Repositioning the state to public domain
IT was not so much an electoral defeat of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its government than a wholesome repudiation of a social vision and world view that has persisted in the nearly two decades of the return of civil rule in1999.
The victory of General Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election did not happen from the electoral calculation in which the country’s ethnic and religious aggregates were simply permutated by regional political barons and stalwarts to produce majority votes.
The All ProgressiveS Congress (APC), on whose platform General Buhari ran as a candidate, rightly deserves its accolades for historically ferrying an opposition to its first-ever electoral victory in Nigeria, against heavy odds.
But then, Buhari’s victory resonates more in the complete repudiation of the social vision and world view of neo-liberalism and accompanying exclusion of majority of Nigerians from the mainstream of the country’s socio-economic and political life.
The political context of the victory is the second and decisive phase of Nigeria’s national liberation beyond the attainment of formal political independence, more than half a century ago.
The eruption of wide and spontaneous jubilation across the country following the March 28 polls parallels only in history and significance the national explosion of excitement at the formal end of colonial rule in 1960.
As in the dawn of independence, the victory of March 28 represents the cumulative pockets of agitation, rebellions and putative revolutionary upheavals of the working and toiling people of Nigeria, including the progressive cadre of the public intelligentsia against the entrenched privilege of the few, superintended by the various regimes, both civilian and military alike.
Even as Buhari’s victory is seen and reflected in the mainstream media as the sheer skill of successful organization and the adroit permutation of the stalwarts, his street credibility and mass appeal, aggregating the enduring national popular social restiveness and political fermentation, are certainly beyond the manipulative skills of the traditional political barons.
While the self-effacing General owes his political organization and the political mavericks a debt of political gratitude, his more enduring political gratitude goes to the anonymous mass of the ordinary people, comprising street vendors, artisans, slum dwellers, workers, peasants etc.
For this social category and its enduring loyalty to the cause of the austere and incorrigible General, whose clean public service record mirrors the undying aspiration of the people to have a decent and clean government, were mocked on equal measure by the traditional political elite.
Buhari was dubbed perpetually unelectable for keeping faith with the numerous, but powerless masses. The masses were taunted in equal measure for hanging an empty hope of empowerment on a widely-acknowledged disciplined and decent, but a penniless General.
In the context of the historic victory, a disgruntled wing of the badly-fractured traditional political elite found itself in an unusual situation in which the traditional politics of elite accommodation was buffeted by a clannish and rampaging regime whose open credo consists in buffoonery and mindless vandalism of the common till.
The disgusting pillage of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) for which the military under General Buhari famously terminated the regime on December 31, 1983, pales into insignificance to the regime of outright plunder and impunity for which the defeated party conducted government affairs, especially in the past four years.
With a coalition of just everybody and Buhari victory, the traditional elite will crave for a return to the old politics of elite accommodation to the exclusion of the popular masses. Currently, the horse-trading for political office is intense and the traditional contours of ethno-religious considerations, disguised as geo-political platform, are in full display.
However, since it is difficult at least for now to discard the primordial criteria for public office holding, the President-elect can pay up service to it, and at the same time, substantially undermine it by denying the enormous wherewithal that lubricates and sustain it.
Political office holding by the elite, purportedly on behalf of the masses, has done nothing in the past to ameliorate the excruciating condition of mass poverty and deprivation of the majority of the working and toiling Nigerians.
The imperative of that victory and perhaps, the ideological basis to justify its legitimacy, will be not only to alter the entrenched, but bankrupt socio-economic and political landscape, but also to substantially effect a change in the current arcane and inane political discourse and social narrative.
Symbolically, his watershed victory shares in the historic toppling of neo-liberalism and the Washington consensus economic model in South America.
From its largest country Brazil, where former shoe shiner and trade unionist, Mr. Lula, scorned in similar fashion as Buhari as perpetually unelectable after almost half dozen shots at the presidency to the then, fresh burst of the mercurial Colonel Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, to the landslide victory of the Evo Morales in Bolivia, the first rise of indigenous people to the peak of political power in South America, the region’s political and social landscape, formerly a playground for drug death squads and paramilitary hit-men burst on the global scene as respectable democracies and socially inclusive societies.
From a backwater of U.S imperialism, the roll call of South America emergent respectable nations includes the small Ecuador, where former Professor-turned-President Rafael Correa is looking imperialism straight in the eye and refusing to cave in and surrender Mr. Julian Assange, founder of the Wikileak, who has holed in for nearly five years at the Ecuadoran Embassy in the United Kingdom.
The tiny Ecuador took to heart, the immortal exhortation of the founder of the French fifth Republic, General Charles De Gaulle, that the worth of a nation is not necessarily in her GDP, but in the honour of her national flag.
The core agenda in the economic recovery of the transformed South American landscape is not merely tokenism but socially-inclusive policies aimed at empowerment of the popular masses through capacity building and skill acquisition.
Social democracy or welfare state is no longer defined by mere state hand-outs and redistribution of existing wealth, but by social accumulation through deliberate expansion of productive and creative network.
As the country awaits the direction, General Buhari may take the talk of stuffing the administration with technocrats and private sector people may bring us closer to efficient management of resources, but the drivers of successful modern economies are innovation and creativity.
Efficiency and even competence without innovation might bring us to where we would have been, but not where we are supposed to be.
The critical role of original ideas and imaginative prowess cannot be over-emphasized in a country hobbled by inertia in the past nearly two decades.
A strong state is not necessarily authoritarian or totalitarian. It is only a strong and democratic state, with reliable and functional institutions that can adequately enforce its own laws and rules, enabling a level playing field for all stakeholders, including the organized private sector and foreign investment.
Private sector-led development does not necessarily presuppose the retreat of the state, but rather implies a well-behaved night watchman state. As the late former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Melees Zenawi, noted, “in a modern setting, self-enforcement and trust is (are) not enough.
In such a setting, the returns to opportunism, cheating and shirking are too high to be eliminated or reduced by self-enforcement and trust alone.” Third party enforcement mechanisms above and beyond the norms of the individual and social sanctions are required.
Such third party enforcement can only be state enforcement mechanisms and is most effective when it creates the environment for the other two to be effective.
In fact, the efficacy of a modern market economy is guaranteed by the institutional integrity of efficient and strong state, democratic in character and developmental in aspiration.
Buhari’s must be understood in the context of the existential challenge to reclaim and reposition the Nigerian state to the public domain, where it will function to bring the greatest benefits to the greatest number of Nigerians, away from the feeding-bottle state which currently nourishes a clique of cabal that is connected to it, to the exclusion of the majority of Nigerians.
•Onunaiju is Director, Centre for China Studies, Utako, Abuja.