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Akinola’s Party Coalitions In Nigeria And Democracy In Nigeria In Print

Prof. Abiola Irele; Vice-Chancellor, KWASU, Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah; a senior management staff and the Liberian of the university, Mr. Isiaka Alao at the programme

Prof. Abiola Irele; Vice-Chancellor, KWASU, Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah; a senior management staff and the Liberian of the university, Mr. Isiaka Alao at the programme

Nigeria is sometimes described as the country where, though the best may be impossible, yet the worst rarely happens.

Its citizens are also said to be either “positively” committed to “negative” things or vice-versa. In-built in all these paradoxical epithets are the complexities often surrounding the country’s politics, which, thankfully, recorded one of its very rare successes with the handling of the March 2015 elections.

Perhaps, more than any aspect of the country’s life, its politics has attracted the greatest attention, especially from scholars who are always fascinated (and sometimes confused) by the dynamic nature of events, the shifting characteristics of the key actors and the selective efficiency of its institutions. Two new books by one of the seasoned commentators on the country’s political affairs, Anthony Akinola, have recently entered our shelves to further add spices to the controversies underlining politics in Africa’s most populous countries. The books Party Coalitions in Nigeria: History, Trends and Prospects and Democracy in Nigeria: Thoughts and Selected Commentaries (Safari Books Ltd, Ibadan and Lulu Enterprises Inc, Raleigh, N.C.; 2014 & 2015).

Although a first look at the titles of the two books might give the impression that they are profoundly different, a closer examination would show numerous areas of convergence that can justify a co-review of both. The first of the books, Party Coalitions in Nigeria: History, Trends and Prospects, provides one of the most impressive analyses of how political parties have tried to strike a balance between the complexities of heterogeneity and the desire to attain political office. Discussing the complex subject of coalition through the lenses of history, Akinola, while recognising that coalition is, indeed, an inevitable part of politics, points out the several features that make the Nigerian situation somewhat peculiar. In his opinion, the heterogeneity of the country and the impact this has had on the zero-sum-nature of politics have been as much a factor as the various attempts to experiment with various systems of political governance and the greed of the country’s political elites.

Reading Akinola’s book brought back home for me the position of Richard Dowden on the impact of Nigeria’s heterogeneity on the country’s politics. Dowden had noted: Nigeria, like Europe, has three big tribes and several other ethnic groups, 25 in the case of Europe, more than 400 in the case of Nigeria. Imagine a united European state – united by force not by referendum – which has to elect one President [and] one government. Europe in which the French are Muslims, the German, Catholic, the British, Protestants, and there is only one source of income, oil, and it is under the Germans. Indeed, there is a way in which Nigeria’s heterogeneity and its impact on politics can be appreciated: if the Scots and the English are still having issues about their union after more than five centuries of “living” together, nothing greater should be expected from the Hausas and the Yoruba after just a hundred years.

More than any other scholar that I have read on the subject, Akinola has brought home the mutually reinforcing link between heterogeneity, impacts of political systems and the role of political elites in the intrigues of political governance in Nigeria. The discussion o the subject through the lenses of history has also shown that there are very little differences between the behaviours of the “inheritance Elites” (that is those who took over the mantle from the colonialist after independence) and their present day counterparts. Profusely referenced and heavily indexed, the author takes the reader through a journey in history, bringing back to memory the politics and intrigues that have underlined political governance in the country.

On its part, Democracy in Nigeria: Thoughts and Selected Commentaries” reflects the author’s thoughts on virtually all the issues connected to the establishment of durable democracy in Nigeria. The broad range of time during which these commentaries were written (between November 2000 and March 2015) has meant that hardly any of the key issues that confronted Nigeria during this difficult period escaped the author’s attention. To ensure the capturing of a broad range of topics, Akinola divided the book into 12 parts. For ease of categorisation, however, these 12 parts can again be brought under two broad divisions: the one that focuses on the three main administration during the period, i.e. the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations; and the other that looks at virtually all the major themes relevant to democracy in Nigeria, including Elections, Corruption, Welfarism, Religion and others. In all these, Akinola provides detailed analysis and cogent answers to the multi-dimensional challenges that underline the situation.

In all cases, the arguments are balanced and the boldness with which the author discusses the roles of individuals, most of whom are still alive, is extremely commendable. The essays are often written with subtle humour and anecdotes that further sink in the importance of the issues being discussed. They are also written in such a way that reflects the continuity and changes in the subject matters under discussion. Possibly because they were initially written for a wider audience, many of the essays are crafted in very elegant prose that appeals to multiple audiences.

A major theme that threads through both books is the author’s deep conviction that the Nigerian project is a workable one, especially if due cognisance is taken of a number of key factors that have served as impedimentsto the evolution of a strong and credible society. After more than 50 years, though battered and bruised, Nigeria remains erect and unbeaten. Its people were, even at a time, described as “the happiest people on earth”. There is, indeed, something that makes Nigeria, especially its politics, interesting and Anthony Akinola has, with these two new books, wetted our appetite on the future of a country more than 150 million people call home.

On the whole, Akinola has given us two books of monumental relevance which will put us in his debt for quite some time to come. With these two books, Anthony Akinola has, once again, raised the stake high for writings on Nigeria’s political history. Indeed, a look at the books will show that they are not the outcomes of a timid scanning of newspapers and journals, nor yet the compilations of confidential gossips from seminar proceedings. The books are urbanely written and carefully woven together and they will be compulsory reading for those interested in contemporary Nigerian affairs and those who want to know how the country got to where it is today.

* Abiodun Alao is Professor of African Studies, King’s College London

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