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


Nigeria and Nigerians: A Short Reflection

February 24, 2013 § 5 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

There is something about Nigeria I have grappled with, without luck. Each time I visit the country I get disorientated for some time. I feel a different sense of reality. The only thing that is constant is MONEY, MONEY, and MONEY. The rich and the poor, the holy and the unholy, are all lured by this singular attraction towards money. This attraction is powerful and crowds out other interests. I listen to people talk about money and what they do to make this money; as laudable as they are, they often don’t appeal to me. In such instances, I feel I am either wasting my time and life or I am simply lazy. But I don’t feel the same way outside the country. I also know that I am not lazy – although that’s relative. Notwithstanding, the more I think of this, the more I sense insecurity as the source of the material drive in Nigeria. This insecurity lies at the very heart of the accumulation culture – saving for the raining day; making hays whilst the sun shines; identifying the black goat before it gets dark. The burden of tackling insecurity is left on the shoulders of individuals. You provide everything needed for survival for yourself and your dependants. You go the extra mile to make these happen, because no one knows tomorrow. In some other countries, this burden of insecurity is borne by societal institutions and safety nets, which then allows people to focus on ideas and matters of self-fulfilment. In the Maslowian order, we are at the bottom of the pyramid of human needs, and that tends to order our behaviours. Even the clamour for social status through the use of power and display of materialism is an expression of physical and psychological insecurity. On the surface, it’s all well. Beneath the surface is a void; and an emptiness in search of true meaning and security. Even our consumption of God doesn’t escape the clutches of insecurity. I guess one way to understand a Nigerian is to explore his/her fears. Just a thought; I may be wrong.

Amaeshi is a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School and a Member of the Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

Death, Oh Death!

November 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

Then I shall be no more and breathless. May be, I shall go through the cold storage machine, before my body goes under the earth to be feasted upon by ants and worms.

I guess they merely do their work in line with their position on the food chain pecking order. Their work is  to return the body I have so much loved and tended to into dust; for dust I am and unto dust I shall return. Then my body shall serve as a nutrient to other beings, including the trees and grasses. My body may even in the many years to come become part of the fossil fuel to be extracted. We suck out a lot of past bodies today in the Niger Delta. That’s what it means to be an oil producing State.

My loved ones and friends will cry; my foes will rejoice, for I will be no more with them in my earthly garment. Will I be able to witness these emotions? Will I be lifeless or alive in other forms? Shall I be able to comfort and scourge? These are unknowns.

This end makes a mockery of my current quests and desires. Of what purpose are they? What is the purpose of life on earth? Is it to be rich, comfortable and have fun? Is the comfort of life on earth not temporal and short-lived? Why should I pre-occupy myself with that which doesn’t last? But what if there is no eternity to look forward to?

Life on earth is a mystery and can also be a misery. However, death appears more mysterious and miserable. These gory characteristics make me shudder, and I wonder why I ever exist. If I had a choice, would I have accepted to be born? Yet, the God who created me without my help cannot save me without my help. Yes, Jesus has died for us; but that salvation will not be yours unless you reach out for it. So the holy writ says; we are subtly encouraged to accept that by faith, but is it a fair proposition? Is God fair? He that created me without my help!

The reality of death makes life on earth meaningfully meaningless. Oh death where is thy victory and sting?

Nov 2. 2012 (All Souls)

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