Jibrin Ibrahim: The Nigerian Consensus

On Friday and Saturday, we witnessed an image that most of us had hoped we would never see again. It was that of armed soldiers seizing newspapers from distributors and vendors so that Nigerians would not read the word. It was an alarming development because it was not for the military to decide whether or not we should have access to the news. Our Constitution is clear that we have the right and no one should seek to negate our constitutional rights. It should be recalled that the Military has ruled Nigeria for 29 out of the 53 years in which the country has existed as an independent entity. Over that period, the military has impacted strongly on the country’s culture and institutions.

It is clear to us as a people that military rule ultimately impacts negatively on society by generalising its authoritarian values, which are in essence anti-social and destructive of politics. Politics in this sense is understood as the art of negotiating conflicts related to the exercise of power and ensuring that the rights of the people are respected and protected. Indeed, military regimes have succeeded in permeating even civil society with their values – both the formal military values of centralisation and authoritarianism and the informal lumpen values associated with “barrack culture” and brutality that were derived from the colonial army. The specific legacy from the military on the political system is therefore the fabrication of a political culture oriented towards the imposition of a command and control structure on the political process that has made it difficult for genuine democratic culture to fully permeate our political process. It is on this basis that the Nigerian consensus emerged that we should never return to military rule.

I was therefore glad to read the interview by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh yesterday, (Thisday, 8/6/2014), affirming that; “The military are defenders of democracy. So when people are saying go and remove state governors so that you have total emergency, what is total emergency? The Constitution doesn’t talk about the removal of governor. There is nothing like total emergency. It is alien to our Constitution.” Indeed, the political consensus in Nigeria is that to survive and prosper as a nation, we must remain committed to maintaining constitutional rule as the sole basis and process for deepening democracy.

The second element of our national consensus is a rejection of regionalism and a commitment to preserving the present state structure of our political system. This was clearly expressed in the debates so far in the national conference. The stringent demands of a small minority that we should revert to regionalism were rejected. The fact of the matter is that Nigeria was lucky to have survived the dangerous path that the politics of regionalism placed the country on and we cannot return to it, at least not along the lines of the 1963 Constitution. The main couple of Nigerian politics has been identity mobilisation and perceptions of political domination. Identity mobilisation has been at the levels of ethnic, regional, religious and communal consciousness. These forms of consciousness are in themselves not a dangerous feature in plural states. They become problematic when they become, or are perceived as objects around which discriminatory practices and unjustified use of violence are organised.

Regionalism poisoned the political life of the First Republic because it was closed linked to fears of domination in the public imagination. Two broad issues are posed when ethno-regional domination emerges as a political issue. The first issue is the control of political power and its instruments such as the armed forces and the judiciary. The second is the control of economic power and resources. Both are powerful instruments that are used to influence the authoritative allocation of resources to groups and individuals. When democratic transition and its manipulation enter the agenda, the question of numbers becomes part of the game. Political forces seek to assemble the largest coalitions that could assure them access to power, and apart from ideology and interest articulation, primordial issues such as ethnicity, regionalism and religion become major instruments for political mobilisation. To save Nigeria from the death grip of the politics of regionalism, we created 36 relatively weak states (and the federal capital territory) out the four regions of the First Republic. That is what Nigerians want to keep.

The third element of our national consensus is that the idea of the edification of the principle of resource control is unacceptable to most Nigerians. It will be recalled that the concept of “resource control’ is an excellent example of political branding in which a small minority is able to transform an apparently neutral concept into an effective political weapon to wrest more national resources for a particular zone of the country to the detriment of the others. This minority has been able to successfully place a legitimacy challenge on the constitutional principle that mineral resources belong to the nation-state as a whole rather than the particular region that resource is mined from. The problem however is that the resource in question is petroleum, which more or less, all the states in the country depend on for their public expenditures. It is this dependency that makes the debate on fiscal federalism in Nigeria such an emotive issue.

Most of the Nigerian petroleum resources are produced in the territory of the Niger Delta minorities and not surprising, they have over time developed a high “oil consciousness” directed at getting more benefits from this mainstay of the Nigerian economy. Their intellectuals developed the thesis of the Niger Delta suffering from “internal colonialism”, which at that time they argued, was not carried out through economic domination but through control of political power which has been used to transfer the resources derived from the Niger Delta to other parts of the country. My real feeling is that if most states in Nigeria have no oil money to depend on, they will search for alternatives and will confront the challenges of development with vigour and determination. It will be good for them in the long run. As pundits respond to economists however, in the long run, we are all dead. At the moment, the national consensus is that virtually all states are so dependent on oil that they believe they will die without it.

The final element of the Nigerian consensus is that we need a new type of leadership that can make our institutions work, perform and improve the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians. This week, all Nigerians are grieving the death of Dora Akunyili. We grieve her because of the exceptional leadership she showed in NAFDAC where she fought against corruption and fake drugs. In the process she revived a lethargic typical governmental institution and transformed it into something that was improving the lives of Nigerians. We need more leaders like her. As I conclude this column, the announcement has just been made that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has emerged as the new Emir of Kano. He is bold, courageous and has a vision of positively transforming Nigeria. May his appointment be a turning point in the emergence of a new type of leadership that can leave our society better than they found it? The North in particular has suffered from a lack of good leadership for a long time. Nigeria as a whole desperately needs a new type of leadership that can build institutions and use public resources for the public good. May our new Emir have a long reign and may his rule be for the good of the people.


Jibrin Ibrahim is a Nigerian political scientist and activist in the struggles for deepening democracy and promoting peaceful coexistence. Executive Director at CDD West Africa.


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