By Akin Osuntokun
The most painful aspect of the behaviour of contemporary Nigerian political and bureaucratic elite (as represented by the national assembly and the judiciary) is its confirmation of the worst biases and prejudice of imperialist and colonialist writers on African politics and governance. The one such article, I find particularly galling is “Democracy and Prebendal politics in Nigeria” authored by Richard Joseph. ‘Prebendalism refers to political systems in which elected officials and government workers feel they have a right to a share of government revenues, and they use them to benefit supporters, co-religionists and members of their ethnic group’.
Before the rave of the ‘Prebendal Politics’ nomenclature, there was similar excitement over its older relative called Neopatrimonialism- defined as a “system of social hierarchy where patrons use state resources to secure the loyalty of clients in the general population. It is an informal patron–client relationship that can reach from very high up in state structures down to individuals in small villages”.
I have recalled these two definitions in order to make one or two points. First, other than playing around with words, how do these two concepts essentially differ from one another? Are both not repetitive descriptions of public service corruption in Nigeria? Why do they need to keep on restating the same problem over and over again as if in an endless competition on the use of the English language. In response to the problems they pose, how is the policy prescription (contingent on the prognosis) of one, different from that of the other? Above all, in what ways were the stewardship (premiership) of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe typical of neopatrimonial and prebendal politics?.
I readily assert that the dominant trademark of the politics and governance of these three outstanding personalities is neither Prebendalism nor Neopatrimonialism. On the contrary, they were an advertisement of development oriented and utilitarian leadership. To put it in the horse’s mouth, this was an attestation by Awolowo himself. In an instructive encounter between him and
John Gunther of the Inside Africa magazine in 1955, here was Awolowo at his frank and assertive best “the British did not have the true interests of the country at heart. In fourteen months, under the present government, we have done more for Nigeria than the British did in 120 years.”
In the defunct Eastern region,”after the implementation of Arthur D Little’s recommended growth plan, the East’s economy grew at more than 9.2%, starting from 1958 till 1967 when the war tragically interrupted the sterling momentum…At over 9%, the Eastern Region in this period, had the fastest growing economy on earth consistently for 9 years and was estimated to equal Western Nigeria by 1978 (in terms of total gross capital formation)”
My agony is that their prodigal descendants, (the children of perdition) progressively from the Second Republic, largely conform to the degrading stereotypes of the racist western scholars. Matters have only gotten worse in quantum proportions, retroactively lending credence to the lunacy of the Hamitic hypothesis (in which Africans were the sons of Ham cursed by Noah to serve forever the children of Shem and Japhet, particularly Japhet”). In varying degrees and shades, this hypothesis has survived down to the present age thriving on the oxygen provided by the real time culprits.
Representative of the racist genre of writers were the likes of Jean Jacques Rousseau who concluded that “The black people are unable to think in any reflective manner. Their engagement in arts is, therefore, a thoughtless activity which is the ant-thesis of the intellect.”. They even contemplated the genocidal option of ridding the world of blacks altogether. ‘In order to preclude a weakening miscegenation of the superior race by the inferior race, John Hobson advocated the establishment of an international organisation to supervise the “gradual elimination” of inferior races. He was of the opinion that ‘a rational stirpiculture require a repression of the spread of degenerate or unprogressive races”.
Nigeria had the dubious distinction of playing host to Henry Townsend who believed white superiority was part of the ordained natural order. He applauded the complementarity between the ‘white man and the Negro who feels a great respect for the white man whom God gives a great talent to the end that it may be used for the Negro’s good’. He rhetorically pondered “Shall we shirk this responsibility without offending God? And logically concluded ‘it would amount to unpardonable sin to contravene at any stage or level in the missionary work the principle of African subordination to the European”
And as recent as 2010, former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy remarked “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history…. They have never really launched themselves into the future. . .The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. … In this realm of fancy .. . there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress”.The tragic irony is that, compelled by the gross and remorseless perversion of the ruling elite amongst us in Africa and Nigeria, we are nearly coming to terms with the possibility that there is something fundamentally wrong with Africans.
In the estimation of World bank economic experts “fuel subsidy removal is estimated to increase the national poverty rate by 3–4% on average..the complete removal disproportionately affects low-income citizens. The low-income citizens face greater financial strain to meet their basic food needs’. Now, recall that before this stark reality, Nigeria was all along rated the overty capital of the world with multidimensional poverty rate at 63% and unemployment at 33.3%. According to the same institution, 96% of Nigeria’s revenue is spent on debt servicing. Is it not then inhuman for a set of Nigerian public officials to prioritize the acquisition of 160 million naira vehicle per national legislator? It gets worse. Recall that they are committing Nigeria to the double jeopardy of funding this greed with borrowed money whose repayment will last well beyond this generation. If they do this openly, it is left to anyone’s imagination what they do when no one is watching.
Justifying the depraved profligacy, the Senate spokesman, Sunday Karimi stated that ‘Nigerians were picking on lawmakers but ignoring ministers.. afterall, some ministers have more than three Land Cruisers, Prado and other vehicles and questions are not asked’. No better ambassador for the rogue behaviour can be found better than the Senate president, Mr Godswill Akpabio, easily, one of the most disreputable public officials in the annals of Nigeria’s history, no Senate president can personify this brigandage more than Akpabio.
Expectedly, as the judgement on the petitions of Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar goes, the appeal court panel has reproduced itself in the Supreme Court prompting this remarks from one of the presidential election petitioners, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. “If the Supreme Court decides that the Electoral umpire, INEC, can tell the public one thing and then do something else in order to reach a corruptly predetermined outcome, then there is really no hope for the country’s democracy and electoral politics”. While Supreme Court Judge Okoro (who presided over the Supreme court panel on the appeal from petitioners Obi and Atiku) was raining plaudits on the Court of Appeal, for a job well done, he took out time to threaten those who engage in “media trials”. In the event he underestimated the backlash. The rejoinder to the threat, came, not from the media but from a senior colleague at the Supreme Court itself. And it was appropriately devastated.
Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa had played John the baptist to Justice Dattijo Mohammed. Earlier in the year, the unguarded Senator, had ratted on his wife who was the President of the Federal Court of Appeal. At an open session of the Senate, he had revealed, in a kiss and tell fashion, of how he regularly suborn his wife to pervert the course of justice. He dropped the hint so casually that it was impossible not to get the drift that this was regular and routine misconduct of the Nigerian judiciary. Any shred of doubt on the culture of judicial corruption and impunity was blown away by no less the number two man in the Supreme Court, Justice Dattijo Mohammed, at the occasion of his retirement from the highest court. It was one for the archives. Here he goes
“At the Court of Appeal, it is asserted, presiding Justices are now being appointed out of turn. And there is the further issue of the unpredictable nature of recent decisions of the courts as well. A number of respected senior members of the bar (inter alia, citing the Ahmed Lawan, the former President of the Senate and the Imo Governorship appeals), claim that decisions of even the apex court have become unpredictable, they contend. In some quarters the view is strongly held that filth and intrigues characterise the institution these days!
Public perceptions of the judiciary have over the years become witheringly scornful and monstrously critical”.
“It has been in the public space that court officials and judges are easily bribed by litigants to obviate delays and or obtain favourable judgments.
It is asserted that the process of appointment to judicial positions are deliberately conducted to give undue advantage to the “children,spouses, and mistresses” of serving and retired judges and managers of judicial offices.”“To ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geo-political zones are required to participate in the hearing. It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians”.
“Although it can be posited that no one expected the sudden passing of Nweze JSC, yet, it has been two years and seven months since previous Justice from the South East died and no appointment was made. Ditto for the replacement of Eko JSC of North central who exited nearly two years ago. Sidi Bage JSC, now his Royal Highness the Emir of Lafia, from the North Central, had earlier voluntarily retired. He equally is yet to be replaced. Also,it was clear ab-initio that I would be leaving the court this day on attaining the statutory age of 70. It is then not in doubt that there has been sufficient time for suitable replacements to have been appointed. This is yet to occur.”