA, the widespread exploitation of Nigeriens through mining done by French-state-backed Orano’s Somair, and the over-dependence of resources-rich Francophone African states on France are some reasons for these patterned military takeovers that have happened recently.
There is no denying that when the people are pushed to the wall, they would be left with no choice but to push back. This has been the case in Gabon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. At this point, there is the need for introspection: are the African states that never experienced a coup better off? What systems of government do those states practice? Do they have a history of colonization? Are they multi-ethnic countries? How big are they by population? When we juxtapose the troubled countries with the ones that never had any coup using these metrics, we will then begin to see a clear path toward understanding the biggest root causes of military coups in Africa and whether they have been beneficial, and perhaps understanding the best way out.
Since the recent coups, there have been grand attempts by regional blocs like ECOWAS to resolve the issue, including opting to use a strong tone and attempting to strong-arm the putschists in Niger into returning power to the usurped president of the country. However, if historical antecedents are anything to go by, strong-arming the putschists is not the way to go, and opting for a full-blown-war or military operation can only result in a victory with two downsides: the emergence of rebels in the state or civilians becoming the victims in a case where the military intervention blows out of proportion. In both cases, the result does not spell good for the average citizen of the countries where the governments have been overthrown. What then needs to be addressed?
There is a need to address the root causes of these military coups, rechristened as interventions in African states. There is a need for holistic approaches that will result in proactive measures to mitigate the issues and usher Africa into a new era of evolution and growth that will banish military coups and regimes as relics of history.
At the Toyin Falola Interviews, our next panel session will focus on coups in Africa, drawing on the expertise of analysts invited from African states. King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo will be sharing insights and expanding on the root causes of coups in Africa, how the coups tie back to geopolitics, the legitimacies of these coups, and resource management at a time like this. Furthermore, there will be a focus on discussing the true and systemic way out of the myriad of coup-inciting problems within countries on the African continent. Join us on Sunday, September 24, as our panelists discuss this time-sensitive and vital topic.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Mauritius and Seychelles Time (UTC/GMT+4): 8 PM
East Africa Time (UTC/GMT+3): 7 PM
Central Africa Time (UTC/GMT+2): 6 PM
West Africa Time (UTC/GMT+1): 5 PM
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT): 4 PM
Cape Verde Time (UTC-1): 3 PM
Austin, Texas (CST): 11 AM
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How To Stop Military Coups In Africa – Bolaji Akinyemi
A former External Affairs Minister , Prof.Bolaji Akinyemi , has proffered an antidote to the rising spate of military coups in Africa.
Prof. Akinyemi who was a minister in the government of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida spoke against the background of a military coup that has removed a democratic government in Niger Republic.
Military coups which were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence have become resurgent recently.
The takeover in Niger, led by soldiers belonging to the presidential guard, is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years.
There were two in Burkina Faso in 2022 as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
Akinyemi said during a session of the Prof.Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday that there should be a charter on democracy that would be binding on members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He said that such a charter should be endorsed by the African Union and even the United Nations.
Akinyemi said that such a charter had become necessary because democracies are not only truncated in Africa by military coups. According to him, democracies are also truncated through civilian coups. This entails elected presidents changing their nations’ constitutions in order to get more tenures beyond the terms as stipulated in their constitutions.
He explained that ECOWAS leaders are opposed to the military coup in Niger as a way of protecting their own democracies.
But he condemned a development that he referred to as the ethnicisation of foreign policy. He referred to the opposition by a region of Nigeria to the plan of President Bola Tinubu to deploy the military in Niger in order to return to democracy. He said such ethnic and religious considerations in deciding foreign policies were non-existent in the past. He said this was why he supported the then Nigerian government’s decisions as regards military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The interviewers who included Prof. Jide Osuntokun, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Ambassador Jaiyeola Joseph Lewu and Prof.Richard Joseph asked Prof.Akinyemi questions about his family background, the university system, his career and national and international developments.
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