Law in Contemporary Society

Gongo Aso

-- By TemiAdeniji - 26 Feb 2010

Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as Acting President of Nigeria—incidentally a country with not much good luck to speak of in over 40 years—almost as quickly as he was “sworn out.” Malam Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the (former and now current) President of Nigeria just returned to the country on February 24, 2010, after having left on November 23, 2009, for the treatment of a heart condition in Saudi Arabia. (That all of our leaders are notorious seeking medical treatment abroad for ailments as simple as the common cold as the healthcare system continues to deteriorate is a conversation for another day.) Yar’Adua’s absence and failure to transfer power to the puppet Vice-President, Jonathan, left the Parliament with few other choices but to appoint Jonathan acting president on February 9, so as to fend off a constitutional crisis in Africa’s most populous country. But the plot thickened when Yar’Adua miraculously returned almost as secretly as he departed. This whole mess is very much the rule and not the exception as far as Nigerian politics goes.

Over Christmas break, I went back home to Lagos. Unsurprisingly, there was yet another fuel scarcity in the largest of fuel exporting nation on the continent. By fuel scarcity, I mean mile-long lines of cars at petrol stations, forcing cars to wait for anywhere from three to six hours to fill up their tanks. Irony doesn’t even begin to describe this paradoxical state of affairs. The cause of the scarcity was probably not a shortage, per se, but more likely a ploy to artificially raise the price of fuel in order to take advantage of Nigerians like myself, who return from abroad during the Christmas vacation. I mention this because all the while, the country was without a leader. This may seem shocking, but indeed, it is the least appalling part of the situation. Nigeria also happened to be without a leader when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day, December 25, 2009. Amidst our first encounter with international terrorism, the country was without a unified voice, and thus there was no real response to the incident.

The only semblance of a reaction came in the form of an “official” statement issued by the Federal Government through the press, indicating the following: “The Federal Government of Nigeria received with dismay the news of the attempted terrorist attack on a U.S. airline. We state very clearly that as a nation, we abhor all forms of terrorism…Our security agencies will cooperate fully with the American authorities in the on-going investigations. The Nigerian government will be providing updates as more information as more becomes available.” The updates have been as senseless as the original statement itself, including the Minister for Information, Professor Dora Akunyili’s explanation that Mutallab only spent 30 minutes in Nigeria. I believe she was meaning to mitigate Nigeria’s culpability in the situation, which albeit a noble goal, was poorly executed. All in all, statements are essentially worthless without a voice. The country was urgently in need of a spokesperson to combat the fallout from Mutallab’s debacle and to counteract the terrorist stigma; instead, there was deafening silence. Ostensibly, everything was in disarray because Yar’Adua, our President, our voice, was nowhere in sight.

Politics means power, but in Nigeria, it actually means money… and lots of it. Politicians are often unwilling to give up their grasp on power because remaining in office is inextricably linked to how deep their pockets are. Take the notorious General Sani abacha, for example. Abacha was the de-facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998, and under his rule, he personally siphoned over $4 billion from the Nigerian government and into Swiss bank accounts. He converted the national treasury into his personal piggy bank and patently neglected the needs of his people. But I find it to be arguably more egregious to be so greedy as to take the fate of over 140 million people with you and into a coma. The country was paralyzed, for all intents and purposes, because he left for over two months without deigning to even provide an official notification to his people. This seems to be the height of selfishness and egoism. Yet more abysmal than Yar’Adua’s conduct was the passivity of Nigerians and their meek acceptance of his actions. How could Yar’Adua behave so flagrantly, basically holding the country hostage with impunity?

Nigeria is without civil society—the people have no expectations for their leaders. Once elections are over, so, too, does the hard work for most politicians. When Victor Hugo said that “No army can withstand an idea whose time has come,” he was right. To be sure, I am not calling for a bloody revolution or insurrection in Nigeria. The last thing we need is more dead bodies. There must, however, be a mass movement animated by the guiding principle that the people deserve leaders who are willing to work for the people rather than themselves. It should not have been acceptable for Yar’Adua to abscond without explanation. People must become tired of the oppressive system, and they must get angry enough to throw its yoke off their shoulders. Disentangling the current system must take the form of an upheaval because what we have are remnants of the colonial edifice, which promote incompetent leadership.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo eloquently proclaimed: “…at independence, our leaders inherited a colonial state built and previously made to function merely on the philosophy of Preatorianism. Its relation to the society was extractive, cavalier, and alienated. What was required at independence was for our leaders to radicalize these institutions by democratizing access to them and popularizing them and returning the focus of power to the people.” Unfortunately, all of our leaders to date have not done this, including the former president himself. They have had colossal state powers with virtually no mechanisms in place to resist them. The mass movement must involve the Nigerian people forcing their leaders back to paths of sanity by demanding it from them. They must themselves become the mechanisms of resistance against these leaders.

This is a fine political speech. It has no relevance to the actual situation, however, because you have no more idea than anyone else how "the people" is to be created in an empire that isn't a nation-state, and in which the constituent nations have less in common than they have to fight about. Titoism was a little miracle of post-imperial nation-creation, but of course "Brotherhood and Unity" was destroyed by nationalism at the death of the emperor. Not for nothing did my Yugoslav friends say that Slobodan Milosevic was the first man to notice that Tito was dead.

Compared to Nigeria, unifying the south Slavs in the Balkans is a piece of cake. What you demand it would be good to have, but there's no point demanding what no one knows how to do. Or rather, there is a point, if such language is merely a cover for effective control of violence: the music the State uses as accompaniment to the real business of Empire, which is force. But you aren't seeking to be despot; you are seeking to build a life for yourself inside a civil society you wish for intensely, and which does not exist. If you knew exactly how to make it, you could try. But without exact knowledge of how, the motive is imminently tragic.


Webs Webs

r4 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:30 - IanSullivan
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