NIGERIA: Election as metaphor … the will of the people & their democratic choice must be respected – Tátalọ Àrẹ̀mú

October 3, 2018





It was a close-run thing, and probably another miraculous reprieve for a nation that has turned flirtation with suicide into higher art. You never know how close you are to disaster until it actually happens. And you never know how dangerously toxic political gambling has become until it fatally ensnares you with its tantalizing possibilities. That is where and when the cheering audience becomes a howling mob.

Now that the Osun gubernatorial election has come and gone, it is time to subject the whole thing to a clinical and antiseptic post-mortem, and without fear or favor. It is just as well that our fifty eighth independence anniversary is a few hours away. For in a profound sense, the Osun election showcases the crisis of governance and democracy-sustained rule that has been with us since independence.

Even more importantly, it also points at the closure of the nation state which every ascendant group since independence has tried to perfect. What must concern us is not the nature of this closure of the post-colonial state but the possibility of final closure of its captive nation and the fact that it negates classical notions of the modern state as a site and arena of resolving elite confrontations over allocation of resources.

In Africa the state is as unsophisticated as it is resistant to modernization. It eventually infects the nation with this virus of anti-modern and feudal grandstanding. As the dominant mode of political production in the nation, those who believe that there are sections of the country that have evolved beyond or historically bypassed feudalism are in for a rude shock given what is unfolding before our very eyes. In the end, no state of affair or society can remain static for very long. You are either progressing or regressing.

To be sure the state has never been a benign construct. If human beings are all angels, there would have been no need for the state or government for that matter. It would have been a pristine and idyllic paradise indeed. But as society evolved, it was discovered at terrible cost that in order to be truly free, humankind will have to part with some of its “freedom”. And since this must apply to everybody with the state acting with impartial and almost abstract rigour, it means that everybody is free to an equal degree.

This is the origin of what has come to be known as the social contract. The citizen willingly surrenders his freedom to the state in exchange for the freedom to self-actualization which would otherwise have been impossible unless security is guaranteed and the limits of individual freedom sharply demarcated.

In many western societies, the emphasis is on the contractual nature of the social contract with the citizens reserving the right to withdraw legitimacy from an errant state, whereas in a country like France with a background of people’s revolution, the emphasis is on socialization or the immanent will of the masses to determine the destiny of the nation. “The people is sublime”, Robespierre famously chanted until his turn came at the guillotine.

The Osun election was a democratic cliff-hanger; a nail-biting nerve-tweaking political thriller that held the nation in rapt attention. In the supplementary election, never has the fate of the nation and a politically volatile people depended on a few yokels or denizens of some remote agrarian communities. The situation was not helped by the rise of fake news.

A product of what is believed to be a revolt against the corruption and partisanship of the mainstream media, the phenomenon of fake news extols the power of corruption and partisanship to glorious new heights. Every temporary advantage the dissemination of false news conferred on its patrons is almost immediately countermanded by equally fake news claiming the opposite in a war of untruths which often leaves the entire populace in dazed stupor.

In a sense, the Osun gubernatorial election revealed more about a lot of us than we are willing to admit. You cannot grow a democratic culture with a preponderance of non-democrats. It is quite revealing of our commitment to the fundamental tenets of democracy that we were willing to crucify a man who for a moment incarnated and embodied the democratic aspirations of his people and was a vessel of sub-ethnic revolt against overarching tyranny and political injustice on the grounds of being a mere dancer and a famously feckless one for that matter.

But the fact remains that even if Ademola Adeleke were to be an empty cavorting goat, the will of the people and their democratic choice must be respected. There is no point equivocating about this or lamenting that the people are about to be taken to an Awurebe disco by a dancer of political misfortune.

As we have seen with Trump’s America, this dismal dumbing down is a periodic reaffirmation of people’s power. Although there is always the possibility of the whole thing degenerating to “mobocracy” or rule of the mob, it is one of the contradictions of modern democracy which has to be managed by a far-sighted political elite.

As usual with all major political crises in their polity, the Yoruba political mob which always arrives punctually to take charge of its destiny and destiny of the people whenever it senses elite disorientation and political fatigue hovered portentously in the wings ready to pounce. Their most forward units and assault troops are yet to retreat sensing that it is not over yet until the APC cleans up its act in Lagos.

The APC should count itself lucky indeed that the isolated ripples of disaffection among many of its leading stars and the capillary estuaries of malevolent dissatisfaction with its leadership have not yet translated into a massive tsunami of discontent. But like a fire moth bent on incinerating itself, it has been flying too close fiery flames. Even in partisan politics, there is a limit to living dangerously.

The Osun gubernatorial primary could have been better handled. Despite the cover of direct primary, it was as shoddy, inept as it was bizarrely contemptuous of sub-ethnic sentiments and sensitivity in a politically volatile state. You cannot shave a person in their absence. Neither during the primary nor the post-primary crisis did the party demonstrate elementary political wisdom or exemplary philosophical sagacity.

Yet it ought to have been clear to the party that the old Osun Province was the intellectual and political engine room of progressive politics in Yoruba land with a proud and lofty people not willing to be pushed around by anybody or subjected to existential indignities. It is in Osun that the mosaic of Yoruba sub-ethnic groups finds their most potent expression of fierce independence of spirit. Anybody willing to politically subjugate or economically humiliate them is up against a people who regard political hostilities as a joyous pastime.

The APC will have to make up its mind whether it prefers winning pointless political battles rather than winning the war for the affection, admiration and respect of the politically discerning Yoruba people. Insofar as it is widely regarded in respectable Yoruba circles as nothing but a democratic doppelganger of the much-hated and reviled PDP, its fate appears to be sealed.

Unless the APC raises its game there is no hope of its being remembered as a legacy political party in the manner of classical ideological formations such as the Nigerian Youth Movement, the old NCNC, the iconic Action Group and the much adulated NEPU. In retrospect much thought and proactive planning went into the activities of these associations.

But if the inchoate internal structure, lack of higher seriousness and ideological clarity of the ruling APC is to blame for its current fumbling and wobbling and its resort to self-help and voter intimidation, a substantial part of the blame also goes to the PDP whose earlier depredations have made it impossible for the APC to strike out boldly and imaginatively on its own without resorting to the excesses and political brigandage which have made the PDP a byword for ethical infamy in the annals of party formation in Nigeria.

In the light of past performance and current achievement, the future looks very bleak for party formations as the sole vehicle of rapid structural transformation of Nigeria. Given the fact that both the PDP and the APC are proving to be nothing more than two sides of a very bad coin at the moment, the electorate is forced to resort to self-help and mob rule begins to look like an increasingly viable alternative to elite delinquency.

This is precisely where the danger lies. Several times in the past Nigeria has embarked on this journey to yesterday with perilous consequences. Let us recall only one instance. Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye was a famous politician of the First and Second Republics. He was the chairman of the NPN. The son of a wealthy cocoa merchant in Ibadan, the tall aristocrat lawyer was a brilliant and caustic observer of the unfolding political scene. He was known to have given the Afenifere cognomen to the pan-Yoruba cultural group.

At the height of the political acrimony between the NPN and other opposition parties, but notably the UPN, Chief Akinloye famously observed that there were only two parties in Nigeria: the military and all the other parties. It proved fatally prophetic. But now with the military mercifully receding into remote background, and since you cannot step into the same river twice, one can safely say in the light of recent developments that there are only three parties in Nigeria: the judiciary, the people and all the other parties.

Going forward, it is now imperative for APC as the ruling party to facilitate a qualitative differentiation between itself and the other main parties in order to present Nigeria with a clear choice in terms of concise ideology and coherent program. This is the political merchandise that sells a party and recommends it to posterity. Otherwise, there is really no party but a well-oiled platform to capture and retain power.

Beyond the current political muscle flexing and the muzzling of internal opposition, enlightened self-interest and what the French call la longue duree ought to suggest to the party hierarchs that this is a task that can no longer be postponed if the party must save the country from creeping political anarchy. The APC must improve on its leadership recruitment mode, its mechanism for resolving internal dispute and its mode of preferment and patronage. This is the only way to forestall the near disaster that Osun was.

The Pathfinder International | September 30, 2018 at 4:43 am | Categories: Africa Today | URL:
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This essay first appeared in The Pathfinder International

Tatalo Alamu:Election as Metaphor – The road to yesterday

Wednesday, October 3, 2018. 4:41 P.M. [GMT]


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