Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Political Violence in a fledgling democracy.

Professor Julius O. Ihonvbere

Mr. Chairman, it is not my intention to speak for too long today. I would prefer to be brief and to leave enough time for discussions and questions. Let me also confess that I hurriedly put this lecture together in the last two hours or so. I think it does contain enough to generate some conversation. I have left out details of violence. I chose to focus on the conceptual aspects of the problem though I would use examples as necessary. I thank you for honoring me with your invitation. I commend you for your courage, vision and commitment to the truth in a society that is as decayed as ours.

Thirty seven years ago, a young, charismatic and courageous military officer declared in a coup broadcast:

Our enemies are the political profiteers, swindlers, the men in high and low places who seek bribes and demand ten percent, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers and VIPs of waste, the tribalists, the nepotists…(Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, January 1966 Coup Broadcast.)

Ladies and gentlemen, let me ask a few questions: Are the political profiteers gone from the Nigerian society? Are the bribe takers gone? Do they demand ten percent or more today? Are those that seek to keep Nigeria permanently divided gone? Are the VIPs of waste no longer with us? What about the tribalists? Are they gone? Are they weaker in their politics? What about the nepotists? Have they been reformed? If we can answer “yes” to one of these questions, we can end the lecture right here, go home, pop some champagne and sing halleluiah because our country has been reborn. Let me put it to you all (as if you did not already know) that our country is still in big trouble. These troubles were not created by some invisible elements or by God. They were generated and nurtured by people that live amongst us; people that we all know very well. In fact, in many instances we have encouraged and protected these characters and this attitude has emboldened them to take more risks in perpetuating their dubious agenda. Today, we are all paying very dearly for the indiscipline, irresponsibility, arrogance, limited vision, wickedness and greed of this group. Unfortunately, their pathological fixation of irresponsibility, nepotism, corruption, waste, and other lucrative unproductive but not really helpful ventures have percolated to the lowest ebbs of our society to such an extent that even ordinary people now mimic the decadent elite. This is very unfortunate for a creative and hardworking people.

It is the coalitions, contradictions, distortions and disarticulations arising from these factors and forces that shape the content and context of our politics and society. It is the inability of the state to emerge as a relatively autonomous force; the inability of the governing class to build hegemony and emerge as a ruling class; the contradictions of production and exchange relations; and the continuing marginal location and role of the social formation in the global power balances that have created the foundations for political rascality in Nigeria. Thus, rather than build structures, ideologies, relationships, networks, and enabling environments to build a nation-state (if not a nation) out of the contending diverse interests, identities and nationalities that occupy our political landscape, the opportunistic politics of the power elite has rather, congealed alternative sites of loyalty and power. It has enthroned and reified normless politics, alienated significant communities that continue to survive and operate outside the hegemony of the state, and promoted a culture of cynicism and reliance on extra-legal processes and actions that now guide relations between the people on the one hand and the state and its custodians on the other. It is not an accident therefore that informality and informal relations continue to reign supreme whether is it to get a job, scholarship, admission, contracts, relate to public institutions and officers or whatever, Nigerians consider first an informal approach before or alongside a formal one.
Text of public lecture delivered under the auspices of THE BREEZE MAGAZINE, Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos March 14, 2003

Read the rest of the lecture here:

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