Empowered citizens voted for politicians they knew would make them poorer, for liars to clean up politics -Tom Fletcher, The Naked Diplomat.
Dr Chidi Amuta takes the cake for both elegant turn of phrase and sheer depth of thoughtful analysis. I read his recent piece in THISDAY, (also in TheNewsGuru.com), ‘2023: Igbos and the Politics of Moral Consequence’ on a bumpy ride back to Sokoto. The essay is not exactly a foolproof DIY tool kit for the construction of the road to Aso Rock for his Igbo kinsmen. However, it manages to identify some harsh pebbles and nails whose litter have made the journey to the Presidency a Golgothean challenge for the Igbos. Instructively, the essay does not address the issues of why some have crossed with so much ease while the Igbos remain stuck in a frustration of Sisyphean proportions.
When I got back to Sokoto, I put a call through to Dr. Amuta to commend him for the essay and say how much I had appreciated his insights. But when I woke up the next morning, a few fresh thoughts came to my mind, suggesting that despite the brilliance of the essay, it had thrown up a few grey areas that required further exploration. Indeed, as I had tried to do in my Convocation Lecture at the Ojukwu University, Awka on 20th March, 2020, the need for a robust conversation about the future of our country is imperative.
Therefore, my intention here is not to respond directly to the issues raised by Dr Amuta by way of a rebuttal because I agree substantially with his summation. What I wish to add is done with the hope that we can create a momentum for an orchestra of voices to shape the future and destiny of a nation that is gradually and inexorably sliding and screeching to a precipice. I have a few insights to buttress that point.
As Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in 2005, that offered me a front seat and helped me to appreciate the reasons why the politics of this country is devoid of the required content for building a great nation. In the course of the NPRC assignment, I came to appreciate that nothing, absolutely nothing, had changed in content and substance in terms of how, over time, these gatherings have been nothing other than dress rehearsals and platforms to negotiate, barter and trade ambitions for the future. The composition of these Assemblies is often so fractious that it often ends up being a theatre for negotiating centrifugal interests. In the end, it is the national interests that suffer while national cohesion becomes a delayed project.
What we call political parties, those rickety and dilapidated rickshaws we see changing wheels with every election, have always been conceived in the midnight of these so called Assemblies. Meanwhile, groups pledge false loyalties against one another along ethnic, regional and religious lines. This has been our fate right from 1977 through 1988, 1995 and 2013. The result is that the proceedings end up in the valley of the dry bones where they pile on top of their predecessors.
I have gone to this length to illustrate the fact that despite the presence of serious minded intellectuals, their expertise has often been subsumed in the narrow and clannish interests of their ethnic, religious or regional interests. But the old ways can no longer hold and the looming danger that lies before us has to be averted not by threats, but by deliberate planning and thinking. We are facing a new generation of young, bright and future looking men and women for whom the old ways are a serious obstacle. They have their eyes on a future that is not here yet. They have designed ways and means of pulling down the walls of hegemony that have held the future captive and made Nigeria the object of ridicule and obloquy. The youth have enough weapons to destroy this treacherous heist from its very foundation.
Now to come back to Dr. Amuta. He raised the issues of what the country owes the Igbos under the doctrine of moral consequence. He carefully crafted a list of countries from where the rest of Nigeria can learn its lessons in recompense. But I see two problems here. First, Dr. Amuta assumes that his readers really understand the meaning of the doctrine of moral consequence. A definition of this notion would have been of great help so as to help situate his arguments in our context. Although he cites countries such as Australia, Rwanda or South Africa, it is important to understand that when applied to Nigeria, this theory requires conceptual and contextual clarifications.
First, as we know, in politics as in economics or any other aspects of human existence, culture defines, shapes and explains most behaviours. It is important to note that moral consequence as an ethical theory requires a cultural or theological underpinning. A given society has to have some form of common cultural understanding of its laws or ties that bind. All the countries that Dr. Amuta listed have a Christian tradition. It would have been important to site any Muslim country which has applied this theory of moral consequence.
If we place moral conquentialism within the larger ethical template of Utilitarianism, we will have to wrestle with whether we derive our inspiration from Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, John Stewart Mill or John Rawls. We do not need to get into the arguments but it is important to note that here, we are on a slippery slope because the Nigerian politician is not guided or grounded by any of these deep philosophical postulations. Dem no wan grammar, remember?
The lack of an ethical framework to undergird all spheres of our life is what has led our country to a moral free fall in all areas. We are groaning under the weight of corruption, but this is because Ethics has found no place in our educational systems or public life. Without ethics, we return to the state of nature in its most brutal form. Here, let us pause and spare a thought as to how this problem has been metastasized. As we know, life itself is a long journey of negotiation, consensus building and a struggle to ensure that the strong do not overrun the weak, that the urge to do good outweigh the urge for evil. We are therefore constantly negotiating these choices, seeking the greatest benefit for the greatest number. This comes at a great cost because it depends on human nature and nurture.
Dr Amuta believes that one of the problems that the Igbos face on their way to the Presidency is the fact that, in his words, ‘It is an unwritten and unstated presumption that Nigeria can still not find in its heart to forgive the Igbos for Biafra.’ I find this reading of the situation quite troubling because first, Dr. Amuta does not spell out which Nigeria he is referring to. Okay, may be our brother Chido Onuma overstated it when he said ‘We are all Biafrans now’. Truth be told, there is resonance in that claim. Indeed, I was told by a senior military officer that the late Major General Hassan Usman Katsina called a meeting of retired military officers from the Middle belt to ask why they had become so frustrated and one of the Christian military leaders who actually was of the same generation as Katsina said: ‘Were the civil war to start today, I will be on the side of Biafra!’
Perhaps the Igbos are to blame for not positioning their wind vane properly otherwise, Dr. Amuta will understand that his thesis is seriously flawed. The north unraveled a long time ago and what is left is a scarecrow that still frightens some ignorant people in the south. Evidently, the Igbos and others must cure themselves of their horrifying ignorance of the complex mesh that is northern Nigeria. We hear the ignorance about the north being one and united. Well, ask the Shi’ites, Izala, Tijaniya, the Middle Belt, ask the Nupe, Kanuri, and Hausa what they feel or believe about this north. A survey conducted found that while just 35% of Muslims in northern Nigeria wanted to be identified as Sunni, a whopping 30% just wanted to be Muslim, with no other label. Outsiders have refused to appreciate the mutations of identities within Islam and continue to ignore how most of this affects political choices. If Dr. Amuta and kinsmen do not appreciate this, then they will remain in the rain for much longer by default.
Despite painting the picture of the Igbos as having been sinned against (which is true), Dr. Amuta rather strangely places the burden of redemption on the shoulders of the same people by saying that: ‘The Igbo political elite has to reduce its habitual fears and nervousness of the competing elite of other factions in the country’. How and why should the Igbos do this? After all, they have not invaded anyone’s territory except through their economic presence. They have not destroyed any national assets. So, how is this gratuitous appeasement of other factions supposed to take place? How should the Igbos be charged for the fears and nervousness of other competing elites when they are the ones who should be afraid and nervous after the loss of their war?
I agree that the weaponization of Biafra may have long time consequences but I am slow to accept the conclusion that it is ‘a tactical blunder that will frighten Nigeria.’ We have to place this in context and not moralise it. The average Igbo youth today in his thirties of forties will know that in the last twenty years of our Democracy, every section of the country has gotten its President by some threats of spilling blood. This is not any attempt to glamourize violence, but let us be truthful in the face of the staggering evidence: Odu’a Peoples’ Congress (OPC) in its raw form frightened the rest of the country after June 12th and it took this into the elections of 1999. They can claim they got a Yoruba man for President for what it is worth. The Ijaw Youth can also claim to have frightened the rest of Nigeria by blowing up pipelines before they received their son, President Jonathan as a concession of sorts.
Similarly, elements of Boko Haram in whatever shape or form, the killer men and women running riot in the country and murdering thousands of innocent citizens despite having been paid off, can claim credit to pursing an agenda in which fear is an investment. Threats of blood for monkey and baboon were loud in 2011. The Biafran agitators are a symptom not a disease. The real disease has been spread by the brutal politics of the other segments of Nigeria that inadvertently made violence the commodity of exchange for the Presidency. We can only reverse this ugly scenario if we are honest enough to accept that what we have as politics in Nigeria is blood and banditry by another name!
Dr. Amuta ends his beautiful essay with some troubling recommendations for the Igbos if they want to get the Presidency. First, he encourages the Igbos to adopt a policy of ‘deft foot walk, negotiation with other groups, abandon disturbing pride, arrogance and noisy ebullience for fear that it will unsettle competitors’. He accuses the Igbos of ‘not getting on their knees to seek a favour’, and suggests what he calls ‘pragmatic flexibility’ as the way forward, because, as he concludes: ‘When you go out to seek the lion’s share of what belongs to all, you go in meekness’. Lord God Almighty!
First, Nigeria’s political grounds are a treacherous slippery slope of deceit and subterfuge and so, no amount of deft foot walk will do. You can only negotiate successfully if both of you understand and sign on to the same rules of engagement and agree on outcomes. The current administration is the poster child of this subterfuge and convoluted moral consequence. Those who sank their energy and money into this project have come face to face with the reality that their deft foot walk has led them blinded folded into a darkroom where they are asked to hopelessly chase the black cats of opportunity. Has President Buhari (the lion) shared what belongs to all even with the meek? Last time I checked, the lion hunts alone! The immoral power sharing method of this President has exposed the folly of those who believe that deft foot walk and negotiations are a guarantee for the future of the Igbos. The nation is wounded but I believe in the long run, the President has mortally wounded the north itself.
When Dr Amuta charges the Igbos with ‘pride, arrogance, noisy ebullience’ and suggests that they should fear the consequences of unsettling their competitors, he is, in my view, asking them to lie on their own sword helped by their competitors. To compound his case, Dr. Amuta suggests that the Igbos ‘get on their knees to seek a favour’ and then engage in pragmatic flexibility. However, he does not offer us examples of the rewards that have come to those who engaged in previous knee bending, fawning, obsequious or pragmatic flexibility in the past. I will like to see the list of those so rewarded, no matter how short it may be.
In conclusion, the task of rescuing Nigeria falls on the elite of Nigeria who must raise the bar for elitism in its capacity to redeem and rescue a people by imposing a new civilisation. African Democracy remains prostrate because it has still not freed itself from the clutches of both British colonialism and local feudalisms. The quality of men and women at the helm of affairs cannot rescue this county from its current state of decay and looming decomposition. The future does not lie on which region, religion or tribe will produce the next President. This is the legacy of the feudalists and hegemonists across the country and only a careful elite prescription can understand where the world is going.
The Igbos must reconnect with their Yoruba and other educated elite, replace the corrosive politics of ethnicity with the quality of mind that knows how to channel diversity to greater and higher goals. Tribal politics will continue to produce the toxic ingredients of death and destruction that has engulfed us. Contrary to what Dr. Amuta seems to suggest, I am convinced that the Igbos are the most politically advantaged: they have the ubiquitous presence and human and economic resources more than anyone. And, rather than seeing this as an incubus, I see it as an asset. If we elevate politics to a noble art of intellectuals setting goals and developing a vision for the larger society, we can then create the conditions for everyone to thrive no matter where they may be. Tribal politics have destroyed Nigeria and we must destroy its temple so as to free ourselves. Until that happens, the moral consequences of our politics will continue to be chaotic and violent. Nigeria will remain in the hands of violent and evil men, men of darkness already circling around the country and ready to lead us into darkness. Their footsteps are already on our doorsteps. We must find our black goat before darkness engulfs us.
• Kukah is Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto
2023: Igbos and the Politics of Moral Consequence
By Dr. Chidi Amuta
National history has a moral arc. It bends perennially in the direction of justice no matter how long it takes. This truism is my response to the three dominant positions on the desirable geo-political location of the Nigerian presidency in 2023. The first is the repeated general political advisory by my friend Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, that the next president should not come from the northern zones of the country. The second is the ambiguous view of Mr. Mamman Daura, President Buhari’s nephew, that subsequent presidents after Mr. Buhari should be chosen on the basis of ‘merit’, whatever that means. The third is the entitlement preference of the South Eastern political and cultural elite that the next president should emanate from their zone.
Ordinarily, discourse on succession preferences in a democracy ought to be determined by two factors: pressing issues of national concern; or leading political figures in the contending parties and their stand in relation to important national issues. Succession should not be determined by either directions on a compass or some other primordial consideration. But this is Nigeria. It is a nation conceived in compromise, nurtured in aggressive geo ethnic competition and sustained by hegemonic blackmail and systemic injustices.
The agitation for a shift of the locus of presidential power to the South East is however rooted in the general history of nations. No nation is an immaculate conception. Nearly every national history is an undulating pageant of glorious moments and inevitable episodes of brutish savagery and intense sadness. Nations come into being and progress sometimes by willfully or inadvertently hurting sections of their populace. Communal clashes, ethnic conflicts, civil wars, slavery, genocide, pogroms, insurgency, foolish mass killings and reprisals thereof are part of national history. When the hour of sadness passes, a nation so afflicted incurs moral debts to those sections of the community that have been hurt.
Subsequent social peace and political order in a nation as a community of feelings is often dependent on how the moral arc bends in relation to healing the injuries of the past. The mere passage of time is never enough to heal the moral wounds that lie buried in the hearts of injured precincts of a nation. As a strategy of national survival, nations with past injuries have had to confront the moral consequences of their past through conscious management of the political process. Such managed political process implies a recalibration of the moral compass of the nation. It is politics in the service of the higher meaning of democracy when democratic outcomes redress injustices. This is the essence of the politics of moral consequence. Its ultimate aim is to avert the dire consequences of a nation sustained on systemic injustice.
Nigeria is neither the first nor the last nation to come face to face with the ugly face of its past. In 2008, the United States of America rose in democratic unison to right the systemic historic wrong of its racist past by electing Barak Hussein Obama as its first black president. Similarly, by the first half of 1994, the very survival of the Rwandan nation was threatened by the injustice of the genocide against the Tutsis minority. It was a Tutsi army officer that crossed the border from Uganda, leading the forces that ended the anarchy. By 2000, that gallant soldier, Paul Kagame, was elected President of a reconciled Rwanda. His subsequent re-elections have led to the reconciliation, peace and prosperity that have become the hallmarks of modern Rwanda.
The South African story is too familiar. Yet, it was the recognition by the white apartheid regime that only true majoritarian democracy would restore harmony, peace and order to end decades of violent revolt. That realization and the conscious political actions that followed led to the enthronement of a free and democratic South Africa. Nelson Mandela became the president of a multi racial South Africa. The rest is history.
Australia too has had to confront and assuage a ghost from its past. There was a prolonged unease about injustices against Australian Aborigines, especially the forced removal of indigenous children (‘the Stolen Generations’) as well as centuries of discrimination and neglect by the state. In 2008, then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, summoned the moral courage to apologise to the injured. On 13th February, 2008, parliament passed a historic resolution mandating an open apology to the Aboriginal population. Hear the words: “We apologize for the laws and policies of successive…governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians…, (For all these), we say sorry”
Similar recourse to national piety, regret and compassion is not strange to Nigeria. In a sense, the Nigerian nation is an example of the merits of national reconciliation and magnanimity. Our civil war ended without major physical reprisals against the ex -Biafrans. In the wake of the annulment of the June 12, 1992 presidential elections presumptively won by M.K.O Abiola, the Yorubas of the South West felt injured by the Nigerian military state. The nation came to a virtual stop. Social and political order were abridged. In a hastily revamped political transition project in 1998, the political system was consciously managed to field two Yoruba candidates, Olu Falae and Olusegun Obasanjo. The latter became president. A sense of justice was restored. Peace and order returned to the nation.
Late president Umaru Yar’dua was a man of unusual commitment and impeccable patriotism. He inherited a Nigeria that was wracked by fierce militancy by youth of the Niger Delta against environmental and economic injustices. The nation was virtually at war with itself. The survival of the economy was severely threatened. President Yar’dua adopted a combination of military suppression and the olive branch of the Amnesty Programme. When Yar’dua died mid stream in his tenure, the political system ensured his succession by Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the troubled Niger Delta. Jonathan consummated the Yar’dua peace plan. Today, peace and quiet has returned to the region. The peoples of the Niger Delta no longer feel excluded from national leadership.
When in December 1983 Major General Buhari led a military coup that toppled the democratically elected government of late Shehu Shagari, the nation welcomed a self proclaimed messiah. He ruled with an iron fist and wore a sad face. He wanted to instill discipline and curb corruption. Many politicians were jailed for several life times. Some citizens were executed for excusable misdemeanors. The state degenerated into a rogue terror squad that even staged a daring kidnap in the streets of London. Buhari flogged us with horsewhips for minor traffic infractions or as we queued for common grocery. Truthful journalists and honest judges were punished with long jail terms for doing their jobs. It was a relieved nation that welcomed Mr. Buhari’s toppling by his more humane colleagues in uniform. Buhari was briefly detained and later released.
He went into political wilderness. Later, he insistently sought employment by vying to return to power as a democratic convert. In the lead on to the 2015 elections, the Nigerian nation unanimously granted Mr. Buhari political amnesty to contest as a free repentant citizen. Today, he is a second term elected president, cleansed of his past sins against us. Today’s Buhari presidency is therefore a product of our unusual national generosity, forgiveness and gracious magnanimity.
Fifty years after the end of our civil war, the estrangement of the people of the South East from the mainstream of national political life is a national embarrassment. The marginalization is not just about infrastructure neglect. The landscape of the region still bears the tragic marks of war and desolation. A sense of real belonging in a nation is not reducible to highways, bridges and railway lines. It is not about token periodic appointments of citizens from the South East into federal offices to fulfill cosmetic constitutional requirements. That can be assumed by even the most plastic definition of citizenship.
There is a deeper and more essential sense of alienation of the Igbos from the heart of Nigeria. It is the unwritten and unstated presumption that Nigeria can still not find it in its heart to forgive the Igbos for Biafra. On the part of the Igbos, a dangerous psychological alienation has taken root. The youth now feel that there is some sin committed by their elders that has alienated them from fully realizing the fruits of their Nigerian citizenship. For these people, there seems to be an invisible iron ceiling to their political and economic aspirations. It is beginning to look like an original sin, something that has become integral to the communal psychology of national life.
Here lies the source of the resurgence of Biafra and other secessionist pressures in the region. These pressures are growing into a global torrent of agitations with a consistent message especially in the diaspora where the Igbo have massively fled in pursuit of self actualization. Among those arms of the national elite that have any conscience left, the systemic exclusion of the Igbo from the leadership equation in Nigeria has almost become a directive principle of an unscripted political code of conduct.
Of course the politics of leadership supremacy in a multi ethnic nation state is competitive. The competition is made more fierce by the scramble for the allocation of scarce resources in a political economy that emphasizes entitlement over productivity. In that competitive framework, the immediate tasks for the Igbo political elite are many in the quest for pre eminence. The Igbo political elite has to reduce the habitual fears and nervousness of the competing political elite of other factions in the country. They need to assure the rest of Nigeria that entrusting them with presidential power will enhance the prospects of better governance and more productive leadership. Internally, the Igbo political elite must strike a consensus to avoid presenting Nigeria with multiple candidates. In a region where the political landscape is now dominated by all manner of scoundrels, the matter of a fit and proper candidate for responsible, modern and informed national leadership becomes paramount.
In cultural terms, it is a question of “who shall we send and who will run our errand as the best possible ambassador to a feast at the national arena?” A good number of the political upstarts, miscreants and glorified illiterates thrown up by the present arrangements must self isolate and excuse themselves from the race for 2023 if indeed the option of a South East presidential candidate become real.
Identity politics in a multinational state requires deft footwork. The most important ingredient for the Igbo to embark on this journey is first a willingness to negotiate with competing national elites and factions. As instinctive business people, deal making ought to be a major asset of the igbo. But there is a disturbing pride, arrogance and noisy ebullience in the Igbo character that can unsettle competitors. The Igbo hardly get on their knees to seek a favour. But negotiating for the Nigerian presidency will require a mixture of self assurance and pragmatic flexibility. When you go out to seek the lion’s share of what belongs to all, you go in meekness.
To move from subordination to pre-eminence, a sense of realism is required. The Igbo now have a unique demographic limitation. The majority of the Igbo population do not live in the homeland. They form part of the voter population of the rest of the country. Being the single most dispersed ethnic group in the country, Igbos vote wherever they live in accordance with their economic and other interests. Diaspora voting is in Igbo interest. There may be more Igbo professionals based in Houston, Texas than in Lagos! The registered voter population in the five South Eastern states put together could be less than that of any two states in other less mobile parts of the country.
Owing to a relatively higher degree of economic enlightenment among the Igbo population, the average Igbo family size has been shrinking in the last two decades. Pervasive Catholicism and high educational goals means that family sizes are down to an average of 5 (husband, wife and a maximum of three offspring). Divorce rate is low while high achievement motivation and age grade competition means that marriages are delayed in anticipation of economic fulfillment.
The current political strategies among the South East political elite remain somewhat unwise. The sustained weaponization of Biafra may be strategically convenient. But using it to gain political concessions is a serious tactical blunder. You cannot frighten Nigeria with the force of mobs armed only with nostalgia except your preference is for mass suicide. It has led the Nigerian state to do the predictable: brand the Biafran agitation a terrorist movement and proceed to shoot, teargas and arrest innocent young men and women. Only Amnesty International has an idea of the fatalities from the pro-Biafra agitations in the last five years. The more the new breed Biafrans frighten people, the more the rest of Nigeria becomes jittery about the prospect of Igbo political ascendancy.
The alternative of a well articulated and principled civil disobedience pressure movement has not been explored. We are yet to see a platform of South East professional and enlightened elements with a reasoned agenda for an alternative Nigeria. An agitation for a mere geo political power shift devoid of real content may be a gratuitous insult and a futile drama.
We should however rise above sentimental and moralistic simplification. The dark forces that propel Nigeria’s bad political culture are not about to retire. Nor are the merchants of hate going on recess soon. Politics is mostly amoral and is by no means a love affair. The merchants of habitual vote rigging and demographic engineering will strive to vitiate the aims of the politics of moral merit.
The proposition for an Igbo president is likely to be the most consequential subject in the 2023 election year. If it comes about, there will be consequences for Nigeria and the Igbos. If not, the consequences will be even more dire. If the proposition fails, Nigeria will carry the moral burden of continuing as a nation sustained on systemic injustice. For the Igbo, the challenge of the future will be that of being who they are but living in a nation that regards them perpetually as the ‘other’ Nigerians. But the long term Igbo interest will not be resolved by having one of their own as a tenant of Aso Rock Villa for 8 years. In the long run, the best way the Igbo can attain self actualization is to lose themselves in the Nigerian market place. In the process, they will eventually realize their best potentials as a formidable force in the context of a more diverse, inclusive, free market Nigeria.