Guest Columnist

Nigerian Politics as Rocket Science (2), By Onwe John Onu

Politics is held up as a difficult thing particularly so in Nigeria. It is considered difficult in the sense that even though it is part of human life and being the definitive process through which civilisation is transmitted from generation to generation, it has acquired a notoriety that is difficult to whitewash or wish away in Nigeria. Short of official designation or definition in world records (dictionaries, encyclopedia or legal instruments) as the business of, for evil-minded people, politics the world over is adjudged by all and sundry as an art of roguery, shamanism, voodooism and sorcery and as noted earlier, moreso in Nigeria than in any other societies throughout the world. To every Nigerian, politics is evil, dirty and vicious, and it remains so until these features are shaved off and transformed to become a vocation of service or what the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary has defined it to be: “the science or business of government.” If politics be truly understood as a vocation of service why then should anybody turn round to obfuscate issues of politics to become a ‘rocket science’ or an arcane arts as Nigerian politicians have made it to become since 1930s when the Nigerian Youth Movement, the first truly Nigerian political party was formed? Why should anyone make this truly honourable vocation seem to be beyond the comprehension of otherwise intelligent and honourable people and rather transform and hold it up as a dirty, stupid, destructive and criminal enterprise? Let’s digress to interrogate politics in other saner climes to see if their variants are the same with politics Nigeriana and if such have translated to the type of violence, crimes, poverty and ignorance that politics has plunged Nigeria into since 1947 when British-inspired partisan politics germinated in Nigeria.

Is ‘politics’ a cultural phenomenon common to humanity? Yes, of course! Politics as defined by the dictionaries “as the science or business of government” domiciles it as a human process, action or set of actions for the development and sustenance of man and his civilisation. If politics is the art, science or business of government then it is common to all humanity and to every society from the family to the apex of society which is the state and its polity. Greece, the cradle of Western civilisation gives the world the term ‘politics’, which originated from Greek ‘polis’ meaning city while ‘polities’ means citizen. ‘Polities’ originally had to do with whatever concerns the status, rights and duties of citizens of a city for the Greek organised themselves in cities and members of a city are known as citizens. With passage of time, ‘politics’ has acquired two distinct meanings, namely, ‘the art or science of government’ which in academics is now recognized as a branch of learning or knowledge called ‘political science’ while the humdrum business of government or management of political affairs of any society from the local community to the national level is called ‘politics’. As noted earlier, politics is not alien to Africans for Africa has organised and founded great polities from ancient Egypt, Carthage, Sudan, Ghana, Songhai, Mali, Benin, Oyo, Kanem Bornu, Opobo and numerous others. All these great polities were managed through the instrumentality of politics to the level they attained world renown. So, politics did not come to African polities as a gift from the Western world through colonisation. But it was the brand of politics introduced by western colonialists that distorted and twisted African conception of politics to its present dark connotations. Thus the British for instance, deployed most vicious brand of politics which was geared to divide-and-rule the African aboriginal communities they conquered and subjugated. So, the politics they played in Nigeria between 1851 and 1960 was different from what obtains in Britain, then and now. Through centuries of political evolution, Britain had evolved from William the Conqueror’s fiefdom to its present institutionalised parliamentary supremacy with the attendant legal order founded on freedom and rule of law. Politics in most Nigerian pre-colonial ethnic societies were based on deliberative consultation conciliation, consensus and mutual agreement. It was unlike the Western democracy, non-adversarial and non-partisan with its greedy ‘winner-take all’ format. Western form of democracy founded on party politics does not suit new states that have not formed common culture with shared values and that was the reason the 13 British American colonies upon their assumption of the struggle for independence under a national organisation, the Sons of Liberty never embraced partisan politics even though they had been introduced to the dualist partisan political culture entrenched in Britain under the Tory and the Whigs. Rather than adopting this partisan political culture the founding fathers of USA chose to organise their political economy – that is between Agriculture-Land based political economy led by Jefferson and the Commercial-Industrial economy led by Alexander Hamilton. It has to be acknowledged that man has basically two natures to his existence which translates that in any deliberation there was bound to be divided opinion. Due to this natural division, the political opinions of the founding fathers of USA that found natural expression in the Agriculture-Land based political economy led by Jefferson and the Commercial-Industrial economy led by Alexander Hamilton culminated in the Federalists and Anti-Federalists during the 1787 Constitution Ratification debates resulting in the creation of the two main political streams in USA and this has defined American politics from 1787 to date. But politics by these founding fathers was driven by patriotism, nationalism and commonsense hence even when the Federalists had won the debates about the principles of USA’s 1787 Constitution they turned to pacify the Anti-Federalists by drafting the Bill of Rights which consists of ten very fundamental freedoms which they incorporated in the 1787 Constitution to quieten the fears of, and assuage the feelings of loss suffered by the Anti-Federalists. Politics of succession to the USA presidency provided fertile grounds for frictions and acrimony but the founding fathers managed the process because their respective political objectives were not to ‘conquer’ and ‘rule’ any person or people. The overall objective was to make Project-USA succeed. It was in 1796 that the contest for the US presidency was conducted on partisan basis when John Adam, Vice President to George Washington as Federalist candidate successfully opposed Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican candidate to become president while Jefferson became vice president. In the 1800 presidential election which was fought like its Nigerian version, when Jefferson defeated Adams but tied with Adams’ running mate, Aaron Bur thereby shifting the election to Congress’ Electoral College which chose Jefferson over Aaron Bur with the tragic consequences that Alexander Hamilton who played pivotal role in the choice of Jefferson over Aaron Bur infuriated Bur who became so incensed and angry with Hamilton to challenge him to a duel wherein he killed Hamilton and ran away from justice by becoming fugitive in another State. After James Monroe, America witnessed a succession of lacklustre presidents and politics become humdrum until America was imperiled by existential questions especially slavery which issues were resolved by the emergence of Abraham Lincoln as president who opposed the Confederacy’s scheme to divide the nation leading to the American Civil War (1861-1865) that ended in the sustenance of the Union and its 1787 Federal Constitution.

It is pertinent to note that the choice of United States’ politics over British variant is because there is nothing ennobling about British politics worthy of emulation by Nigeria. British politics is based on principles of conquest, subjugation and subterfuge and it was as a result of this peculiar culture that British politics has largely been defined by humongous violence, subterfuge and slow developmental strides. It took Britain over 1000 years to attain super-power status whereas American politics catapulted USA from 1776 to 1945 (merely 169 years) to superpower status. It is moot question whether Nigeria should travel the British political journey or emulate the constitutional process that gave birth to America and which constitutional culture has defined its politics. Nigeria should also have recourse to countries like India, Singapore, nearby Benin Republic, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Britain and Rwanda that overcame dictatorship and autocratic constitutional foundation to recreate states based on democracy, constitutionalism and egalitarianism. Most of the countries we have cited were like Nigeria in its formative years for the colonial masters imposed autocratic legal order and created unequal society riven by sectarian strife and tribal animosities but the people and their leaders picked up courage to reorder their state and society.

In counterpoint to Nigerian politics, we, in preceding paragraphs delved into early history of US politics and how it was shaped, defined and practiced on the parameters of ideological thoughts and inclinations of the founding fathers of the United States. By ideology, we do not mean the usual classifications into capitalism and socialism, the first being the endpoints having grown out of feudalism while the latter was meant to be the natural progression from capitalism and a culmination eventually into communism. The ideological standpoints of American founding fathers centred on capitalist economic formations which panned out of the Industrial Revolution in 1750s that followed closely the British political revolution of 1680s when autocratic monarchy was overthrown and replaced with parliamentary democracy with capitalism (finance-trade-based) as its direct economic template spin-out over feudalism (Land-agriculture based). With these politico-economic standpoints grew quasi-ideological beliefs and praxis coalescing into the single organisation that fought and won freedom and independence of USA. This political template transformed into two main political parties in 1796. From then, politics in the United States took shape and its practice has checkered outcomes but certainly more rational and understandable than its Nigerian counterpart. Flashes of its ‘badness’ and irrationality happens intermittently but due to the impregnable fortress and bulwark provided by the 1787 constitutional framework and the socio-cultural and political mores, these negative features have not been allowed to overwhelm the US State and society by growing into autocracy and kleptocracy that Nigerian politics has turned out to become.

Nigerian politics took its bearing from its British origin as the indigenous culture was supplanted and replaced with the British-received one. British politics flows from conquest, subjugation and kleptocracy, and the reason why this culture obtains is not difficult to decipher. British history has been a history of conquest, subjugation and slavery. Starting from 1066, when William, French Duke of Normandy, a political bandit invaded England and overthrew its legitimate king and ruled with spectacular highhandedness and brutality as shown by the Doomsday debacle when he listed thousands of English royalty and noblemen and put them to death and seized their property. This culture of violence and impunity was built into British politics and transported to its colonies upon its becoming an empire in the 17th century.  Every British colony has this germ of violent politics and subterfuge planted in it. And this is particularly so for every colony that failed to cut its umbilical cord with Britain by disallowing it to determine its state structure and politico-constitutional framework. Every African country ruled by Britain had it. But USA, Singapore and Israel that severed British umbilical cord are relatively free from that genius. Nigerian politics took off effectively in the 1934 when young men formed the Lagos (later Nigerian) Youth Movement (NYM). NYM activities were centred in Lagos as the colonial politics was limited to the then Legislative Council that was the ruling organ for Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Azikiwe and Awolowo’s membership of NYM was a catalyst for Nigerian politics but it also led to its polarization as the Ernest Ikoli and Samuel Akinsanya contest pitched Awolowo’s supporters for Ernest Ikoli against Azikiwe’s choice of Samuel Akinsanya to fill up the vacant position left by Dr. Adeyemo Alakija. This NYM political disagreement between Azikiwe and Awolowo divided the early nationalists. The polarization of Southern politics has remained a major problem to the political health of Nigeria especially given the fact that Britain exploited this division to set up the Hausa-Fulani unipolar politics in counterpoise to the bifurcated Southern politics. When the Macpherson Constitution took effect in 1947, British colonial authority had through the Northern Native Authority system selected Northern leaders made up of some emirs and some educated commoners to represent the North in the central legislature. Some of these people were members of staff of native authority. It was through this means that British agent; Robert Wright headhunted and groomed Tafawa Balewa as an arrowhead of British-created Northern political leadership that it hoped would become its neo-colonial manager of Nigeria after independence. North’s politics during this period centred on its implacable thought that Nigeria was an impossible project. It was in the light of the foregoing that Balewa made his famous 1947 speech at the Legislative Council declaring that unity was an impossible proposition unless they become rulers threatening that if the British left then that they, the North would resume the British-interrupted Hausa-Fulani conquest of the South. Southern politicians’ answer to these northern politicians’ standpoints ranged from cautions optimism by Awolowo while Azikiwe without any thought of the dangers was dreaming of a strong, united and unitary state. Between 1947 and 1954, an irreparable damage was done to Nigerian politics through the British conscious manipulation and subterfuge by playing Northern politicians against their Southern counterparts and having in 1951 divided Southern political solidarity under Azikiwe’s NCNC by empowering Awolowo’s AG to take control of Western Region, a Northern unipolar politics was created to overwhelm the South at any political contest. With respect to the structure, political and constitutional framework of Nigeria, British strategy was to deploy the instrumentality of Indirect Rule System to people the Central Legislature and in that way undercut and sideline the southern nationalists that concentrated their politics in the urban centres of Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Calabar, Enugu, Jos and others. Through this strategy, Azikiwe, Awolowo and other Nigerian nationalists domiciled in cities were not nominated into the Legislative Council, but Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and other Northern political leaders were. It was at the Legislative Council in 1947 that Balewa and Bello unfurled the definitive Northern political charter of accepting unity only at the parameters of ruling Nigeria and this was accomplished at the 1950 Constitutional Conference when important decisions such as conceding 50% representation to the North, sustenance of the 3-region structure instead of breaking up Nigeria into many regions and so on were taken. By 1954 Constitutional Conference, the South was hopelessly divided over the ratification of the 1950 concession of 50% representation in the Parliament to the North regardless of the demographic data and creation of regions, etc. Azikiwe and Awolowo could not take united stand against this Northern political onslaught and on basis of Southern disunity, the North prevailed!

The general elections of 1959 was blatantly rigged by British colonial authority led by Governor James Robertson and this treasonable felony was even contained in British official records declassified and published in 2000 and as confessed by Harold Smith, a British colonial officer Governor Robertson tried unsuccessfully to conscript to participate in rigging the Northern Peoples Congress into power. The political heist was accomplished and Balewa was installed as prime minister to usher in independence much against the wish of Azikiwe and Awolowo who failed to present a united front or an alliance. After independence in 1960, the ruling party, the Northern Peoples Congress deployed its political arsenal not just to rule but to subjugate Nigeria and render the other parties not agreeing with it irrelevant. Thus, having entered into alliance with Azikiwe’s NCNC in 1960 to form government, it set its eyes on decapitating Awolowo’s leadership and triumphed when Balewa’s NPC-led Federal Government deployed federal power to probe Awolowo’s tenure as Premier of Western Region whereupon corruption indictment per Coker Commission and Bairamian Panel of Inquiry rubbished Awolowo. Meanwhile, a crisis was instigated in Western Region government when the Federal Government declared state of emergency in the Western Region and appointed Balewa’s personal physician, Dr Majekodunmi as administrator. The Western Region having been bludgeoned and contained, allegation of coup against Awolowo and his lieutenants was made and Awolowo and some of his men were rounded up and jailed. By 1966, all seemed quiet at the western front, but Awolowo’s sympathizers embittered about the Northern politics of subjugation executed the January 15, 1966 coup that culminated in General JTU Ironsi seizing power but messed it up. Ironsi’s blunders sparked a revenge coup that led to pogroms against Igbo and the interference of Britain in the mess led of the Biafra War and after almost 3 years, Biafra was defeated and the Igbo and other communities in the defunct Eastern Region were herded back to Nigeria. Between 1970 and 1975, Gowon ruled but was accused of corruption and overthrown by Col. Murtala Mohammed who resuscitated the British constitutional framework consisting of the Indirect Rule System which he renamed Uniform Local Government System and created seven additional states with his North having one state advantage over the South and finally imposed feudal land tenure system encapsulated in the Land Use Decree that turned every Nigerian as an ‘occupier’ without radical title to property. Murtala Mohammed was killed by Middlebelt officers and General Obasanjo took over government but Obasanjo’s task was to implement faithfully Murtala Mohammed’s agenda which he accomplished and executed a political transition programme culminating in Shagari presidency in 1979. President Shagari ruled from 1979-1983 but the defining point of his political era was corruption and accomplishment of Northern political agenda such as the making of landmass as a factor in derivative principles of national revenue sharing. President Shagari was overthrown by General Muhammadu Buhari whose own agenda was an anti-corruption measures against Southern leaders and other disaffected communities’ members. His foray into religion started the process of making Nigeria a member of Organisation of Islamic Conference but he was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida before realizing it. General Babangida took power in 19865 and unfurled political transition programme that culminated in the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election that was cancelled. Politics under Babangida was marked by a new paradigm that required a lot of money to get by. Babangida stepped aside and General Abacha took over and planned to transmute from military head of State to ‘democratically elected president but died before accomplishing it. Abdulsalam Abubakar took over power and executed the 1998/1999 political transition programme that birthed 1999 Constitution and present political culture. Politics under this dispensation is a culmination of the Shagari, Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalam Abubakar political mores. This political culture is defined by unconscionable use of money, violence, abuse of judicial process and other kleptocratic principles. There are no redeeming features making politics a social process of reforming and developing the society under the present era that spanned 1957 and 1999 into the present day. Other remarkable features that are common to all the epochs were the massive, pervasive and unconscionable use of money and violence to acquire political power and to exploit that public power and authority for selfish private ends. Every politician’s motto is that the end justifies the means and acquisition of power is regarded as an absolute value hence anything could be done, including taking human life to achieve it. Other strategic   and remarkable features of politics between 1957 and 1999 stretching to date is the deployment of religion, money and ethnicity in the conduct of politics in Nigeria. Religion is a major staple in Nigerian politics, especially in the North where devious politicians fall back on Islam as a joker against their Southern counterpart. Now, this religious card has graduated to a major quagmire as its deployment under Buhari presidency has opened Nigerians’ eyes to its deleterious effects and now Islam is being squared up to Christianity. The use of money and materials has been a political culture in Nigeria but since 2003 the usage has been excessive that to contest for any position at the local government level, the aspirant must have a war-chest of millions while at the state and federal levels the war-chest runs in billions if not trillions. Of course, the issue of ethnicity has been an irredeemable feature as an aspirant must belong to a major tribe or dominant section of the country, state or local government to succeed in Nigeria. It is these negative features defining politics that politicians exploit to present politics as a ‘rocket science’ or an ‘arcane art’ in Nigeria. Politicians present politics as forbidden act which only the initiate can play. So, when Atiku says Obi has no structure he is referring to these obtuse features and when Kashim Shettima says Obi can only be president in Igbo land he is referring to religion, violence, money and ethnicity as factors of politics in Nigeria.

What is it that makes politics difficult to practice in Nigeria other than these base instincts of illicit fund, tribalism, religion and kleptocratic principles of lies, roguery and violence that are off-putting to otherwise decent men, but a leisurely affair for amoral people. To become a politician in Nigeria, you are required to undergo a period of tutelage under a master who grooms you and possibly sponsors you for the office-desired as godfather. Within the period, you acquire the skills to lie effortlessly, to steal the ballot-box, to intimidate and kill and of course organise a squad to handle the dirty tasks. By the time you graduate by becoming local government chairman, governor or president and acquired unearned humongous income, you are held up as a Nigerian patriot, a good man and a political bulldozer in your own right not beholding to any other power beyond you. Then you can stand against anybody and damn the consequences. Party apparatchik and partisans of PDP and APC belong to this class of political culture and anybody outside the circle is held in disdain. Any supporter outside this circle is derided as wasting his time and vote. That is the reasons why the PDP and APC and their henchmen, Atiku, Kashim Shettima and Kwankwaso dismiss Peter Obi as an unserious candidate because in the already conquered and subjugated zones roughly controlled by PDP and APC, Peter Obi appears to have no foothold in any of the six geo-political zones. That is the rocket science and arcane arts of political ‘cantonment’ made popular by President Olusegun Obasanjo when he is subjected politicians under ‘cantonment’ commanders such as Lamidi Adedibu of Oyo State under whom Governor Rashid Radoja governed and Governor Nwabueze Ngige under Chris Uba and so on. But this bad politics is possible because elections are rigged in favour of the person favoured by the holder of ultimate political authority in the Federal Government that controls the Independent National Electoral Commission, the security agencies and the judiciary. If elections are clean, fair and credible politics will be good and pleasant and embraced by good men and will cease to be the fort of bad men and ‘toughies. And just then, it will cease to be a ‘rocket science’ but becomes a vocation of service and a pastime for the development of society and a turf for patriots and citizens.

  • Onu John Onwe is former Political Adviser to former Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi (2007-2015)













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