The Professor, the Journalist, and their Country
By Toyin Falola
This is the third report on the interview with Professor Attahiru Jega on December 12, 2021. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, exposes Nigeria in all of its ugliness while also offering a path out of the present predicament. This report covers the segment between Professor Jega and Kadaria Ahmed. For the transcript, see:
Ms Kadaria Ahmed is a reputable journalist with nationalist fervour. By virtue of her profession, she has access to numerous pieces of on-field information, which naturally places her ahead of many of her contemporaries in Nigeria. She is well-known for many things as far as the country’s sociopolitical evolution is concerned because her profession and passion have placed her in a promising position of importance, allowing her to represent the interest of the common people and project their grievances and views. Thus, when she introduced herself and stated that her interview with Professor Attahiru Jega would be segmented into three phases, her intention was made bare. The segments – Politics, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Pan-Africanism – were meant to spark a conversation that would have all-round advantages to the community of people who are hungry for a better Nigeria and the international audience calculating when Nigeria would live up to its name as the giant of Africa. It does not need reiterating that the reason for Ms Ahmed’s breakdown of her interactions with our guest was to achieve something important concerning the socioeconomic and sociopolitical currency of the nation. To a considerable extent, Professor Jega is a tireless figure whose pedigree is a mix of public activism and political participation.
Starting her drilling with the political segment, it was quite revealing that Ms Ahmed would be curious about Nigeria’s political intimations, which, in most cases, have become strong reasons for shaping the public opinion on the issue of politics in the country. To some, Nigeria faces perennial challenges of system dysfunctionality not because there is something inherently wrong with the country or because, as has been wrongly generalised, the black people have an inherent inability to drive enviable development by themselves without the help of outsiders. But Nigeria’s problems have persisted because some people have continued to display erratic behaviour while at the corridor of power through the perpetual betrayal of their individual ideological beliefs and the moral hara-kiri they commit whenever they are shown the colour of money. This means that the political parties in the country are weakened not by ideological manoeuvring of their collective beliefs but by the conscious efforts of the people holding the reins of power, who, in turn, control their economic directions. The two major political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC), are seminally indicted in this embroilment because they have been weakened to the point that they cannot intervene when their members dig the country’s grave.
So, the question, “Does the Professor of political science, Attahiru Jega, believe that the two identified political parties are irredeemable?” was timely due to its sociopolitical dimension, and urgent because of its historical significance. Jega is an important force as far as the country’s political system is concerned. This is not only because he has acted in different aspects of the country’s political landscape, but he is also a very intimidating force in producing ideas useful for shaping a people and a country if the system calls for it. Perhaps because he was dissatisfied with Nigeria’s political process, our guest confirmed his membership of a political party that reflects his political philosophy and is fair enough to accommodate plural views and manage diversities in a more organised manner. Anyone familiar with the country’s political landscape knows that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than any other political party other than PDP or APC to ascend power. This knowledge has always been the driving force for belonging to political parties. People do not realise that joining either of the parties makes no difference, but it would be difficult to challenge them to win a political duel.
With their knowledge of Nigeria’s political system and process, the mercantile political jobbers have mastered Stalin’s ideological style because they have made substantial efforts to transform the ideology of draining all nutrients necessary for citizens’ development or growth, and have gone a step higher in mastering the art of diabolism. For example, the Nigerian government would award projects, then go to sleep and re-award the same project repeatedly after grandstanding padding of the financial requirements and allocation of funds for the execution of the project that should be completed within a few years. Thus, the insincerity of Nigeria’s two leading political parties, the PDP and the APC, has become domestic knowledge. They wield so much power and autocratic authority that any one of them in power would become the haven of security for anyone who has committed criminal offences against the country in the past. Their members become saints as long as they belong to those parties and are immune to public criticism. So, when Kadaria asked if this knowledge informed Jega’s decision to join a new political party, the answer could not be unanticipated.
Although we did not expect the interviewee’s response to be negative because it is common knowledge that the two parties are mere duplications of each other in matters of ideological convictions, and the commitment to stay true to these ideologies cannot be broken by nationalist spirit, we are more educated as to the reason for the initiation of an elopement process that pushed him into joining a different political party entirely. Professor Jega believes that the two parties are a marriage of convenience for the individuals in the system. They are populated by politically active elites who rarely pursue collective dreams with the same enthusiasm and desire as they do personal ambitions. To them, the loyalty to their pocket is ultimate, and anyone or factor that stands in their way of achieving this provincial dream or intention would be crushed with all their might. For political parties who have such an ideological view, it is difficult to have true intentions behind most of their actions. Essentially, the country is breeding merchant politicians who genuinely install patrimonialism as a government system and see every electoral process as an opportunity for investment. Their time, energy, and resources are considered an investment that would be harvested when they have the opportunity to ascend power. They are either awaiting their turn when they would be awarded juicy contracts or allocated different opportunities at the expense of the masses.
Like a business strategy, these politicians go into elections with the ambition to win at all costs, mostly because they cannot bear the pain of losing. They would naturally want to accrue their expended wealth and energies back with increased returns. The historical dimension of the question was what drew Professor Jega into digging into the political history of APC’s formation. According to him, the party had the cornucopia of wounded aspirants in the arsenal and a pile of business and political merchants who specifically had a capitalist relationship with the political party and would not back down until their economic investment was recouped. Therefore, it was difficult for the party to talk about a genuine interest in service because not only would they be indebted to many who have offered their kind and cash in the process of their ascendance, but they would also be needlessly yielding to the pressure they mount. The APC was immediately populated, not by politically neutral people, but by those whose pedigree was questionable because they previously held public positions that performed below expectations. They came into the party with their financial largesse and offered a soiled hand of friendship to those seeking to consolidate power from the centre. Upon ascension, it became a moral burden for the party’s leadership and the country to challenge these known criminals because they were already indirectly embroiled in the action.
As expected, this response was a pointer to several layers of questions, the topmost of which are those affecting the country’s electoral system. In fourteen months from now or thereabout, the country will witness another round of elections in which leaders will be elected into different political offices. Given that the said political parties have demonstrated their capacity for ideological compromises, which often result in the commodification of the available posts for the highest bidders or the imposition of people who will do their masters’ bidding into these offices, Ms Ahmed wondered if Nigerians should be worried that the future again is gloomy since their political future is almost decided already, negatively at that? What should be the working alternative to wrestle the political jobbers out of power so that the two dominant political parties would not be allowed to repackage themselves into power just as they have done for many years? Suggesting the evolution of a third force who can challenge these parties, Professor Jega is of the view that such effort is not impossible because it appears that it is the only one that looks feasible if the ambition is to dislodge the country’s political system from the PDP or APC hostage framework.
Therefore, a broad alliance of progressive forces is a political antidote to the perpetual challenges of sociopolitical inanities that keep ravaging the country. They must arise and be strategic in their focus. Their ambition should not necessarily be to grab power at the highest political cadre of the country, that is, the presidency or the leadership of other arms of government. They can mobilise public support and garner their population strength to occupy basic political positions in Nigeria for grassroots impact at the local level. When people of similar ideas and philosophies collaborate on something of that importance, they would understand that they are investing their energies in the rejuvenation or the revival of the country’s dampened spirit of nationalism, which would propel them into taking actions that will transform the country and plant its roots deep into the heart of global development. Nigeria is blessed with sufficient materials, both human and natural resources, needed for its transformation for all intent and purposes. The country is only sabotaged by the people who do not have good intentions or the moral confidence to accept their inadequacies. Anyone can dream of getting a country out of its perpetual problem of backwardness, but it takes a different level of confidence to remain committed to that ambition in the face of surplus and power that they have never seen before.
As Ms Ahmed admitted at the beginning of the interview, the second segment of her questions addressed the issue of the INEC and the country’s political process. She asked Professor Jega, our honourable guest, if the INEC as an institution has a role in instilling political discipline in the country and what these roles would be. Closely trailing this is the question about our guest’s thoughts on the reformatory possibility of the new electoral reforms that have been transformed into bills awaiting the President’s signature. Professor Jega hinted that there is a legal framework that is statutorily expected to function and operate. Therefore, these stipulated injunctions determine what it does or do not do.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s political merchants become more tactical in their conduct than the majority of the citizens would ever imagine. They look for all means possible to disqualify individuals who aspire to improve the polity. They are systematically doing this by digging up documents that would disqualify potential people-oriented candidates who can help salvage the country from impending failure.
Due to this arrangement, the INEC faces a big difficulty in facilitating changes to the operations of political parties during elections. When monies are allocated to implementing the country’s political process, candidates who join the system would be seen not as having the people’s genuine interest at heart but as investing in a business where they would have the opportunity to reap back in manifolds. In this case, the winners of these elections dip their hands into the state’s coffers and expend as much as possible to prepare themselves again for future political engagements. This means that the ability to challenge them in the act is inherently difficult because they are not given the power to check their financial behaviours while in power and are also not equipped to check what they spend while seeking political offices. This is where the problem becomes more complicated. The spending in the pre-election period has done maximum damage to the country’s democratic culture. Rigging in the country’s electoral system does not manifest in stealing the ballot boxes by hoodlums and touts; it begins with systematically buying votes by sharing monies with the potential electorates. And because they are deprived of good living due to endemic poverty, the electorates usually embrace all opportunities to get these monies.
On the prospect of the INEC interfering in the affairs of political parties, Professor Jega argues that there is a limitation of influence on what the electoral institution can do. The internal affairs of a political party are exclusively theirs, and the fact that they should determine how they intend to run their affairs is not up for social debates. It is assumed that every political platform is built on a specific philosophical basis that projects their views and values, their objectives and aspirations, and how they intend to achieve a better society through frameworks that they believe are practicable and practical. It means that when there is internal wrangling, they need to be addressed by the internal organs created to carry out that specific assignment. Whatever they decide to be, the established norms they have identified as the pillars of their political structure will guide their collective agenda. So, it is really difficult, if not generally impossible, for the INEC to have some level of interference on how the parties conduct themselves and their activities. As a result, how political parties conduct their primary elections reflect their philosophy and political views. Whether they function as democratic groups is a subject of debates and contestations. They will need to consider their integrity if they realise that things are not moving in the direction they should.
Amidst all these, it is important to ask where the representation of women stands in the country’s political system. Ms Ahmed is curious about this because female representation in the country is a source of perpetual worry as it has significantly dwindled in recent years. This declination of female inclusion means that important decisions affecting their demography would be taken, which will have very devastating consequences. In response to the question, Professor Attahiru Jega revealed that the exclusionary politics that cut out the participation of women is an ominous signal itself. To confront this existential challenge, he had made measurable efforts to improve the status quo so that there would be substantial involvement of women as a gender and youth (including males and females) as a category. They have considerably expanded their reach to ensure a general improvement in this area. It is important to be diplomatic and essentially strategic to address this effectively. One way of achieving this is to ensure that they increase the legislative seat for women, as this would signal that the legislators’ positions are not threatened. Since the power to change the system lies with them, it would not be possible to force them into making decisions that would supplant their importance. However, reserving more seats for women is also a good global practice.
On the Pan-African identity, our interviewer tries to interrogate the guest about his position on the issue of Islamic militancy that has besieged the continent. It appears that terrorist attacks that are now prevalent across every region in the continent have a particular agenda they push or ambition in mind. There must be strategic efforts and methods to contain their cyclone of destruction. Professor Jega addresses this issue by saying that the scourge should be seen as a global challenge that needs a global alliance for its fumigation. A given supply chain helps promulgate these violent crimes, and because they appear transnational, global coordination is needed to stem its violent tides. Beyond this, any country faced with the consuming insecurity problems must have an in-house capacity to deal with issues that threaten their peace or attempt to tear down the fabric of their security architecture. They need to rise to these challenges before they graduate into what will overstretch their systems and ridicule their institutions in the long run. Nigeria is a constant victim of terrorist activities because the country lacks a strong security institution, and the available ones are losing the ability to confront these challenges. Their helplessness is caused by the general shortage of security personnel and the government’s underfunding of the security apparatus. Consequently, the country and the continent as a whole suffers from the hands of terrorists who have been unrelenting in their mission to keep disrupting peace and destroying innocent lives.