by Tatalo Alamu
The crisis bedeviling the nation is not just a crisis of politics but a crisis of the grammar of politics, or political grammar, if you like. As Albert Einstein has noted, insanity is doing the same thing all over again and expecting a different result. In grammatical tautology, there is an unnecessary repetition of meaning, using multiple words to effectively—or ineffectively—say the same thing.
In political tautology, the same actions are repeated all over and we are told to expect a different result. The result is a crisis of political disorientation or mental disequilbrium in which the actors are conditioned by a stubborn mindset to believe their own lies no matter how outlandish and to seek to inflict same on a cowered populace. As everybody knows, incantation and political magic thrive on repetition and the linguistic violence of formulaic bombardment.
Let us now begin to plot our way out of this jungle of post-colonial political tautology. The greatest and most compelling argument for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference is the brutal abrogation of the political rights of Nigerians by colonial and post-colonial administrations, whether military or civilian. But this is also the greatest and most compelling incentive against its convocation.
Nowhere in the world has the sovereignty of a people or nation for that matter been ceded lightly. It must be demanded or fought for; or there must be some compelling disincentives which force the hands of the rulers. The struggle for sovereignty affirms the sovereignty of struggle as the organising principle of all emancipated human societies. From Magna Carta to the Chartist movement, from the world-historic revolutions to the American Civil Rights protests, it is the struggle to affirm the sovereignty of the people that turn the habitants of a nation-space from inert, passive entities and nonentities to full blown citizens . This is when the nation in itself becomes the nation for itself.
As it can be seen from the recent Delta Central Senatorial abracadabra, the brisk abolition of the electorate in Offa and the programmed electoral anarchy in Anambra State, Goodluck Jonathan , while paying lip service to a National Conference, is also relentlessly steamrolling the country towards a historic catastrophe that it cannot survive in one piece. What then is the purpose of a National Conference when evidence abounds that rather than attempt to solve the National Question the powers that be are working towards a predetermined National Answer and final solution?
All over the world, national conferences are always an elite-driven affair. They are a specific mechanism to redeem and retain elite control of the levers of power. In the total absence of pressures from below and the margins, this is not a bad thing, and since current politics in Nigeria is a play of giants disconnected and disarticulated from the populace, Jonathan may yet get away with blue murder. But this is going to be a temporary respite until there is some fundamental retribution which will alter the character of the current political class.
While waiting for this world-historic rupture and disruption of the mental conditioning of the political elite, it is appropriate to add that in the dispiriting fog of political tautology, nothing can be more refreshing than a fresh breath of scholarly analysis and its illuminating insights. This is the time for our thinkers, philosophers and intellectuals to rise above the fog of mental debilitation in order to fashion a new order for the nation.
Ben Nwabueze, distinguished professor of Constitutional Law and a foremost legal theorist, is without any doubt the leading illuminati and intellectual star of our current political curfew. Snooper is not always on the same political page with the cerebral titan, but whether you agree with him or not, Nwabueze is a serious reader’s delight any day.
Approaching his mid eighties, it is obvious that Nwabueze’s capacity for hard work remains undimmed and undiminished by advancing years. There is a seminal rigour to even his most casual pieces and an analytical clarity which marks him out as a master of clinical exposition. In the current depressing state of the nation, there is something to be cheered or even wildly applauded when a man of such age and distinction devotes all of his God-given sterling intellectual talents to solving the problems of his beloved nation as he deems it fit.
Yet there is the troubling and persistent feeling that current favours, current partisanships and current passions often get in the way of the analytical rigour and seminal exposition. Despite the forthright eloquence, the radical fervour and the simmering contempt for the inanities of the Nigerian political elite, one often goes away with the impression that the distinguished legal theorist is nothing but a defender per excellence of the ascendant political status quo.
His latest outing, defending the proposed Jonathan National Conference, gives the game away in all its damning and tortured ellipsis. Nwabueze is right to affirm that all the so-called conferences we have had so far are nothing but elitist conclaves which have never given the Nigerian people the right or choice to determine their sovereign destiny. He is particularly spot on in dismissing the 2005 Obasanjo National Dialogue as a sham, or charade lacking in immanent integrity and seriousness of purpose. Nwabueze believes, and tries to make us believe, that the proposed Jonathan Conference would be quite different.
Yet the main plank and platform for staking his considerable integrity on Jonathan’s fidelity and seriousness of purpose is based entirely on faith and the fact that his group had submitted a draft proposal to the government, and not on a rigorous analysis of the political antecedents and current inclinations of the said administration. Last Thursday in a moment of late lucidity, Nwabueze seemed to be backing away in anticipatory disapproval.
There can be no doubt about Nwabueze’s sterling standing with the administration. His nominee, Solomon Adun Asemota, the equally distinguished lawyer and respected advocate of a sovereign conference of ethnic nationalities, was eventually coopted after the Nyiam fiasco. But when matters as critical and crucial as this are entirely judged on the basis of cronyism and mutual back-rubbing, one must begin to wonder about the integrity of the whole process.
In any case, let us not press our luck too far on this ethnic nationalities business. It is one of the pious myths of the decolonising project and the post-colonial nation process that the native people were not consulted before they were boxed into a colonial cage. The reality was that there were no people to consult as such. Force is the organising principle of the colonial project. Nigeria came into being after numerous native armies and economic conglomerates were put to sword by the colonial overlords or militarily browbeaten into submission.
If we are looking for the real pre-colonial owners of what became Nigeria, we will have to search for the relics and debris of the ancient Ibadan army, the Ekiti insurgents, the Niger Delta barons, the Ilorin army, the Arochukwu magnates, the Nupe generals, the caliphate troops who took a shellacking in 1903, the abducted king of Benin, Jaja of Opobo, the Ijebu armed forces and many others.
These are the lost and lapsed sovereigns of the numerous pre-colonial states in what eventually became Nigeria and not some mythical, fluid and flux nationalities. In a multi-national nation, there is nothing wrong with ethnic identity politics, but the unpleasant fact we are trying to avoid is that Nigeria, like all colonial nations, is a creation, concoction and contraption of state violence. And violence has been its organising principle ever since. This is what explains the centrality of arms and their bearers, despite the civilian lulls and lullabies.
How then do we humanise this violence-suffused entity and make real life livable for its stricken and afflicted denizens? As a corollary to that important question, what are the possibilities of a sovereign national conference? Pray but keep your powder dry, says the famous admonition. Nwabueze is surely right in vesting the Jonathan administration with full sovereignty. There can be no dual sovereignty in a functioning state except as a precondition for anarchy.
It is interesting to note that all the African countries listed by Nwabueze where sovereignty was seized by national conferences are Francophone nations. The French, taking a cue from their own history, imposed a system of presidential monarchy on their African holdings. The idea is to let an authoritarian strongman rule as father and founder of the nation until a biological coup d’etat intervenes and blows the lid off the roiling cauldron. This is what has led to civil wars in the two Congos, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea and simmering discontent in Togo. The current harshly monarchical presidential system which does not take into account the fact that Nigeria is powered along by a negative equilibrium and by competing and countervailing centres of power is bound to end in similar grief.
Nwabueze is at his most bearish and bullish when it comes to the vexed issue of the permanent conflict and endless contestation between legal and popular sovereignty and between the people or forces claiming to represent them and the ascendant sovereign authority. This is also where the political and intellectual contradictions appear in boldest relief. The legal titan is of the opinion that if Jonathan reneges on his promise, if he decides to play hanky-panky by throwing the buck back at a delinquent National Assembly, then the proposed National Conference can assert its authority and seize sovereignty.
This is a direct and dire warning to the Jonathan administration. The patience of its most ardent intellectual supporters is wearing thin. Nwabueze does not tell us how this will happen, and probably rightly so. But if history is our infallible guide, it is a damp squib. On the few occasions when the Nigerian people have acted with a pan-Nigerian concert to assert their sovereignty, sections of the elite have always moved in to scupper the nascent national consciousness, leaving room for the best organised power cartel to seize sovereignty. It is unlikely to be different this time around. The constitutional pundit ought to know. But this is the bane of political tautology. Professor, welcome to the political laboratory of the great scientist Albert Einstein and his theory of insanity.
– his Best Outside Opinion was written by Tatalo Alamu/The Nation