The si­lence of our ‘friends’

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - PANORAMA - Ayo So­gunro @ayoso­gunro

THE ad­vent of elec­tion sea­son in Nige­ria is, for a sane ob­server, a tor­tured ex­er­cise in the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief. For those few months, the drama of po­lit­i­cal con­ve­nience opens across the coun­try, wip­ing off whims of in­formed pol­i­tics. A cast of zany char­ac­ters de­ter­mined to in­gra­ti­ate their way into favours with Aso Rock crops up. Their an­tag­o­nists, equally de­ter­mined to check them with por­tents of fright­en­ing prob­a­bil­i­ties, fol­low suit. Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal class – the ag­gre­ga­tion of tra­di­tional rul­ing fam­i­lies, the rem­nants of the 1960s ‘na­tion­al­ists’, and the mil­i­tary-demo­cratic com­plex – di­rect this show be­hind the cur­tains. Out­wardly, the po­lit­i­cal class acts dis­in­ter­ested.

Still, this is also the time that Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal elites reap­pear with a re­dis­cov­ery of their po­lit­i­cal con­science. Feign­ing friend­ship for the masses and con­cerns for gov­er­nance, they mas­sage our sen­si­bil­i­ties through open let­ters, pub­lic notices, words of ad­vice, and sim­i­lar ex­pres­sions of ‘states­man­ship’ and ‘con­cerned cit­i­zen­ship’.

But they present these in­ter­ven­tions – to use the term gen­er­ously – when their words have lit­tle or no value to ac­tual gov­er­nance. For ex­am­ple, the econ­omy may al­ready be in sham­bles or thou­sands of lives lost. For peo­ple who claim to care about gov­er­nance, they wait un­til an ad­min­is­tra­tion is in ru­ins be­fore speak­ing up. Peo­ple who do care about gov­er­nance are crit­i­cal of the di­rec­tion of an ad­min­is­tra­tion from the first day of its ten­ure. They en­gage its poli­cies to pre­vent dam­age, and not just to give a post-dam­age score sheet.

But Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal elites are more in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics than in gov­er­nance. Im­me­di­ately after an elec­tion, they fade into the back­ground for some two to three years, dis­tanced from pol­icy di­rec­tions and pop­u­lar ag­i­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, in the last two years, Nige­ri­ans have died from ter­ror­ist at­tacks, mili­tia at­tacks, mil­i­tary ‘ac­ci­dents’, po­lice bru­tal­ity, po­lit­i­cal and elec­tion vi­o­lence, road and trans­port ac­ci­dents, de­fi­cient health­care, mi­gra­tion ac­ci­dents, de­fi­cient pub­lic util­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture. Rarely did mem­bers of the po­lit­i­cal class speak up on these. They were mute when this ad­min­is­tra­tion lacked a cabi­net, or­dered an ar­bi­trary mon­e­tary pol­icy, ig­nored court or­ders, and failed to dis­close the pres­i­dent’s health sta­tus.

Yes, there is an el­e­ment of strate­gic pa­tron­age in­volved. There is a sort of po­lit­i­cal code that de­mands si­lence when an­other player owns the field. The ban lifts only when the next ‘match’ is about to be­gin. Which is why now, when Nige­ri­ans do not ac­tu­ally need them, the po­lit­i­cal class have come crawl­ing out. They will start re­assert­ing a pa­ter­nal­is­tic re­la­tion­ship, at­tempt­ing to shape the next elec­tions. I dare­say the pub­lic is­sues that mat­ter to or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans are only tac­ti­cal moves in a game to the po­lit­i­cal class.

Party la­bels do not mat­ter in these. The boxes we call APC/PDP to­day are the same boxes that used to be called AD/APGA/APP/CPC/PDP. If we go back in time a bit, it was NRC/SDP and NPN/UPN or AG/NCNC/NPC. Open these boxes, add some con­tent here and re­move some there. Stick a new la­bel over it and a new party emerges un­der the own­er­ship of the same set of peo­ple. This re­arrange­ment is what our elite cares about: the move­ment of power through po­lit­i­cal par­ties fi­nanced by re­sources of state for the re­de­liv­ery of re­sources to the elite. And, when a party gets toxic, the po­lit­i­cal class dele­git­imises it and guides us into an­other party they have cre­ated.

In the course of this cy­cle, the or­di­nary Nige­rian seems hap­less. We are still dis­united by ethno-re­li­gious sen­ti­ments and po­liced un­der a se­cu­rity state. Of­ten, we are less con­cerned by po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy and more con­cerned by the de­liv­ery of hu­man se­cu­rity, a good econ­omy, and func­tional pub­lic util­i­ties and so­cial goods. There is, there­fore, a ten­dency for us to sup­port those whom we think have the ca­pac­ity to con­trol power to­wards the de­liv­ery of these goals. In this way, we never break free from the chains of the po­lit­i­cal class. Like a tele­coms ser­vice provider of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent pack­ages of the same prod­uct, our po­lit­i­cal class pro­vides us with a range of seem­ingly op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties to choose our lead­ers from. They mo­ti­vate us with the sud­den clar­ity they have de­rived from ‘watch­ing’ and ‘ob­serv­ing’ the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. But once the elec­tions are over, the elites rarely try to steer these par­ties into de­liv­er­ing good gov­er­nance for the masses. This is ridiculous.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that, in the end, the words of our en­e­mies would have less im­pact than the si­lence of our friends. Yet, it seems that we Nige­ri­ans are prone to for­get­ting the si­lence of ‘our friends’. We are pawns in one in­te­grated game of po­lit­i­cal con­trol that has now spanned over 50 years. The ad­vent of elec­tion sea­son is here: we would be fool­ish if we still do not un­der­stand this swin­dle.

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