Nigerian Politics and the Dangers of Single Narratives -By Kenneth Amaeshi

Filed under: Political Issues |
Kenneth Amaeshi

Kenneth Amaeshi

 

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that a fundamental mistake one can make is to either see these interest-based-perspectives as one or exaggerate one perspective as the only narrative. They are often intertwined in a very complex manner. History bears testimony to this.

Nigerian politics is perhaps akin to the proverbial elephant of many tales. It is a complex entanglement of economic, ethnic, religious, and seemingly ideological interests, which are often taken for granted, or assumed away, by many political commentators and analysts. Over the years, through close engagement, I have come to further appreciate these perspectives, their manifestations, and implications, which I articulate below.

Proponents of the economic interest perspective see Nigerian politics as an arena for selfish and primordial accumulation of wealth, or what some people have characterised as prebendalism. This perspective seeks to explain the culture of politically induced corruption prevalent in Nigeria today. Political corruption has a long history and produces a thieving class, which cuts across ethnicity, religion, professions, and geography. It constitutes this class as core insiders and positions others as outsiders who languish on the periphery. Hence, there is an incessant struggle and contestation to occupy the centre space. Abuja, as the seat of power, has become the quintessential symbol of this gravitation to the centre. Different regimes – past and present – can be deconstructed and understood from this perspective. The current mantra of change and anti-corruption, for instance, could be cynically described as a quest to dismantle some dominant hegemonic economic interests and actors, and probably replace them with another set of actors. The acquisition of political power, therefore, becomes a mechanism for redistributing and reconstituting economic interests. No wonder every regime tends to produce its own set of economic giants.

Advocates of the ethnic interest perspective tend to view Nigerian politics as a web of socio-cultural interests tied to the perceived and actual incentives that someone from their ethnic group is in-charge and in control. As such, ethnic interests raise the probability that I may have access to the resources tied to power, either because we speak the same language or share some other socio-cultural affinities. Ethnic interests, in this case, can signal the unhealthy rivalry amongst the different ethnic groups and tribes in the country, which tends to make the realisation of the one-Nigeria project a remote utopia. The pursuit of ethnic interests often promotes mediocrity over merit, and plunges national interests into the depths. Framed as such, it also becomes a form of corruption expressed through ethnic identity. The quota system and the federal character agenda, which are easily prone to abuse, are exemplary manifestations of ethnic-oriented practices and policies at work in Nigeria. The political voting patterns in the 2015 presidential elections, for example, mirrored these ethnic interests and tensions elegantly. As much as it is often denied by some neo-progressives, it remains a credible lens to understand the reality called Nigeria.

Hopefully, one day we will get to this ideological maturity; but in the interim, it comes across as vacuous and utopian. Unfortunately, this may not happen, if one does not have a good appreciation of the other interests and their complex interactions, which often mask and masquerade as ideological interests.

Supporters of the religious interest perspective believe that this perspective shares a lot in common with ethnic interests. The main difference is whilst ethnic interests are geographically bounded, religious interests tend to transcend geographic boundaries. The Christian North and the Christian South, for example, share the same identity of Christianity. The same applies to Moslems and other faiths across the land. The fear of Islamisation of Nigeria, whether real or unfounded, for instance, is anchored on religion. The current threat of Boko Haram, whilst being distanced from religious undertones, seems to be garbed in religious apparels and trapped in religious narratives. One can also see the politics of Nigeria marred in religious tensions and rivalries between what could be described as the believers and the infidels. The different regimes and their policies since independence can be evaluated and interpreted through this lens of religion. Why should the government fund and subsidise religious pilgrimages? Are these patterns and policies mere coincidences? Again, the recent preference for Moslem-Christian political tickets is a clear manifestation of the ascendance of these religious interests in our collective consciousness.

Those who like to interpret Nigerian politics from ideological perspectives often focus on the notion of a good Nigerian society. The neo-progressives love this perspective and clamour for it. For them, what matters most is a new Nigeria freed from the nefarious clutches of economic, ethnic, and religious interests. They want a Nigeria where policies and practices are governed by fair and just ideologies. Unfortunately, this perspective tends to be the least developed and represented of all because Nigerian politics is not ideologically driven. The only difference between the major parties, for instance, is their current members, who are as fluid as their interests and not bound by any party political ideologies. Notwithstanding, there are possible few policies and politicians which and who can be understood from this perspective.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that a fundamental mistake one can make is to either see these interest-based-perspectives as one or exaggerate one perspective as the only narrative. They are often intertwined in a very complex manner. History bears testimony to this. The 2015 presidential election obviously displayed this complexity. In my view, the emergence of President Buhari, for example, can be arguably and credibly explained from all the perspectives except the ideological perspective. The other mistake is to ignore that these perspectives and interests exist at all, which is very dangerous.

As much as one may sympathise with the ideological view, the other perspectives tend to provide clearer accounts of the truth of Nigerian politics. Hopefully, one day we will get to this ideological maturity; but in the interim, it comes across as vacuous and utopian. Unfortunately, this may not happen, if one does not have a good appreciation of the other interests and their complex interactions, which often mask and masquerade as ideological interests.

History is about the past, as much as it is about the present and the future. Accepting that these perspectives can be complementary to understanding the many truths of Nigerian politics will be of benefit to those who engage in the political analysis of the country. The ability to entertain and scrutinise these multiple perspectives irrespective of our perspectives can be very enlightening and may help elucidate the many truths of Nigerian politics, and avoid the dangers of single narratives.

Kenneth Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum (TLF), Nigeria, a Visiting Professor at Lagos Business School, and Associate Professor in Strategy & International Business at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

 

Comments

comments