Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Terrorism, Myth and Propaganda

Terrorists use narratives and myths to justify their acts of mass murder and to create enabling psychological environments for their campaigns. They do this frequently by couching their criminal acts in revolutionary or revivalist rhetoric. The effect of this is to create a permissive climate of moral ambiguity around them.

During the 1980s, Lawrence Anini’s gang robbed banks and distributed the loot to Benin City market women creating a diversionary debate as to whether Anini was a modern day Robin Hood provoked into a life of violent crime when the police extra-judicially killed his brother or whether he was a narcissistic gangster who wrote letters to the press and reveled in his notoriety. In the same way, gangs in the Niger Delta, less interested in resource control than in cashing in on oil bunkering and piracy, were romanticized as militants in some sections of the media.  

In weaving mythical narratives, criminals undermine official resolve by leveraging psychological capital in the form of public sympathy. A lack of moral clarity clouds our interpretation of obvious crimes. We begin to ask whether we are dealing with terrorists or freedom fighters; mass murderers or rebels with a cause; homicidal nihilists or overzealous activists that just need lessons in anger management. Between each definition is a patina of myth that serves to rationalize the devaluation of human life.

Boko Haram’s narrative in the last two years has been one of grievance. In June 2009, seventeen of its members in a funeral procession were shot by highway policemen allegedly because they were not wearing regulation motorcycle helmets. Its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and scores of sect members were later extra-judicially executed by the police. This narrative of unprovoked injustice and justifiable vengeance has been used by some to explain Boko Haram’s terror campaign. There is also a grander narrative in which the sect seeks to establish an Islamic state.

These narratives are false. Assuredly, Boko Haram was destined to wage war on the federal government and serve as a proxy for Al Qaeda. The caliber of weaponry that the security services unearthed in the group’s hideouts before and during the 2009 confrontation did not suggest a passive posture awaiting circumstantial provocation. Boko Haram at the time was already radicalized and militarized. As at 2004, a group called the Black Taliban, thought to be an affiliate or prototype of Boko Haram was already staging blitz attacks on police stations and local government secretariats in Yobe state. Boko Haram’s battle readiness suggested a prior intent to levy war on the state and the killing of its members, while heinous, was not the catalyst for its uprising. It simply pre-empted the sect, causing them to launch their war earlier than originally planned.

Boko Haram casts itself as a sort of Islamic revivalist vanguard when, in fact, it is a fringe movement espousing a neo-Wahhabi theology which many Muslims find repulsive. That a Muslim wants to live under Sharia does not mean that he wants to live under the Taliban-esque rule of Boko Haram. But because Nigeria is a religious country, evenly split between Christians and Muslims, with a high degree of ignorance about both faiths, the danger is that Boko Haram’s narrow quest could be interpreted by the uninformed as being synonymous with the Islamic faith thereby escalating the group’s agenda into a broader sectarian conflict. Boko Haram will surely benefit from the larger chaos and strengthen itself even as security forces are stretched thin.

The federal government has been slow thus far to undertake the rhetorical aspects of its combat with Boko Haram. It must distinguish the group from mainstream Islam in the public mind by emphasizing its extremist psycho-pathologies. It must distinguish between Islamism which is a political ideology and the religion of Islam. These distinctions might sound academic or over-intellectual but terrorism is now part of the fabric of our social reality and it is prudent for us to understand the nature of this threat.

The federal government must make much more of the brave Islamic clerics that have been killed by the sect for opposing it. The sect’s indiscriminate murder of Muslims and Christians makes it a peculiar threat to national security. The federal government must also counter the stereotypical reporting in the local and international media that often forces every incident of unrest into the silly “Muslim north versus Christian south” cliché. Muslims are not at war with Nigeria; Boko Haram is.

Boko Haram’s immediate goal seems to be to perpetuate itself in Maiduguri but a larger consequence is the poisoning of public life with fear, paranoia and anti-Muslim hysteria. When all Christians and Muslims view each other through lenses of mutual suspicion, the extremists would have won an even greater victory. The group does not have the numbers to militarily challenge the state but it does not need them; it can spread hate, bigotry and fear and watch the country unravel as its fault lines are inflamed.

This is why the government and civil society must work to create forums for inter-faith dialogue where voices of reason rather than extremists shape the conversation. The media can aid this effort by avoiding sensationalism in its reportage and seriously moderating its online platforms where vile hate speech, Islamophobic slander and rumours are circulating virtually uninhibited. It is also important to avoid conflating different conflict scenarios thereby creating artificial correspondences. For example, the conflicts in Plateau State and Borno State are rooted in distinct factors. It is unhelpful to conflate both and suggest connections where none exist. In this regard, politicians, religious leaders and the rest of us should be more circumspect in our comments.

But it is not enough to simply counter Boko Haram’s propaganda. The Nigerian state must create a superior narrative. A nation is a moral consciousness, an idea and a myth of human community actualized by the state. The purpose of governance is to give material meaning to the intangible property of national identity by providing tangible social goods – healthcare, security, education, employment and all other means of self-actualization. In the absence of a grand national myth to accommodate the breadth of our aspirations, people are taking refuge in the most powerful myth of all – that supplied by religion. This is the basis of religious extremism which evolves when religion increasingly explains and compensates for the failures of the nation-state. It does so by offering a more coherent narrative with which young people especially make sense of their dire existential conditions. Religious extremism offers the meaning that Nigerian citizenship has failed to provide for its teeming youths. This is also why terrorism thrives in failed or weak states.

Accordingly, we must see the fight against terror as an ideological conflict. Hence, the necessity of crafting a national myth that gives renewed meaning to Nigerian citizenship in the 21st century. In this regard, the government’s vast broadcast infrastructure and agencies like the National Orientation Agency could be put to better use.

A new mythos requires that we exorcise the colonial instinct and the culture of violence that characterizes relations between the citizenry and the state’s security forces. The extra-judicial killing of Yusuf and his cohorts was not only wrong; it was short-sighted and foolish.  It created a martyr and transfigured a fringe sect into a movement convinced that its cause had been validated by the martyrdom of its founder. The culture of thoughtless police brutality played into the terrorists’ psychology by creating for them an inspirational figure immortalized by an early death.

From the northeast to the Niger Delta, insurgencies have sprouted wherever security forces have acted like lawless bandits thereby providing facile justification for the democratization of violence. In this respect, the behaviour of the state is itself often a threat to national security.

This brings us to a philosophical yet fundamental point. Governance is largely represented in the 
Nigerian imagination as the exhibition of raw power dramatized by the sirened convoys and motorcades that frequently intimidate other road users. Public insecurity actually increases whenever a VIP is on the road. These negative atmospherics of official terrorism brutalize the Nigerian psyche. Therefore, the anti-terror campaign must include changing the visuals and the language of officialdom from that of vulgar belligerence to one of reverence for life and public safety. One does not need to be a terrorist sympathizer to understand that violence, even if only symbolic, begets violence.    

Friday, July 29, 2011

Religion, Controversy and Hypocrisy

Every now and then, some furious disputation inflames our fault lines and calls into question the prospects of a true and enduring unity. The most recent trigger of such contention is the Central Bank of Nigeria’s introduction of Islamic (non-interest) banking.

In summary, some Christian individuals and groups oppose the initiative because it allegedly contravenes Nigeria’s secularity. More vehement opponents say it is a grand plot to “Islamize” the country. Conversely, Muslims lament their demonization in the media, argue the virtues of Islamic banking and bemoan the Islamophobia that has gripped non-Muslims.

In fact, there is nothing wrong with Islamic banking. It is merely a facet of non-interest financing, the introduction of which is a laudable attempt to expand the range of financial services available to Nigerians. Islamic banking and non-interest financing in general are available in several nations across the world including those of a Judeo-Christian heritage.
Some critics say that the CBN handled the affair poorly. By emphasizing the particularity of Islamic banking rather than the universality of non-interest financing, it ensured that a religiously-charged controversy would greet the initiative. But the CBN’s purported mismanagement of the new initiative surely does not account for the spate of sectarian name-calling and faith-baiting seasoned with ignorance, paranoia and hysteria.

In truth, the current controversy is not about banking. It is about the perceived institutional and symbolic primacy of competing religious identities in the public domain. It is about an irrational fear of all things Islamic and the insensate tenor of public conversation in a climate of incivility. These are the obstacles to the honest but civil conversations needed to bridge the divides of our society.

Non-interest banking poses no legal or constitutional affront to Nigeria’s secular status as its opponents claim. Yet, even this appeal to secularity requires scrutiny. Nigeria’s secularity has always been so loosely defined as to be practically meaningless. This accounts for inconsistencies in state-faith relations such as the state sponsorship of pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. Every year, federal and state governments spend billions of naira on pilgrimages. Obviously, secular countries do not use public funds to subsidize private spirituality. This contradiction is mostly unchallenged because Christian and Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards are lucrative bureaucracies which offer access to national oil wealth. Both faith establishments see patronage through these bureaucracies as part of the great contest for primacy in the public square.  
It would be more intellectually honest for secularists to advocate the abolition of pilgrimages and other forms of state involvement in religion.   

Nigerian religiousity possesses the quantitative width of zealous proselytization but not the qualitative contemplative depth of knowledge and reason. Most Muslims and Christians are ignorant of theirs and each others’ faiths. Indeed, they are increasingly raised to be mutually antagonistic.

And Islamophobia exists. 80 percent of our media is based in the so-called Lagos-Ibadan axis and is dominated by southerners and Christians. A subliminal prejudice taints reportage and commentary due to both genuine ignorance and fearful malice. Because sensationalism sells papers, the press opts to highlight the most extreme elements in the interfaith debate. Firebrands on both sides who can provide searing belligerent front page quotes are preferred to communicators of measured faith who can offer calm coherence. Derogatory sound bites are exalted above rational analysis. Extremists are promoted at the expense of moderates, fault lines deepen, and prejudicial attitudes harden. Thus, the media profits from conflict while assisting politicians and public figures whose claim to credibility is their opposition to “Islamization” or “Christianization.”

Most Muslims are rightfully and genuinely bewildered by their vilification in the media. A trustworthy axiom of social analysis and journalism is that it is wrong to judge an entire category of faith (or any identity) by its most extreme fringes. Reverend Chukwuemeka King, the homicidal pastor sentenced to death for murder no more represents mainstream Christianity than Boko Haram represents mainstream Islam.

But the feigned incredulity and recourse to victimhood by some Muslims are also disingenuous. In the past sixty years, sectarian violence has assumed a normative presence in northern Nigeria. Church-burnings, killings of Christians, and the destruction of property have been wrought in the name of Islam. Obviously, violence manifests all over Nigeria but its frequency, scale and incendiary alchemy of religious and ethnic animosities make it particularly distinctive in the north. Tens of thousands carry psychological and emotional scars from these serial holocausts. In the southern consciousness, the north is a feral wasteland patrolled by bloodthirsty mobs that practice the ritual mass murder of “unbelievers.”

Islam’s bad press is also the legacy of Muslim-dominated military dictatorships. Ordinarily, the fact that Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha were Muslims should have been incidental. But they cast themselves as devout Muslims and legitimized their juntas by cultivating a pseudo-Islamic solidarity. This perverse brand of politicized Islam, buttressed by armies of homicidal vagrants on northern streets, has engendered a reciprocal Christian militancy that discerns conspiracies to Islamize the country in everything.  

It does not matter here whether sectarian violence is rooted more in social and economic factors, as I believe, or whether dictators flaunting their Islamic faith were simply defrauding the public. Mainstream Muslims have been largely unwilling or at best reluctant to rescue their faith’s reputation from lynch mobs, duplicitous politicians and religious demagogues. This may be due to apathy, cowardice, denial or a misconceived sense of solidarity with those who appropriate Islam for nefarious ends. Just as it is unfair to judge a religion by its extremities, its adherents must not let extremists become their faith’s most vociferous public representatives. Otherwise they license caricatures of their beliefs in the public mind. As long as this is the case, traducers of the faith, however ignorant and hate-filled, will continue to appeal to the fearful and uninformed. Despite this, we should also note that there are Muslims who have condemned groups like Boko Haram at great personal risk.

It is no coincidence that the growth of religion has paralleled the increase in sectarian violence and corruption in our public life. Dubious clerics intensify inter-religious antipathies because group solidarity is often strengthened by creating a common enemy. So the faithful are rallied against “Islamization” or against “infidels” and distracted from questioning the relationship between clerics, corporate elites and kleptocrats in our society. In the age of pastor-tycoons and Imams subsidized by a degenerate political class, these questions would pierce through the fabric of mass deception.

The pursuit of shallow symbolic victories also obscures the necessity of interrogating the status quo. We chose to debate the Ajami inscriptions on the naira when the currency’s functional worth to millions of Nigerians, both Muslim and Christian, was being reduced by government’s policy of devaluation. Some fought to keep the inscriptions on the naira when a more worthy priority should have been getting all Nigerians literate in the official language and learned enough to participate in a modern economy.

Clerics who have been so equivocal about the implication of prominent Christian entrepreneurs in the scandal of the financial sector – slave wages, casual labour, executive theft, unhinged profiteering and fraud – are speaking with incandescent conviction against Islamic banking which holds redemptive economic possibilities for the poor.

Christians have no theological reason to oppose Islamic or non-interest banking. Until the 16th century, the Christian church prohibited usury so strictly that moneylenders were barred from having a Christian burial. Based on its doctrine of Just Price, the Church saw usury as unearned income. In Dante’s Inferno, usurers are in the same circle of hell as the inhabitants of Sodom and other practitioners of unnatural vice. The papacy eventually relented and lifted the outright ban on usury but greed and the charging of exorbitant interest are still forbidden. Indeed, Judaism, Christianity and Islam hold significant critiques of capitalism and its unqualified conception of profit.

It is no accident that after the global financial crisis, nations are looking to the great ethical traditions for alternative models of finance. However, bigotry threatens to overwhelm our moral imagination. In an absurd inversion, those who should defend the poor and champion socioeconomic justice have become unwitting advocates of profiteering.

Clearly, Nigerians need to talk to each other more and know more about each other’s faiths. It takes conversation to humanize each other and to build bridges instead of walls. If moderates do not choreograph this conversation, extremists will continue to do so with catastrophic results.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Presidential Power and Its Discontents II

Apart from his personal limitations, President Jonathan also faces systemic constraints. The constitution stipulates that the president must appoint a minister from each of the 36 states. Given that the constitution already provides for a bicameral legislature as well as a majoritarian presidency that embodies the will of the greatest number of Nigerians, having a minister from each state is superfluous. For one thing, it adds to the bloat of government. For another, it unnecessarily bestows on ministers a representative function that properly belongs to the National Assembly. The ministers belong to the executive branch whose mandate is to execute. The National Assembly scrutinizes what and how the executive is executing.  
Ideally, a president could appoint all or most of his ministers from any state. Where they come from is inconsequential. Performance should be the only yardstick for judging their conduct.

Clearly, the constitution’s framers doubted that politicians would act fairly if allowed to freely select their ministers without any regulatory constraint. The stipulation emanated from a legitimate concern with ensuring fairness in the distribution of government posts. However, politicians now use the constitution’s concern for representational equity as a basis for patronage by insisting that state governors nominate candidates to represent their states in the federal cabinet. The result is a systemic paradox that cripples presidential decision-making.
A representative cabinet evokes the collegial atmospherics of a parliamentary system’s dynamic of shared responsibility but it is illusory. By appearing to incorporate collective responsibility into our presidential system, we have inherited the worst of both worlds – a limited liability presidency where the president has great power but can distribute culpability for failures among ministers whom he can legitimately claim were foisted on him; and a nominally representative council of ministers constituted by politicians who typically represent only themselves and their political benefactors, and who are rarely competent enough to execute. Their loyalties are frequently divided between the president who appointed them and the godfathers who nominated them.

The president, who must define his administration’s mission, finds himself working with lieutenants that owe him less than total allegiance. Consequently, the unity of command and purpose that should characterize presidential governance is often lacking. The operational swiftness that comes from executive cohesion is distinctly absent. If ever a mode of government was designed to fail, this is it. But this is not solely a constitutional flaw. The constitutional requirement of 36 ministers is bad enough, but opportunistic politicians exploit it for pork barrel politics and subvert the executive responsibility ethic of presidential democracy.  In practice, it is an equal opportunity kleptocracy as a perverse brand of affirmative action.

Thus, one of a president’s most arduous struggles is to assert ownership of his presidency by picking his own team. President Shehu Shagari surrendered his cabinet appointments to the prebendal calculations of his party and lost control of his administration. Obasanjo’s absolute grip on his presidency enabled him pursue his reform agenda. A major concern is that Jonathan conceded too much to governors and other interests in constituting his cabinet.

Will the president’s languid style be enough to manage his cabinet and umpire the potential friction, for instance, between the Finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who has unprecedented latitude over economic matters and the Petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke who directly oversees Nigeria’s cash cow? Both women technocrats are strong personalities and lay claim to primacy in the administration’s cosmology – Allison-Madueke as a presidential favourite and confidante and Okonjo-Iweala as Jonathan’s economic czarina and guarantor of international credibility for his economic agenda.

Presidents must quickly assert their authority over special interests. They must show that, in General Ibrahim Babangida’s words, they “are not only in office but also in power.” Shagari was unable to curb his party’s profligacy and was overshadowed by the powerful rice importation czar Umaru Dikko. Obasanjo retired military officers who had held political appointments in previous military dictatorships thus securing his administration against the wiles of a politicized military. President Yar’Adua attempted the same by firing Obasanjo-era centurions like Nasir El-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu who were deemed too powerful but his presidency was hobbled by the influence of fiendish cronies like Michael Aondoakaa and James Ibori.

Asserting his leadership will require Jonathan to defy influential interests as well as power blocs within the PDP, the National Assembly and the increasingly powerful governors’ forum. His vaunted transformational agenda cannot thrive in the nursery of politics as usual. Jonathan’s strengths are as a conciliator and a dealmaker. His natural instinct is to please everyone in the room and harmonize opposing forces often by redistributing portions of the national cake. “I have no enemies to fight,” he said constantly in the course of his campaign. However, at this point in our history, a pacific temperament guiding the presidency is not always a virtue. In fact, Nigeria has enemies that have to be fought and the presidency is a sovereign weapon fashioned to actualize the possibilities of our republic. When a president with convictions brings the moral, institutional and political weight of his office to bear on an issue, things get done. But the presidency is a blunt sword in the hands of the feckless, cowardly, pork-sharing pacifism often relished by Nigerian politicians.

Precisely because the presidency is so powerful, it either possesses its occupant or is possessed by him. Obasanjo’s military background predisposed him towards autocratic behaviour that often injured our institutions. For reluctant leaders like Shagari and Yar’Adua, the presidency was a black hole that swallowed them alive, leaving their aides to indulge in unhinged delinquency. Could Jonathan find the golden mean in the exercise of presidential power?

Psychology offers ample reason for apprehension. Confronted by contemptuous rivals as well as rising extremism and terrorism, Jonathan may be tempted to overcompensate for his perceived weakness by delving into the presidential armoury of repressive devices. He could be persuaded by hawkish political operatives to adopt more authoritarian measures to deal with dissent in the guise of a tougher posture on law and order.

Some politicians are temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. Shagari, who had been schooled in the conciliatory craft of parliamentary governance during the First Republic, seemed distinctly uncomfortable with presidential power. Remarking upon Shagari’s famed lifelong ambivalence about seeking office, his biographer David Williams wrote, “He has never sought high office; it has always been thrust upon him…his own ambitions have been for useful but narrow offices.” Shagari attributed this reticence to his deep distrust “of secular power” and his belief that “whoever lusts for political leadership should be rebuffed.” But he also believed that “whoever the community asks to lead is duty bound to accept the invitation.” This self-effacing modesty is incompatible with presidential power.

As Stanley Macebuh wrote ten days after Shagari’s inauguration in 1979, “Only those congenitally desirous of power can be comfortable with the prospect of the degree of loneliness which every president must live with. Prime ministerial government has at least the advantage of collegiality. The prime minister can share responsibility with his colleagues, if not with the legislature, when things go wrong. But a president has no one else to blame when he makes disastrous mistakes.” Shagari, he observed, “had not shown any great desire for the sort of imperial power that could compensate for his inevitable loneliness.” Successful leaders embrace the solitude that comes from not seeking to please every interest.

Of course, seeking power is not a sin. What matters is whether one perceives power as an ultimate goal and therefore as something to be worshipped and pursued at any and all costs, or as a tool, a means to an end, regulated by a high moral purpose. Power without purpose and vision is the chronic affliction of Nigerian governance.  

Shagari’s preference for a communal draft rather than an individual’s voluntary pursuit of power has since become a template for leadership selection. It casts politicians as reluctant messiahs beseeched by benighted communities to undertake their deliverance. Not only does this create a dangerous dependency on the president, it inverts democratic responsibility by indebting the people to the government instead of holding government accountable to the people. The tragic irony is that Nigerian politics often anoints those who possess neither the desire nor the equipment for public office while relegating the ambitious and the prepared to the political wilderness.

Political fortune seems to consistently favour the unprepared and the unwilling. Yar’Adua was poised to take a university teaching appointment before Obasanjo virtually conscripted him into the presidential race in 2007. Obasanjo himself had described his invitation to run for the presidency by several retired generals and politicians shortly after his release from prison in 1998 as an “ambush.” It took a first term of trial and error for him to establish an agenda for his second term and assemble a team of able lieutenants. However, Jonathan does not have the luxury of a probationary period. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Presidential Power and Its Discontents I

Goodluck Jonathan won the presidency chiefly on the strength of three things: an engaging narrative, the vast resources that inhered in his incumbency and a genial non-threatening persona that endeared him to far more Nigerians than his rivals could manage. Jonathan’s feel-good “anyone can be president” narrative mattered. His implausible ascent from bureaucratic anonymity to the political pinnacle in just over a decade marked with preternatural good fortune resonated in a society that loves miracles. In recent times, only Olusegun Obasanjo’s march from prison to presidency in the space of a year offered similar thrills.

However the skills required for a successful presidential campaign are acutely different from those necessary for a successful presidency. The shape-shifting equivocations, chameleonic posturing, intentional vagueness, expansive accommodation of all interests and infinite promises that pave the path to the presidency are actually incompatible with running the office. The president cannot long remain “all things to all men” as in the campaign. In time, his actions must reveal where the needle of his internal compass is pointing. The presidency itself calls for decisiveness, clarity, single-minded focus, and the distillation of broad, imprecise agendas into specific deliverables. The transition from campaigning to governing has to be swift and seamless.  

Jonathan’s challenges are equal parts personal as well as systemic. His public career yields no oral or written records of strongly and consistently held positions on the pressing national issues he must now contend with. Jonathan was picked as Vice President to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua because as an Ijaw, it was presumed that his presence on the ticket would placate the restive youths of the Niger Delta. But his thoughts on the great cause célèbre of Niger Delta militancy – resource control, and its ancillary concept, fiscal federalism – are cloudy at best.

His ideological and philosophical orientations, if any, are unclear. He comes across less as a person of conviction than as an opportunist whose ethics are entirely situational, contingent upon circumstances, and directed by expediency rather than conscience. During his campaign, Jonathan vowed to transform Nigeria but transformative leadership is enabled by deeply held political convictions of which Jonathan appears genuinely bereft.

As far back as the 1980s, Olusegun Obasanjo had advocated a one-party system for Nigeria and argued its advantages in writing and in lectures. Thus, the way he ran both the presidency and his party reflected his core belief in the efficacy of a one-party state. The moral credentials of the belief itself are inconsequential to our inquiry. The point is that Obasanjo came to the office with some convictions and they shaped the way he wielded the presidency.

In Jonathan, we have a president who might have to hurriedly and belatedly develop core beliefs. When a leader has no convictions, it typically indicates either a lack of prior intellectual investment in grasping national issues or a congenital infidelity to principle – neither of which can possibly generate transformative outcomes. At best, he could be a pragmatist.       

This is surely not an unfair assessment. Jonathan had effectively been president for over a year before his own inauguration. His ideological vagueness has already created the first signs of policy incoherence. Weeks after his inauguration, he ordered cement manufacturers to reduce their prices or face unspecified sanctions. That decree would seem to indicate a preference for bold governmental activism to modulate the interplay of market forces. Yet, it conflicts with a liberalized economic regime in which the government plays no role, let alone setting commodity prices by fiat.

Jonathan has previously indicated that his administration will pursue a private sector-led free market order. He is currently overseeing the privatization of the power sector and at the January PDP convention promised that the establishment of forty new federal universities would be primarily private sector-driven. To seal his fidelity to markets, he has penciled down Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the internationally reputed neoliberal economic technician for a second tour of duty as finance minister after her first stint during the Obasanjo years. In a recent speech in which Jonathan asked Nigerians to brace themselves for tough economic measures, he managed to sound both protectionist and liberal at the same time. 

The question of the president’s true ideological colours inevitably arises. Is he a free market enthusiast, a believer in state economic activism or something in between? If he subscribes to a third way doctrine, some kind of “Jonathanomics,” it is yet to be articulated. Is it possible also that he has no preferences at all and acts out of convenience, out of a sense of the moment? These questions matter because they will affect the tone of his government and policy-making. In the absence of any discernible core values, politicians tend to dance between crass opportunism and fickle populism. But a serious government simply cannot function this way.

The evidence thus far suggests that the president lacks the intellectual and emotional commitment to his own economic agenda required to sell it to the public and to engage the special interests that oppose liberalization. They also predict a scenario in which the president either stalls his economic agenda at the first sign of serious opposition or simply cedes full control (and culpability) over economic matters to his finance minister as a means of evading executive responsibility.

The president’s shape-shifting has already resulted in an early political defeat. In repudiating the PDP’s power rotation (“zoning”) arrangement to run for the presidency, Jonathan hinged his candidacy on constitutionalism as well as the need to overcome divisive ethnic politics and entrench merit in leadership selection. He struck patriotic high notes implying that his presidency signaled the beginning of a new nationalistic and post-sectarian meritocracy in our politics. But after his inauguration, Jonathan reaffirmed zoning while trying to engineer the election of his favourites in the House of Representatives. The move failed. The representatives rebuffed the president’s overtures and elected leaders of their choice. The episode left the president looking like an opportunist who had abandoned zoning when it suited him only to resurrect it for his own selfish purposes. His blatant interference in the internal workings of the house carried out through the instrumentality of the party violated the national assembly’s autonomy and the principle of checks and balances. Its defeat has left him smaller in stature.

Presidential stature is important. Jonathan faces a host of adversaries including a coterie of implacable northern elites who see his presidency as an usurpation of their right to rule and an anarchist terrorist group, Boko Haram, which has declared war on the federal government. To adequately combat these onerous challenges, he has to look to a moral compass rather than the weathervane of expediency. Strength will come from conviction and conscience, rather than convenience. The president must choose his political battles carefully so as to avoid further diminution of his stature. His opponents are sure to quickly capitalize on any signs of weakness on his part.

Jonathan’s understated personality already invites underestimation by political adversaries. Ordinarily, this assessment of a politician who has just clinched the presidency ought to go down as a fatal miscalculation. But because his understated personality evidently does not mask any cast iron principles or keenly held ideas, he is all the more likely to be accurately adjudged as weak. Encouraged by this, special interests are sure to launch niggling nuisance assaults on his presidency in a bid to extract concessions from him. Indeed, extremist groups like Boko Haram will feel emboldened to continue their campaign of terror by what they will see as the president’s lack of resolve (not to mention the government’s lack of adequate armaments).

After the post-election violence in April, Jonathan gave one of his best speeches and among other sterling pronouncements, declared, “Nobody’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.” But such lofty rhetoric has not been used to craft a new national security doctrine although it should have been obvious since the October 1, 2010 bombings in Abuja that our most urgent national security threat comes from non-state actors. 

All this predicts an embattled presidency besieged by ravenous lobbyists and assailed by cold-hearted opponents; one that will more often than not be on the defensive and more consumed with putting out fires rather than actually getting things done. Jonathan can prevent this quagmire by defining a set of minimum non-negotiable core values that will undergird his administration. These are the values which he must expend political capital to promote and by which he will consistently assert his leadership.  It is necessary but it will not be easy. The presidential virtues of strength and resolve can only be constructed on prior foundational convictions.

By electing Jonathan, it may be said that Nigerians voted for symbolic change, choosing the cosmetic novelty of the fedora hat over the tiresome familiarity of the Shagari cap. Whether Jonathan can transform the symbolism of his presidency into real systemic changes is another matter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A New Dark Age of Terror

After the June 16 suicide bombing at the Nigerian police headquarters, it should be clear that we are facing a new species of violence; one that we must confront with the full weight of our public institutions. The attack was a statement of terrible symbolism. By striking at the first line of the security establishment, Boko Haram issued a message that not even the society’s professional protectors are safe. Coming just days after the police Inspector General had declared that the group’s days were numbered, it was a reply of murderous eloquence. The point of such violence is to sow fear into the public mind. It is to “terrorize” – which is what Boko Haram has been doing with diabolical aplomb in Borno State.

The “16/6” attack was merely a spectacular reprise of the group’s operations over the years in the northeast. In that time, police stations have been bombed and scores of police officers assassinated. The Leadership newspaper of July 28, 2009 reported police sources confirming a suicide bomb attack on a police station in Potiskum, Yobe State. Sect members wired with explosives had biked into the station and blown themselves up. Boko Haram has also targeted politicians, community leaders, clerics and generally anyone that opposes their aim of establishing an Islamic state. As with most emergencies outside Lagos and Abuja, their attacks did not elicit serious national interest. Niger Delta militants gained attention even in the creeks because they had the oil industry at their mercy. In contrast, the terror campaign on the nation’s impoverished northeastern fringes seemed remote even to the authorities despite the brazen slaughter of state operatives.  Seeking more serious official recognition, Boko Haram struck in Abuja.

Our concerns for the future should be threefold. Boko Haram appears to have mapped our systemic strengths and weaknesses and emboldened by their successes so far, will attempt even more daring assaults. Terrorists crave horrific spectacles that promote their causes and attract media attention. Accordingly, Boko Haram will seek maximal yield targets with potentially high casualties; sensational bombings and high profile assassinations. Such targets would likely include airports, malls, passenger planes, trains, bridges and other physical infrastructure as well as sites of symbolic national value such as the National Assembly and other federal buildings.

Secondly, the more successful Boko Haram is, the greater the likelihood that copycat terrorist groups will emerge attempting even more spectacular horrors in order to burnish their reputations in the jihadi pantheon – a sort of street credibility for mass murderers.

Thirdly, this threat is unlikely to disappear quickly. Boko Haram’s extremist ideology and uncompromisingly homicidal methods place it beyond the range of reason and dialogue. People willing to blow themselves up generally do not bargain. Its demands are absolute, its terms, non-negotiable and its means, totalitarian. Their grievance has deeper roots than a quest for “resource control” and possesses the fiery certitude of unhinged zealotry. Unlike some Niger Delta militants, they will not be dissuaded by choice plots in Abuja or excursions to the presidential villa. Boko Haram will not be convinced of the error of its ways; it has to be confronted decisively.           

It may be that receiving militants in Aso Rock as the previous two administrations did and generally treating them as “freedom fighters” set a precedent whereby groups can now use terrorism to pursue their goals. Obviously, where the state is perceived to be illegitimate, and conventional channels of representation are obstructed, violence will be cast as a veritable tool of negotiation. A combination of vote-rigging, democracy deficits and unaccountable government has dragged us into dark sophistic terrain where some may argue that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter or that the justice of a terrorist’s cause is in the eyes of the beholder. Perhaps the extrajudicial slaying of Boko Haram’s leader Mohammed Yusuf by police officers triggered the group’s vengeful killing spree. However, the wanton slaughter of men, women and children with random bombs places it in the category of bloodthirsty anarchists.

Confronting Boko Haram could be a long struggle. Over decades, Britain had to manage the Irish Republican Army’s insurgency and Germany had to deal with the Red Army Faction. Similarly, terror alerts and bombings could assume a terrifying new normalcy.

The odds of averting this scenario are currently unfavourable. Our security challenges expose a deeper institutional crisis. We can justifiably question whether strategic agencies whose staffing is often determined by twisted notions of affirmative action (“federal character”) rather than merit have the competence to handle the threats assailing us.

Our national security establishment is dysfunctional and like other branches of the Nigerian state is beset by a severe lack of institutional capacity. Our much maligned police force works under appalling conditions. As at 2008, Nigeria had 377,000 officers policing a population of about 150 million. One-third of the force is effectively a privatized security corps illegally guarding VIPs and corporate establishments. The police are generally underpaid, ill-equipped and ill-trained. The force has been further debased by its serial use by politicians either to suppress dissent or abet electoral heists. Our cops are unfairly expected to deliver results in very difficult circumstances.
Corruption which bleeds the state is also a critical factor. The Police Equipment Fund created to procure anti-crime gear was embezzled by some of its executives.

The security bureaucracy is still bound by military-era paradigms and operational assumptions better suited to catching coup-plotters than addressing the asymmetries of non-state violence. The one-dimensional approach of deploying the army to combat suburban terrorism has not worked as the July 2009 offensive against Boko Haram in Maiduguri showed. Such operations executed often with overwhelming and indiscriminate force yield great collateral damage. Nothing facilitates further radicalization of the general populace more than punishing the innocent with the guilty. Such methods tend to transform cowering neutrals or passive sympathizers into active combatants. We must now develop the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism competencies required to address extant security threats.

Our intelligence capabilities are decidedly poor. Bukar Shekau, the current head of Boko Haram was pronounced killed in the 2009 offensive. President Goodluck Jonathan appointed an anti-terrorism czar early this year but nothing has been heard from that office. There is little to indicate any significant changes in our security architecture since the October 1, 2010 bombings at Eagle Square. If anything, bombings have actually increased.

Security agencies must disrupt the arteries of finance and weaponry that sustain Boko Haram. The group’s scale of terrorism cannot be conducted pro bono and if the paper trail is found and followed, it is sure to reveal local and foreign benefactors. Our borders are notoriously porous and Boko Haram benefits from its proximity to erstwhile conflict spots in Chad and Niger Republic which can supply a steady flow of manpower and armaments. The group’s political protectors, the sympathizers in high places who obstruct investigations or refuse to act on actionable intelligence delivered by the security services, must be exposed. Its cells and safe houses have to be located, its hierarchies identified and its operatives neutralized. There also has to be a review of security protocols at public places, offices, federal buildings and likely targets. The public has to be vigilant.

Conceivably, the federal government could use counterinsurgency “sticks” against Boko Haram’s hawkish hard core of operatives while offering “carrots” to its more impressionable novice terrorists. This will work best when the group feels endangered enough to consider negotiation.  
However, pursuing an aggressive policy alone will not conclusively end this threat. Think of extremism as a hydra-headed monster and Boko Haram as just one head among others. Cut off one head and two more may well grow in its place. More than anything, it is failed governance that fuels extremism. The cynical use of Sharia law by corrupt politicians to mask their sleaze surely encouraged extremists to pursue the violent establishment of a “more authentic” Sharia regime.     

According to the recently released Nigeria Education Data Survey, 83 percent of children aged 5-16 in the northeast (Boko Haram territory) cannot read at all. “A typical child in the northeast sub region is about four times more likely to be illiterate than his or her mate in the southwest.” The region also accounts for the country’s highest level of innumeracy at 73 percent. This geography of illiteracy and innumeracy does not merely coincide with the geography of extremism; it fortifies it. It is a vast demographic ocean of potential recruits for terrorist groups.

Altering these statistics should be a key governmental priority. Boko Haram is not just a gathering of bucolic malcontents; it also has a fair number of educated youths disenchanted with their lack of prospects and with the corruption that has arrested their development. They have now chosen to redeem themselves by deforming their own souls in these acts of transcendent evil. Until the sordid material conditions that gestate violence are seriously addressed, there will be yet more homicidal zealots dominating the news headlines.   

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mr President, What is Your Message?

When Senator Chuba Okadigbo complained some years ago that three years of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had yielded “no quotable quotes,” he was lamenting the inspiration deficit of Nigerian leaders. Listening to President Goodluck Jonathan’s inaugural speech, I was struck yet again by how abjectly bereft of inspirational powers most of Nigeria’s top politicians are. An inaugural speech is traditionally a defining proclamation of a president’s agenda. What we heard on inauguration day was a drab, colourless, soporific recital unworthy of recall. It left no memorable fragments to warm the heart or quicken the spirit. It was forgettable and I would wager that few if any Nigerians can recall any part of that address.

President Jonathan’s oratorical challenges have long been obvious. He was not the most eloquent of the four main contenders for the presidency. (In fairness, his closest rival in the election is possibly an even worse speaker). Jonathan’s predecessors, the grumpy, gravelly-voiced Obasanjo and the dour Umar Yar’Adua were far from stellar public speakers. The problem goes beyond eloquence. It speaks to the inability of leaders to inspire Nigerians with their words.

In fact, this is a contradiction of our political traditions. The nationalists of yore considered rhetorical sophistication an essential part of their political arsenal. In our indigenous cultures, the art of eloquence and the spoken word was a key part of education for public life. The nostrums of our culture were orally transmitted. The creative and destructive power of words is recognized in African moral traditions. “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten,” Chinua Achebe wrote. His axiom conveyed the truth that in African culture, the spoken word was a form of spiritual and mental nourishment. Accordingly, the nationalists practised oratory as the dispensation of soul food. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Kingsley Mbadiwe, Mbonu Ojike, Adegoke Adelabu, Mokwugo Okoye, Raji Abdallah among others were renowned for their fluency. Our first Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was acclaimed as “the golden voice of Africa.”    

I believe that military intervention which ruptured the liberal tradition and inseminated Nigerian history with a lineage of soldiers more accustomed to barking commands and decrees than winning hearts and minds through the power of persuasion is partly to blame. Even so, among the soldiers, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Murtala Mohammed were notably fiery speakers. Simply wearing khaki does not impede eloquence.

The oratorical limitation of our leading politicians also has a great deal to do with the context of elite selection. The nationalists had to rally multitudes to their cause in order to gain political significance, whereas political leadership today does not depend so much on inspiring multitudes as on buying the favours of godfathers. It is less about persuading the electorate than placating special interests. The absence of a real public debate before the polls between the leading presidential contenders denied Nigerians the opportunity of seeing them match wits against each other. Instead of watching the aspirants to the most significant office in the black world arguing their respective cases for leadership, we had to settle for a dire presidential monologue. If you never have to make a case for your leadership before the people, then your ability to inspire their confidence at any other time will be nil.

It is significant that many of the most powerful public speakers in Nigeria today are either pastors or imams. Their leadership, being devoid of any coercive sanction, rests entirely on their ability to persuade, to inspire voluntary loyalty. If they cannot speak to the inner consciousness, they rapidly lose their audiences. There is a reason why the numbers that fill our crusade and prayer grounds have yet to be matched by any voluntary gathering for a party rally. Multitudes still drift towards the wells of inspiration and words fitly spoken still set hearts aflame. In these days of religious extremism, the president and many politicians are in a rhetorical contest for hearts and minds with charlatans who use their influence over the multitudes for evil.        

The ability to inspire people matters, especially since the task before us is mobilizing Nigerians with a sense of common purpose. It will take the right words to resurrect people from tribal tombs and raise them to a new level of national consciousness. It will take inspiration to pierce through the veils of cynicism and pessimism that separate the citizenry from the leadership. It takes rhetoric to build bridges of empathy to connect the powerless with the powerful. It will take rhetoric to motivate Nigeria’s teeming young population, many of whom are without jobs and see no prospects for the future.  

The power to inspire and influence is basically rooted in conviction. People are more likely to follow leaders who display passion. It has been a long time since a Nigerian leader displayed fervency. Murtala was not a rhetorician in the league of the nationalists but his fervour was undeniable. His ‘Africa Has Come of Age’ speech was memorable not just for its words but also for the passion with which he delivered it in 1976 at Addis Ababa. Nigerians remember his time in office as one of governmental resolve largely because of his ardour.

We have yet to decipher what Jonathan stands for and what ideas command his passions. He has no record of strongly-held positions, either oral or written, on any of our pressing national issues. Even his repudiation of the PDP’s zoning arrangement which some had hoped would be a springboard for asserting a new post-sectarian meritocracy in our politics has turned out to be opportunism with the president now reaffirming zoning. His inaugural address was replete with the usual clichés about “patriotism” and “resilience” and getting “Nigerians to dream again.” But presidential sermonizing on patriotism would be more compelling if it were delivered with conviction. There is as yet no message or big idea, no core value or principle around which the president can mobilize Nigerians.

In a presidential democracy, the centrality of the chief executive means that the president is the prime town-crier, the nation’s narrator and storyteller-in-chief. We look up to him to put our times in historical context, to instruct us as to where we are going as a nation and to create a dramatic symmetry between our collective past, present and future. When the president speaks, it should be with oracular gravity. As such, legitimate criticism may be leveled against the president’s speech writers. The inaugural speech failed to strike the right chords even when dealing with the historic significance of being the first Nigerian from an ethnic minority to assume the presidency. Sometimes, even when assailed by stilted and wooden delivery, the right words uttered at the right moment can do a profound work – but the president had no ammunition.

Of course, eloquence is not everything. For instance, it is not a substitute for character. Adolf Hitler was charismatic and eloquent. In the last elections, Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau impressed many watchers as the most articulate of the main contenders. But his performance in Kano did not quite rise to the level of his rhetoric. There are some who might argue that the president can compensate for his oratorical limitations with his character and competence. That remains to be seen.

Still, a measure of eloquence matters. A dexterous public communicator can translate a crisis into an opportunity for national self-transcendence. In times of crisis, leaders come forth to give utterance to the groans of their people. Nigeria is in crisis and requires voices to articulate its yearnings. Some would say that it is asking too much for Nigerian politicians to sound like Barack Obama or Tony Blair. This view not only contains a derogatory insistence that we keep accepting the average, but misses the point. Azikiwe thought that leadership should be reserved for an aristocracy of intelligence and Obafemi Awolowo wrote that only those who possessed “mental magnitude” were fit to lead Nigeria. Alas, Nigerian leadership has plummeted from those lofty standards.  We can refer to the nationalists because there was a time when politics was about words and ideas not just cash, bags of rice or frivolous pageantry. The president has to raise his game.

The Nigerian presidency is not merely the leadership of a small West African country; it is the leadership of a quarter of the black race. There are more Nigerians on this planet than Britons, Germans or the French. A Nigerian president is well-positioned to champion Africa and the black world’s cause in the conclaves of the world’s most powerful nations. It is important therefore that we begin to raise our standards in terms of what we expect of our leaders. The quality of a nation’s leaders is directly connected to the public expectation and definition of leadership. The time for settling for the barely average and tempering merit with mediocrity is over. The 21st century will punish us harshly if we persist in doing so.     

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nigeria's Original Sin

As Nigeria’s independence loomed in the 1950s, two opposing camps of thought struggled to define the nation’s post-colonial future. The liberal nationalists believed that democracy offered the best chance of achieving Nigeria’s developmental aspirations while radical nationalists like Chike Obi believed that liberal democracy for such a diverse polity would lead to polyphonic anarchy. Only a strongman in the order of Kemal Ataturk and Gamal Abdel Nasser could lead Nigeria’s charge to fulfill its manifest destiny.

Dr Obi’s vision was of a neo-Stalinist dictatorship and collectivist order in which coercive violence was a necessary component. His advocacy possibly provided the intellectual justification for the January 15 coup. Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the five majors had been a student at the University of Ibadan when Obi held court. Yet the mathematical genius was not alone in his conviction that Nigeria needed an iron hand. Even Aminu Kano had pondered the possibility of a Nigerian Kemal or Mussolini and intellectuals like Tai Solarin welcomed the coup, as did the media in general.

Despite its high-sounding pretensions, January 15 was a catastrophe. That its zealous protagonists eliminated politicians from every part of the country except their own kin ensured that their revolutionary motivations were lost in the impenetrable thicket of ethnic suspicion and paranoia. Nnamdi Azikiwe noted that violence had never been part of the nationalists’ anti-colonial agitation and declared the coup a “national calamity.” Obviously, the First Republic had been tested by episodic violence and arguably, events such as the brutal repression of the Tiv riots and the disturbances in the western region helped set the stage for military intervention. As Claude Ake wrote, the degeneration of politics into warfare propelled the specialists of warfare into a lead role. Once democrats succumbed to using anti-democratic means, disaster was inevitable. Yet, the First Republic was essentially a liberal dispensation and the coup outlawed debate and dialogue and enthroned violence in their stead.

Successive juntas proffered a narrative in which politics itself was the sin of which the nation had to be cleansed in order to be reborn. Political parties and para-political organizations were instruments of strife and corruption. Thus, politics and its practitioners were accordingly prohibited. But the idea at the heart of messianic militarism was enlightened authoritarianism. Its exponents insisted that dictatorship and discipline were prerequisites for prosperity at the expense of democratic freedoms. Nigerians made this pact with the devil wholeheartedly. In forty years, they only protested against one coup – the 1976 putsch in which Murtala Mohammed was assassinated.  

As Kingsley Mbadiwe once remarked, “The first democracy is the democracy of the stomach.” Bread mattered more than ballots and the soldiers could provide bread in abundance.  With the oil boom, soldiers were cast as miracle workers who could solve national problems with ‘immediate effect’. When the veteran nationalists, Azikiwe and Hezekiah Davies respectively proposed experiments in diarchy (a governing partnership of civilians and soldiers) and triarchy (adding traditional chiefs to that partnership), they were basically articulating popular opinion.

After the riotous Second Republic, politicians became outlaws hunted by military inquisitors. Liberals and leftists celebrated the overthrow of that dispensation. Adebayo Williams wrote in 1986, “People prefer tyranny to liberty which leaves their pockets drier, their religious freedom threatened and their children murdered.” Military rule would not have endured without the society’s complicit idolatry of messianic soldiers, and without intellectuals marketing the virtues of enlightened authoritarianism. Progressive liberals compromised their values and accepted militarism as a necessary evil. They had come to believe implausibly that military dictators could midwife liberal democracy. For leftists who had idealized Murtala as a forerunner to a full-fledged socialist regime, the right military regime was acceptable. These beliefs facilitated Buhari’s disciplinarian state, Babangida’s right wing corporatism and Abacha’s thuggish totalitarianism, all of which included progressives and civil society actors.

Adebayo Williams wrote in the last days of Babangida’s regime, “There will always be tyrants and sadists. But we have a right to insist on exchanging lower forms of tyranny for higher forms.” This quest for higher forms of tyranny led progressives into curious positions. Gani Fawehinmi once argued that Nigeria needed “a period of grueling and gruesome militant intervention” and that “Democracy is a luxury that must follow after enlightened and principled dictatorship has settled the society.” Several pro-democracy activists welcomed Sani Abacha. Indeed, this dalliance with Abacha terminally polarized the Campaign for Democracy and aborted its promise as a broad-based anti-military coalition. To their credit, when liberals and leftists realized their error, they made for the barricades but the damage was already done. By 1999, the pro-democracy groups were too weak to mount a credible political challenge.

Why do these histories matter? We came out of the military era with a less than total sense of closure. It may even be argued that Nigerians did not come to a profound consciousness of democracy’s virtues but rather became dissatisfied with each military regime’s apparent hijack by particular ethnic interests. Military rule was not rejected because it was morally wrong but because it failed to deliver prosperity. The basis for the return to civil rule in 1999 was pragmatic and utilitarian rather than moral. There was no sudden realization that destructive means cannot achieve constructive ends. We may well question the sustainability of the Fourth Republic given the vexatious incompetence of its leading actors thus far. The belief in messianic strongmen dies hard.

These histories matter because the odious legacies of militarism endure. It is no accident that a cabal of retired generals sponsored Obasanjo, a retired military Head of State, to the presidency in 1999 or that the leading opposition figure in the past three elections has been another ex-Head of State, Buhari. Obasanjo’s successor Umar Yar’Adua owed his presidency less to his modest gubernatorial accomplishments in Katsina than to his inheritance of the vast political machine created by his late brother, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, another veteran soldier-politician. Consider the rebirth of several retired military officers variously as senators, governors and ministers. In 1999, military officers had acquired enough wealth to finance their reincarnation as democrats. Some even touted their experience in military regimes as qualification for office. This was akin to Nazi operatives seeking office in post-war Germany and touting their service to the Third Reich as an advantage. But then Germany achieved closure after the darkest period of its history. Nigeria did not.

Militarism casts a long shadow.  As long as retired military officers remain significant political players, warlord politics and the militarization of political conversation and public life will continue. Coup d’états and election-rigging are similar pathologies rooted in the culture of impunity and violence, and both subvert popular sovereignty.  A military-sponsored constitution has created an imperial presidency and provided legalistic fortifications of the unitary command and control paradigm that undermines federal democracy. The current generation of political operatives was socialized in an era of authoritarian lawlessness as evidenced by their larcenous proclivities. The military’s abolition of debate devalued ideology and promoted money, ethnicity and religion as the directive principles of our politics.

Even the frequent eruptions of sectarian violence stem from the military era. As the military vandalized and plundered the state, people took refuge in tribal and confessional fortresses. Recession caused Nigerians to seek social security in ethnicity and religion. Repression ensured the politicization of ethnicity and religion and their emergence as touchstones of civic expression. Today’s ethnic militias and religious extremists are children of the military era. The post-military presidency, being an authoritarian institution, invites unhealthy sycophantic and cultic adulation which foils the possibility of building strong institutions and discouraging aspiring strongmen.

Violence as a tool of political redemption is a grossly limited, if oversold, commodity. Historically, dreams of Utopia forged by brute force produced martial monstrosities. The modernizing autocracy was a political mirage. In our diverse society, we need liberal democracy to provide space for plural perspectives. We need the wisdom of the multitudes rather than presidential omniscience. Our democracy will often be slow, ponderous and even mediocre until ideologies crystallize. Our task is to accelerate this dialectic and speed the day of ideological clarity. In the process, we must also exorcise the spirit of violence from the body politic. In the past, a national haste often led us to seek social and economic miracles purportedly retailed by militarism. Such haste informed our plunge into the Fourth Republic without first scrutinizing its military-made constitution. But nation-building is not done in haste.

There remains the problem of how to address the provocative excesses of a “democratic” kleptocracy. Either we forge new weapons of civic resistance and solidarity and renew our faculties of social engagement; or appeal to false messiahs that materialize in times of crisis.  For when we consider the injustices of our age, the criminal disparities between the fortunes of the people and their representatives, we can only conclude that confrontation is inevitable. For the good of Nigerian humanity, that confrontation is best choreographed by the messengers of reason rather than the avatars of chaos.