EXPRESSING his lack of confidence in the Lord Malcolm Newton Shepherd-led British Government’s peace mission on the Nigerian Civil War, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, after meeting the British officials at Enugu, told the press that ‘this very Lord is not our shepherd’. This view stemmed from Ojukwu’s conviction that the British Government was solidly behind the Yakubu Gowon-led federal administration and therefore was merely playing a perfidious game which was no doubt injurious to the Biafran mission and expedition.
In the light of the prevailing socio-economic crisis besetting the poor of Nigeria and the concomitant poor living conditions into which the average people of the country have been thrown, can the present federal government be trusted to improve the lot of the common people?
To answer this question, history rather than partisan interests should be our guide. This is because we can trace the characteristic tendencies of those currently at the helm of the country, as well as the socio-political development trajectory of the country from her beginning as a macro-polity known as the Nigerian State. This will no doubt furnish us with a good understanding of the social setting we have to contend with as citizens.
First and foremost, let us understand that we live in a world of globalised capitalism. In this global system, neo-colonial states are tied to the apron strings of the big imperialist powers. These world power players adopt many techniques in the promotion and sustenance of their capitalist and imperialist agenda. These include the tacit use of military and security strategies, as well as the covert manipulation of national elections, especially in the neo-colonial territories, to install governments that will be predisposed to their objectives. They call it the geopolitics of national interest. It was through this that they sustained the apartheid regime in South Africa for so long. They also gave support to reactionary leaders across the ‘Third World’, as long as such leaders served as agents of their imperialist agenda. Instances abound across the world of their destabilisation of progressive regimes and their replacement with reactionary puppets and even pedestrian elements.
This is a dominant global system that propagates the political economy concept of the market state model. To them, national governments should be preoccupied with promotion of private enterprises and capital flow as the only efficacious approach to national development. They also promote the idea of business without borders and therefore the tearing down of tariffs and all national barriers to transnational trade and investments. They use the Bretton Woods institutions to drive structural adjustment programmes with a focus on privatisation, deregulation, market-driven prices and ending of subsidies regardless of their socio-economic imperative. Through their academia, they spread neo-liberal political economy ideologies which are antithetical to the economic and political development of the popular classes. The question for us here is what will be the likely disposition of the current regime in Abuja towards these business oriented external forces.
This brings us to the consideration of the characteristic tendency of the political class superintending over our affairs at the moment. The President is not just an astute politician, he is a dexterous businessman. As a governor of Lagos State for eight years, he demonstrated a clear understanding of the inestimable returns in forging business and the State into a system of power. Using this system, he firmly captured Lagos State and its bureaucracy and unified it with his business interests. This is what enabled him to build for himself, a formidable economic cum political empire. He then used this empire to acquire the economic muscle to successfully build a political power network of pliant vassalages. It is with this solid power base that this rugged leader strategically and tactically navigated his way to the highest political office in the country. It is no doubt a testimony to his audacity and tenacity as a person, but not a laudable precedent for the development of a democratic, equitable and peaceful society.
The new administration in Abuja’s response to the scandalous fuel subsidy, its spurious and delusive students loan scheme as cover to evade the funding of tertiary education in the country, its unpreparedness to curb the corruption manifesting in unbridled swindling of the State and the profligacy of public officers, and its resort to same old, tinsel, veneer and cotton candy palliatives adopted by past administrations from the launching of Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, all of which were mere cannon fodders through which manipulative imperialist economic policies with disastrous impacts on the common people were pushed through, it is obvious that the ‘Renewed Hope’ mantra is just another smokescreen and that neo-liberalism has found a suitable partner in Aso Rock.
What we are likely to witness are reforms directed at improvements in the country’s bureaucracy, trade and investment flow, and perhaps economic expansion in terms of GDP growth, but as it is usual with capitalist efficiency, this will not translate into improved living conditions for the average citizen, rather they will be forced to lower their standard of living, as is already evident. The much-touted palliatives such as conditional cash transfer, upward review of minimum wage and such other minimum alleviative measures are all targeted at the sustenance of mere subsistence. This is surely not the government that will address uneven distribution of wealth and therefore can but only preside over the exacerbation of social inequality and mass poverty.
Henry George captured it most succinctly in his analysis of unequal distribution of wealth and the abject poverty witnessed in Ireland of the 19th century when he posited that ‘had Ireland been by nature a grove of bananas and bread-fruit, had her coast been lined by the guano deposits of the Chinchas and the sun of lower latitudes warmed into more abundant life her soil, the social conditions that have prevailed there would still have brought forth poverty and starvation’. He cited that even in the face of the very disastrous living conditions brought upon the Irish commoners by the famine that ravished their country, grains, meat, butter and cheese were carted away for exportation along roads lined with the starving and past trenches into which the dead were piled.
The same condition was revealed to have prevailed in India where according to Thomas Babington Macaulay in his essay on Lord Clive, the East India Company, with the protection of the Imperial Government, rapidly accumulated and carted enormous wealth away from Calcutta while thirty million human beings were reduced to the extremity of wretchedness. Do not forget that these same British authorities that orchestrated mass destitution in India amidst enormous wealth replicated the British efficient bureaucracy in same India and constructed massive railways and great irrigation works in that same country.
Looking at the dynamics of the 2023 General Election, it was easy to decipher that the dominant factor was the intra-class battle among the elites. They had either entrenched themselves or were struggling to get themselves entrenched in the rentier State where political power is a guaranteed goldmine. As usual, the masses were dazzled and confused through the divide and rule media propaganda and other orchestrated disinformation narratives to see the election from the primordial prism of religion and ethnicity. Unfortunately, the same Nigerian masses irrespective of religion and ethnicity will remain the worst casualties of the Nigerian state as long as these same characters run our governments, national or sub-national.
As long as we have a government driven by brutal capitalist motives, such a state as pictured by Robert A. Brady where the government instead of putting enterprises under state control to achieve the ends of overriding public interest, is conquered by enterprises and reduced to an instrument of their control, and as long as we are governed by rapacious business chattels and remorseless Tammany politicians who use state power for selfish pursuits, the best we can look forward to is Pareto efficiency where affluence and pauperism cohabits.
Any leader who superintends over such an iniquitous system in which the minority class economic interests exploit the majority class laxity and weakness to advance its course and cloth it with the gab of democracy cannot be trusted as a shepherd of the citizens that national leaders ought to be.
Comrade Boney Akaeze, a member of Socialist Labour, writes from Asaba.