culled from GUARDIAN, November 8, 2006
The events of the last 12 months allow us to advance this proposition: The current ruling bloc in Nigeria, under the political leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, and with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as mere cover, desperately wants to retain power beyond May 2007 by any means allowed by its specious reading and application of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And it would appear that this ruling bloc is succeeding. Some explanation or elaboration is necessary. The elaboration is the theme of this piece.
First, the ruling PDP as it is today, is a product of a creeping, but ultimately successful coup d'etat in the leadership of the party. The coup was staged by use of state power-made possible, in part, by the fact that PDP is the ruling party at the national level, that Nigeria's state structure is more unitary than federal, and that those who staged the coup are constitutionally the primary wielders of the decisive weapons of state power. And by using state power in reconstructing the ruling party around a new core - the Presidency - the victorious group also staged a coup within the Nigerian state. In other words, the now victorious faction staged two coups simultaneously: within the Nigerian state and within the leadership of the ruling party.
The staging of coup d'etat by use of existing state power (rather than against it) is not new in history. We may take as classic example the regime of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) who, from being the President of France (1848-1852) became the Emperor of France (1852-1870) by staging a coup against the regime he headed. Another example was President Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central Africa Republic who, having seized power, staged a coup against himself and went from President (1966-1972) to life President (1972-1976) and further to Emperor (1976-1979). We may also refer to the evolution of one-party states in Africa. In each instance, the victorious faction, if it still claims to be a constitution-based regime, proceeds to amend or formalise the amendment of existing Constitution.
Secondly, for various reasons, including the balance of forces in the country and the "democratic" pretensions of the "International Community", the victorious faction of the PDP would not like to overtly violate the Constitution in big issues. By this I mean that the "core" could always choose to be able to cite the Constitution in support of its actions; and in serious adverse cases, would like to be seen to comply with the Constitution. We may note the President's measured broadcast announcing the declaration of emergency in Ekiti State at dawn on Thursday October 19, 2006 and the brilliance with which the President's Political Adviser explained the executive action in an opinion article in The Guardian of Thursday, October 26, 2006. We also note the speed with which the Presidency accepted the verdict on the "third-term" agenda. This acceptance, we ought to have known and, in any case, we now know was a mere tactical manouvre not a change of strategy.
Before proceeding any further, I would like to offer three caveats.
First caveat: We oppose the current victorious faction of the power blocs not necessarily because it is the worst faction (in terms of vision and agenda) but because it is the most powerful and is in power. This opposition does not, therefore translate to support for any of the rival factions. I don't think that the nation is faced with the question of either/or. If we think straight we shall see redeeming options. Indeed, several options issue everyday from media reports, analyses and opinions, including newspaper editorial opinions. Most of the options indicated in the media can be pursued within the present constitution and the contradictions therein. An important question is whether you want to prevent a full-blown fascist state emerging in May 2007 or you want to come to power in May 2007. Here I express an "unpopular" opinion: those who are genuinely committed to the former are not likely to come to power in May 2007.
Second Caveat: The Federal Government's anti-corruption agencies, already para-political will play more visible - and eventually decisive role in what happens in 2007. The most prominent of these agencies is, of course, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). I think it was Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi who, in the run-up to the 1983 General Elections, called the incumbent Inspector-General of Police "Deputy President", in an opinion article in The Guardian. It was a very perceptive and beautiful article, a landmark in my movement towards the newspaper. But for the fact that I know the Executive Chairman of EFCC and some of his friends and young Nigerians working with him, I would have been tempted to call the agency "Deputy Presidency" and its leader "Deputy President". My caveat here is that if I say that the hegemonic core is using the EFCC I should not be construed as saying that the young men and women running the agency are putting themselves in the service of that core, or that I am doubting their honesty or patriotism.
Let me explain. The state, as several writers have explained and as I have also insisted in this column, is a terrain of struggle, a struggle in which individuals and factions - depending on their positions - utilise state institutions. This does not in itself, make the institutions or their leadership partisan. For example, a state functionary may politically instigate a crisis that leads to actual break-down of law and order, and then lawfully order a law-enforcement agency to restore order - a restoration from which the functionary or his or her faction plans to benefit. To what extent can the agency, in restoring order be accused of being used? Again, a state functionary may, using his or her privileged or constitutional position reveal some crimes while concealing others. To what extent can a crime investigating agency be accused of partisanship for pursuing the crimes that have been revealed?
What is important is that the leadership of a crime investigating, or law enforcement agency - which claims to be patriotic - be conscious of the fact that he or she does not know everything, cannot know everything, and may know certain things on which it cannot act. If the conscience of a functionary is assailed by this knowledge or lack of it, or he or she can no longer manage it to the benefit of the masses, then the functionary should opt out. I was confronted by this type of dilemma in 1986 when I was a member of the Political Bureau. While still contemplating what to do and how to do it, I was pushed out! Perhaps my colleagues in the Bureau read me, and anticipated me too closely.
Third caveat: "Thou shall not steal", says the Holy Bible. I am sure every religion has an injunction against stealing, the taking of what does not belong to you or is not meant for you. Christianity even forbids you to look at a neighbour's partner (male or female) with lustful eyes. You should also not be envious. For this could lead to actual stealing. I believe that anti-stealing laws were the first set of all laws in organised human societies. It is today, one of the foundations of the state, any state at all: progressive or reactionary, radical or conservative, socialist or capitalist. I therefore support anti-stealing legislation in principle. What to do to thieves or "stealers" (as a Guardian columnist recently called them), or why people steal are problems in sociology, politics, psychology and philosophy - not in law.
These caveats allow me to make the following points. It is necessary to do a class analysis of our anti-corruption agencies, especially the EFCC. They should be placed in the context of Nigeria's history, political economy, state structure, class structure and intra-class and inter-class struggles. This task is urgent, so that democrats are being mobilised by the power blocs for a "populism" which seeks to displace the central demands of the masses. We must not mistake an extremely exploitative and enslaving economic and socio-political system for the massive corruption within it. To put the matter strongly: Corruption is the lubricant of this system. Without corruption the elaborate system we are now running will make no sense; without corruption, the engine of the system will "knock". These propositions open up radical perspectives on which a platform can be built.
Let me explain: Suppose Nigeria's economic and socio-political system is purged of corruption up to the level that is humanly possible on the planet Earth in 2006. The system, I insist, will still be exploitative, unjust and enslaving. There will still be mass inequality, mass poverty and mass hunger in the land. There will of course, be a redistribution of Nigeria's resources, but this will take place only within the ruling class fractions. There will be new millionaires; there will be reduced holdings by some wealthy people, and enhanced holdings by some wealthy people, and enhanced holdings by others; there will be bankruptcy in some quarters and softer cushions in others. But the reality of exploitation, hunger and poverty will remain.
The "wretched of the earth" will remain wretched. We may put this as a question: Is mass poverty caused by the massive corruption in the system? My answer is "No". But I would concede that corruption makes the situation more intolerable.