What is in a name? The case of Goodluck and Patience

December 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

NOTE: ***A version of this article was first published as an Op-Ed in The Guardian (May 9, 2010) ***

President Yar’adua is dead; may God rest his soul. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been sworn in; may God guide his conscience. However, whether he likes it or not, the political history of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has grown to embody a double-edged public discourse which may not be entirely accurate, but yet resonates powerfully across the country. An aspect of the discourse presents an image of a humble and peace-loving man who patiently goes through his ordeals until success is achieved. This heroic imagery is further intensified when you bring in Patience, his wife, into the frame. In this case, the Goodluck and Patience phenomenon becomes the embodiment of the heroic traits of the virtuous person. These are powerful and essential traits for rebuilding Nigeria – a country currently riddled by unpatriotic traits and characters. I applaud this discourse and imagery, especially if it eventually translates to a potent force in redirecting the footsteps and conscience of our political elites to serve the interests of the populace, and not their selfish indulgence.

The other side of the Goodluck discourse evokes a very discomforting dark imagery. Here Goodluck becomes synonymous with brazen corruption (chop-I-chop mentality), laziness (sit-down-look attitude), apathy, and reckless subservience to power and authority, as long as one is not caught out unexpectedly and prematurely, too. It fine-tunes the selfish inclination of the person who patiently awaits the downfall of the other for him or her to shine with good-luck. It diminishes the worth of hard work and showcases inaptitude as a viable alternative. In general, it portrays the emptiness characteristic of the shallow mind who ignobly says: let’s feast and merry today, for tomorrow we shall all die! This version of the Goodluck and Patience discourse is very uncomfortable to imagine, especially as one thinks of it as an apt description of the continuing unchallenged public psychology of the Nigerian populace, essentially orchestrated by the public debauchery of the political elites.

Lagos and Abuja appear to eloquently represent these sharply contrasting imageries of the Goodluck and Patience discourse. Despite the criticisms voiced against the recent BBC documentary captioned Welcome to Lagos, which, in my opinion, mainly (and lopsidedly) portrayed Lagos to the outside world as a filthy environment of people living in abject poverty and sub-human conditions, it also highlighted the resilience and hard work that accompany such existence. It showcased people who were not prepared to abandon themselves to the fatality of fate, but were rather prepared to shape and formulate their destinies, despite the odds against them. It showcased Lagos as the hub of positive private entrepreneurship and creativity. This imagery of Lagos is further enhanced if one steps out of the squalor portrayed in the BBC documentary into some of the civilised parts of the city, which the documentary, in the popular characteristic of the western media, refused to explore. I am by no means suggesting that Lagos is a perfect city. It still has its significant drawbacks and yet thrives in private entrepreneurship and audacious stories of the human ability to survive extreme conditions. As most people who live in Lagos would say: “anyone who survives in Lagos can survive in any corner of the globe”. And most of the time, this turns out to be a truism.

Then contrast this private entrepreneurial spirit of Lagos with that of Abuja. In Lagos, money changes hands and economic productivity is enhanced. Despite the serenity and luxury of Abuja in comparison to Lagos, it is a city where most idle minds talk about money, money changes hands, and we are plunged back a couple of years back. In all its glory, Abuja has come to symbolise the face of the seeming massive and horrendous looting of public funds in Nigeria on a daily basis as a result of bad governance. It is very difficult not to sense this bad governance since our infrastructure has continued to remain poor despite our national wealth; and the poverty level in the country has continued to grow hand in hand with the incredible bank accounts held outside the country. However, one might quip that it is not easy to embezzle public funds creatively and go unpunished, even when it is public knowledge that one is a thief – no, it is nowadays called political entrepreneurship. The political entrepreneurs in turn serve themselves and their political god-fathers. Yes, this is a form of a diabolical entrepreneurship, and certainly the inspiration for such must definitely come from no other source than from below – i.e. the brute and primitive elements of the human person. Abuja appears to epitomise this gory side of the Goodluck and Patience discourse.

Coincidentally, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, Patience, will live and work in Abuja. Some political regimes in Nigeria have been alleged to notoriously promote public corruption on a massive scale in the country. So, it is also for the President and his wife to choose whether to promote the Lagos or the Abuja culture. One thing that is certain is that the choices they make, as leaders, will definitely rub off on the public psyche. For instance, and on a lighter note, it will not be surprising if the number of the population bearing the names Goodluck and Patience increases as a result of the Goodluck and Patience discourse. Unsurprisingly, some people on Facebook are even beginning to use Goodluck as their middle names! However, on a more serious note, the Nigerian public psychology does not need more of a laissezfaire attitude to bad governance. We need a change of orientation that rewards the discipline of hard work and recognises fairness and justice. We need a change of orientation that deters public recklessness and punishes corrupt political entrepreneurship that has continued to set us all back as a country. Unfortunately, we all know this, but yet fail to act.

Whilst I agree to the view that each and every Nigerian needs to take responsibility for propelling the country forward, I equally recognise that some people are better positioned to champion change in the country than others. And what position can be better and more powerful than the Office of the President? Although there may be more than meets the eyes in both the President and his wife, unfortunately they do not easily and collectively radiate an identity far from being products of luck. The general opinion is that luck has continued to trail their footsteps, probably because of their names. I am inclined to dismiss this as fetishism. Notwithstanding, the ball is now in their court to lean on the side of the discourse they subscribe to and, thus, diffuse the inadvertent public myths and fetishism around the Goodluck and Patience phenomenon. They have a dream opportunity to, at least begin to, right the ills of the Abuja culture in Nigeria. Although they will live and work in Abuja, they do not necessarily need to live out the Abuja culture. As leaders, we want to know what they believe in – i.e. their political ideology. Let us know our president and his wife and who they truly are – and here, actions need to speak louder than voice.

President Yar’adua’s regime has gone with its uniqueness. This is a new beginning for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his wife, and a golden opportunity for them to either write their names feebly on sand or firmly in history. What would be immensely disappointing is just to see their regime gone as an ill-fated product of luck, which will be an unfortunate sharp contrast to the wise saying that: luck meets the prepared! I pray they are adequately prepared; and time shall tell this.

Adieu, President Yar’adua; and welcome, “President Goodluck”!

Dr. Amaeshi teaches Strategy and Policy Innovation at the Cranfield School of Management, United Kingdom, and is a Visiting Professor of Corporate Governance at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria

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Obasanjo vs Jonathan: a meta-narrative of elite antagonism and class struggle?

December 19, 2013 § 3 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

The current public squabbles between former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), which tend to border on moral heroism, is both revealing and intriguing in many ways. In the first instance, the difference between OBJ’s and GEJ’s moral rectitude (and in fact the difference between these two and most former presidents of Nigeria), in my view, is akin to the difference between six and half-a-dozen. Nigeria is yet to have a Mandela, unfortunately. In that regard, as much as OBJ’s letter to GEJ might contain many a truth, it reveals some disturbing sublimal characteristics of Nigeria and her polity lurking around seemingly unnoticed.

Beyond the rhetoric of the letter, I see a meta-narrative of an institutional void and abyss, which gazes back at those who are drawn to its abysmal depths. I see a reckless and false democracy that has gone out of control, and on rampage to consume itself and the disenfranchised citizens. Democracy, as the government of the many for the many, requires strong institutions and voice to function effectively for the interests of the many. What we see unfolding before us is a shadow of democracy – a government of the few for the few – being sold to the many as true democracy.

Beneath this public grandstanding and elite antagonism between OBJ and GEJ is a very ugly elite activism for private interests. After all, there are no permanent foes in politics, but permanent interests, as they say. These interests are, unfortunately, not ideologically driven; instead they are often driven by primordial sentiments and instincts devoid of any public interests, and are definitely anti-common-good.

The emergence of elite antagonism masquerading as elite activism spells danger for a budding democracy. It clearly signals that the public space and voice have been hijacked and muffled by the powerful few in society. OBJ, GEJ et al., no doubt, are members of this elite class. This emergence of elite antagonism, whilst seemingly appealing, is a subtle annihilation, alienation, and impoverishment of the critical mass required to challenge and put elite power in constant check. In the classic Marxist expression, it signals the triumph and continual domination of the bourgeoisies over the proletariats.

In other words, OBJ’s letter points to the absence of a critical and powerful civil society. It highlights the marginalisation of the commons by the elites and the powerful in the society. The letter in the public space has met a toothless bulldog resigned to the fatality of learned helplessness.  A public that has been brutalised, betrayed, and bamboozled by different governments and regimes over time. The public has become the proverbial suffering grass in the fight between two elephants. It is from this perspective that OBJ’s letter makes more sense to me.

The obvious absence of the critical mass in our democracy is a clear signal of under-development and the entrenchment of belly politics in Nigeria – a dangerous politics that does not put the interests of the country over and above the interests of the very few elites who falsely parade as messiahs in human flesh. No wonder this form of politics has continued to fail Nigeria and Nigerians.

Whilst some have focused narrowly on the content of OBJ’s letter, I see the need for the civil society to reclaim its rightful place in democracy in Nigeria. I see the need for the average Nigerian to explore the dynamics of the current elite antagonism not from a religious or ethnic lens, but from a class perspective. This is a classical class struggle that needs to be dismantled.

The elites have creative ways of selling their antagonisms as laudable activism for the many. Succumbing to their antics, again, is to further strengthen their resolve to use this strategy against the many. As much as the civil society has been subdued, I see this subjugation as a function of information asymmetry employed by the elite class to decimate the many. This subjugation will only be overcome if the many engage, mobilise, and support common interests.

There are a couple of new active civil societies out there at the moment. They need all the support they can garner to create a critical mass that will be able to challenge the elite few. Democracy, as much as it advocates peace, is a form of governance sustained by constant and creative contestations. It is a governance system whose equilibrium is sustained by constant tension.  What we are currently witnessing in Nigeria is a lope-sided contestation and tension, which will only sustain the domination and interests of the very few elites in the country who have treacherously continued to feather their nests while many people in the country roast in penury and abject poverty.

OBJ’s letter is a welcome development. At least, it exposes the under-belly of the elite ruling class, and at the same exposes the absence of a credible and powerful civil society in the country. Creative, thoughtful, and informed activism by the many is at the heart of effective democracy. Such engagement is a clear demonstration of active citizenship. The time to act is now and always. 2015 will come and go; but active citizenship should always continue.

Despite the antagonism of the few elites in our society, OBJ, GEJ, and their likes should not be allowed to escape the constant scrutiny of the court of public opinion. Anyone who wants to act in the public space should also be prepared to be publicly held accountable. OBJ and GEJ are already in the public arena; let them face the wrath of the public scrutiny. Let us not lose our eyes on the ball.

It is a class war. The struggle continues.

Kenneth Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum Nigeria @kenamaeshi

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