Something new always comes out of Africa indeed. The nation-state paradigm imposed on the continent by our colonial masters is finally cocking a snook at its European mentors. In Nigeria for example, the post-colonial state is unravelling in a way and manner that must baffle and confound most western analysts. It is still there alright, or at least a semblance of it subsists, holding whatever remains of the country together by sheer militaristic terror.
But it is presence defined by yawning and significant absence. The state has withered away in almost every material particular. All the important pillars of state validation have either collapsed outright or suffered landmark erosion. If this analysis is extended to the theatre of politics, things are even more dispiriting. Without politics there can be no polity and without polity there can be no human society to talk about. Politics determine how human societies are organized and ordered.
Unfortunately in contemporary Nigeria, the noble art of politics has been so devalued, so debased and so desecrated that it is in danger of losing its power and efficacy as the principal instrument of social engineering known to human society. In any human society, the failure of politics and its redemptive and restorative possibilities leads to feelings of revulsion for or antipathy to politics and the rise of powerful groups advocating fragmentation or the total abolition of politics itself.
In the twentieth century, the politics of anti-politics had led directly, and from contrary locations on the ideological spectrum, to the rise of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot and Ayatollah Khomeini. Whatever anybody may say about the subsequent trajectory of their career, there can be no doubt that they owed their initial rise to the inner dynamics of their respective societies, particularly the collapse of hope and conventional expectations in regular politics.
This is what is playing out currently in Nigeria and if care is not taken, it may led to a bloody and messy dismemberment of the nation or asymmetrical civil war such as was witnessed on the dissolution of old Yugoslavia. Anti-politics occurs when real politics has been given a short shrift by the contending sides.
The virus of anti-politics has dogged Nigerian politics ever since independence and particularly since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic with its inauspicious circumstances. Its dark furies and irrational venom for everything politics or political occasioned the phenomenon known as the Wetie uprising in the old West, the widespread pogroms against the Ibo people orchestrated by the Northern elite and the eventual secession gambit as a response by the Igbo leadership.
The warning signals came early enough in the Fourth Republic probably because of its insalubrious background. On September 10th 2001, as part of the ceremonies marking the eighty fifth anniversary of the Yoruba Tennis Club in Lagos, yours sincerely gave the anniversary lecture titled, The Politics of Anti-politics. It was a lecture graced by who was who among Yoruba political, economic and traditional aristocracy. President Obasanjo sent his Minister, Dr Abimbola Ogunkelu.
The lecture plotted the unenviable trajectory of the Fourth Republic and drew attention to the rancid smell of anti-politics in the air in view of the sharia gambit by the elite of the north which was in reality an attempt to forcibly restructure the nation by destabilising and derailing the Obasanjo administration.
From the other end of the spectrum was the Yoruba resistance to the attempt by the Obasanjo administration to play up to the north by bringing to trial Gani Adams and his colleagues on allegations of terrorism and murder. Such was Obasanjo’s outrage about the activities of the OPC that he ordered that members of the organization be hounded down and summarily shot.
The irony did not escape the guest lecturer on this occasion that it was the same Yoruba people that Adams was said to be terrorizing who stormed the court at every proceeding to prevent the trial from taking off. Obviously, the irony of this grand repudiation of the politics of compromise in favour of the elaborate gesture of anti-politics was not lost on General Obasanjo who sensibly and tactically pulled the plug on the trial.
In retrospect, it would seem that the North’s insistence on the trial of the OPC leader was a calculated ploy to further alienate Obasanjo from his people in readiness for his political defenestration at the end of his first term.
But the equally wily Owu warrior sprang the trap. Obasanjo was to leverage on his new-found good standing with his people when the northern power mongers attempted to prevent him from obtaining a second term. The furious and affronted Yoruba leadership rallied to the side of their son and the Northern mafia backed off.
All these were clear enough early warning signals that despite the return of civil rule and the Obasanjo Settlement of 1999 which returned power to the South West, the unresolved National Question remains and so does the old hegemonic feud between the Yoruba leadership and the Northern power mafia.
It is this feud, often refracted into what is known as the National Question, that has framed Nigeria’s political journey up till the current conjuncture. From the time of Awo himself what begins as wary collaboration often turns into full blown confrontation.
It was therefore not surprising that at the lecture on the politics of anti-politics in 2001, the spirit of Anthony Enahoro, the great Nigerian nationalist, profound thinker, philosopher and master-journalist, hovered over the place. Although the illustrious patriot was still alive at that point in time, he was obviously on the last lap of his distinguished journey through the torture camp known as Nigeria.
The point of convergence with Enahoro may not be immediately obvious. But ten years earlier in 1991 and on the same podium and platform, the veteran agitator for an egalitarian Nigeria had delivered the Seventy Fifth Anniversary Lecture of the Yoruba Tennis Club. It was at the high noon of General Babangida’s transition chicanery which gulped 40 billion naira and took the nation on a sadistic rigmarole which ended in tears and tragedy on June 23rd 1993.
It was a rich hunting ground for the great Nigerian journalist noted for his acerbic wit and felicitous turn of phrase. Enahoro had earlier faulted the imposition of a two-party system on the nation as an “unwarranted diktat” by a military dictatorship at the end of its tethers. Taking a swipe at General Babangida’s state-orchestrated parties, Enahoro dismissed them as government parastatals totally lacking in character and ideology and their middlemen as unprincipled opportunists.
During the lecture, the distinguished statesman unfolded before the audience a rich tapestry of how to put at bay the military’s persistent and by then clearly destructive interference with the country’s political process. This can only be done by fundamentally restructuring the country in a way that reflects the aspirations of the constitutive units that make up Nigeria. Without this urgent radical surgery, Nigeria will forever be prone to instability until something puts the nation out of its misery.
Almost thirty years after Enahoro’s prophetic warning and nineteen years after the lecture on the dangers of anti-politics, the hour of reckoning seems to be at hand. Barely twenty years into the Fourth Republic, the unitary veil clamped upon a badly structured country by the departing military has given rise to revulsion with politics and politicians the like of which has never been seen in the history of the nation.
But it is not only politics and its practitioners that have become principal casualties of this rise of anti-politics. All major institutions of the state, particularly the judiciary, the bureaucracy and other hallowed apparatus of the state are in danger of desecration as a result of popular disgust with politics resulting in an active determination on the streets to bypass its regular channels in order to register their disapproval.
Take as an example recent Supreme Court rulings on electoral disputes which seemed to have reversed popular mandates in favour of narrow, soulless technicalities and judicial obfuscations. The Supreme Court is not designed by the constitution to act as the ultimate selectorate overriding and overruling the will and mandate of the electorate. But given the failure of politics as the authoritative allocation of resources, the Supreme Court has had to step in to adjudicate.
When mud is thrown real hard, some of it is bound to stick no matter what you do. As this column has argued once, you cannot drag the nation’s highest judicial organ into the cesspit of political machinations and expect it to come out smelling of rose. In a strange development which may yet find its way into the Guinness Book of Record, the latest round of judicial hyperactivity includes a flurry of mathematical computation at variance with actual reality.
The judiciary has not always been like Caesar’s wife in this matter. Somebody who is in danger of being roasted to death must avoid palm oil by all means. The gifting and accepting of a donation of five hundred million naira to the Peter Odili University by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, so soon after Odili’s wife, Mary, read the lead judgement in favour of the candidate of her husband’s party, smacks of executive and judicial irresponsibility of the highest order.
The subsequent barricading of the residence of Mrs Mary Odili by a hostile crowd of APC protesters shows how far the Supreme Court has gone in its descent into infamy and self-demystification. When the infallibility of finality is replaced in the public mind by the finality of infallibility, we have arrived at a dangerous intersection between corrupt politics and corrupted judgement.
It must be noted that not even during the controversial Twelve two third judgement by the Supreme Court was the apex court and its justices in danger of desecration and demystification. The judgement might have been received by sullen, stony faces on the streets but without a whimper. Forty one years down the line after that historic judgement, the residence of a Supreme Court justice was invaded by political hoodlums. And the revolution was televised.
Finally, where are the surviving Nigerian statesmen in all this? History will certainly not be kind to most of them. It is impossible to procure happiness and contentment from other people’s misery and unhappiness. Anthony Eromosele Enahoro will be chuckling in his grave. It is ten years since he departed. May the Adolor of Uromi continue to rest in perfect peace.