“The history of all hitherto existing societies is a history of class struggle”. – Karl Marx (1818-1883)
EVERY nation that has come to be, came as a result of ‘FORCE’ and it is held together by ‘ideology’. Nigeria as a nation emerged through ‘negotiation’. In other words, Nigerians simply inherited a nation, they never founded one.
The negotiators became the founding fathers; e.g., Dr Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Dennis Osadebey, etc. It is imperative to note that these honourable gentlemen were not only nationalist but also ‘mercantilists’ and ‘entrepreneurs.’
Nigeria was incorporated into the global capitalist mode of production by the colonialists during the 100 years of domination – 1860-1960.This incorporation included franchise to education as many agile young Nigerians aspired to overseas to study, to live like the ‘white man’. These crave for western education led to the exodus to America and England of many Nigerians. The first set to move overseas were termed “Nigerian argonauts” in search of the golden fleece in December 31, 1938. The team include – Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, Mazi Mbonu Ejike, Dr J. B. C. Etuka Okala, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, and Dr Nwafor Orizu.
“Claude Ake, a renowned scholar of political economy, shared the above opinion by asserting: “The crux of the problem of Nigeria today is the over-politicization of social life. We are intoxicated with politics. The premium on political power is so high that we are prone to take the most extreme measures to win and to maintain political power at all cost and thus a desperate struggle to win control of State power ensues. Since this control means all powerful and owning everything, politics becomes a warfare and a matter of life and death”.
These gentlemen, on returning from abroad, where they were baptised with the capitalist Ideology, joined hands in the negotiation of the Nigerian State. Thus, the effect of imperialism in Nigeria led to the establishment of “class relations” as they sought to reason and behave like the “white man” with the sense of “superiority” over others.
Class relations are contradictory relations marked with conflict and antagonism. Thus, under capitalism, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, who are the two major classes, stands in eternal contradiction. Contradiction is real because what is socially produced is privately appropriated by the bourgeoisie.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria witnessed the transfer of political power from the foreign bourgeoisie to the emerging governing class, who used the newly acquired power to accumulate wealth for private purposes though the instrument of the state.
Politics is fundamentally about the struggle over scarce resources. In Nigeria, state power has become a magnet for all political and economic life. The Nigerian State power has become an instrument of the rich and the ruling class, against the have-nots, the propertyless, and the exploited majority working class.
The Nigeria economy is dominated by the foreign capital (the dollar). The nature of the economy encourages competition for private profit and capital accumulation of socially produced goods, which often leads to incessant political and economic crisis. Despite the humongous abundance of mineral resources, 80% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, while its leaders are enmeshed in opulent and affluent lifestyle, bedded with mesmerisation of wealth.
Class exists in every society, including the West, but there exist elements that make up these classes. It is these elements that separates them. According to Ralp Miliband; “Class as entities do not enter into conflicts, only elements of it do.” These elements are democracy, politics, ethnicity and ideology.
A major cornerstone of these elements is politics and ethnicity. Politics in Nigeria is prebendal politics. According to Richard Joseph (1987), a prebend is “an office of State, which an individual procures either through examination or as a reward for loyal service to a Lord or Ruler”.
Put simply, prebendalism is the fundamental principle of political organisation and behaviour in Nigeria, where an individual seeks the support and protection of an oga or godfather, while trying to acquire some social and material goods, e.g., loans, political posts, plots of land, employment and promotion. By implication of the above, a man who supports the party and oga in office will be rewarded with contracts and other political benefits.
Claude Ake, a renowned scholar of political economy, shared the above opinion by asserting: “The crux of the problem of Nigeria today is the over-politicization of social life. We are intoxicated with politics. The premium on political power is so high that we are prone to take the most extreme measures to win and to maintain political power at all cost and thus a desperate struggle to win control of State power ensues. Since this control means all powerful and owning everything, politics becomes a warfare and a matter of life and death”.
“The leaders of the nationalist movement were indoctrinated via Western education. The logic was that the colonial masters will not grant you scholarship and access to education, for you to come back and challenge their authority. The main reason for the education and scholarship was purely to create surrogates for the continuation of imperialism (neo-colonialism).”
The elements of democracy, ethnicity and ideology will be treated in the subsequent parts, while this part will focus on politics as core element of class contradiction in Nigeria.
The prime movers and leaders of the Nigerian nationalist movements were anointed and baptised capitalist juggernauts in form of petty-bourgeoisies who act as surrogates to the dominant metropolitan bourgeoisies who reside in the metropole (capitalist West).
The emergence of the petty-bourgeoisie, made Nigeria a class-oriented society, made up of the governing class (petty-bourgeoisie) and the governed class (peasants and workers). V. I. Lenin defines class as “a large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a determined system of social production, by their relation to the means of production, by their roles in the social organization of labour, and consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people, one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.”
The leaders of the nationalist movement were indoctrinated via Western education. The logic was that the colonial masters will not grant you scholarship and access to education, for you to come back and challenge their authority. The main reason for the education and scholarship was purely to create surrogates for the continuation of imperialism (neo-colonialism). You can then understand the meaning of Boko Haram (Western education is sin).
A critical observation of some statements made by the nationalist movement leaders, showed the inherent class nature embedded in their consciousness.
- “The power of princes and power of the people are never concurrent and equal” – Mazi Mbonu. He made this statement shortly after his return from the United States on scholarship.
- “Henceforth, I shall utilize my earned income to secure my enjoyment of a high standard.” – Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (1937)
- “I am going to make myself formidable intellectually, morally and invulnerable, to make all the money that is possible for a man with my brains and brawn to make in Nigeria.” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Be it known that the capitalist ideology proclaims self-assertion, and self-aggrandisement, and these creates class antagonism in the society. The above words of Nigeria’s founding fathers speak volumes, that they were for themselves and not for the nation. For any nation to develop, and achieve political, economic growth, its leaders must forget themselves and put the nation first and self, second. The Nigerian political elites see themselves as first class while the people are lower class.
“From the works of John Stevens and Benjamin Gale, power resides with the peasants and workers (people) and it is they that determine the power of the leaders. The Nigeria State as today is in a state of anxiety because the leadership is class-oriented and sees itself as divine while the people are subjects.”
Furthermore, consider this speech by Chief Awolowo in 1961: “It must be realized now and for all time that this articulate minority are destined to rule the country. It is their heritage. It is they who must be trained in the art of government, so as to enable them to take over the state…, the broad masses in Nigeria, especially the peasantry are ignorant and will not be bothered by politics. Their sole occupation is the search for food, clothing and shelter of a wretched type. To them, it does not seem to matter who rules the country, so long as in the process they are allowed to live their lives in peace and crude comfort.”
Chief Awolowo was not insane when he made the above statement. It is a fallout of his capitalist inclination which alienates him from the natives who invariably are his kinsmen. If Awolowo’s statement is hard to swallow, then consider these words of Dr Azikiwe: “The educated African should assume leadership. Such an educated African is mentally emancipated and politically resurgent. Those who work the land, the peasantry, were men and women who did not survive the Darwinian Struggle”.
To counter this class ideology, John Stevens, averred, that: “All powers wherever it is vested and derived are from the people only, the rulers and their deputies are removable by them.”
According to Benjamin Gale; “the people are the fountain of power and not the leaders or the assembly”.
From the works of John Stevens and Benjamin Gale, power resides with the peasants and workers (people) and it is they that determine the power of the leaders. The Nigeria State as today is in a state of anxiety because the leadership is class-oriented and sees itself as divine while the people are subjects.
In conclusion, I will end this first part with the words of the impeccable Louis Otto, French minister to America (1786): “There is a class of men denominated gentlemen, who by reason of their wealth, their talents, their education, their families or the office they hold, aspire to a pre-eminence which the people refuse to grant them.”
To be continued…
Marshall, is a human rights activist, leadership consultant and co-convener of Abuja-based civil society organisation, More.Action.Less.Talk (MALT). He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org