Independence Day lecture organised by the Unity House Foundation
• Thank you Unity House Foundation (UHF) and our convener, Mr. Kingsley Wali (KMAN) for inviting me to be part of this conversation that is fast becoming a tradition. Today, 1st October, is a symbolic day in the life of our country; the day of our political independence. I am delighted to be part of this session with my fellow panelists.
• Let me tell you upfront, so you are not disappointed, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. I am here to spark off a conversation and not essentially to provide answers to what you don’t already know.
• I am choosing an unconventional approach by asking questions instead of delivering a lecture. Some of you may be agitated, why questions?
Best selling leadership author, John Maxwell says “good leaders ask great questions”. Thomas Watson, another great leader and founder of IBM, said “The ability to ask the right questions is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” I believe that questions have a way of making us critically interrogate and reflect on issues. Questions help us dig deeper in search of answers and connect our past and present to the future. Questions unlock and open doors that otherwise remain closed. Questions are the most effective means of connecting and engaging with people. Finally, questions challenge mindsets. I, therefore, crave your indulgence to allow me ask five fundamental questions to enable us probe further into the discussions of today as we mark 60 years of independence as a nation.
1. Do we have a nation called Nigeria?
2. What is peoples power and does the concept apply in Nigeria?
3. Where do People’s Power and Party Politics intersect?
4. Who is a god-father? What is this concept of god-fatherism?
5. As these forces contend for space in the political landscape, where is the law? Do the courts in Nigeria help democracy or undermine democracy ?
Question 1: Do we have a nation called Nigeria?
A nation is beyond geography and national symbols. A nation is distinct from a country though they are sometimes used interchangeably. There are certain conditions that must be fulfilled before a group of people can be called a nation. The English dictionary defines it thus “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture or language, inhabiting a particular territory or country.” The impact of this dictionary definition is that a nation presupposes a group of people with common descent, common interest, shared vision, common culture, united by common aspiration or common denial. When these conditions exist, it evokes national consciousness and loyalty to the nation. Where these conditions do not exist you will observe the prevalence of ethnic or provincial consciousness (Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw, Yoruba, Ikwerre, etc), pursuit of narrow ethnic interest above national interest, perpetual tension among existing groups, an attempt to maintain provincial or ethnic identity, fear and mutual suspicion.
Colonial contraption by Europeans did not make African States ‘nations’. They simply created ‘countries’ but the distinct lines refuse to go away. Nigeria is not the only country in this situation, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Sudan, Yemen and several other countries are in similar circumstances. The question to ask ourselves is- in absence of a nation state with the features of a nation, can you have people’s power?
So the answer the question above is that Nigeria is made up of many nations forced together by common colonial experience and within the past 100 years has been trying to form an indivisible bond of nationhood where traditional national lines of member nations are blurred. Unfortunately, our history is littered with our struggles to become a true nation-state. Only while supporting our football team in international sporting competitions do we see that sense of nationality across the board. Nigeria is at best an ‘imagined community’ of nationalities in a holy/unholy marriage doing everything possible to make the marriage work.
Question 2: What is people’s power and does the concept apply in Nigeria?
People’s power is a relatively new concept first used by members of the 1960s “flower power” movement which initially protested against the Vietnam War. It connotes a people united by common aspiration, common interests, and common consciousness. This commonality of interest is often fuelled by education, enlightenment, circumstance or denial of some sorts.
The circumstance especially of denial of access forces people to acquire a common voice. This common voice translates to a social movement driven by grassroots opinion and will power. People’s power can be a force for good or bad. People’s power often moves in four directions.
First, it can overthrow or remove an unpopular government by votes or by force. For example, the infamous Arab Spring that changed the political landscape in Middle East.
Second, it can enthrone a new government that serves the interest and aspiration of the people. For example, Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the Philippines for 20 years, rigged himself to power in 1986. The people of Philippines rose in unison through a series of popular demonstrations and civil resistance and ended years of oppressive and totalitarian rule. What sparked off the revolution was electoral fraud
Third, it can make government or corporate bodies change its course of action. For example, the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s brought about radical changes in race laws and race relationships in America.
Finally, peoples power leads to the enthronement of populism and populist leaders. For example, Brazil’s labour movement was a pivotal actor in the formation and consolidation of the workers party led by Lula. Lula was eventually elected on the crest on popular movement as President of Brazil.
A similar situation played out in Ecuador. The people tired of maladministration, series of injustice and corruption, mobilised themselves against the establishment and supported the emergence of President Rafael Correa. Both Lula and President Rafael Correa are products of popular movement, in their case championed by organised labour.
In June 1989, Lech Walsea led the peoples movement that ended communist rule in Poland and enthronement of democracy. Through intellectual work, courage and organised mass appeal, the people of Poland enthroned a new government. Back home Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa on the back of popular resistance and people’s insistence on their democratic right.
Several examples exist where the force of people’s power has overthrown unpopular governments. For example, the Romanian revolution of 1989. Nicolae and Selena Ceausescu and the communist party had held sway in Romania for 42 years. Sparked off by attempts to arrest popular church pastor and social economic malaise. The people mobilised themselves through Riots and street protests leading to the capture of Nicolae and Elena, their trial by a drumhead military tribunal, conviction and execution on Christmas Day 1989.
Closer home in Nigeria, we have two incidents that have different degrees of manifestation of people’s power; June 12and Edo Elections of 2020. Due to the invention of a new electoral system, popularly called Option A4 (open ballot system), the people observed that rigging will be more difficult so their choice could be respected.
Inspired by that confidence and assurance of transparency in the conduct of elections, the people set aside their divisions (Provincial and religious) and united behind a popular choice. When the election was annulled by the military which underrated peoples power, a mass movement emerged which coordinated series of popular protest calling for an end to military dictatorship and proper democratisation of the country as well as addressing inequality in National life.
The popular protest, which is a clear manifestation of peoples power ended the administration of President IB Babangida. Though it did not succeed in enthroning the winner of the popular mandate of June 12 but it created the conditions that led to enthronement of democracy.
The second case, which is more recent, is the Edo election of 2020. It does not fit into the classic case of people’s power but it manifested aspects of people’s power. Edo people revolted, through their votes, against the claim of one man that I can make and unmake. The people revolted against what they believed was “foreign invasion” and sheer arrogance of a political lord. These attributes contributed to the coalition of forces by Edo people which culminated in the electoral outcome we saw in the state. These two cases, as imperfect as it seems sends a subtle signal that despite our divisions, factionalisations, some of which are artificial, people’s power is possible in Nigeria. The force of people’s power when galvanised can change the course of history.
The question to resolve then is why have we not seen in Nigeria the force of people’s power in the dimension and degree that we have seen in other places? My take is that there is lack of national consciousness. Our society is highly factionalised along ethnic, religious, economic and political lines. Some of the divisions are artificial, created by the political class for their own benefit.
In the first republic, Sir Ahmadu Bello was without doubt a champion of Northern Nigeria interest, Awolowo was anadvocate of Western Nigerian interest while Zik though a Pan-African and Pan-Nigerian in view did not have acceptance amongst his igbo people. The minority ethnic groups had their own champions too. National institutions were not spared in the division. Most national institutions were built along sectional or ethnic lines. This partially explains the interpretation of the different coups that took place in 1966 as an ethnic agenda. Where there is no consciousness of a united Nigeria, it is difficult to mobilise the ordinary people along the line of national goals, aspiration, shared vision and shared deprivation. In absence of common grounds or commonality, what you will have is ethnic mob or ethnic nationalism which is not positive.
The second reason why we have not had the manifestation of peoples power to the degree that can propel change is due to a lack of capacity of civil society to organise, occasioned by two factors; lack of trust amongst the people or mutual suspicion and low level of enlightenment or education.
Where lack of peoples power is evident, the political class takes advantage of collective docility. Conversely, if the political class sees the potential of people’s power either to use the ballot box to chase away bad leaders or a revolution, they will be more conscious of the decisions they make and actions they take. This takes us to the next question since we agree that questions help us engage with each other.
Question 3: where do people’s power and party politics intersect?
Political parties are vehicles that bring people together who share similar political ideas in pursuit of power to transform society. Political parties provide a connection between the political class and the people. When parties evolve in an organic manner, they are propelled by the aspiration, dreams and values of the people. To that extent, political parties are a manifestation of the people’s power, representing struggles by different interest groups in society to capture power. We have seen this in South Africa where ANC evolved out of black resistance movements. Trade union groups that came together in Brazil to evolve as the Workers Party (PT). Civic forum, a mass organisation led by Mr Havel that rebelled against the iron-Fist grip of the communist party in Czech emerged as a strong political party. In the three instances cited and several others, political parties evolved from people’s power to achieve political power. Political parties that grow in an organic manner use group interest to advance the interest of every member of society. In such cases, parties fall into three major ideological categories reflecting a particular social class and their ideas on how to advance society.
Parties are pro-right (conservative/republican), pro-left (socialist/democratic) and centralist (liberal) parties. Right wing parties believes that the rich should be supported to create employment and wealth so society can prosper (free market capitalism). Left wing (or socialist/workers parties) believes that all members of society should be empowered to create wealth that will serve the benefit of all and not a particular group in society (social equality). Centrist (or liberal) parties believe that we should not discourage the rich to create wealth and should also not encourage the poor to be lazy. The rich should be allowed to enjoy their wealth, as well as pay their taxes to protect the interests of the poor. All of these arrangements are rooted in ideology that advances society using different strategies. Parties in Nigeria do not have this flavour of ideology but are founded on a divisive foundation. In the absence of ideology, the pursuit is not about common good or how to advance society but about personal interests.
Unfortunately, political parties in Nigeria do not evolve organically. They are products of provincial or ethnic interest or quest by a tiny clique of compradors to secure power and material benefits. The impact of this is that they have little or no ideological basis and programmatic commitment. Examples are the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Action Group in the first Republic, Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa and Akali Dal in India’s Punjab state of India.
The same pattern of provincial parties were seen in the second republic – NPP for the Igbo’s, UPN for the Yorubas and PRP for Kano/Kaduna, GNPP for Old Borno and NPN with broad Northern Appeal. In absence of ideology, political parties are a mere vehicle to advance individual or ethnic (or group) interest. The masses have no choice as they are given options that amount to six and half a dozen; or devil and satan. Parties in Nigeria do not exist primarily to advance the interest of the people only when there is a threat to their hegemony.
Who are these tiny clique that the party serves? Are they the godfathers? This takes me to yet another question.
Question 4: who is a godfather? What is this concept of god fatherism?
The concept of a “godfather” is synonymous with intermediary, mentoring, benevolence, support and sponsorship. In a purely political setting, the concept is an ideology that is championed on the belief that certain individuals possess considerable financial means and political clout to unilaterally determine who gets a party’s ticket to run for an election and who wins the electoral contest. In the Nigerian context, god fatherism arises from our Prebendal politics where powerful persons help someone come to power in exchange for control of treasury, appointments and contracts. It is part of the competition amongst the elite for control of state power. Political god fathers can never and do not serve the needs of democracy.
Political office holders who depend on godfathers to come to power are under obligation to satisfy the yearnings of the godfather before attending to the needs of the people. The principle of godfathers is against freedom of choice, breeds corruption and is an anti-popular struggle. God fathers and popular participation are parallel lines and mutually exclusive. Pluto and Aristotle, two great philosophers warned about the dangers of concentrating power in the hands of a few to the detriment of the majority. Edo elections has been celebrated as the defeat of the “god fathers” and triumph of people’s power. It is both true and false. (Explain)
Another perspective to “god fathers”, in other societies represents a mentor-mentee relationship which is a force for good. God father is not always evil but in the Nigerian political context, it is evidently negative and destructive.
Question 5: As these forces contend for space in the political landscape, where is the law?
Do the courts in Nigeria help democracy or undermine democracy?
The rule of law and democracy are interlinked and are mutually reinforcing processes. Government responsiveness to the interests and needs of the greatest number of citizens is strictly associated with the capacity of democratic institutions and processes to bolster the dimensions of rights, equality and accountability. Within the context of this statement, the courts by the provisions of the constitution are empowered to interpret the law and make judicial pronouncements on cases to further deepen and strengthen democracy.
In doing this, the courts have a responsibility to adjudicate with equality, accountability and fairness as one of the pillars of our democracy. This concept is universal and sacrosanct. Sadly today, can we say that our legal process has been used as a force for good or bad as our internal democracy is fraught with abuse of court processes with respect to election matters and matters bordering on the affairs of political parties. The courts have now become a veritable tool to subvert and delay the political process making less meaning to the collective will of the people whom the democratic process revolves around.
A recent study concluded that the courts involvement in electoral process has not significantly influenced conformance with the electoral laws; instead the judiciary has become politicised, while some court decisions have interfered with the powers of the electoral management boards tasked with ensuring that the conduct of elections is free and fair.
Another study concluded that in extreme cases the courts have interfered with the people’s power to make a choice. An attempt to use judicial pronouncement to replace people’s power to make choices is a short cut to revolution.
I do hope I have asked the right questions? I hope my questions have made you think more deeply? I hope in course of this conversation I may have answered a few questions..
Finally I believe Ideology remains the only road map which nation states and political parties can ensure representative democracy that is truly of the people by the people and for the people. Party politics must play a pivotal role in influencing the pattern of governance within the rule of law.
Thank you for listening.
Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside