Ekiti Epiphany: Politics Beyond Idealism

Ekiti Politics

 

The most amusing thing about Nigerian analysts, the outspoken observers of our political evolution into a pseudo-democratic nation, is our shared hypocrisy in reacting to outcomes of predictable public issues. This can be seen, most recently, in our responses to the outcome of Ekiti governorship election. In this build-up to the next presidential election, I have personally transformed from being an uncompromising idealist into being an unequivocal realist. You will recall I even wrote, frustrated, in my Friday column at one point, to congratulate Goodluck Jonathan as 2015 President-elect – a year in advance!

What happened in Ekiti is a mere restatement of our tragedy as a nation, where a politician is seen as Santa Claus and thus his primary duty, when elected, comprises uninterrupted three-square meals on the table of every voter and a constant flow of gifts in kind and cash. Realistically, this is an expectation impossible to maintain. Worse yet, not only is this the genesis of corruption in government presenting a ready-made excuse for mediocrity and underdevelopment, it’s a nightmare for even the most honest of populists because one’s faith in one’s ideals (a belief that votes can be vehicles for change just by their nature, by their use) is shaken and one is at the gates of a dangerous but luring cynicism. Yet, that Santa Clausism is the form of politics the people desire and a man, a politician, who comes to the arena with better plans for solid development, will be punished for his foolishness of NOT being Santa Claus.

Reading the commentaries of Ekiti people in the past week, I have learnt that the outgoing Governor, Kayode Fayemi, despite holding Town Hall meetings with the grassroots and setting up welfare system to cater for the old, was still perceived as “elitist” in having his government dominated by “technocrats”, some being “non-indigenes”. He has hired these last instead of hiring the “actual politicians” to assist him in entrenching the principles of prebendal politics. Outgoing Governor Fayemi is also “unpopular” with the political philanthropy-awaiting masses and threatened school teachers. He is also “insensitive”, perhaps because his “modernist” approach to developing Ekiti was seen as unbearable by parents who think the new tuition fees of the state university are unreasonable and unaffordable, and by farmers who think his agricultural policy is a scam, by maybe even job-seekers who think his employment scheme is a gimmick. These are all detailed in a feature on the Ekiti election by my good friend, Femi Owolabi, for The Scoop NG. He reported a voter saying: “(PDP runs) a ‘chop make I chop government’. Money didn’t flow well in (Fayemi’s) government…  APC is now pumping in money at the die (sic) minute to election.”

But I forgive the masses. Our politicians undermine the conditions of their unschooled and hungry followers, schooled and unemployed followers, poor and hopeless followers, the enterprising and economically unfortunate followers and even the sick and the destitute, as well as the financially handicapped illiterates and dropouts who in turn are to rely on these same politicians’ policies. There’s something not quite right, something incestuous and sad about this–this is what Achille Mbembe called “the politics of death”.

The current politicians wouldn’t have been faulted if their understanding of populism wasn’t limited to distributing food items while the chunks of their budgets are invested in their private businesses. We inherited a structurally flawed system with a particular class unfairly subjugated and taken for granted by the political establishment. Members of this class are the countrymen whose only dividends of democracy are the “gifts” they receive from the politicians in exchange for their votes every election year. They exchange this great abstract value for a far less but real value, a sack of rice for example, because they’re hungry and a hungry man is an irrational man. And the politicians in turn, elected to redeem the welfare of the masses, deliberately avoid doing so simply to keep them dependent and asking for handouts. This is our present lockstep. Dear countrymen, dear masses, the blunt truth is that these “gifts” you are being given were paid for with your own public funds or are otherwise the proceeds of an abandoned or inflated community contract. It is your loss when a politician who tries to match the value of your vote with an equal value in infrastructure is shown the way out. “Stomach infrastructure” lasts only so long as the next trip to the toilet. And imagine how many trips to the toilet you, poor benighted masses, will undergo in contrast to the FOUR years of looting your vote gives the politician. Understand this and see how benighted you are!

But more than anything, I’m happy that our wisdom has been restored by the outcome of Ekiti governorship election, with more people finally becoming realist analysts of our politics. I have been interacting, debating and arguing, screaming myself hoarse, just to highlight that Nigeria is bigger than our blogs. Perhaps the urban middle-class is coming around to my long stated position? The politician as a Santa Claus is the only image the masses have of a “good politician”. Speeches and promises and the urban middle classes pseudo-intellectual “surutu” are a waste of their time. And as much as I respect the decision of the people of Ekiti State who, under the sun, with branded bags of rice waiting for them at home, voted for their choice candidate, I have a question for some of us activists: would the voters have taken Ayo Fayose serious if he had not spoken the language of the masses, which is the provision of items for “stomach infrastructure?”

So, what next for APC? APC, to some, is “old wine in new bottle”, but being the first time the opposition emerges with the strength to put the incumbent government on its toes, I am, as a citizen unimpressed with the status quo, willing to settle for another shape of bottle over the old one now no longer convenient to carry! This is the peak of my realism as a citizen in search of the “fresh air”. I think this is the time for the opposition, for whom I have sympathy, to play politics beyond impracticable idealism. APC needs, for the coming election, a presidential candidate with street credibility, identifiable by the masses: a Buhari or an Atiku or any member with their clout. These are brands that don’t need re-introduction to the masses, being one-time Head of State and Vice President respectively. As for the personality of these two, I’ve my opinions, favourable and damaging in respects. But I am firm in my belief that with a well-built party structure, especially at the grassroots, they can be rebranded and managed for the greater Nigerian good. Our politically immaturity is so pronounced that if a visionary Fashola emerges as APC presidential candidate today, with his thoroughly modern ideology, and stands against a rugged James Ibori, whose pocket is big and intention destructive, Fashola will lose in a free – and (un)fairly induced – election. It’s that simple, that brutal.

There is another problem though: a huge number of our political analysts see alignment with, and sympathy for, a political cause as compromising, because they confuse neutrality with objectivity. It’s absolute self-deception to say that you’re neutral in choosing the side to promote between the oppressed and the oppressor, especially when the oppressive incumbent has failed the people, is unresponsive to apolitical activism and deaf to the clamouring for a progressive society. So, to say that I’m neutral in my political choices means I have no sense of perception at all, knowing that this crucial decision determines my well-being as a citizen. Objectivity, to me, is one’s ability and wisdom to criticise his own when they err and others when they oppress him and his.

Also, in their analyses of third-world democracy, our writers have shown an absolute ignorance of practicable political idealism. Which is why, as they condemn Bola Tinubu as a “thief and nothing but a thief,” they cannot name an alternative capable of ousting the GEJ-led opposition forces. While they promote an impracticable idealism in their pursuit of stainless political saints, they should be prepared to be “ruled” by GEJ again from 2015. It’s that simple.

We, the urban middle-class activist potential pressure group, have no option than a stratagem to get the existing members of the establishment competing to serve us–to compete to offer us the better, the best deal, for our votes. We must ally to remind them that unless rural community developments and the welfare of the urban masses too are given the same attention as building bridges and installing streetlights in our cities, only money and of course “rice”, not promises, can get you votes from this manipulated class, largely based in villages remembered only in election years.

This is why we need to get off our bums. And the price for victory, whether by the PDP or APC establishment, will not, must not, be mere bags of rice. We must demand bridges and free trade zones, specialist hospitals and quality education. I am a political realist, I will be bribed but I will be bribed only with something concrete, like roads and hospitals and electricity, not bags of rice and maggi. And this is a message to the political elite, the Establishment–Gimba Kakanda will be at the forefront of a new block with new demands. If you want my vote and my block’s vote, come and negotiate–we speak the language of civil engineering works and economic infrastructure.  That is the return on my political education over the last months. And political education isn’t acquired in classrooms, it’s acquired in our ability to strip ourselves of polarising sentiments in making political choices.

We must quit thinking that “third-world” politics is all about writing “deep” articles, composing tweets and writing profound Facebook posts and screaming ourselves hoarse about how things ought to be run from our AC-ed rooms and offices. For so long as we are content with screaming and writing about failed governments without struggling to infiltrate the ranks of the “laboratory politicians” whose incompetence cause these troubles, for so long we are complicit in the fall of this nation. I’m checking out. I’m taking a stand. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

 

A Letter to HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

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I must begin by exhibiting a needless sycophancy, as it is with our people, when another person attains a status no longer wise to antagonise: I am a fan.

I am, however, a very critical fan of yours as a public intellectual and public servant. Unlike others who praise you as the best thing since Aristotle, my appreciation of your public engagement has been with both applause and frowns. Of the latter reaction, my major publicly declared disagreement with you was in the fuel subsidy debate. I have to reproduce what I wrote about you even during the period running up to your dismissal from the Central Bank. I hasten to do this before your praise-singers report me as a hypocrite:

‘In many quarters, Sanusi’s stance during the fuel subsidy removal protests, especially his reckless remark that “Those speaking now on the internet and Facebook and Twitter and newspapers are not workers but middle-class elite who use PMS in their smart cars…”, is a reason to not pity him. We were in the streets in January 2012 to convince the government that its predecessors have built a socially disastrous system in which living without subsidy is a harsher hell, and he insulted our sensibility with elitist excuse that the masses are not affected by the removal, refusing to understand that the masses mostly depend on generator sets for electricity, refusing to understand that a rise in the price of fuel is a rise in the cost of transportation, and this means a rise in the cost of everything: an inevitable inflation.”

Fuel subsidy, thankfully, is not the inspiration for this letter. This letter is simply to address a habit of yours that a critic has termed as an “arbitrary showmanship”, and to warn you of the people whose friendship is enough to get your “Dogarai” consistently on alert, for their unrestrained identification with you is a multiplication of troubles!

I’ve followed your intellectual activism despite the marked contradiction in your advocacy of the new Nigeria: sometimes you’re unifying as a pan-Nigerian rebel against ethno-religious propaganda, other times you’re polarising as a hardcore preacher of Hausa-Fulani aristocracy. In most of your campaigns to highlight your ethnic pride, you came out, perhaps unwittingly, as a promoter of ethnic supremacy. Your public intellection is dazzling not only because of your multi-disciplinary erudition, but your uncommon use of language makes you my second favourite wordsmith from the emirate now under you, that is, just after the incomparable Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano.

I had wanted to be indifferent to your emergence as Emir, as the affairs of the Kano Emirate are none of the business of a subject of Emir Umar Bago Tagida III of Lapai Emirate. This was before a friend wrote to remind me that I was actually the winner with you as custodian of the traditions and culture of a people whose religion, number and influence are determinants of the socio-political stability of the country; that as a “progressive Muslim”, as he thought I too am, who had challenged the reverent Sheikh Ja’afar of blessed memory who, in a burst of your usual arbitrary impulse, you once called “a glorified almajiri”, you have finally found a platform to influence both the conservative northern Nigeria and conservative Islam without being dismissed as a non-member of our cultural establishment. I thought less of this because the Nigerian monarchy has always been the retirement heaven of our privileged technocrats and intellectuals, and none has ever championed a remarkable cultural revolution.

Some critics who think your decision to offer yourself up for imprisonment in a palace instead of a future in public service and then politics is unreasonable do not know that you have declared that your “all-time favourite philosopher is David Hume”, the Scotsman who taught you the essence of sentiments, and that reason is actually a misinterpretation of our sentiments. The critics reveal their own sentiments in their conclusion that the throne, on which you’d be until you shake hands with mortality, is a wrong choice for you, a potential occupant of even Aso Rock!

My fears for you, your royal highness, are enormous. The first has to be my disapproval of the skewed commentaries of your rabble-rousing friends, especially the lousy political drama queens, including the diminutive one who has asked your opponents to “…go jump into the lagoon.” Such petty partisanship isn’t just disquieting; it’s a desecration of your status. For the Emir is an open door, a pacifist, a leader of both the obedient and the rebellious subjects, and also the ruling and the opposition parties. Beware of your old friends who regard you still as that impulsive showman of “Mrs Yaro” scandal.

I read that the Presidency has continued in its witch-hunt designed to frustrate and embarrass you, seemingly insensitive to your new status. As a mentee of dead philosophers, you really don’t need to be told to not react to their attempts to desecrate your office. Be the victim, not the anti-hero they seek. I see their actions as a ploy to destabilise the emirate, as they had attempted with publications of congratulatory messages to their preferred emir, and now in their invigorated campaign to portray you as a corrupt bedfellow on the run. Your luck, we all know, is the cooperation of your Governor. It’s possible that President Goodluck Jonathan may be with us, but may God intervene, till 2019, and now that Kwankwaso is going next year, and we aren’t sure of his successor, I must remind you to study the script on the deposed Emir Mustapha Jokolo of Gwandu Emirate. Jokolo was deposed, “accused of making reckless statements capable of threatening national security….” by Gov. Aliero.

Making statements likely to be considered “reckless” by a threatened Presidency is an art you’ve perfected. It’s the height of indignity for monarchs who ought to be pacifists to allow themselves to be drawn into open political machinations. If Kwankwaso’s successor turns out to be uncooperative with the ways of the emirate, that grand palace may become a prison of despair.

Your role as a monarch has been restated, with nostalgia, by your predecessor, Alhaji Ado Bayero, who, on the occasion of his fortieth anniversary, as reported by one of your brilliant subjects, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, said: “Da muke yi. Aka dawo ana yi da mu. Yanzu sai an yi a fada mana.” This is a lament, a declaration that the Emir is no longer constitutionally powerful since the British colonialists intervened and restructured our administrative systems. Loosely, it means: “We used to be in charge. Then we were relegated to consultants. Now we’re only told about decisions already taken.”

A friend of mine suspects that your long expressed ambition to become a monarch is a desperation to re-establish the role of the emirate, above the advisory role that stirred up Emir Bayero’s nostalgia. I hope this is not so. But I told him that an emir, especially of the conservative Kano, is culturally more powerful than the Governor and even the President, because he is the moral conscience of his people. This is where your antecedents as a progressive Muslim, thinker and intellectual are needed especially now that Islam is being demonised by dangerous religious charlatans, like the votaries of Boko Haram and other potentially militant groups and sects, who distort religious texts to abuse the essence of our humanity.

The Presidency is understandably ashamed of reconciling with you because you have shown us its dirty side, and because you’re seen as principled and unforgiving. And to some, this elevation is not only the ascension to majesty but also an expansion of the aristocrat’s mental state. The power to resist the corrupting influence of this new status is now a test only time can prove: Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi will either become a revolutionary monarch, if his erudition and wisdom are not disabled in the palace; or, if the quest for vengeance possesses him, he’ll end up an unfulfilled uppity king. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

To Critics of #BringBackOurGirls: a Letter

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I promise I’ll be brief.

This is because you are notorious for making declarations without bothering to understand what’s been said or done. And by being brief, I wish to reduce the possibility of your succumbing to your nature. I’ll be very brief, I assure you.

Your first error, which seems to have become your guiding principle, is the assumption that activism is the responsibility of a select group. I’m tired of repeating myself, of spelling out what activism is, of restating that “activism is not a profession, it’s an instinctual response to a failed system.”

Activism is the responsibility of every one. There are no membership requirements, since citizenship of a dysfunctional country is the only qualification for, and invitation to, be active against such a system. This is the truth you have not acknowledged, as you sail in the boat of cynicism, in which you fault the campaigns of fellow citizens who have taken to the street to challenge a government you nonetheless have also dismissed as a failure.

You see, there’s nothing wrong with your attempts to change Nigeria from your bedrooms–with tweets, Facebook updates and even sensational Op-Eds and polarising advocacies. But, don’t you think criticising those in the field, patriots who step out of their comfort zones to challenge social and political aberrations, is an indictment of your delusion?

Isn’t that what it is, delusion, to expect a desired change without civic engagement? Even miracles don’t occur without an effort!

If you’re indisposed to take part in a campaign designed to seek good governance and accountability from the establishment, unimpressed by the “methods” deployed by the organisers, why didn’t you come out to show these “ignorant” and “insular” citizens how to organise civic engagements, demonstrating the correct method to adopt in organising an effective protest? It is the absence of your ilk, the know-it-alls, that makes nuisance like us occupy the streets. Don’t you agree? Are you satisfied with the way this country is being run? If you are not, why aren’t you doing something aside from occupying your bed? It’s either you’re dishonest, merely being the intellectual drama queens, certified attention-seeking dissenters or, and this too is a credible suspicion, fire over at your neighbour’s is not a shared problem.

A shared nationality, dear critics, is enough reason to be alarmed by the tragedies that have befallen fellow citizens. It is thus heartbreaking to read your criticism of citizens who rose up, on the news of abductions of schoolgirls in the terrorist-infested northeast, asking the government to #BringBackOurGirls. If these citizens had not risen up to expose the government, the abduction would’ve been dismissed as another of our many collateral damages, like the many before it. This enough-is-enough response to an institutionally confused government has not only embarrassed the government, its unjustifiable incompetence has been clearly spelled with hashtags, and on the placards, by famous global influencers: politicians, religious clerics, musicians, actors, name it. On the strength of this campaign, the President and his colleagues from neighbouring countries were summoned by Paris in the name of a summit.

It is this same activism you consider as “elitist” that inspired Michelle Obama to hold up a placard in solidarity with rattled Nigerians. It’s the same activism you consider as “political” that earned Nigeria offers of military support by real States who love their citizens. It is the same activists you consider as “idle” that have kept the search for the abducted girls a task the government could not afford to give up on simply because, definitely, “America will know!” It’s the activists whose campaigns you dismiss as “needless” that have invigorated the intellectual study and investigations of the capability of the Nigerian military, and introduced lay-citizens to the complexities of terrorism in Nigeria. #BringBackOurGirls is run by neither Muslims nor Christians, neither Hausa nor Igbo, neither northerners nor southerners. It is run by Nigerians, stripped of labels ethnic or religious, regional or political, a band of people united by the intensity of their shared grief!

But you critics don’t seem to understand the gravity of silence, which is a sort of complicity with influential citizens in the battering of a defenceless people.

I liken your present security arrangement to my friend’s dogs. He bought the puppies just when he was about to leave the country for his postgraduate studies, and left them to be trained by his mai-guard. On his return, years later, the cute things had grown up, evolved into unfriendly beasts. Still grappling with certain proprietary airs, my friend headed to the cages to play with his old pets. He was lucky to have been saved on time, injured and bloodied by beasts who no longer recognise him.

We undermine the escalating terrorism, because we live in big cities with security outposts here and there; but if we’re not careful, if we don’t pursue this campaign for protection of this country, our presently enjoyed security arrangements will alienate you from your folks just in the way the dogs did my friend uninvolved in their nurturing.

You, cynics, are in danger of becoming strangers in your own country. You have to make the choice today: understand that you’re also an activist, or end up as refugee in your own country.

May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)