Policy Briefs

News Track: Nigerian elite and democracy’s uncertainties (2)

Oseloka H. Obaze

Consequently, Nigeria’s democracy struggle due to an unwritten code and consensus of elite collegiality in subjugating the nation, even as some observers contend that “there is an edge behind elite collegiality. “Despite such glided edge, evidence abound that formed elite factions and alliances in Nigeria, more often than not, are about elite collective self-preservation rather than national interest considerations. Such disposition accounts for the lack of consequences for underperformance and “lack of repercussion for underachievement” in Nigeria. Contextually, a question has been asked: “Who in Nigeria is ever held accountable for substandard performance?”

The ubiquitous intertwine between Nigeria and democracy, has been likened metaphorically to relations between Siamese twins; “conjoined, they are uncomfortable and at the risk of death, yet the prospect of an operation to separate them generate deep anxiety, leaving concerned onlookers unable to breathe, sleep or rest pending the outcome. “The freedom to choose, plebiscites and universal suffrage are core tenets of democracy.

Yet, allowing the national population to make a choice –be it election, census, or referendum– has become distractive and divisive, thanks to elite proclivities. Nowhere is this reality more biting and obvious than in the trending debate on restructuring Nigeria. Trenchant and unambiguous claims persist at the two ends of the spectrum: if you don’t restructure Nigeria it will implode; if you restructure Nigeria it will be dismembered. Those for and against restructuring of Nigeria are strident in their positions. According to Prof. Ango Abdullahi, “If we don’t resist it objectively, we can resist it politically. “For his part, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife contends that “those opposed to restructuring were laying the foundation for Nigeria’s disintegration.” His words: “Opposition to restructuring is to prefer what does not work over what works…in substance, restructuring calls for going back to the agreed Nigeria; that Nigeria agreed by our founding fathers.”

These and other governance imponderables pose great concerns as to the resiliency and sustainability of Nigeria’s democracy. The core challenge becomes how to overcome democracy’s uncertain state in Nigeria. Ironically, many current leaders and practitioners of democracy in Nigeria pay less attention to democratic institutions and their values and instead, focus more on the instant gratifications accruing to the national elite from the democratic process, even if such doles are devoid of content and context. This makes Nigerian-type democracy underproductive, troubling and patently ad hoc.
The prevailing modus operandi has left a broad swath of the national population disenfranchised. Over time, “While elites have benefited from the gains of the oil economy, most popular strata and even segments of the middles class have felt insecure and excluded. “Thus, understanding how Nigeria’s elite have continued to diminish democratic values and ideals, require grasping the existence and functionality of similar power plays and idiosyncrasies in other democracies.
For instance, it is now clear that “Growing inequality has vitiated the American middle class.” Such parallels are discernible across broad democratic systems like Britain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, South Africa and Nigeria, where democratically elected leadership elite attempting “to dismantle the liberal parts of liberal democracy” has become pervasive and the bane of the middleclass and the poor. In the case of Nigeria, inequality has so vitiated Nigeria’s middle class that it has all but disappeared.

Even if one variable – inequality – is taken as the sole measure, its prevalence reveals distressing trends in Africa as it does in Latin America. It is still uncertain whether it is African or Latin American democracies that represent the most unequal region in the world. One shared commonality in both regions, is that equality indicators have deteriorated drastically over time.

Both regions continue to also experience the deleterious impact of long military rule and the attendant consequences of military anti-politics. Nascent democracies also seem to suffer from a deficit of strict ideological leaning. Moreover, the residual impact of the Cold War non-alignment movement on countries like Nigeria is hugely manifest. Nigeria’s elite as represented by military leadership by not embracing either communism or democracy fully, left Nigeria idling ideologically. Whereas non-aligned nations like Czechoslovakia splintered peacefully into two democratic nations, Yugoslavia splintered into eight nations mostly via internecine warfare. Nigeria remains a work in progress in this regard, with uncertain outcome.
Ideologically, Nigerian elite remain essentially centrist in political positioning; they are neither liberal nor conservative extremists; and neither truly socialist nor truly democratic, which leaves ample room for carpet-crossing, political maneuvering and elite shifts, mainly “a little to the left and a little to the right” as need be. The absence of ideological leanings meant that for Nigeria’s elite, patriotism, national interest and history ended well before Francis Fukuyama proclaimed “the end of history.” Analysts and those knowledgeable about Nigeria, generally regard her political and developmental challenges as a problem of leadership.

That conceptualization while understandable is rather narrow. Inasmuch as most Nigerian observers continue to anchor their developmental assessments of Nigeria on Chinua Achebe’s declaration that “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership,” such observers and symbolic analysts, unwittingly gloss over the more pertinent component of Achebe’s assertion, to wit; “… [The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” This latter contention, albeit an adjunct, points to “lack of a self-conscious leadership; “principally, a recognized trait of the “hollow elite” and the “narrow elite.” The latter category consists of “Those who have risen to jobs that directly affect the nation’s culture, economy and politics, “whilst the former, consist of those for who there already exist discernible disconnect between them and the communities they represent. Nigeria’s political and economic elite, which comprises the political class are distinct and cannot be classified as representative of Nigeria’s political community, even as they hold unbending sway on national politics. Nigeria’s political community – a pyramidal structure – includes the national elite as well as the massive swathe of grassroots mobilizers and stakeholders, comprised mainly of the disenfranchised and marginalized. As has been rightly observed of national elite, “These representative figures often live financially successful lives, but are dysfunctional in relation to their social responsibilities.”

As Charles Murray also noted of such elite, “They have abdicated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards. The most powerful and successful members of their class increasingly trade on the perks of their privileged positions without regard to the seemliness of that behavior.” Apropos Nigeria, its hollow elite and narrow elite rarely self-censure; they also do not self-abase no matter the circumstances, not even to make amends, when it is established that they have failed.

– Concluded Obaze writes from Lagos.

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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