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NIGERIA: “By the time Buhari finishes with us, the mourning sack cloth would have become something of a national uniform” – Tátalọ̀ Àlàmú

October 10, 2018

Nigeria

This essay culled from one of Tatalo Alamu’s weekly essays, appeared in the October 7, 2018 edition of pathfinderinternational.com as On closed states and contested borders. Alamu is a social and political commentator.

 

EXCERPTS

Fifteen years after, the wheel has turned full cycle and it is the same General from Daura after being serially humiliated who is in firm control of the fascist terror machine, having gathered the reins of power in an iron clasp. By the time General Buhari finishes with us, the mourning sack cloth would have become something of a national uniform. This is the plight of nations without a structured vision of themselves and a set of institutionalized core values that drives politics.

They duel unto death. The prize money is huge and humongous and it is worth dying for. Rather than being an arena or site for negotiating elite conflict about the allocation of resources or adjudicating about who gets what and at what time, the state is a blood-splattered canvas for booty-sharing and score-settling.

 

 

After controversial elections in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun, many Nigerians, particularly members of the opposition, believe that a vicious and violent template is being operationalized for the conduct of next year’s presidential elections. But what is not so obvious to our compatriots is that rigging and allegations of rigging are actually a shorthand or byword for something more fundamental and damning: the perpetual closure of the Nigerian state by ascendant groups.

Nigerians are a funny lot indeed. Most members of the Nigerian elite are incapable of a transcendental vision of humanity, of society and of the nation-state itself. This is why it has been intellectually and emotionally impossible to sustain the very idea of Nigeria as an imagined community of shared destiny and organic values. Yet without these collective aspirations and cohering ideals, nation-growing is an impossible task.
Just look at who has been crying in the past few months as soon as the despotic hammer of the stars of the current national curfew fell on them. They have been yelling and wailing about looming calamity and the road to Golgotha. Yet when the shoe was on the other foot, they kept quiet. When they themselves and members of their immediate family were beneficiaries of state closure, not a word was heard from them.

They lapped it up in a feeding frenzy of wild dogs. Now that the state appears to have been captured by hostile forces, they have been screaming and yelling at the top of their voices. It is as if state capture is a recent development in Nigeria’s history. Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to drink from its bitter potion.
State estrangement began in Nigeria with the gradual de-federalization of the federal arrangement negotiated with our former colonial masters in the run up to independence. For the past thirty years, a few of us have been shouting from the rooftop about the phenomenon of state closure in Nigeria. In 1998, yours sincerely published an academic paper in a prestigious journal in America titled “ Closed States and Open Borders: The Fiction of post-colonial nationhood in Africa”. It was a direct response to the political depredations of General Sani Abacha.

The paper demonstrated how the phenomenon of state closure by ascendant groups in post-independence Africa has in turn led to the reality of openly contested national borders with intra-nation civil wars rather than inter-nation hostilities becoming the norm. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Mozambique, Angola, Algeria, Libya, Rwanda, Burundi, CAR, Sierra-Leone, Liberia the two Sudans and the two Congos being prime exemplars.

 

In 2003 after a controversial and egregiously rigged presidential election in which a post-military civilian oligarchy appeared to have effected a firm closure of the Nigerian state, this writer wrote a public paper warning that such civilian tyranny could not be sustained in a badly polarized multi-ethnic nation. It was titled, On the Closure of the Nigerian State.

 

Perhaps the most classic instance of this phenomenon was Mobutu’s old Zaire. After thirty two years of lording it over the unfortunate people of the old Belgian Congo and stealing them blind in the process, Mobutu, in a moment of hare-brained hubris, decided to expel the Congolese Tutsi with the war-cry that a tree trunk does not become a crocodile simply because it has spent some time in water.

It did not matter to the monstrous tyrant that the Tutsi ancestors had lived in that part of the Congo for over two centuries. When the war-primed Tutsi responded in kind, Mobutu quickly became history. In less than six weeks of bitter fighting, the rebel coalition arrived at the gate of Kinshasa with men and material to spare. The demoralised Congolese army melted away in disgrace and ignominy. The excluders have been excluded.

The sight of the former colonial cook and seminary pickpocket, his body devastated by prostate cancer, being helped to his feet by a frail-looking Nelson Mandela as a safe passage was being negotiated for him on a frigate moored off the Congolese coast even as Laurent Kabila eyed him with barely concealed disdain is a truly remarkable tribute to power dementia in post-colonial Africa.

In 2003 after a controversial and egregiously rigged presidential election in which a post-military civilian oligarchy appeared to have effected a firm closure of the Nigerian state, this writer wrote a public paper warning that such civilian tyranny could not be sustained in a badly polarized multi-ethnic nation. It was titled, On the Closure of the Nigerian State.

In his hurry to “mainstream” his Yoruba people into federal contention, General Obasanjo forgot to carry the main stream along. The result was political turbulence and tumult in Yorubaland. Seven years after, the oligarchy under intense pressure stumbled badly by handing over power to a neophyte who was forced to surrender same after a pan-Nigerian democratic revolt.

 

As we have demonstrated, state closure, in extreme cases, leads to the erasure and virtual obliteration of the nation itself. This is why many nations, particularly in Africa, have become an inferno of wrecked hopes and expectations. In Nigeria, state closure led directly to the first coup, the civil war, the Orkar mutiny, the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, General Abacha’s Stone Age despotism, the low intensity civil war in the wake of this, the Sharia gambit, extreme militancy in the Delta and the Boko Haram insurgency.

 

It is useful to recall that while Nigerians were mourning the loss of their electoral virginity then and the judiciary was busy reversing the reversible, the alleluia boys were openly celebrating and singing the praises of the new democratic conquerors of the nation to high heavens. The most impudent among them were urging General Buhari to go court if he felt electorally affronted.

Fifteen years after, the wheel has turned full cycle and it is the same General from Daura after being serially humiliated who is in firm control of the fascist terror machine, having gathered the reins of power in an iron clasp. By the time General Buhari finishes with us, the mourning sack cloth would have become something of a national uniform. This is the plight of nations without a structured vision of themselves and a set of institutionalized core values that drives politics.

But since nothing last for long in the sultry tropics, we can always expect surprises and terminal ambush as the game progresses. The merry-makers of yester years have become the mourners of today just as the merry makers of today may yet become the mourners of tomorrow. Such is the maddening topsy-turvy of post-colonial politics and its sanatorium of the unstable.

A nation, like human beings, cannot afford to live dangerously forever. The current plight of Nigeria as the global poster boy of poverty and misery, the inability of its economic resources to keep up with its ever expanding population and the pathetic state of its infrastructure and political institutions suggest that this Russian roulette of permanent underdevelopment, the revolving door of torture and tyranny cannot be sustained for much longer. Such is the blight of state closure.

Let us recap. State closure occurs when all factions of a political elite view the state as a hostile construct; an alien and alienating entity. This is why every ascendant group since independence has tried to barricade itself in even as it violently wards off all interlopers and interlocutors. The African post-colonial state is a neo-Roman coliseum of battered and bleeding political gladiators.

They duel unto death. The prize money is huge and humongous and it is worth dying for. Rather than being an arena or site for negotiating elite conflict about the allocation of resources or adjudicating about who gets what and at what time, the state is a blood-splattered canvas for booty-sharing and score-settling.

As we have demonstrated, state closure, in extreme cases, leads to the erasure and virtual obliteration of the nation itself. This is why many nations, particularly in Africa, have become an inferno of wrecked hopes and expectations. In Nigeria, state closure led directly to the first coup, the civil war, the Orkar mutiny, the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, General Abacha’s Stone Age despotism, the low intensity civil war in the wake of this, the Sharia gambit, extreme militancy in the Delta and the Boko Haram insurgency.

But even where the nation survives as an entity, the bizarre sense of self-sufficiency, the provincial self-righteousness and the arrogant notions of feudal entitlement arising from state closure, rob the political society of vital nutrients and the injection of critical modernizing talents needed to drive politics and the economy.
Having been a storied victim of state closure himself, one would have thought that General Buhari would have availed himself of two options which would have set Nigeria on the path of state liberalization and inclusive governance: either to restructure the country in a way that removes the humongous resources at the centre which leads to state closure or to come up with a pluralistic vision of the nation which recognizes and deploys the talents of even his worst political enemies in a national project of state salvation.

So far, neither option has been given full consideration. What is emerging is an amoral political pragmatism which deploys economic suspects for political offensives and which effectively puts paid to any moral grandstanding about sanitising the polity or about the leading a fight against corruption.

Nigeria is a victim of serial state closure. It will take a pan-Nigerian patriot of transcendental humanity, a person of deep philosophical gifts capable of rising above ethnic and religious morass to lift the curfew of state closure. How the contradiction between ethical one-upmanship and political realism plays out should make the rest of President Buhari’s tenure very interesting indeed

 

The Pathfinder International | October 7, 2018 at 7:07 am | Categories: Africa Today | URL: https://wp.me/p94U5t-2rD

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2018. 12:54 P.M. [GMT]

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