Obasanjo vs Jonathan: a meta-narrative of elite antagonism and class struggle?
December 19, 2013 § 3 Comments
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