Thursday, June 15, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fw: prof'scolumn

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Sent: Thursday, 15 June 2017 12:18
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          AYO OLUKOTUN
"The Nigerian story is a long stretch of political narrative that does not inspire hope for the future". -Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, Saturday, June 10, 2017.
"The atmosphere of the last two weeks has been so charged, that one can be forgiven for wondering if we were back in those heady days of 1966, that presaged the Nigerian civil war". Akin Mabogunje, Distinguished Professor of Urban Geography and Development Studies, Saturday, June 10, 2017.

Richard Anthony Joseph, the John Evans Professor of International History and Politics at North Western University, in the United States, and author of a seminal book on prebendal politics in Nigeria, came calling last week. The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, whose founder, Tunji Olaopa, is quoted at the beginning of this write-up, convened an intellectual parley, to revisit Joseph's book (reissued by Cambridge University Press in 2014) and to take stock of the national condition, filled with forebodings, concerning deteriorating ethnic relations , as Prof. Akin Mabogunje pertinently observed.
Apart from regular faces at the Ibadan think tank, drawn from the University of Ibadan and Lead City University , the engaging discourse featured, apart from Joseph,Eghosa Osaghae, Professor of comparative politics and vice chancellor, Igbinedion University, Benin who chaired the seminar; Odia Ofeimun, poet and political activist; Sola Omotola, Professor of Political Science at Adeyinka Adebayo University, Oye Ekiti, Olajumoke Familoni, Professor of Management, Lead City University, Ibadan, Mr. Felix Adenaike, former general manager of Sketch, among several others. Joseph used the occasion to restate the continuing relevance of his book to contemporary Nigerian politics, taking note of the changing modalities of structured graft and corruption. He likens a corrupt polity to the classical tale of a snake like creature that feeds on its tail, evoking the metaphor of a political community that is slowly self destructive because of the individual and communal avarice of its leaders.
Joseph offers hope by citing the illuminating case of Singapore, once described as a severely corrupt environment, but under a transformational leader , evolved into one of the world's least corrupt polities and developmental wonder. Before Joseph intervened, Olaopa had set the stage for the engrossing conversation by drawing resemblances between the book on prebendal politics, and a 2012 book on Africa's third liberation by Jeffery Herbst and Greg Mills. While Joseph captures the negative effects of endemic corruption, Herbst and Mills described Africa's first liberation as attaining political independence, the second as uprooting military rule, at least to a large extent, with the third consisting of, in the words of the authors, as quoted by Olaopa "the liberation from political economy characterised by graft, crony capitalism, rent seeking, elitism and inevitably, widening (and destabilising ) social inequality".
It is remarkable that despite the fact that the two books were produced 25years apart,they reached basically the same conclusion, namely, that Nigeria in particular and Africa in general are going nowhere until they face up squarely to the developmental lockdown, engendered by predatory government which, to return to Joseph's metaphor, bite their own tails, not minding the implications for longevity and health. Those who have read Herbst and Mills book will recall such startling statistics as the fact that Africa, despite having 20times more people than Spain, produces the same quantity of electricity as Spain, one of Europe's least developed countries. That is not all. 50% of the electricity produced in Africa comes from South Africa, with Nigeria occupying a back water position, despite its population and size.If you factor how many billions of naira, voted for producing electricity have gone down the drain of prebendalist accumulation, then the abiding relevance of Joseph's book comes into clear relief.
Obviously, there is a linkage between the national question and the developmental arrest of Nigeria. To take one example, The oil producing states and their leaders practice a politics of entitlement, which will appear to have undergirded the squandermania of the Jonathan administration, . To take another example, there appears to be a linkage between the lopsided appointments and the politics of exclusion of the Buhari administration, and the deterioration of the national question.So, and considering Mabogunje's prefatory observation concerning the current inter ethnic downturn, we spent some time discussing the national question. Osaghae believes that too much has been made of the quest for restructuring, without getting to grips with the specific and practical aspects of that concept. That remark opened the way, as the afternoon wore on, for an examination of that word, leading some discussants to suggest 'reconfigure' as a more appropriate term for the re-federalisation of Nigeria. Still on concepts and political register, Osaghae submitted that Nigeria is perhaps one of the few countries in which nationals describe their country as "a project". I suppose that what is implied here is the inappropriateness of the word, conveying as it does, the hint of a massive undertaking, that is still very much in progress. However, I must yield way on this and other matters to my senior colleague, Niyi Akinnaso, professor of linguistics and anthropology, who can better throw light, but was unfortunately absent from the parley.
Osaghae maintains that restructuring or reconfiguration can take place, if leaders do what they are elected to do,a controversial view point which appears to sidestep the clamour for reconfiguration. He went on to say that Biafra is not about the Igbos alone, submitting that the issues of the minorities in the south and in the north has been noticeably absent from discourses of the national question. Generating heat and light in almost equal proportion, Ofeimun insists that much of contemporary discourse is based on false narratives and garbled historical recalls. He cities several examples from the history of the First Republic, in particular the troubled alliances among the parties in the build up to the civil war. He throws up the concept of conglomerate governance, which following Joseph and other scholars, he maintained, is more suitable to a diverse polity such as ours. Introducing another perspective to prebendalism and corruption, Familoni narrates that because of her connection to an important political actor in the current dispensation, her house is often besieged by kinsmen and others, looking for the ever elusive "Ghana Must Go bags" which they imagined are regularly delivered to her . They are incredulous and baffled, when she protests that not one of these bags is lurking around her house. This revisits the issue of civic decay, and the collusion of social forces with the corrupt enrichment of politicians
Of note, is the view of Omotola that any change in corrupt practices between the past and the present, can only be one of degree rather than kind or character, citing the paralysis of local governments as an example. 
It is interesting to reflect that Joseph was once a member of staff of the University of Ibadan, where he gathered data for what later became his magnificient work on Nigeria. Today, as overseas countries renew the educational scramble for Nigerian youths,one cannot but ask the question, when will the tide turn in the direction of intellectual excellence on Nigerian shores.

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