As everybody knows, it is the turn of the Igbo to rule. No, others will say, the Yoruba have done so much for this regime so that qualifies them to take over when the tenure of the President ends. rom Buhari. Then the murmurs – who said the Hausa-Fulani are ready to relinquish power. These are the narratives we have always had as the political elite position themselves to access power in Nigeria. When they are in power, the rules are clear, the power elite from the geo-political groups will join hands to loot, rule and ruin the Nation together while the masses who killed themselves to get them to power will benefit nothing from the political system. It was Raymond Aron who made the argument that the people never exercise power, it is always a tiny minority that exercise the power.
The reason is simple, the State is not about governance and providing for the security and welfare of the people, it is about access to power which is the pathway to wealth. Those who control the State apparatus have enormous capacity to open or close doors to individuals seeking to acquire status, money and privilege. Do not mind what they say, heaven is not part of what they are seeking for after all Nigeria’s political elite is convinced that with enough money, even that can be procured. It is therefore not surprising that they are ready to do anything to get that power – violence, murder, witchcraft and so on.
Immediately after an election, the political elite calculate their profit and loss accounts and those who failed in the electoral contest work very hard to break into the winning group. Alternatively, they fight the winning group to seek to destabilise them hoping the winners will see reason and bring them into the fold. His is because our politics is played as a zero-sum game where the winner takes everything and the loser gets nothing except harassment from State authority. The harassment can take the form of losing business, financial ruin and even the loss of liberty. This means it is completely irrational to play the loyal opposition for long as opposition elements are considered to be enemies who must be eliminated.
The key word in understanding our politics is access. It does not matter what the field is – public policy, religion, fighting a pandemic, running education – what the elite is interested in is having access to the most powerful position. Those with the powerful positions and those with access to them always become the success stories of their communities and set the standards of examples to follow. This means neither competence, hard work or merit are important. Who does not know brilliant hard-working people who are noted examples of failure, or the other side of the coin – those who failed their exams and refused to work hard that are considered successful, wealthy and worthy of setting example. Access is important because there has been no orientation to serve the public good. We now have a society in which the community or the people matter very little, the general orientation is the promotion of personal aggrandisement. The pathway is simple, find the eligibility criteria and subvert them. Use every administrative encounter to undermine the public good by transforming it into an opportunity for self-service. It is the pathway that is leading us to self-destruction. A doctor can steal drugs from the public hospital he works in to use for fee paying patients in his private clinic and a soldier can steal arms and sell to the terrorist as it is only the SELF that matters.
Are we surprised that our State is failing? We know from political science that the state is not an entity which does things, only people can do things. Obviously, therefore, when access to the State apparatus is controlled by people whose vision is self-centred, the public good is not served and governance and policy making and implementation has no outcomes that serve the people. The problem with a singular focus on access is that players always set out to assert particular linkages in order to justify getting the position they seek. The person who is looking for access has to use his voice to justify why he and not somebody else should have access to the resource in question. It is in this context that religion, ethnicity, region and zone become mobilizational tools to get support that purports to benefit that group but in reality, works only for the individual in question and his tiny entourage.
As our politics of seeking access is based on rule-breaking, there is no surprise that it harbours a lot of violence. In a queue in which the rules are respected, the candidates are ready to pay the price, i.e. wait for their turn, but as soon as the rules are no longer respected and some people are served without waiting for their turn, the queues break up and end up in fights. In developed politic systems, queues are in principle democratic means of distribution since people are served according to the time they spend. In practice, however, privileged people seeking access bypass the democratic principle of “first come first served” by using primordial sentiments, money, relations and other means in order to have access to resources without having to spend any time. Political entrepreneurs are forced to elaborate strategies which will help them accede to power. Since the political organisations within which these entrepreneurs operate (parties, cliques, factions, unions, associations, etc.) are organised into hierarchies, the general principle is that people should wait for their turn before acceding to the highest posts, before integrating, as it were, the ruling elite. But the problem of queues often arises – there are more candidates than posts to be fought for and people who are ready to wait for their turn face the risk of not acceding to the most important posts. They thus try to jump the queues by devising strategies of excluding their rivals.
One major instrument of exclusion is labels. Labelling is in part a scientific and taxonomic act but it is also an act of judgement and of sticking prejudice and stereotype on others. Labelling is a fundamental element in political conflicts as it allows one to justify the choice of a camp and to hold in little regard as well as to destabilise the opposing camp. It is probably the most important instrument used in the struggle for access. As we move towards the 2023 transition, the judgemental labelling of the other religion, ethnic group and zone will only intensify. The masses will be cajoled once again into believing that it is their time to rule and when that power changes hand, will discover once again that they have been conned.