Nigeria’s political trajectory: A tale of hope or ineptitude? (1)

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Dr Chima Amadi

Embarking on a journey through Nigeria’s political landscape, we dive into a story oscillating between the pulsating heartbeats of hope and the shadowy valleys of ineptitude. Nigeria’s journey is not a simple story of hope versus despair but a dynamic cycle that encapsulates both. It is a thrilling, often heart-wrenching narrative of a people’s undying hope, repeatedly dimmed by the ineptitude of a select few. However, it is this very hope that fuels the nation’s relentless pursuit of a brighter future despite the looming spectre of a bleak political horizon.

This tale does not stop here. Beyond hope and ineptitude lies a more sinister force—willful destruction—a deliberate erosion of the very pillars meant to uphold the people’s dreams. In my considered opinion, therefore, the theme does not encapsulate a third dimension—that Nigeria’s political trajectory is not only one of hope or ineptitude, hope and ineptitude. It is also of the organised willful destruction of the very things designed to deliver on the hope of the Nigerian people.

Because history is a fundamental tunic that enshrouds society’s past, grounds its present and uncovers its future, I will briefly and quickly make a detour to espouse the trajectory of our political history that brought us effectively to the advent of the 4th Republic. Many people insist that Nigeria, as presently structured, was not designed to succeed. Given the many defects in her systems of socio-political and administrative governance, which prevent efficiency, enable corruption, entrench nepotism, divide Nigeria along religious and ethnic lines, and foist an over-bloated cost of governance on the Nigerian people, it has become increasingly difficult to argue with that.

The character of the Nigerian state derives from the various experiences of the past, such as the colonial experience, the coercive amalgamation of southern and northern protectorates in 1914, the various attempted and successful coups d’état (eleven as at the last count in 1997), ethnic politics, the civil war (1967-1970) as well as deep-rooted distrust among some of the ethnic nationalities, and settler/indigene crises across the country.
Colonial policies significantly altered Nigerian societies in several ways. The colonial economic model in Nigeria aimed to grow the import-export markets by boosting cash crop and mineral output, leading to an extractive economy centred on exporting raw materials and importing finished goods and luxury items. The British introduced a cash economy using the British Pound and compelled Nigerians to engage in wage labour, rapidly altering the traditional agricultural production and capital accumulation methods that had evolved in Nigerian communities over the years. This system is predominantly the same today with minimal variations – exchange the British Pound for the US Dollar and agricultural produce for oil.

Therefore, from the very beginning, the concept of a Nigeria that delivers on the hope of the Nigerian people appears to be misplaced. This begs the question, why do people have hope in a structure designed to work just for a few people, not optimally for the many? We must ponder whether it is wise to have hope in a defective and damaged vehicle to take us to the place we hope for. Do not get me wrong. The Nigerian tale has been one of great hope. So many instances typify this hope and tell its tale in a manner that even the wildest writers cannot script. For instance, Nigerians had hope for a better system of governance on May 29, 1999, when the military era ended, and we ushered in a democratic system of governance designed to allow the people to choose their leaders.

I recall how, as President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar took their oaths of office, there was a great deal of hope that the pain, suffering, and torment of the military era had finally come to an end and that our country would be firmly placed on the path to socio-political and economic growth and development. It was a great time to be alive! Several events in the years that followed gave Nigerians reason to have faith in the country. Several economic reforms opened the country to the outside world and stimulated growth in many critical sectors. But equally important was that we saw a system of government where the arms of government were ready to checkmate each other and curb each other’s excesses.

There are many examples. We saw the Legislature fight to maintain its independence while fighting to curb the Executive’s excesses. Many examples exist in the early days of the Fourth Republic. But a particularly poignant example lies in how the Legislature at the national level vehemently fought for its independence and opposed any attempts to impose leadership on it. Another example is the vehement opposition that the legislatures across the country gave to attempts to amend the Constitution to grant a third term to the head of the executive arm of government at the federal and state levels. In all these, the Nigerian people witnessed robust debate anchored in the intellectual contributions of the elected representatives of the people.

Within the executive branch, there was an effort to hold people accountable and ensure that the government worked for the people, which had not happened in Nigeria for several years before 1999. Thus, we saw the executive arms at the federal level try to hold them and the states accountable. Furthermore, many examples of this abound – impeachments and prosecution of governors who had continually dipped their hands in the till; the arrest and prosecution of the former Inspector General of Police, Mr Tafa Balogun; the arrest and prosecution of key ministers, some of whom were long term friends of the President at the time and so on. We also saw the Judiciary give robust, landmark judgments that rebuked the excesses of the Executive and Legislature and extensively improved our jurisprudence.

Finally, we saw solid intra-party opposition when heads of the Executive acted outside the powers granted by our laws. This is where we saw a Vice President file landmark cases that challenged his boss’s excesses and won. We saw governors being reinstated into office after improper impeachment processes. We saw the rights and liberties of the Nigerian people upheld in many cases. We saw members of political parties look at and challenge the people who controlled the levers of power in the country when those levers were improperly moved or moved in ways that were against the people’s interests.

It is essential that people do not get me wrong. Things were not perfect. There was still a lot of corruption, ineptitude, and inefficiency. My point is that there was growth enough, economically, and politically, for the Nigerian people to have hope that we were on a path to sustainable development. The tale of Nigeria’s political trajectory has never been straightforward. Moreover, it does not appear like it will ever be. As democracy deepened, it seemed that there was the determination by a powerful few to destroy the very institutions capable of checkmating each other, upholding the rule of law, curbing the excesses of the nation’s elite, securing the nation, growing the economy, and protecting the lowly.

This destruction did not happen overnight. It may have been accelerated over the last few years, but there has been a sustained effort to destroy the fabric of the nation for the protection and benefit of a few. Moreover, it has taken many shapes and many forms. It has happened in compelling prosecuting agencies to ignore the prosecution of people who break our laws as long as they are close to those in power. It has happened by bending institutional laws to allow people to make millions of Dollars at the expense of the economy. It has happened in systematically weakening our security agencies by the theft of monies meant for equipment for and welfare of our men and women in uniform. It has happened for a few people’s political advancement over the Nigerian people’s collective will. It has been death by a thousand cuts to the point that one wonders how Nigeria survives.

Dr Amadi is
Chairman, Steering Committee, Centre for Transparency Advocacy and a
Doctoral Fellow, University of Warwick, England.