Corrupting privileges and national mismanagement narratives – Part 2
Political partying, and language of national discourse
Political partying is about cornering public resources for private use via control of political party apparatuses, and disadvantaging actual and putative rivals in the process, one reason why political combatants are at their most vitriolic and reckless in public denunciation of rivals and those remotely thought might not favour canvassed new privileges; every action, every word is geared towards the rationalisation of past, existing and incubated privileges. Hence that glaring lack of self-discipline in a socio-political system dominated by self-aggrandizement that inevitably leads to shocking levels of conceit, which, in turn, then breed a culture of impunity (at its worst during military regimes) and manifesting in very limited decorum and respect for procedures and processes; meetings hardly holding on schedule at any level, that of electing President of Senate in recent times on schedule being “unacceptable” conduct. So, “we are in control”, “this is our time”, “who are you?”, Who do you think you are talking to?”, “we have Federal might”, “You can go to Abuja if you want”, “those traitors”, “those saboteurs”, “those unpatriotic elements”, “fifth columnists”, “those militants”, “those Moslems”, “those infidels”, “those Christians”, “of course we are an Islamic nation”, “those Muslim Fundamentalists”, “those born-gain Christians”, “those troublesome Southerners”, “those lazy Northerners”, “those parasites”, “those South-South trouble-makers”, “those unreliable Yorubas”, “those self-centred Igbo”, “we will make this place ungovernable”, “we will deal with you”, “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”, “the oil belongs to all of us”, “we are marginalised”, “”Democracy Day is June 12, not May 29”, “June 12 is Southern Rebellion”, “Democracy Day is the Generals marking when they continued domination in Mufti”, “Fulani Nation will no longer tolerate attacks on herdsmen”, “we want true Federalism”, “Fiscal Federalism”, “Restructuring is unacceptable”, “enemies asking after the President’s health status”, “President can seek best treatment anywhere”, “leave our land”, “animals” and other unmentionable expletives and stereotypes dominate the “national” discourse.
Quite simply, two related socio-psychological processes which account for the way and manner our political-bureaucratic elites view and address themselves and actual and perceived rivals or opponents are dehumanisation and demonisation which tend to go hand-in-hand. Dehumanisation, among other tendencies, involves regarding and labelling the other person, the other group, as a bit less human than you and your own group and so the moral values, rules and definition and application of fairness which define limits in social interaction should somehow not apply to him/her and them. So, supposedly well educated and should-be pious persons leading political, religious and other associations, traditional leaders, over forty year-olds youth leaders, once they dehumanize others, they longer experience distress or feelings of remorse when they recommend and mete out poor treatment to targeted individuals or groups. It is this “moral exclusion” that lies behind now-too-familiar such extreme behaviours like genocide, harsh/racist immigration policies, ethnic cleansing, pogroms, and institutionalised internal discrimination against minorities of all hues (political, racial, ethnic, national, religious, by sexual orientation, gender, disability, and class). While all that demonization involves is convincing yourself and those around you that the targeted persons or groups are evil, dangerous, thereby providing presumed justification for their being treated in a particularly harsh and violent manner. Indeed, whatever the claims or counter-arguments of targeted persons and groups might be, they are denied any legitimacy, and exist on sufferance. At this point, the country does not quite belong to all us.
Herdsmen, freedom of movement, public land, and our land
That nomadic herdsmen have been roaming freely across West Africa for centuries in search of pasture as claimed by bigots is mere FICTION, “alternative facts”, sort of falsehood propensity that Donald Trump, I suspect, has borrowed from these Nigerians where everything is deliberately and misleadingly reduced to “a matter of opinion”. Central to organisation of human life since antiquity is the absence of freedom of movement as over ninety-nine point nine per cent of humans was in a condition of varying degrees of bondage or unfreedom; slave, personal servant, peasant or serf tied to the land. Communities (hamlets, villages, towns and cities) were self-contained, self-administered and self-protected units, just as kingdoms and empires were completely decentralised with self-administering components, subsisting on basis of alliances between a few. There were no external roads and if you strayed outside the boundaries/walls of your village or town or city, one stood to be captured, enslaved and/or killed and there was therefore no nomadic herdsman anywhere. Which is to say, migration was a group-community activity till very recently, suitably armed group-community confronting other communities on their path, settling down as neighbours in a truce or one succumbing to military defeat. Such a group-community could be PASTORAL, but it is not moving freely daily or monthly or yearly for that matter, except in the face of pestilence or war and occupying a few locations over centuries.
After centuries of what became dubbed “Trans-Saharan Trade”, trade in slaves and other items, when the Portuguese strayed along the coast of what would later be southern Nigeria in the late 1470s in their search for alternative sea route to India and Asia to bypass the Middle East being ravaged by unending wars (Crusades), there was no Lagos, “Lagos” being Portuguese word for “lakes” but which is not to say there were no settlements nearby, areas that were part of the Benin Kingdom in the 16th century. There was no Port Harcourt, no Kaduna either (but area was occupied by the Gbagyi people) and no Fulani either, Fulani only started making their way into several Hausa city-states from mid-16th century. But routine, rapacious plundering of communities for slaves raged unabated till well into the 1870s, alongside internecine wars between and among the numerous kingdoms up and down the country. Not even agents and employees of the few European trading companies, nor officials of succeeding colonial authorities could move about freely till the 1950s, hence the well fortified trading stations, aside from their own troops with which they overwhelmed numerous local political authorities and declared Lagos Colony (1861-2), Oil Rivers Protectorate (1884), Niger Coast Protectorate (1893), Southern Nigeria Protectorate (1900), Northern Protectorate of Nigeria (1900). The relatively safe freedom of movement of the sort nomadic herdsmen now enjoy is largely a post-Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970 January 15) phenomenon, the roving herdsmen certainly a rare and curious sight in the period 1958-1967 over most of what is now dubbed South West, South-South and South East. There is that seemingly conspiratorial silence and pretence over not seeing the insidious linkage between long years of brutalising, centralising and sectarian military dictatorships, hardening attitudes and antics and incendiary vituperations of successor rival socio-political factions, and resultant dehumanisation and demonization tendencies mentioned earlier, railways falling into disuse, climatic changes, and the pervasive presence of nomadic herdsmen and their increasingly marauding form of foraging.
Public land that anyone, nomadic or not, could freely have access to never existed in the form currently touted by bigots following all we have noted. At the community level, land was owned by the clan, and distributed among various family units for cultivation and grazing, even where oligarchs or individuals exercised overall political authority; such only exacted taxes or tributes. Anyone attempting to utilise undistributed land, the closest thing to public land, was quickly sanctioned. If one tried such with land owned by neighbouring clans and villages, one stood a good chance of losing one’s life. In more modern times, public lands have been acquired by law and used as zoos, botanical gardens, reservations, parks, etc. Should you self-interestedly not accept customary law and practices, but are subjected to the principles and practices of introduced English common law and Islamic laws on property and the Nigerian Constitution, then not respecting property rights can only but invite chaos and violence. Nomadic herdsmen rampaging through communal lands and private farms, as their cattle munch anything on sight, is defined as trespassing and more in any form of law, except where the superciliously twisted mind holds, as explained above, such communities and individual farm owners are a bit less human and have no real property rights as such and therefore have no business complaining or taking any action to protect their assumed private property, the cattle being special and genuine private property, so much so that laws shall be introduced and the Constitution amended, it is loudly bragged, to ensure designated areas all over the country are reserved for them. In the late 1980s with Professor Jubril Aminu as Federal Minister of Education, the panacea then was nomadic education and given general budgetary constraints exacerbated by structural adjustment policies (SAP), general underfunding and logistical challenges, it would have been a miracle if any significant impact was made. Which, of course, leaves us with the most rational solution of ranching, not because that is what the rest of the world has done, should we erroneously think nomadism was invented by fulani in nigeria, but pastoralism stopped being nomadism long ago, and fodder for cattle can be supplied by new crop of fulani entrepreneurs, and the families of herdsmen may now grow up, live and socialise, children receive formal education like other entrepreneurial families who chose beans, yams, rice, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, unions, clothing, etc., instead as items of commerce, and become president, minister, governor, senator and whatever else as we see. Roiling all and sundry across the country to keep herdsmen nomadic is not only cruel in this day and age, but also a violation of their fundamental right to decent existence, the goal of decent life any responsible leadership and government should achieve within the shortest possible time. Or, are they less than human too, just proxies for making money, while shoring up centralised political control?
A buyer of a plot of land from non-state authorities in Kaduna, Lagos and everywhere in the country is either a relative or “stranger”, even when familiar or friend of a relative. The Yoruba, Kanuri, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Berom, Jukun, Ebira, Urhobo, etc., do not sell land; only specific communities and families do, even for projects, factories funded by state authorities and large companies, transactions notorious for triggering intra-and inter-communal conflicts over distribution of payments and compensation. In the context of ethnic politicking, therefore, the Chamba, Matakam, Sukur in Adamawa State, Gerewa, Zaar, Jarawa, Bolawa, Kare-kare, Warjawa, Zulawe and Badawa in Bauchi State, Kanuri, Babur, Marghi in Borno State, Tiv, Idoma, Igede and Abakpa in Benue State, Igala, Ebira, Okun and Bassa-Nge in Kogi State, Yoruba, Nupe, Bariba in Kwara State, Akurmi, Gbargyi, Kure and Gwandara in Kaduna State, Lelna, Bussawa, Dukawa, Kambari and Kamuku in Kebbi State, Agatu, Basa, Eggon, Gbagyi, Gade, Goemai, Gwandara in Nasarawa State, Nupe in Niger State, Berom, Jukun, Kofyar and Ngas in Plateau State, Kare-Kare, Bade, Bolewa Ngizim in Taraba State, Ngizim, Karai-Karai, Bolewa, Bade, Maga Ngamo, Shuwa in Yobe State, Gwari, Kamuku, Kambari, Dukawa, Bussawa and Zabarma in Zamfara State, just to mention a few of the hundreds of ethnic minorities in these states, and others in Gongola, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, and Sokoto States do not even know Arewa Youth Consultative Forum exists, let alone speak on their behalf. One does not have be a sympathiser to recognise the truth in the proposition that ASKING for the actualisation of Biafra (which the proponents have a right to do if dissatisfied with current state of national affairs and adopt legal methods), is less threatening to the Nigeria polity than the Arewa Youth’s seditious ultimatum to the Igbo to vacate the “North” which they neither own nor have any legal right whatsoever to issue threats on its behalf. Governor Nasir El-Rufai did the correct thing, as the Chief Security Officer of Kaduna State, to seek the arrest of the culprits. Whatever cheap political points politicians and vested interests on all sides may wish to make, they should be reminded of their constitutional responsibility to manage the polity in such a way that all communities feel comfortable and safe in it, especially since they cynically chose to blatantly exploit ethnicity and religion in their quest for and control of political power, thereby raising social consciousness and expectations along those dimensions in one of the most culturally diverse and ethnically plural countries in the world.
What is to be done about corrupting privileges and political partying?
Who guards the guard that can deploy collective resources as he deems fit? All Nigerian political parties fund themselves directly and indirectly from statutory allocations to states, local governments, parastatals, security votes, contracts, business community and foreign interests. If political parties, dominated by cabals, can be that critical to our national life and continued collective existence and given current state of affairs, logic suggests a re-examination of the basis for their formation and functioning. So, only those that are being guarded can rein in guards, and they need to erect structures and procedures that can reduce, if not eliminate, arbitrariness, illegal self-enrichment while institutionalising increased appreciation and achievement of common good.
Individuals put themselves up for elective positions after being vetted by INEC, not political parties. So, one need not join a political party to be a candidate. Second, the cost of obtaining relevant forms and other financial requirements for all levels must be nominal, low enough for even a fresh graduate to be able to afford. Third, the joker in the pack, people must vote, and this presumes an accurate Voters Register, cleanly delineated wards and constituencies, timely availability of voting materials, and combination of manual and electronic voting where the latter fails. Methods must be adapted to suit literacy and other conditions of the electorate, which in turn serve to enhance confidence in the system and in ourselves. And where, for any combination of reasons, up to one per cent of constituency voters is unable to cast ballots, election must be repeated there.
INEC must be dogged here, as this should eliminate the present tactic of contestants, especially incumbents, of disenfranchising persons in rival’s town or village or areas thought hostile and INEC proceeding to “declare” results notwithstanding. Fourth, all votes must be counted. The beauty of Option A4, under Babangida’s regime but which alarmed party cabals and the regime in the end, a maximum of 500 persons per ward, filing behind candidates, tally taken, result declared on-the-spot and was possible to know overall results across the country within the hour. Ballot boxes did not therefore disappear en route for collation centres, figures/results redistributed at collation centres, nor did party thugs invade collation centres to disrupt proceedings. This and other matters made “June 12 elections” the fairest ever organised in the country till date. Decentralisation of the process thus comes highly recommended. With a very young, restless, vocal and social media savvy population, counted votes will reveal some interesting and true outcomes. Fifth, it should be none of INEC’s business how many offices any party has and their geographical spread. Such has not prevented the ascendancy of the rabid exploitation of ethnic and religious sentiments today.
Dr Chike-Obi, nearly one-person Dynamic Party in the First Republic, always won his seat in Onitsha, and it is difficult, even within current widely felt unsatisfactory configuration of things, for any group of politicians to gain control of State Houses of Assembly, National Assembly, Gubernatorial and Presidential positions without a coalition of some sort. Sixth, Constituency projects and budgetary allocations for them should be discontinued. Seventh, INEC and EFCC should have the mandate to jointly and routinely provide and publish quarterly reports on financial and other assets of all political office holders.
Finally, I wish to state quite clearly that over the decades, there have been thousands of civil and public servants in customs, immigration, NNPC group, the judiciary, the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, security agencies and other parastatals who worked diligently, conscientiously and some even victimised for doing right and had no one to turn to. There are also good, solid women and men, wishing correct and right things be done, in all the political parties, but prevailing political circumstances blocking their potential contributions. Rochas Okorocha and his foundation have five secondary schools, seven more coming on stream this year, located in North and South, giving over 6000 poor and orphaned children free education, of the quality not matched in most funded by local, state and federal governments. There has never been dearth of good people. It is just that it is in the nature of organisations, larger organisations, for a few people to dominate because of hierarchical structure and the impossibility of all to sit at once to deliberate, hence the iron law of oligarchy. Hence electoral and constitutional reforms should be continuous to minimise, if not eliminate, system-threatening policies and actions of the few cabals that dominate politicians-bureaucratic elites alliance.