Attahiru Jega and Jibrin Ibrahim: Meditations on Power Politics
By Toyin Falola
This is the second 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 Jega and Ibrahim. For the transcripts, see: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlwZfh5Ynh8 Facebook: https://fb.watch/9S6PBuNg0l/.
Undeniably, the expectation on Nigeria as a new country in 1960 was high, even among the European imperialists who plotted its strategic downfall, which plummeted the economic blueprint on which it was meant to embark on a journey of revitalization. In 1960, it was not hard to sight the prospect of a country that, despite all contradictions and strives, invested in human capital development to ensure that its people take on the baton of good governance to a height where nearly all other countries on the continent would have derived their encouragement, drive, and motivation to see a common direction for the journey toward true and absolute freedom. Countries that had bubbling intellectuals and ideological strongholds were very concerned about redefining their political future, rescuing it from the claws of the consuming ambitions of the supremacists, and redirecting it to the desired point where it would maximize all the potentials with which it was naturally endowed. To achieve this, people endured a series of outrageous experiences, ranging from being battered by the European establishment to being mesmerized by their antics of political brigandage. Therefore, it was understandable that the hope placed on the country was high, and sixty years of existence has shown the country’s tragic situation resulting from various experiences of internal contradictions.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim is not a scholar whose intention is hard to spot. His intellectual disposition does not allow for such romanticism, especially when the public interest is at stake. He asked, mildly and straightforwardly, what dampened or deepened Nigeria’s woes to the extent that the goals and objectives collectively dreamed about in the 1960s became orphans with the dim possibility of success in the nearest future. This question had a deeper meaning than just interrogating the interviewee about the times and timelines when the collective aspirations of the country began to suffer untold consequences. Instead, it was an attempt to reflect on why the elites, especially the political elites, gave in to their provincial intentions, allowing the pressure to distract them from planting the country’s feet into a solid foundation where the future generations would have been able to continue in the manner that developed countries in the world today experience. This was necessary because it is considered that without understanding the fundamental challenges or knowing the foundation of problems, no amount of ideological baptism in socialism or people-oriented values will make a country pursue any development, no matter how small.
Professor Jega truly understood the import of the question, and from his immediate evaluation of the situation, the first thing that occurred to him was the mismanagement of opportunities. It is generally believed that no matter how impoverished a country is in human capital index or resources capacity, there is always an opportunity to rise if there is a true desire for transformation. In many cases, this transformation would begin with an investment in human resources because the first place where victory is usually promised to a people is their mind, and when that mind is poor and deficient, it is almost impossible for them to actualize the collective aspirations, even if it is just to breathe. This means that a country devoid of intellectual content or the human resources that come from it would lag behind others who invest in refining their crude human potentials. The divestment of Nigerian politicians in human resources makes them mismanage available opportunities because they think of their provincial ambitions when the national dream should have been the only thing on their minds. However, the mistake of opportunity mismanagement was an inherited one. The colonial imperialists operated on the philosophy of divide and conquer to establish themselves fully in the country. Instead of deconstructing this dysfunctional system, the inheritors of the political system embraced it. Where they should have invested in the collective development of the country, their ethnocentric suspicion swerved them away.
Surprisingly, the mismanagement of diversity would not be the only elephantiac impediment that distracted the political merchants from their nationalist focus and installed mercantile socioeconomic and socio-political visions in them, which served their parochial ambitions. Assuredly, a level of practical happiness seized the political system of the country when the men in uniform took power, and because they came with the intention to instantiate changes, they were seen as vanguards who would redirect the country on the appropriate trajectory of progress through a transparent process. However, nothing of significant importance happened as they continued in that trend. Therefore, it would go to the level of thinking that the country’s problem was congenital, if not genetic, as the very improvements that all well-meaning Nigerians dreamed of were unceremoniously dashed again despite the reintroduction of democracy in 1999 in the Fourth Republic. The ones in the toga of fairness, whose political philosophy is naturally expected to be built on the foundation of people-oriented ideas, inherited the dogma, and their intellectual poverty was further revealed for the world to see.
Between the early inheritors of independence from the British government to their military representatives who took power from them by force and the ones that ascended the political power through elections starting from 1999, it is difficult to identify which one is more ethnocentric. The problem appears to be generational. Perhaps because of this wanton concentration on ethnic competition at every opportunity to serve in government, the space for nursing or incubating ideas in the heads of the average Nigerian leaders is occupied by a different thing, its devaluation to the country notwithstanding. And since ideas are the conceptual instruments of invigorating institutions and instigating every form of change that is seen in any civilization, their absence would inevitably result in a period of political interregnum, not necessarily in the sense that representatives in various positions of power would be absent, but in the sense that they would be there and yet would have no measurable importance or impact.
As Professor Jega implied, this is Nigeria’s situation. The absence of intellectual virility combined with a hallucinating sense of ethnic affiliation or commitment that rid leaders or any other individual of having the capacity to attend to issues of national concerns. The survival of conflicts, accumulation of violence, perpetual overstretching of institutions, increased productions of unemployable people, the astronomic explosion of inter-political greed, among others, are surviving evidence that Nigeria’s political system is not going anywhere. While these factors constitute a problem, they are a product of intellectual emptiness that has infiltrated the political fabric. Now the problem is multifaceted. Individuals who see opportunities to join politics in Nigeria either want to continue the trend or keep the system stagnant, thereby making progress difficult.
Attahiru Jega is rather a positive vibe in himself. He has graduated from being a member of the public who rants about their existential challenges and whines about them from the beginning to the end of the day. Rather, as he identifies challenges, you can be sure that he already has a potential solution that, if tried, would yield desirable results. He noted that all said problems are devastating when considered intimately but that reforming institutions is one of the ways to relieve the people of the pains they have created. However, he highlighted that the idea of reforming institutions is a great one if the individuals who would head these institutions are mentally refined. No matter how beautifully reformed an institution is, when it is headed by individuals whose moral outlook is internally rotten, the results of such a setting would eventually be poisonous to its growth. Therefore, what is required to achieve this is the development of what the Professor called elite consensus. If considered very carefully, having a common vision for the country, especially among the intellectual and political elite, will naturally push them to design an effective framework for building a formidable political culture that would be the envy of the world.
While we would later address the culture of primitive accumulation of material possessions that result in broad corruption in the Nigerian socio-cultural trajectory, Professor Ibrahim seemed to have a more pressing issue that we must attend to. He raised the question of ideological suicide, or maybe evasion, which has permeated the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari and that Nigerians are currently expressing. From the earlier arguments raised by the guest, Professor Jega, he asserted that the emergence of the military personnel in the period gave the masses some hope. They believed the uniformed leaders would come with ideological clarity as vanguard military. Such a dream of self-reliance, which coincidentally was shared by General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 when he was the country’s military ruler, has departed from him, raising a genuine alert to the public about its implication on the country’s development. Buhari, in 1984, believed in self-reliance, and his ideological framework showed he was not interested in subsuming the country’s political and economic freedom under the perpetual dictations of the West. However, barely 35 years later, the man is going down perhaps as one of the presidents that borrowed the most money, this time from the Chinese government. So, what has happened? The question arises.
Amusingly, the question is not the only thing that arose. A dry sense of humour naturally forces one to smile or laugh hysterically. And the reasons for this are not foreign; they are things on which we can reflect. President Buhari is a septuagenarian, and one would not be mistaken to say that the brighter side of Nigeria, if it comes fast enough, will not enjoy much of his presence. If the good future we all envision and intensely await does not come at the speed we desire, it cannot be contested that he would not be there to suffer any of the consequences of his input. In essence, Nigerians need to be worried, especially because of Buhari’s ideological suicide from someone who did not believe in borrowing about thirty-five years ago to someone who now seeks financial aid to pay salary, service debts, and fulfil recurrent expenditure demands, among other things, from China. Ironically, China was not significantly better off than Nigeria in 1960 when the latter gained independence.
As a result, it leaves so much to be reflected on when there is an omen of a bad future, as it appears that the future of the younger generations is being mortgaged by the actions of this man and his administrative crew. Borrowing is not necessarily bad, but it becomes an issue when it reaches the stage when repayment becomes difficult, if not logically impossible. Such reasoning is very difficult to fault, even Professor Jega concedes, not because its undebatable foundation stares at everyone in the face, but because the consequences are already being felt.
The problem is challenging, the future is gloomy, and the situation becomes direr as we continue to underplay how insincerity could become the basis of facilitating a deepening dysfunctional system. According to Professor Jega, while the culture of borrowing, which has now been entrenched in the political philosophy of President Buhari’s administration, the fact that it is circumscribed with insincere intentions gives valid reasons for the palpitations of the public’s hearts, especially for those of us who can tell the future using current events as an instrument of prediction.
Nigerians are cornered to believe that the habitual borrowing by the current administration is meant for the redemption of the economy, perhaps because of the conversion of the monies into infrastructural projects that would bring economic growth. However, the public is oblivious of the fact that the amount of money spent on these projects are disproportionately inflated. Roads within walkable kilometres are said to be constructed with a huge amount of money more than what is spent to build longer and more durable ones in nearest African countries. When confronted with all these facts and realities, it is logical to conclude that the borrowing in which Nigeria has entangled itself in recent history has no iota of visionary reflection. Borrowing from China will have devastating consequences, especially when there are no rational means of paying back.
When President Olusegun Obasanjo lobbied in the international community to have Nigeria’s debts forgiven, he was dealing with multilateral organizations that operated on democratic culture and diplomatic tendencies. However, China does not operate on such a philosophical framework, making it more difficult for Nigeria to escape the commitment their perpetual borrowing has forced them to make. It is not difficult to spot China’s unforgiving attitude toward its debtors, considering that it has begun to take over the infrastructures in some African countries that were built with its unrepaid monies. So, it is sensible to desist from the culture of borrowing, especially from countries that would not mind dragging the integrity of the borrower country as a result of its leaders’ blindness. Also, it is forward-looking to consider internal solutions to the myriad of challenges that are facing the said country.
Again, Jega does not identify a problem without having at least a solution in mind. He asserts that the awareness of the potential consequences of borrowing by those who understand international politics and dynamics of power relations should motivate people to mobilise actions by the people. In other words, he believes that people should not fold their arms and stand aloof from governance because the responsibility of administration lies too on the citizens, only that their angle of functioning requires them to continually engage the masses and speak truth to power. People should not withdraw from the country’s political activities, feigning ignorance of what is happening or hiding behind the guise of not being in government.
The consequences of bad leadership, Jega argues, are not partisan, and neither do they respect political boundaries. Everyone would witness the repulsive consequences of irresponsible leadership they have installed, including those who made the political decisions that brought people to this raging condition and those whose silence is an accomplice to their evil perpetrations. To make the country come back to its appropriate position and rejuvenate the spirit of nationalism needed for the crystallization of collective dreams, we need a radical shift from the mindset that brought us to this condition in the first instance.
The interviewer, Jibrin Ibrahim, is aware that the prospect for the country’s economic redemption does not lie on relying on a single economic source, as Nigeria has done with crude oil since the time it was discovered. Much of our revolutionary transformations would depend on diversification; after all, many countries do not have crude oil, yet they are doing exceptionally well in their own right. In essence, he asked Professor Jega his thoughts about investing in agricultural productions as an alternative source of financial oxygen and which would bring stability to their engagements and all other things. Our guest addressed the question with a good sense of intellectual control. Among other things, he said that there is the need to have a developmental strategy that recognizes the rural nature of Nigerian society. This is principally necessary because it needs to generate a large number of economic values. However, this would be preceded by land reform, modernization of agricultural productions and engagements, and mechanized farming development. All these are important preconditions to be met before the country can be free from its overbearing reliance and compulsive dependence on the mono-economic source, which usually has unwholesome consequences for the country and its citizens.
The conversation between the two erudite professors, Professor Attahiru Jega and Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, was dominated by an evaluation of the Nigerian situation and how it has continued to be a source of worry to the people within the country and those in the diaspora. Indisputably, a level of emotional torture is experienced by anyone who believes that Nigeria should have gotten to or attained a level of greatness that would serve as the benchmark for measuring standard countries, considering the economic and political potentials it has from the beginning of its very identity, after independence. People who understand all these and still realise that there are no prospects of salvation and development would never be condemned when they doubt the country’s future, mainly because they know that it could be generally impossible given current circumstances.
In conclusion, both the interviewer and the interviewee agreed that there is a need for the people in the corridor of power to be more open-minded. Nigerians must aggressively pursue the development agenda so that their conditions would not be aggravated by the decisions that they make today due to their selfish ambitions. It is difficult to deny that the country has the potential to become a shining light on the continent, but this can only happen if there is a clear-cut roadmap that will help the people navigate their way as they move forward. Without this, the dream of becoming the giant of Africa would be a mere fantasy.