Some argue that June 12, the date that Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola won Nigeria’s freest and fairest election should be Democracy Day, not May 29, imposed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on behalf of the Nigerian oligarchs. The oligarchs always disregard the wish of Nigerians because they are no democrats.
Poet and aspiring Governor of Edo State, Odia Ofeimun, thinks that Nigeria is run on a mix of ethnic, class, and military dash: “Lord (Frederick) Lugard… put the Fulani over the North, and the North over the rest of Nigeria, in a lopsided architecture…” He adds: “Lugard specifically wrote in 1902 that the British project involved raising one ethnic group, the Fulani, to the level of a superior race.”
It’s probably the same way the White Anglo Saxon Protestant is atop America’s political totem pole. Like a Moroccan whorehouse, Nigeria’s pyramidal quasi-federal political system which concentrates power at the centre attracts an endless queue of favour seekers.
This cascading of power, running vertically down like a waterfall, persuaded the Yoruba of Kwara and Kogi states to diss their southern kinsmen and latch onto the apron strings of the supremacist political North.
Ofeimun continues, in his book, “Taking Nigeria Seriously:” “(As a corollary) the colonial state set up a feudal arrangement with the majority group in each region as the fief-holder… What obtain… (is) a case of native colonialism under British (neo colonialist) suzerainty…”
This “Indirect Rule” contraption (originally native to Northern Nigeria) took over political power from the departing British colonial masters in 1960. The military that seized power from the civilian elite, merged jackboot despotism with Fulani oligarchy, to give the North a strangulating hold on the politics of Nigeria.
Harold Smith, a former British civil servant who served in Nigeria, confessed that Britain, foreseeing that Nigeria’s future leaders would emerge from the army, encouraged the North to enlist their men into the military, and snickered at the Southerners who ignorantly went into the professions.
The thrust of Ofeimun’s theory is that Nigerians are more of subjects than they are citizens. That explains the impunity in the political space. Subjects, as you know, are decision consumers, not decision takers. It’s the same way even the British Cabinet, in theory, awaits the Queen’s consent before taking any action.
If you merge two phrases, by Bishop David Oyedepo and Femi Falana, you could say the military wing of Nigeria’s ruling class turned a majority of Nigerians into a committee of onlookers in their own affairs.
A rather scary newspaper report claims that a certain Muhammadu Zurai, who allegedly participated in the massacre by Fulani herdsmen at Nimbo community in Enugu State, rhetorically asked a dead victim, “Don’t you know that the Fulani own Nigeria?”
When Abiola seemed to have won the June 12, 1993 presidential election, American friends assured Prof. Adesegun Banjo that “the Hausa-Fulani rule would continue… the election would be annulled (because) the neo-colonialists never wanted a Westerner (read, Yoruba) to be at the helm of (Nigeria’s) affairs.”
This is not acceptable to civil activist Nelson Ekujumi who asserts that “Democracy is about the people’s wish and desires.”Dr. Ismail Ibrahim of the University of Lagos Department of Mass Communication, argues that citizenship is the lowest common denominator that confers all rights in a polity. Political values like freedom, justice and equity, must be one-size-fits-all.
The text of America’s Declaration of Independence includes, “We hold… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
To confirm that the American people consciously consented to having a government unto themselves, the Preamble to their Constitution proclaims, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
But it looks like French political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, cannot distinguish between a citizen and a subject. He says that members of a polity – the passive state or active sovereign – are collectively called, the people. Ofeimun won’t disagree with that.
Rousseau then adds that the people are citizens when they participate in the sovereign authority of the polity, and are subjects when they obey the laws of the state. Ofeimun may have issues accepting that a free-born citizen can be a vassal subject at the same time.
Citizens have allegiance to a state in which sovereign power is in the people, and share in all political rights. They cannot also be subjects who owe allegiance to the power or dominion of, say, a monarch. Oba Oladunni Oyewumi, Soun of Ogbomoso, says subjects hold fealty to their king.
Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution doesn’t so much help in defining what comes with being a Nigerian citizen. Chapter IV is a list of fundamental human rights that Section 45 says can be taken away “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”
Section 24(d) provides that “every citizen can make positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress, and well-being of the community where he resides.” But Section 65 somewhat removes this privilege by insisting that a person can only run for election “if he is a member of a political party, and is sponsored by that party.” This is unbecoming of a citizen, where Louis D. Brandeis, Associate Judge of America’s Supreme Court, insists that “The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”
Brandeis’ submission may well derive from the most important right of an American citizen to vote and be voted for. But everyone in Nigeria knows that it is only those ordained by the political grandees that get elected or appointed to political offices.
Despite the grandiose language of the constitution, its pretence that “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria… do hereby make and give unto ourselves the following Constitution,” is not only a hoax, it is a myth.
Ofeimun thinks Nigeria’s weighted political scale serves no one: “A culture has evolved… which has placed political power above efficiency, probity, and popular welfare in national affairs.” It is “The greatest weapon for keeping Nigeria down and in penury!”
And “The myopia of treating the North as a separate moral space from the South has merely encouraged… national policies that are self-contradictory… (or) self-destructive!” That explains why practically every Nigerian ethnic group (including the Hausa-Fulani) complains of being marginalised.
Musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would say, “Overtake don (has) overtake (overtaken) overtake. Odoo (naught).” Those in the hoods of Lagos prefer, “Ojoro (cheating) cancels.”Everyone is holding the short end of the stick.
Simple-minded legal theoreticians think that merely upholding the rule of law will fix Nigeria’s skewed political system. But a law that uses the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination “to reduce educational advancement in some parts of Nigeria so that the disadvantaged can catch up,” for instance, shouldn’t be upheld.
There is a need to urgently fix the broken value system of the Nigerian elite; on June 12 moral grounds, the people stand!