Last week began innocuously enough. But by midweek, all illusions of peace and calm have been shattered. Upon all the crippling economic burdens the average Nigerian is forced to bear, a totally unforeseen and unprecedented hike in petroleum pricing was slammed on the nation with the deadly ferocity of a military ambush.
It all seems so unreal and bizarre in the extreme. All of a sudden, a governmentwhich has bonded so intimately with the poor and injured of the land, a government which has advertised its compassion for the injury inflicted on Nigerians by their ruling class, bared its knuckles in a manner reminiscent of harsh, authoritarian military rule.
Yet in a strange reversal of role, it was the government that began playing the injured, pretending to be hurt that explanations not offered have not been heard. Glum and uncommunicative at best, jumping from one absurdexcuse to the other, with IbeKachikwu levitating on highfalutin techno-speak and the latest petrolese, this is not the finest hour of the administration.
Is it any wonder, then, that up till this moment and in the face of looming mass alienation, the president has not found the courage to address the nation? At least, the retired general from Daura cannot be accused of great immoral courage. Like all formidable military commanders, the president has retreated behind a wall of silence, secrecy and stealth. But one suspects that the general is personally hurting from this breach of trust and his inability to guarantee the integrity of his own earlier promise.
Yet amidst of all this, the divided and polarized Labour Union has ordered a national strike which has turned out a damp squib, shunned and ignored by majority of the workers on whose behalf they claim to be stirring. This is the first time in the history of the country that Labour has been so comprehensively cuckolded by labourers. In effect, the Nigerian Labour Union stands disgraced and demystified.
It is a disgrace and demystification that has been long in coming. For over thirty years, many of us have been warning our labour aristocrats that the day is coming when the falcon will no longer hearken to the falconer. That day, it seems, is now upon us. For the post-colonial society battered by the rampaging forces of global capitalism, old labour, with its rustic and rusticated conceptual armature, no longer works.
When labour is not in collusion and conspiracy with the state to break the back of rampart civil society as it was evident in the watershed January 2012 protests, it has turned itself into an enemy of the very workers whose interests it is supposed to protect. For a long time, some of us have argued that what labour needs is not retroactive and reactive protests whose outcome do not make a dent on the plight of workers but an alternative political platform and ideological paradigm which will challenge the ravages of global capitalism in its current stage and particularly in Nigeria.
But this has fallen on deaf ear. You cannot give what you don’t have. Rotten mango cannot fall very far from the parent tree. The conceptual and intellectual rigour demanded is beyond the ken of the dinosaurs of “up and at ém” struggle.
The irony t is that with its reformist consciousness and salary increment per protest mind-set, labour exists in a state of antagonistic but paradoxical collusion and complicity with global capitalism and its transnational oligarchs. The masters of the forces of production are even toying with dispensing with human labour altogether.
With labour added to the casualty list, Nigeria is a post-colonial morgue of dead and dying institutions. All the vital institutions of the state and civil society are either dead or on life-support machine. This is why there is this eerie disorientation in the nation, as if one is walking in a land of living ghosts.
Unless Nigeria is remade and rebuilt from scratch, we can forget it. The greatest affliction which can befall a people is not the affliction itself but the inability to correctly identify the affliction. The current crisis about petroleum pricing is not caused by the precipitate removal of the so called subsidy but something more fundamental. It is a classic case of confusing the symptom with the disease.
In the hallucinatory haze of the terminally diseased, we often reach for whatever we confuse with the nearest pain killer. When Nigeria was fairly well-governed, particularly before the advent of military despotism, we did not hear of subsidy. When there was no run on the naira by a kleptomaniac ruling class and massive corruption compounded by impunity, we did not hear of subsidy.
Simply put, what is erroneously referred to as subsidy is State levy or government tax on rogue westernization. It is a case of double jeopardy and a lose-lose situation for the teeming Nigerian underclass. But pray what is rogue westernization?
Nigeria was never conceived as an organic country but as a trading and retailing outlet of the western imperium. Till date, the nation has retained a proud fidelity to the founding charter. Deliberately peopled by a political elite organically divorced from the aspirations and yearnings of a true nation, a political elite unable to come together to found a new authentic nation, aping the worst aspects of western capitalism without being able to draw on the inner strengths and resources of the new nation, Nigeria is a disaster always waiting to happen.
In the event, Nigeria has come up with national institutions which are genetic hybrids combining the worst aspects of western societies with the most pernicious carry-over from traditional institutions. They can hardly pass muster.
Worse, and a result of the programmed inferiority complex of our elite, we hanker after western goods that we do not produce: from the latest cars, household gadgets and even petroleum products that we ought to be able to produce were this not to be a truly dysfunctional society.
Yet apart from crude oil, we can hardly sell anything to the west. How can we preserve our foreign reserve and strengthen the value of the naira when we are wedded to frivolities and meretricious fripperies from the west?
On any typical journey by train from London on a weekend, you are likely to run into one of Her Majesty’s ministers on his way to his constituency clutching his red briefcase and his sandwich. Nigeria does not have a viable rail system or even decent road transportation.
Meanwhile, our own national and state assemblies as well as other functionaries of the state award themselves humongous salaries and emoluments which have no bearing with the dismal economic realities of the nation. All the mass transportation schemes which they claim to be derivative ameliorations from subsidy removals of the past have ended up as gigantic frauds fuelling inflation and the run on the naira. When will Nigeria produce Nigerians?
To survive, the government must tax this rogue westernization and petroleum products are the softest targets because of the sheer volume of the racket. Everybody, particularly the poor, must bear the brunt of elite malfeasance.We have now been told with commendable if brutal candour that petroleum prices went up simply because the nation was flat broke.
At a similar point in his nation’s history, Pandit Nehru decreed that if India cannot produce its own fabric or develop its own indigenous car, then the people can trek and walk naked. After mongering platitudes about self-reliance and the need to stimulate indigenous production, Nigerian leaders usually relapse into the despotic opulence of village tyrants. The people take their cue from the rulers.
The argument for the removal of petroleum subsidy is solely conducted at the level of synchronic manifestation of reality without any conceptual linkage to its diachronic and futuristic dimensions. It is all about where we are at the moment rather than where we are coming from and where we are headed. The faulty answer is embedded in the faulty question.
This inability to totalize facts is a conceptual subterfuge which allows the mind to avoid uncomfortable political truths and it is the bane of western empiricist epistemology and all the disciplines derived from it, particularly modern Economics which often accounts for their lack of dialectical rigour and delinquent simplification of complex reality. This is perhaps the worst intellectual legacy our colonial masters bequeathed to us.
It is this endemic crisis of nationhood and rogue westernization which often manifest in the periodic removal of so called subsidy to much national anguish. As long as there is unregulated consumption of western goods and as long as corruption is backed by impunity, there will always be a run on the naira and the subsidy trap will open once again. Once the naira hits 500 to one single dollar, the subsidy experts will be back again to collect their scalp until we reach Weimar Republic and its worthless currency.
This crisis which has been long in coming has now developed its local pathologies and may no longer be amenable to a national cure-all prescription but a creative and visionary restructuring of the entire political architecture of the nation. We have now reached a point where what is tonic for a particular nationality and its local economy may be toxic to another.
In retrospect, it is doubtful whetherPandit Nehru, with all his heroism and considerable political clout, could have achieved the grand Hindu consensus about the destiny of the new nation if Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistani militants were still to be part of an amorphous India nation. Colonial India had to be created anew, but in a situation of regrettable mayhem and bloodshed.
National consensus and cohesion will always elude colonial creations where constituting nationalities retain strong individual identities and a vibrant sense of private destiny within or outside of the superimposed behemoth. Nigeria remains a classic example of this explosive colonial cocktail.
But it can be made to work, particularly if Nigerian nationalities are willing to surrender this unstated but turbulent sovereignty in exchange for a more creative and cooperative union of fiercely independent nationalities. At no other point in its history has Nigerian been in a greater need of a visionary political genius. The next twelve months will show whether General Buhari is truly the man we have been waiting for, or whether we have to tarry awhile