Pat Utomi unmasked the criminals who seize power through hijacking of political parties. He identified them as “three gangs of actors” advocating the need for patriots to boldly confront these criminals and save the people and the country which they have almost completely ruined.
Having listened to views from my teenage years that you can make change more readily from inside and that muckraking and iconoclastic methods keep away the go al of social justice sought, I have tried to become comfortable with those who dominate power without allowing myself to be sucked into their ways. If through that I could influence them to act right for the people or be in position to affect policy for advance of the common good then I would have played down on the anger of my youth. These teachings allowed me to play with and sometimes within the establishment. But I was quick to observe their discomfort for those that remain their own person.
It is as a result of this that I have had the good fortune of being able to say I have managed a one-on-one relationship with everyone who has been head of state or government in Nigeria since I was 19 years old, except of course, General Sani Abacha. In all of that, I have never used access to them to profit myself materially and have even turned down an offer of appointment when I was convinced that position could be utilised effectively to advance the common good if there was not a team of enough committed people to bring change about. It is this strategy that has brought me into the proximity of many of the people who betrayed sacred trust in making party primaries across the board in Nigeria in 2018 a show of shame that proves Nigeria’s current contrivance cannot be called a democracy.
Thankfully, no one need rely on my word for this. On Thursday November 8, 2018, The Federal House of Representatives had a session in which all kinds of unprintable adjectives were used to describe the primaries.
There is no question that it was grand treason against the Nigerian people. Should people guilty of high crime not be prosecuted? I am convinced that while my experience is not exceptionally important, it will take someone like me to catalyse a process of bringing such people to book so justice can be done to the people.
One of my colleagues on the board of an insurance company who felt I should stay away from the crazy politics of Nigeria dominated by cultists, 419ers and soldiers of fortune, used local experience to illustrate. He cited the experience of the chairman of the Board of his company who was literally robbed of his victory in the Osun primaries of the PDP and the scandalous bribes of up to a billion naira demanded from him in order for him to be given back his unequivocal victory. But my reply was measured. There comes a time in the seasons of one’s life journey that the duty to save the voiceless is greater than the duty to save self. This, should come through service, and if need be, the giving of life, one must be assured, such life lost will be gained back in the multiplicity of abundance. We are in such a time and my heart is open to that mission, I told him to his chagrin.
Greed and Fetish Ways versus Issues and Fixing Problems
Nigeria is severely challenged and gasping for breath. It is not that I think so, but I know so! The evidences of this fact assault you any which way you look. We may live in a world in decline, but I believe that politics is supposed to be a path to finding escape from this decline.
It came home to roost with my participant-observer engagement in 2018, which began with my reading of Jonathan Tepperman’s inspiring book, The Fix: How Nation’s Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline. To survive and thrive at a time like this is to find thinking people who are sacrificial in the way they give of themselves and compassionate in the way they feel the pains of those people on the crowded streets of our urban areas and the dull backwoods of our rural terrain.
My observations in the field, in Delta State and elsewhere was that those that have come to be known as politicians are driven largely by greed and self-love, reneging on any agreement at will and bound by the bonds they forge with patrons through fetish beliefs.
The anachronism that is the Nigerian condition is found in the primitive ways of its dominant politicians; their fetish anchors displayed in taking people to shrines in Okija, Ijebu and places by the sea in Rivers State and Marabouts prowling across northern Nigeria. While the world debates pathways for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our political landscape tells the story of Nigeria’s failed effort at nation-building. If the young of the nation who are by far the majority in population do not find ways to overcome the feudal fascists and their voodoo priests or their modernised versions who claim to be prayer warriors, liberating Nigeria from backwardness into modernity would be a tough ride.
I had the Nigerian academic, Olufemi Taiwo, who wrote the book Africa Must Be Modern, in mind when I decided that instead of pursuing personal comfort, 1 chose to risk running against formidable evil fronts and asking the question, why run? But I think that the only meaningful question is why not?
The scandal of public life in Nigeria as syncretism in which those who profess Christianity and Islam turn to fetish ways first hit me about 1991. I had gone to Enugu for an Ohaneze meeting. After the meeting the creme de la creme of Igbo elite retired to the home of Governor Okwesilieze Nwodo for lunch. It was my luck to be seated between former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme and the Enfante Terrible, Senator Arthur Nzeribe. The
mercurial Arthur regaled me with one morbid joke after another.
Just before food came, there was a moment of very sober silence, Nzeribe very conspiratorially leaned towards me and hailed me, The great Pat. I returned the compliment, Ogbu Agu. Then he whispered, “You see all these people here making out to be big men, the moment the whistle for politics is blown they will start coming to me for money for elections and I will bring out a coffin and you will not believe the amusement as they jump over the corpse to bond themselves.”
I put it down to an evil sense of humour but I knew the fact of the report was plausible. I was more devastated by a similar report when I visited Chuba Okadigbo as Senate President. While we chatted, a northern gentleman in flowing robes was ushered in. He asked to give him a minute to meet with the man in a side room. As the man left a few minutes later, my dear friend, the senate President hailed me just like Nzeribe did years before; “Patito, northerners are so much more reliable and generous as friends. You will not believe how many live cows this man has caused to be buried on my account not to talk of how many marabouts he has interceding for me.”
Less than two weeks after that night, President Obasanjo had outfoxed Okadigbo and my friend, Chuba was removed as Senate President. I was convinced Africa had an urgent need to become more modern before I saw
Olufemi Taiwo’s book, Africa Must Be Modern. As I approached 2018, the duty of running as liberation and redemption mission was taking shape. Was it worth dying for? Well, maybe. At the least, neutrality was out of the question. I deeply began to believe that as stated in Dante’s Inferno, the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who, when confronted with such moral depravity, take refuge in neutrality.
The great idolatry that is politics in Nigeria has made the locus of political life either the false loyalty-consciousness of those who have sworn to abide by some agreements (usually against the public interest and common good) or the advance of the cult of personality.
The cult of personality which is often lacking in rationality sustained fascists like Benilo Mussolini in Italy and Adolph Hitler in Germany. History has shown it as an ever-present affront to the dignity of the human being. To say why not in response to why run w7as for me a moral imperative to mobilise against the gathering forces of fascism and backwardness that were showing their faces progressively in the post-1999 democracy. It was the citizen’s duty to confront the forces of narcissism that use primitive means including fetishism to foster personal dominance over others. This, they do without regard for the consequential effect of pulling society backward and crushing the material benefits of modern life for most of the people.
The most obnoxious part of contemporary Nigerian politics to me is the searing of the conscience of the political class who are aware that they require the poverty and ignorance of the people to achieve their short-sighted, short-term gains. The power acquired is fungible and easily translates to big man accounts with the accompanying ego massages of the protocols of power, exemplified by motorcades. These, for me, are walls that had to be pulled down quickly. And so, I say why not! Why not run? Why not begin to organise the people to resist and rid themselves of the yoke and the burden of a fetish clan. A clan steeped in self-love and backward in its understanding of the issues of modernity, unable to make genuine efforts to fix the problems of society in the way Jonathan Tepperman draws our attention to.
Why not, should not be a question for just me or a few bitten by the bug of the audacity of hope. Why not should be the motto of a generation that is looking for a demographic dividend and striving to snatch that dividend from the jaws of the lion of population time bomb with its coming anarchy.
Why not should be the clarion call of a people determined to prevent their lives from being determined by a cluster of cultists, con men, fraudsters and treasury looters masquerading as politicians and political party leaders.
Few have said it as well as the Emir of Kano at that Union Bank 100th anniversary lecture, but the gospel of how to save Nigeria must be universally owned and lived by the next generation. They must not allow themselves to be defined by the greed and fetish ways of those who hold them and their future hostage. They must not allow the freezing of their social mobility for the politicians, their children and those who swear oath of allegiance to their personality cult to flourish, at the expense of a people who just “siddon look.”Today’s world has no place for the docile.
So, what are the issues that must come to the fore, and the problems that need fixing? These should dominate the airwaves to force a retreat of the cultists, praise singers and criminal elements who have captured the political space in Nigeria and are setting back the hands of the clock.
They are the everyday living, quality of life impacting issues, like infrastructure, food, healthcare, education and security of life and property. They are important and must come to centre stage ahead of the cults of personality that now dominate our space. But they are not the only issues or problems that need fixing. They may indeed be just as important or less important than some grand issues like the rule of law, weak institutions, free and fair elections and the frame of values in public culture.
I dive down more deeply on these issues in the companion volume to this book titled “In the Devil’s Den.” But it will take away from the value of the enterprise of this volume if we fail to look at the challenge of the rule of law and how our politics is becoming stripped of purpose because of the impunity the receding sense for the rule of law allows. Not to look at elections being free and fair and the place of serious conversation in the public sphere on issues of the common good is also diminishing the purpose of this volume, so we shall cursorily look at those issues. They will be compared to personality of the fetish and personality cults to show why the key question is not why run, but why not. Win not imagine not running? With such need for change, to opt out, play neutral or seek comfort of apparent personal safety while the roof is caving in on all, does not seem to make sense.
Why is there such a disregard today for the rule of law? Why are even lawyers, as a body of civil society, not protesting this with the vehemence of knowing where such a mood propels society towards?
Even as military head of state when the impression of the strongman with iron fists was rife, General Muhammadu Buhari’s government never failed to comply with a court order. But INEC accepted from the APC the names of ostensible candidates in the face of the order of an Asaba High Court that no list of candidates be accepted from APC in Delta.
I have video recordings of conversations with the panel led by Lawrence Onoja to organise the APC primaries in Delta. These show evidence of the lack of guidelines to the aspirants to the requirements by law, no list of delegates and the Onoja field of gathering that was marked by prolonged periods of gunshots. The video clearly showed that these gunshots scared away those who came for the primaries. A recording of Onoja’s conversation with former Abia Military Governor, Frank Ajobena, indicated that a decision had been made in Abuja to give the candidacy to a particular person regardless of how the people voted. The question to ask is, how come the Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomole, was comfortable with popping champagne at the outcome of the show of shame in Asaba, based on the account of his cousin Chris Dirisu on a WhatsApp platform?
Somalia is a clear example of where a country that abandons the rule of law ends up. It is instructive also that the example I often use to challenge lawyers to take a stand on issues of the rule of law as duty from their privilege of learning is Pakistan, where lawyers marched on the streets in protest when the Chief Justice of the country was summarily removed by the executive branch.
Citizenship and privilege compel confronting the fetish forces that plunge us into the dark and disrupt orientation towards the common good. I was reminded of this in 2015 when the elections were announced for APC. A friend of mine, Ibrahim Usman, who lived in Kaduna and was Deputy President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, called to confirm if I was in Lagos so he could come and see me. When he arrived, he quickly announced that the trip was occasioned by the fact that he knew me well. He knew how much I felt about the idea of a leader who had no title and so I would never make a request from power. It may be a good sign of humility and modesty, but it may amount to shirking of duty not to go forward and ask for a role. He told me that many constituencies, businesses, the youths and those who were patriots with no regard for ethnicity voted for the APC because they saw me in that corner. I was a factor in the election and had a duty, against my natural disposition to stay away from what I may consider the spoils of war – to request for a key role.
He then turned to the Quran, quoting verses that implied a duty to make oneself available for service. I was particularly touched by the story of Yusuf, well known in the Judeo-Christian tradition as Joseph, the dreamer who was made Governor by Pharaoh. Had he failed to utilise his skills in managing the stores, as famine approached, Ibrahim said to me, he would have done an unjust did. He opined that since I had skills that could set Nigeria away from the unfortunate path it was travelling; I had an obligation to offer myself.
As I look at the lines drawn between these greedy forces of fetish primitivity that currently dominate Nigerian political parties and a future that must be modern, I see many Josephs or Yusufs. To fail to challenge the extant order would be a huge moral issue on their part, in my view. The duty to stand up and be counted in an imperative of citizenship.
On Free and Fair Elections
If the rule of law is so important, and any group treat it so shabbily, it must suggest that they either care so little for the common good, are so ignorant that they shamelessly act amiss, or are so steeped in self-love that they cannot see that the wisest self-interest is in the advance of the common good. The advance of the common good opens the space for the bigger pursuit of opportunities for the individual.
The same logic can be extended to the question of attitude towards free mid fair elections. My experience with running for Governor, above all, revealed a reluctance of Nigerian politicians to accept the honest free will vote of the citizens as the basis for choice of who goes forward in the agency-function of representing the people in positions of public government.
I was surprised by how much time is invested by potential candidates in reaching out to those in authority in the political party hierarchy. “Oh, just reach the chairman and get him on your side and it’s over,” was a typical counsel in my consultation rounds.
Many of the party leaders on the ground would frequently say your ideas are fantastic and your plans for the state are liberating, but it will help a lot if you can get Tinubu or Oshiomole to give us a call to indicate you are their man.
The naked truth was that political contest was not about how to serve the people well but it was about how well the party’s owners felt about your advancing their personal interest. I resisted this even though the most frequently mentioned people from which a call would make a difference were ostensibly good friends of mine. I was reluctant to ask them to make a call to these people, and never did, because 1 found it demeaning to the idea of democracy.
I was sure that a long list of freedom fighters from the 13th century accord on the Magna Catha to the Oliver R Tambo’s and Nelson Mandela’s would have been ashamed of how Nigerian political parties treat the very idea of democracy.
Yet these were not becoming campaign issues. The people were without voice and the campaign trail was not echoing Stephen R Covey’s “discovery” in the 8th Habit that the most important habit of the 21st century would be helping people find their voice.
The mindset in Nigerian politics is that people do not matter, their votes can be bought and their names used to legitimise the votes. This political culture undermines African culture, most readily captured by the philosophy of Ubuntu, ‘I am because we are.’ The culture in Nigerian politics of people as stepping stones who, like stone, have no feelings and so are there just to be used, also violates the motives of the founding fathers of Nigeria. This is captured in the Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe idea of competing ethnic nationality groups trying to bring the most progress to their people, the so-called competitive communalism.
This political culture, it seems to me, is guaranteed to stall progress, and democratise poverty. In my view, equal opportunity for all to participate in and to canvas points of view is key. It should determine how society should be ordered and ultimately, to seek to present those to be voted for and to advance a certain body of views in governance.
This breeds alienation of citizens from government and political leaders. Unfortunately, the politicians take the quiet resentment of the people as manifestation of their foolishness and ignorance. Ultimately, the realisation that it is not government of the people for the people by the people but that of politicians for politicians by politicians ; and we then begin to see manifestations of violence.
Debates and a marketplace of ideas in the public sphere are for me the antidote to the present decline in Nigeria. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the predominantly anti-intellectual nature of the public political culture makes such a migration to a culture of debates unlikely.