"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 2019

Saturday, May 18, 2019

There are No Progressives in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Nigerian political lexicon is filled with glib and facile labels such as “liberal,” “progressive,” “conservative,” etc. It’s obvious, nevertheless, that neither the political class nor, in fact, the cultural elites have any informed understanding of the conceptual limits of these terms.

In Nigeria, for the most part, “progressive” has become the all-purpose term of esteem to deodorize filthy, crooked, and loud-mouthed politicians who nonetheless have untrammeled access to the news media. “Conservative” has also emerged as the choicest term of disesteem to slur politicians who are as reactionary, filthy, and corrupt as self-described “progressives” but who have no access to the media—or who have no capacity for, or interest in, shaping media narratives in their favor.

Let’s start by conceptualizing who a progressive or a liberal is. French philosopher Voltaire once said, “If you must converse with me, first define your terms”—or something to that effect.

Although there is no ironclad definitional unanimity in the conception of what constitutes a liberal or a progressive, no one disagrees that it refers to someone who is not limited to or by established, conventional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; who is free from, or at least self-consciously recognizes the unacceptability of, bigotry.

The term is also used to denote a person who is amenable to proposals for reform, new ideas for progress, and is tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others. Generally speaking, it means one who is broad-minded, who is not invidiously wedded to his or her primordial identity to the detriment of others, and who is not held in check by the tyranny of received, often outmoded, wisdom.

Very few politicians in Nigeria come even remotely close to these ideals. Take, for instance, the corrupt, conscienceless clowns in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who are a study in narrow-mindedness, ethnic insularity, religious bigotry, retrograde politics—and worse—but who fancy themselves as “progressives” and who tag others like them but who happen to be outside their fold as “conservatives.”

For instance, Bola Tinubu, Tunde Fashola, Yemi Osinbajo, and others, whose easy access to the media causes them to be seen as the poster boys of progressivism in contemporary Nigeria, are just as reactionary as any politician in the country. In several media interviews, they have made no pretenses about being ethnic bigots and about why they are self-interested enablers of Buhari’s fascist monocracy.

In October 2018, for example, Fashola told Yoruba voters to ignore Buhari’s incompetence and the corruption he enables and protects because, “A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South-West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.” That’s backward, Stone-Age ethnic politics often associated with “conservatives.” Fashola did not even attempt to make the slightest pretense to cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness, which are central to notions of progressive politics.

In the United States, too, it’s traditional to draw a distinction between liberals and conservatives in every national debate. But unlike in Nigeria where everybody avoids the label “conservative” like a plague, here people who think they are conservative not only accept the label but flaunt it.

A conservative is generally understood to be a person who is impervious to change, who conforms to the standards and conventions of the power structure, who finds joy only in his or her ethnic, religious, and racial comfort zone, who is resistant to accepting others who are different from him or her,  and who is exclusivist and inward-looking.

In policy terms, the conceptions of progressivism and conservatism will most definitely differ from country to country. In the US, progressives champion universal health care, racial tolerance, renewable energy, acceptance of cultural, religious, and sexual minorities, etc. That explains why the liberal camp is the natural attraction for racial and religious minorities in the country.

In Nigeria, a progressive is someone who is able to transcend his or her ethnic and religious particularities and embrace others who are different from him or her, who defends and protects weak and vulnerable populations from the terror of the state, and who promotes justice, fairness, and equity for all.

In America, cultural conservatives resist racial equality, are in favor of excluding religious, cultural, and sexual minorities from mainstream society, are religious fundamentalists, want to control the choices women make with their bodies, and are generally ruthless, vulturistic capitalists who can suck the blood of a dead person if they are convinced that his blood has profit value.

I know of no politician in today’s Nigeria who isn’t a conservative by any definition of the term. Even so-called human rights activists, with a few exceptions, are ideologically indistinguishable from conservative politicians.

Conservatism is the easiest ideological disposition to gravitate to because it requires no effort. It comes from the human tendency to be at peace with the familiar and the predicable— and to be discomfited by the unknown and by the repudiation of settled certainties.

That is why although progressives are usually the drivers of innovation and of human progress, they are usually a minority who are never popular with mainstream society.  That was what Martin Luther King Jr meant when he once said, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

In other words, conservatives are the “conforming majority” who defend tyranny when they are not personally affected by it, who do not want to jolt the habitual order of things. Progressives are the “nonconforming minority” whose “creative maladjustment” requires confronting and working to extirpate the established order and entrenched but ruinous attitudes, which is often done at the cost of social and cultural ostracism— and sometimes death.

In Nigeria’s First and Second republics, there were politicians and political parties that were truly progressive. Take the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), for instance. At great personal risks, Aminu Kano led a disciplined rebellion against a ruthlessly backward feudal order in the North. NEPU also formed an alliance with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) at a time regional insularity was the norm, particularly in the North. That was creative maladjustment.

In the Second Republic, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), particularly in its first incarnation, was clearly Nigeria’s most progressive party of the time, not because it proclaimed itself so but because of its philosophy, politics, and governance style. For instance, Kano’s Abubakar Rimi instituted cosmopolitanism and ethnic inclusion as a deliberate governing philosophy.

Although he was governor of a predominantly Muslim and Hausa state, he appointed many non-Kano indigenes, including Christians from the South, into his government. He also intentionally weakened and demystified the traditional institutions that have historically oppressed and held the North back. No such radical reordering of society is taking place anywhere in Nigeria now.

All the major political players in today’s Nigeria are decidedly conservative. APC and PDP, in particular, are two peas in a pod. That is why politicians move in and out of both parties with painless ease— and with not a jot of compunction.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Revolution Won’t Start from the North—Or Anywhere

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Northern Nigeria’s cascading descent into the abyss of anarchy, particularly with the ongoing indiscriminate abductions of moneyed aristocrats in the region, has stimulated a flurry of prognostications that “the revolution” will start from there; that it foretells the nascence of a revolt from below; that the forgotten, despised, and hungry almajirai are striking back. That’s wishful, erroneous thinking.

The emerging picture of the demographic profiles of the kidnappers that have been tormenting northern Nigeria does not square with the image of distraught, economically disaffiliated almajirai. They are former herders, from within and outside Nigeria, who have lost their cattle for any number of reasons, and who have taken to mindless, avaricious, and self-interested banditry. Anyone who expects the seeds of a revolution to sprout from the thoughtless brigandage of these sorts of insensate philistines must be clueless about what revolution entails.

Disparate strands of resentments might coalesce into a mass resistance, then blossom into a protest, and culminate in a rebellion without ever achieving the status of a revolution. In a revolution, a vanguard takes ownership of the rebellion and uses it as a ladder to climb to substantive power. The kidnappings in the far north are not a mass resistance. Nor are they a self-conscious, systematic protest, or even a rebellion. So they have not a snowball’s chance in hell of ever transforming into a revolution.

The northern hoi polloi who bear the real brunt of Buhari’s cruelly strangulating and escalating incompetence won’t resist, protest, rebel, much less revolt, because they have been socialized into accepting their economic suffering with equanimity. The only thing that rouses their passions, that animates them to mindless violence, is religion.

You can smolder the Northern masses with economic asphyxiation, as Buhari is doing now, and they would make peace with their fate with listless acquiescence, but blaspheme their religion, or even icons of their religion, and they would rise up in arms and murder indiscriminately.  Appeals to religion is the easiest way to ignite the raw emotions and solidarity of the northern masses. The region’s elite know that intimately and habitually exploit it to perpetuate themselves in power.

With a few honorable exceptions, the region’s clerical elites, known as the Ulama, are in bed with the political elites to keep the masses perpetually in a state of suspended animation. Amid the inexorably intensifying breakdown of security in the region, compromised clerical elites are also intensifying fraudulent theological rationalizations for the rise of kidnappings— and, of course, exculpating Buhari of responsibility for this.

Many people were scandalized when the Chief Imam of the Presidential Villa, Sheikh Abdulwaheed Sulaiman, was reported to have said, on May 8, that the widening and deepening of insecurity in the North was a “test from God.” The imam didn’t implore Buhari, who sat by him, to devise creative ways to contain the insecurity that has made people prisoners in their homes; he instead shifted the burden to the very people who are traumatized by a problem that is aggravated by the president’s incompetence. He beseeched beleaguered Northerners “for repentance and prayers to avert the current security challenges confronting the nation.”

The Aso Rock Imam’s exasperatingly bald-faced theological fraud is unfortunately the template the vast majority of the Ulama in Northern Nigeria deploy when they protect leaders who feather their nests. And it’s intended to keep the masses in check and to anesthetize them into not just accepting the incompetence of their leaders as an inescapable divine design but to bear responsibility for it.

In other words, Northern masses are fed the sterile, mendacious theological staple that the avoidable tragedies that befall them are not the consequence of the ineptitude of their leaders but a product of divine punishment for the iniquities of the masses. So in addition to the trauma of living with the disabling dysfunctions created by their elites, they are blackmailed by cold, calculating, conscienceless clerical aristocrats into internalizing moral guilt for their conditions.

My good friend Sheikh Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is now the object of Twitter attacks by young educated northerners who remind him that his cold detachment from the horrors that afflict northern Muslims today is such a disconcerting contrast from his erstwhile persistent, shrill, and lachrymose attacks on former President Goodluck Jonathan from his pulpit. In a widely circulated audio tape, he tearfully told Jonathan that, as president and commander-in-chief, he should take responsibility for the daily mass murders of Muslims in the North.

Today, more Northern Muslims are dying and being violently kidnapped than at any time in Nigeria’s entire history, but Sheikh Pantami hasn’t placed the blame for this on Buhari in whose government he now works as DG of NITDA. He defended his curious silence by pointing out that because he has access to the president, he routinely reminds him, in private, of his responsibility to secure the lives of people he swore to protect.

I don’t doubt the Sheikh whom I have known to be an embodiment of righteousness and honor. Nevertheless, he has rendered himself vulnerable to charges of weak convictions. It means, at best, that his earnest, impassioned harangues against Goodluck Jonathan were actuated by his lack of access to the man. In other words, if he had had access to Jonathan, as he does to Buhari now, he wouldn’t have expressed any public outrage over the mass murders of Muslims in the North.

While that reality diminishes his moral standing, I can understand it. Access to people in the corridors of power tends to blunt revulsion toward them. That is why people who want to stay true to their convictions should avoid dalliance with wielders of power. Power does not brook opposition within its reaches; it coopts, contaminates, or neutralizes.

Since 2016, at least three prominent people have arranged a meeting between Buhari and me, and I politely declined. I also refused to speak with Atiku Abubakar and spurned his emissary’s invitation to meet with him when he visited the United States in January 2019. I make no claims to being an unblemished, nonpareil moral superior, but nothing is more important to me than my independence of thought. When you gain privileged access to people in power whose feet you hold to the fire, you can’t sustain your independence because they will strategically coopt and silence you.

Now, if the revolution can’t come from the North because the masses of the people there are under the grip of a corrupt clerical establishment, is there hope from other parts of the country? None that I can see. Much of the rest of Nigeria is beset by a different iteration of the same problem in the North.

The deeper the nation descends into the nadir of despair, the more fatalistic, superstitious, and pre-scientific many people tend to become. Nigerian Christian Pentecostalism has particularly predisposed many people in the South to believe that they can “pray” all their problems away, that they don’t need to take their destinies into their own hands. It’s akin to what anthropologists call cargo cult mentality, that is, the superstitious belief, first recorded among pre-modern tribes in Melanesia, that all the goodies of this world will magically and effortlessly appear because people wish it into existence through staid rituals.

That’s not the way the world works. Any society where the vast majority of the people recoil in fatalistic resignation while their oppressors have a field day will be stuck in protracted infancy. Revolutionary tremors are good for every society every once in a while.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Nigeria Needs History and a Name Change

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

My last week’s column that exploded Natasha H. Akpoti’s wildly unfounded conspiracy theories about Nigeria highlights the imperative for a radical, systemic curricular overhaul of Nigeria’s education system to make history compulsory from primary school to university. It also dramatizes the truism that you can’t build something on nothing.

Aristotle popularized the idea that nature abhors a vacuum. I would add that even the mind abhors a vacuum. Most human beings are intrinsically inquisitive and have an abiding yearning to learn about their past. If no systematic, empirical, and veridical body of historical knowledge exists to satisfy this longing, they will either invent it themselves or fall prey to the crackpot conspiracies of charlatans.

The enthusiasm with which people shared—and believed—Akpoti’s conspiratorial, logically impoverished, and chronologically impossible history of Nigeria is proof of this. So is the unnerving ignorance displayed by Buhari’s lawyers on Atiku Abubakar’s citizenship and the position of British northern Cameroon in the formation of Nigeria.

Plus, it’s impossible to fashion a functional country out of a disparate fragment of people such as Nigeria without a deliberate, well-thought-out collective history as a part of formal pedagogy in schools. Nations, as Anglo-Irish political scientist Benedict Anderson points out, are imagined communities. History is an important part of the imagination that brings forth nations out of aggregates of dissimilar people. That is why in the United States, to give an example I am intimately familiar with, history is mandatory from elementary school to university irrespective of course of study.

The result is that in spite of their own peculiar fissures, Americans have a fair grasp of their history—even if it’s only the sanitized, officially sanctioned version of their history. My my 9-year-old son knows more about American history than most Nigerian university graduates who didn’t study history know about Nigerian history.

In the last few years, the claim that the Nigerian government “banned history” from the national curriculum has become a hackneyed, predictable refrain. It’s often uttered in moments of glaring display of historical ignorance, especially by young people. But this refrain is both dishonest and inaccurate. History was never a mandatory subject at any point in Nigeria’s history. It was always optional before it was discontinued because of progressively dwindling student enrollment.

When I started secondary school more than three decades ago, history and government were offered as alternatives to each other for students in the humanities and social sciences concentration. That is, you enrolled in either history or government but not both. In my secondary school, no one chose history. Apparently, this is a national phenomenon, which caused the ministry of education to discontinue offering the subject.

Nevertheless, even the secondary school history curriculum that students were taught (with which I am familiar because I studied it on my own) is deficient, poorly focused, and incapable of nurturing the sort of historical knowledge that is indispensable to national self-fashioning. At some point, the curricula of history and government were indistinguishable.

 So people who advocate the return of history to the national secondary school curriculum should go beyond merely advocacy for its return; they should also insist that professional historians radically reorder the history curriculum and then compel the government to make it compulsory, not merely an option, for all secondary school students. A history curriculum appropriate for primary schools should also be designed and made mandatory. Finally, every higher education student, irrespective of disciplinary orientation, should be made to take at least two semesters’ worth of history courses as part of general education.

I ended my August 10, 2013 column titled “A Know Nothing Nation” by observing that, “Until our educational system and national orientation are reformed to deepen and broaden our knowledge about ourselves, our quest for nationhood will continue to be stuck in prolonged infancy.” History is the vehicle to reach that goal.

History bridges our past, our present, and our future. That was what Irish-British philosopher Edmund Burke meant when he said, “History is a pact between the dead, the living and the yet unborn.” We ignore history at own peril. And this leads me to why Nigeria needs to change its name.

Why Nigeria Needs a New Name
I have written copiously on the need to change our colonial name. After formal independence from British colonialism, we changed our constitution, our national anthem, and our national currency, but we are still burdened with the name and national colors handed down to us by colonialism. Whenever Nigeria gets a thinking, self-respecting leadership, we need to throw away these avoidably odious holdovers of colonialism.

Nigeria is one of only a few previously colonized countries in the world that still bear the name imposed on them by their historical oppressors. As I showed last week, the name Nigeria was invented by Flora Shaw, Lugard’s wife, from the term “Niger-area,” and she intended for the name to refer only to what is now northern Nigeria. She didn’t have southern Nigeria in mind when she came up with the name. In fact, part of the reasons she invented the name was to differentiate the north from the south.

Well, that’s now an insignificant point. What is significant is that the name “Nigeria” traces lexical descent from the River Niger, which has symbolic significance for most communities in what is now Nigeria. However, as I showed last week, even “Niger” is a foreign word—whether you think it’s derived from the Latin niger or the Berber ger-n-ger.

I pointed out in my February 25, 2017 column titled “A Vote for ‘Naija’ and Against ‘Nigeria’”— in response to the misguided campaign by the National Orientation Agency to ban the use of the affectionate diminutive term Naija in place of Nigeria—that, “If we must name our country after the longest river in our land, why not adopt one or all of its local names? Yoruba people call Rive Niger ‘Oya,’ the Baatonu people call it ‘Kora,’ Hausa people call it ‘Kwara,’ Igbo people call it ‘Orimiri,’ etc.”

If you blend the local names for River Niger from our country’s three major ethnic groups, you may come up with something like “Kwoyamiri.” Or, perhaps, “Oyakwamiri.” That’s an infinitely better, more authentic name than “Nigeria.”

If that doesn’t work, what stops us from adopting the as yet unclaimed name of a powerful precolonial West African empire called Songhai—on the model of Ghana, Benin, Mali, etc.? I pointed out in a previous column that, “it was actually an Igbo man from Ohafia by the name of Dr. Kalu Ezera who first suggested, in 1960, that Nigeria’s name should be changed to the United Republic of Songhai. But the reactionary colonial lackeys who formed the core of Nigeria’s early ‘nationalists’ ignored him. So the campaign to change Nigeria’s name to Songhai is neither new nor informed by ethnic or religious loyalties.”

A lot of the resistance to changing Nigeria’s name is often predicated on the notion that it’s too late. Well, the southern African country of Swaziland recently changed its name to Eswatini, and the entire world now refers to it by that name. In any case, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Natasha H. Akpoti’s Wildly Inaccurate History of Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

If you’ve never encountered the name Natasha H. Akpoti, it’s probably because you are not active on Nigerian social media. Akpoti was a Kogi Central senatorial candidate on the platform of the Social Democratic Party in this year’s election who deftly deployed social media to both vigorously campaign and to call attention to the horrors of Kogi governor Yahaya Bello’s barbarous brutalities against political opponents.

A personal reflection she wrote recently on the history of Nigeria, particularly how our country came to be named “Nigeria,” trended excitedly on social media. More than 10 people forwarded it to me on Facebook and WhatsApp in just one day. Nevertheless, several key points in the reflection are problematic and invite a remedial response.

She started her essay by recollecting an airplane conversation she said she had with an unnamed “American professor of African history” who persuaded her to believe that contrary to what she had been taught, Flora Shaw, Frederick Lugard’s girlfriend and later wife, who came up with the name of our country, didn’t invent the name “Nigeria” from River Niger.

“Republic of Niger was named after River Niger not Nigeria,” she quoted the unidentified American professor to have told her. “That’s what white historians want you to believe. I don’t understand the gullibility of blacks. You have so much information but chose not to research but dwell and believe all the white man says. Nigeria simply means ‘The Nigger Area’ or ‘Land of the Black slaves.’  Nigger was a common derogatory slang used for slaves.” This claim is almost wholly historically inaccurate. Here’s why.

Pan-Atlantic University’s The Centenary Project, which was launched in 2014 to mark 100 years of Nigeria’s formal existence in its present form, published a scanned newspaper clipping of a January 8, 1897 article titled “Flora Shaw Gives the Name” in The Times of London where Flora Shaw first suggested Nigeria’s name. Shaw’s original article was titled “Nigeria.”

In the article, Shaw said the area she wanted to be known as Nigeria used to be owned by the Royal Niger Company. She argued that naming the former Royal Niger Company’s possession “Royal Niger Company Territories” is “not only inconvenient to use but to some extent is also misleading.” So she suggested a shorter, cuter, more memorable “title for the agglomeration of pagan and Mohammedan states which have been brought, by the exertions of the Royal Niger Company, within the confines of the British Protectorates, and thus need for the first time in their history to be described as an entity by some general name.”

She acknowledged other competing names that some geographers had called the territories she wanted named Nigeria but dismissed them as unsuitable. For instance, she said the name “Central Sudan,” which some historians and cartographers had used to call much of what is now northern Nigeria, “has the disadvantage of ignoring political frontier-lines, while the word ‘Sudan’ is too apt to connect itself in the public mind as the French hinterland of Algeria, or the vexed questions of the Niger Basin.”

She also said the territories she wanted to be named Nigeria had been called such names as “the Niger Empire,” “the Niger Sudan,” “the Central Sudan,” and “the Hausa territories” by European explorers, all of which she said would be problematic as names of a country.

What is clear from the foregoing is that Flora Shaw intended for the name “Nigeria” to be applied only to the area that is now known as northern Nigeria, of which her boyfriend and later husband was initially High Commissioner. She wrote that the name “Nigeria” was important because it would “serve to differentiate them equally from the British colonies of Lagos and the Niger Protectorate on the coast and from the French territory of the Upper Niger.”

In other words, she wanted the name “Nigeria” to differentiate the territory her boyfriend ruled from Lagos (which was governed separately from 1862 to 1906), most of what is now southern Nigeria, and what is now the Republic of Niger. Of course, the name “Nigeria” later came to refer to the Northern Protectorate, the Southern Protectorate, the Lagos Colony, and Northern British Cameroon.

Flora Shaw didn’t invent the name “Niger”; when she named us “Nigeria” in an 1897 newspaper article, the term “Niger” had already been in existence for hundreds of years, as I’ll show shortly. She clearly coined Nigeria from an elision of “Niger-area.” What we should question is the etymology and semantic content of the term “Niger.” Does it share etymological affinities with the racial slur “nigger”?

In at least three previous columns, I’ve argued that Niger is derived from the Latin word for black. For instance, in an April 19, 2014 column titled “Republic of Songhai Formerly Known as Nigeria,” I said our country’s name “is a product of outmoded… European obsession with race and skin color. Nigeria is derived from ‘niger,’ the Latin word for black, which has assumed deeply pejorative connotations in English over the years.

“River Niger, the longest and most important river in Nigeria from which our country’s name is derived, is named after our skin color. Why should we in the 21st century still be stuck with a name that has fallen into disrepute and that, in the first place, invidiously and needlessly calls attention to our skin color?”

I have since discovered that this assertion isn’t uncontested. A school of thought disputes the notion that Niger is a Latin derivative. It says Niger is a corruption of ger, the Berber word for river. Berbers, who are native to North Africa, call River Niger ger-n-ger, which translates as “river of rivers.” Interestingly, the first reference to River Niger in Western writing is traceable to Leo Africanus, a Moroccan Berber who wrote mostly in Italian and Latin—and occasionally in Arabic.

In his 1550 book of geography titled Della descrittione dell’Africa et delle cose notabili che iui sono (which was translated into English in 1600 as A Geographical Historie of Africa), Africanus, whose real name was al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, referred to West Africa’s longest river and Africa’s third longest river as “Niger.” European cartographers and explorers adopted the name from then on.

Nevertheless, since Africanus wrote in Latin and Italian where “niger” means “black,” he could very well have used the word to refer to the people who live around the river, although Berbers are not and have never been dark-skinned. Alternatively, he might actually have used the word as an Italian domestication of the Berber ger-n-ger, but European explorers might have adopted the name because of its lexical and semantic closeness to the Latin niger.

Whatever the case is, by the time Europeans adopted Niger as the name for West Africa’s most important river, the word “nigger” was not the pejorative name for black people that it is today. Etymologists are united in asserting that the pejoration of Negro to nigger didn’t occur in English until the mid-20th century. (In linguistics, pejoration is said to occur when a word changes from a neutral or positive meaning to a negative one). So it can’t be accurate that Nigeria means “nigger area.”

Akpoti also wondered which Nigerians countersigned the papers that amalgamated Nigeria in 1914 since Nigeria’s nationalists were too young at the time to sign any documents. Well, we were conquered. The British didn’t need the imprimatur of the locals to do with their “possessions” as they wished. People in Lagos did protest the amalgamation, though.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Atiku’s Citizenship and Buhari’s Illiterate Lawyers

By Farooq A.  Kperogi, Ph.D.

The law of attraction says like attracts like, which explains why Muhammadu Buhari is a magnet for mediocrities. Almost all his appointees are, like him, underwhelming, intellectually incurious rubes. It’s no wonder that even the lawyers he assembled to defend his unprecedentedly audacious electoral robbery are also risible dolts.

Take, for example, Festus Keyamo, Buhari’s reelection campaign spokesman and one of the lawyers defending his stolen mandate. In the run-up to the presidential election, Keyamo took self-righteous umbrage at scientific polls that predicted that Buhari would lose the election, and his point of attack against the polls was that pollsters merely sampled a little over a thousand Nigerians even though Nigeria’s population is close to 200 million! He wondered why neither he nor anyone he knew had been polled!

Apparently, Keyamo has no earthly clue that scientific opinion polls base their snapshots and predictions on something called sampling and that 1,000 is a fair sample to make predictive statements about potential voting behaviors. Gallup, which has accurately predicted American presidential elections since 1944—except in 1948, 1976, 2004 and 2016—polls no more than 1,000 people. You don’t poll every member of a population to make generalizable predictions about the population in research.

Every first-year Nigerian university student learns about random sampling in introductory research methods classes. But a self-important lawyer who is defending presidential electoral fraud is clueless about this.

It isn’t only research illiteracy that plagues members of Buhari’s legal team. They are also constitutional and historical illiterates. Their constitutional and historical illiteracy is instantiated by their claim that PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar should never have been allowed to run for president because he “is not a citizen of Nigeria by birth” since he was born in what was called British Cameroons, which later became the Sardauna Province of Northern Nigeria in 1961.

Many lawyers have already pointed out the scorn-worthy constitutional illiteracy that that sort of reasoning evinces. The Nigerian constitution unambiguously accords the same rights and privileges to people born in British Northern Cameroon as it does to those born in the defunct Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the defunct Northern Nigeria Protectorate.

In any case, Atiku’s paternal and maternal forebears migrated from what is now Sokoto and Jigawa states respectively to what later became British Northern Cameroon. The Nigerian constitution recognizes anyone who is descended from any of the ethnic groups that are indigenous to what is now Nigeria as a Nigerian. Atiku’s paternal forebear came to the Jada area of what was later British Northern Cameroon from Wurno in present-day Sokoto State, which has historically been inhabited by Fulani and Hausa people. By our patrilineal traditions of descent, Atiku isn’t even truly native to Jada; he is from Wurno.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Atiku’s ancestors had always lived in British Northern Cameroon. Well, Buhari’s lawyers betrayed historical illiteracy in thinking that British Cameroons is and has always been synonymous with modern Cameroon. In the 19th century, the German Empire, like other avaricious European powers, expropriated a huge swathe of land in west and central Africa, which it called “Kamerun.” However, in the aftermath of the First World War (which is actually more properly a First European War), Germany was dispossessed of Kamerun along with other lands it had exploited.

In 1922, the League of Nations divvied up Kamerun between Britain and France. France renamed its own portion of the territory “Cameroun” and Britain renamed its own “Northern Cameroon” and “Southern Cameroon.” The two territories are non-contiguous. Britain retained control of Northern Cameroon and Southern Cameroon in 1946, the year Atiku was born, after the United Nations, which replaced the League of Nations in 1945, reclassified the Cameroons as “UN Trust territories.”

On February 11, 1961, “subjects” of British Northern Cameroon, which had been governed by the same British colonizers that governed Nigeria, voted to join newly independent Nigeria. In other words, an independent British Northern Cameroon never existed at any point in history, and no one was ever its “citizen.” So which country do Buhari’s nescient lawyers expect people born in British Northern Cameroon to go and be president of? Or do they expect them to be stateless—or be second-class citizens in Nigeria— because of the historical accident of once being governed as British Northern Cameroon?

People born in British Northern Cameroon were never part of French Cameroun, which became independent in January 1960. They were even different from British Southern Cameroon, which voted to become part of French Cameroun the same day that British Northern Cameroon voted to be integrated to independent Nigeria. In fact, both northern and southern Cameroons were administered from Nigeria, a reason a prominent pre-independence Nigerian political party was called the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons.

It’s transparent that Buhari’s lawyers are merely clutching at straws to salvage their client’s indefensibly reprehensible electoral heist. When a theft is as blatant and as easily detectable as Buhari’s, you can’t invoke the resources of knowledge and logic to defend it. When Atiku’s legal team first pointed out that INEC’s own data, stored on its server, showed that Buhari lost the election to Atiku by nearly two million votes, Buhari’s lawyers—and supporters— made fun of the claim.

However, they stopped laughing when they were confronted with overwhelming evidence. They went from laughing to claiming that Atiku’s agents had “hacked” into INEC’s server to gain access to— and “manipulate”— it, and even called for the arrest of members of the Atiku team. Meanwhile, INEC, which got hundreds of millions of naira to maintain a server and train staff to operate it, was told to say that it did not have any election results on its server.

Well, how can Atiku’s agents “hack” into and even “manipulate” data on a server that has no record of election results? Let us, for now, not even ask what INEC did with the hundreds of millions of naira it budgeted for a server to house election results. Where does it keep the record of the last election? Why is it reluctant to give its record of the results, if it has any, to the Atiku team even when the election tribunal says it should? This is downright conscienceless villainy.

Now that Atiku has enlisted the expert intervention of Microsoft and IBM to authenticate his claim that the electronic record of the presidential election stored on INEC’s server is inconsistent with the results the compromised and morally putrid chairman of INEC announced, there is panic in the Presidential Villa, and Buhari’s ignorant lawyers are engaging in comical, illiterate rhetorical antics for the sole purpose of diversion.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the DSS has arrested a whole host of INEC’s IT staff  members on suspicion that they were the conduits through which the Atiku team got access to the authentic results of the presidential election, which shows that Buhari lost to Atiku.

So the Buhari team went from vain boasts of triumphalism, to vacuous laughter when their electoral robbery was exposed, to panic when firm, irreproachable evidence of this robbery was presented, then to comical diversions, and now to illegal arrests of INEC’s IT staff.

What’s next? Strangulation and intimidation of the judiciary, which started before the election with the illegal firing of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The judiciary is now practically impotent. This is undisguisedly full-blown fascism.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Why Buhari Can’t and Won’t Solve the North’s Growing Security Crisis

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The last few days have seen a hypocritical mass awakening to the dire existential torments the people of Nigeria’s northwest face and a dramatic diminution of Buhari’s unearned goodwill in the region. People who had constructed Buhari as an unerring, irreproachable demigod who is worthy only of worship and unquestioned admiration have started to call him insensitive and clueless.

It took the unceasing escalation of kidnappings and the deepening and widening of the oceans of blood in the northwest for Buhari’s erstwhile unthinking worshipers to come to terms with what some of us have known and said since late 2015: that Buhari is an unfeeling wretch who is also irremediably incompetent.

For the first time since Buhari happened on the Nigerian political scene, Imams are now openly preaching against him. Northwestern Nigerian social media, which had functioned as the uncritical fortress for Buhari, is now suddenly viciously censorious of him. Even Daily Trust that plays the role of Buhari’s comforter and afflicter of critics of his ineptitude is allowing critical articles to be published about Buhari on its pages.

Public protesters against government, who are a rare species in the northwest, are sprouting and giving vent to muffled, reluctant, tentative but nonetheless significant anger against Buhari.
There suddenly seems to be an epiphany in the region that Buhari is an inept, uncaring fraud who scammed the people into attributing to him qualities he never possessed— and would never possess in a million lifetimes. Nevertheless, this epiphany is hypocritical and self-centered. Evidence of Buhari’s inattentiveness to and blithe unconcern with the suffering of everyday people has always been there, and some of us have called attention to it countless times.

For instance, amid the tear-jerking humanitarian disasters that the Boko Haram insurgency has inflicted on Nigeria’s northeast, Buhari never commiserated with, let alone visited, the area until he was practically blackmailed into doing so in late 2017. Even so, he only visited soldiers stationed in Maiduguri. When the Nigerian air force bombed scores of internally displaced Boko Haram victims in the northeast in error, Buhari didn’t issue a statement to condole with the people. Nor did he visit them.

In the aftermath of unprecedented bloodletting in Taraba, Benue and other parts of central Nigeria, Buhari was insouciant. It took massive media and social media pressures to get him to visit these states. And when he did visit the places, he exacerbated rather than lessened the crises there by his incendiary, unpresidential utterances. He even chafed at being expected to condole with victims of episodic communal deaths, and used the opportunity of these visits to tout his “achievements in security.” I once called that an example of presidential dissociation from reality.

As recently as during the last presidential campaigns, when Buhari visited Zamfara, he didn’t say a word about the intensification of death and violence in the state. Instead, he incited the people to more violence. “Let us pray for rainfall so can we grow food, eat, and then cause trouble,” he told the people of Zamfara in Hausa in February 2019. None of the newfound critics of Buhari’s callousness saw anything wrong in that at the time.

It took the concatenation of widespread kidnapping in all parts of the northwest and the unremitting intensification of bloodletting in Zamfara for erstwhile worshipers of Buhari to admit that he is a crass, cold, heartless prig. This hypocritical moral imagination is similar to the selective outrage some people in Kano expressed when Abdullahi Ganduje rigged himself back to power while being quiet about, even complicit in, Buhari’s own daylight electoral robbery in the same Kano.

To express outrage only when we are personally affected by injustice bespeaks a defective moral conscience. When other parts of the nation were drowning in rivers of blood and Buhari, as is his wont, turned the other way, many of the people who are excoriating him for his cold detachment from the insecurity in the northwest were his fiercest defenders against critics.

That is why some people can’t help but exult in perverse satisfaction that the enablers and defenders of Buhari’s incompetence and heartlessness are today the victims of the presidential vices they defended, excused, and justified. But to gloat over the misfortunes of the people who defended Buhari when he ignored other parts of the country when they writhed in bloodstained agony is to be indistinguishable from and morally equivalent to them.

For one, there are victims of the bloodbath in Zamfara and other parts of the northwest who detest and didn’t vote for Buhari.  Even those who voted for him don’t deserve the unspeakable cruelty that is their lot today. I admit, though, that it’s hard not to see karmic comeuppance in the kidnap of a prominent fanatical Islamic “prayer warrior” of Buhari’s second term by the name of Ahmad Sulaiman who secured his freedom after nearly two weeks of captivity and hundreds of millions of naira in ransom payment.

Nevertheless, in spite of the heightened, unexampled outrage in Buhari’s natal region over his trademark insensitivity to the total collapse of security there, he won’t do anything substantive to attenuate the horrors that threaten the very life of the people there. There are at least two reasons for this.

One, Buhari is an inherently solipsistic narcissist. In other words, he is fundamentally and unalterably self-centered. The only person Buhari cares about is Buhari. That is why he spends billions of naira of the nation’s resources to treat even his littlest ailments in London while hospitals are denuded of basic medicines and ordinary people die of easily treatable illnesses. It is the same solipsistic narcissism that explains why he has not built a single hospital even in Abuja in the last four years he has been president.

When his son had an accident with a multimillionaire-naira motorbike, he flew him to Germany. Yet, although neither he nor his family members use the clinic at the Presidential Villa, he recently said that henceforth no one outside the immediate families of the president and the vice president should use the clinic. It speaks to the depth of his egocentricity and perverse self-love that he would deny workers of the presidential villa use of a clinic that neither he nor his family members use.

The second reason Buhari won’t do anything about the growing insecurity in the northwest is that the perpetrators of the crimes that have held the region hostage have been identified as Fulani. Buhari, as I have pointed out in several previous columns, is a knee-jerk ethnic jingoist. He has a twisted idea of ethnic solidarity that embarrasses even many educated Fulani people.

For instance, the only time he ever visited Zamfara to intervene in the security situation there was to protect what he perceives to be the interests of Fulani herders whose cattle were reportedly being stolen by bandits. He even donned military fatigues for this expedition. Now, he really doesn’t care because the victims aren’t people he self-identifies with.

The president’s puppeteers have caused him to express faux, impotent outrage to mollify the people of the northwest, but the truth is that he doesn’t care. That’s why his administration’s response has been discordant at best. It said the killings in Zamfara are caused by illegal gold miners in the same breath it said they’re caused by traditional rulers.  The absurdity of these claims are the biggest proof that the government Buhari leads can’t and doesn’t want to stem the rising tide of insecurity in the northwest—or anywhere else in Nigeria.

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Nigerian Media as Comforters of the Comfortable, Afflicters of the Afflicted

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

It was a Chicago journalist and humorist by the name of Finley Peter Dunne who said more than a century ago that, “the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In other words, the job of the news media is to hold the powerful in the society to account and to protect the weak and the vulnerable from the oppression of the powerful.

In a 2001 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, American journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel pointed out that the essence of Dunne’s famous quip, which has now become a journalistic maxim in the West, is that it has helped to dramatize the role the press is expected to play in “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.”

Since at least 2018 when Buhari’s desperation to get a second term reached a feverish pitch, the media, including the previously critical online media of the Nigerian diaspora and the homeland, have basically caved in to tyranny. They went from being the watchdog of the society to being the lapdogs of the powerful, from being comforters of the afflicted and afflicters of the comfortable to being comforters of the comfortable and afflicters of the afflicted.

In sum, the media have become enablers of Buhari’s emergent fascist monocracy— about which I’ve been writing these past few weeks— and tormentors of people who are threats to his growing autocracy. To be clear, I don’t want to sentimentalize a pre-Buhari golden age of media freedom and activism. A vast swathe of the Nigerian media formation has always been in bed with people in power, but there had always been a few shrill, strident voices of dissent that sometimes drowned out the cacophony of disgracefully obsequious journalism that has become the mainstay of Nigerian media practice.

All that is gone now. The practitioners of the radical guerilla journalism of the 1990s are either now the new oppressors or intellectual enablers of oppression. Even previously critical diasporan and homeland online media now read like the daily newsletters from Lai Mohammed’s ministry of information. Critical enterprise journalism that calls attention to corruption and abuse of office is either completely dead or so few and far between as to be irrelevant.

Yet the Buhari regime is growling and baring its dictatorial fangs like no civilian administration has ever done. Eye-watering corruption at the highest levels of government take place with unexampled impunity. Governmental incompetence exceeds the bounds of reason, and the nation is now a walking corpse.

Amid this reality, a previously critical online newspaper had no other use for its reportorial resources than to commission its reporter to write a tendentious news report to impugn the evidence that the Atiku campaign has presented to the election tribunal to overturn Buhari’s daylight electoral robbery. I have never seen that sort of journalism in any respectable news medium in my life. It’s a classic case of afflicting the afflicted.

Isolated voices of informed dissent in the media are either censored or squelched outright. My column in the Daily Trust, which I had written since 2005, was stopped in December 2018 because the “board” of the newspaper said I was too critical of the Buhari regime. I was equally critical of Obasanjo, Yar’adua, and Jonathan, but not once was I ever told that it was journalistic sacrilege to afflict the comfortable.

A senior, storied columnist for one of Nigeria’s most widely circulated newspapers whose identity I have chosen to conceal confided in me that his column was once bowdlerized by the paper’s editor; the editor expurgated sentences that were critical of Buhari but that weren’t libelous by any definition of the term. A column is an opinion, and opinions are by nature idiosyncratic. That’s why the notion of an “objective opinion” is such a silly oxymoron. If it’s objective, that is, undistorted by personal dispositions, then it’s not an opinion.

I can expend more energy lamenting the diminution or death of critical journalism in the face of the worst fascist strangulation of Nigeria, but that won’t be a good use of my energy. I think it’s more useful to ask why this lamentable state of affairs exists.

I’ve discussed this with many Nigerian patriots at home and abroad, and most of them point out that the Buhari regime controls the news media through unprecedentedly massive financial inducements of reporters and editors and threats of violence and withdrawal of advertising patronage. That’s largely true.

For instance, Daily Trust, which stopped my Saturday column to protect the Buhari regime from the critical searchlight I beam on it, was raided by military brutes in its offices in Abuja, Maiduguri, Lagos, and Kaduna on January 6, 2019. Its reporters and editors were arrested and detained, its computers seized, and its entire operation stopped for hours on end for merely publishing factual news reports that embarrassed the military honchos of the regime.

Once censorship begins and it's emboldened, it brooks no limits. When you choose to coddle and feed an insatiable, monstrous beast, it will devour you, too, in a matter of time, and that was what happened to Trust. But the consequences were that it had a chilling effect not just on the paper but also on all other media houses. And that was the intent of the action.

As we say in Nigeria, if a crocodile eats own egg, what would it do to the flesh of a frog? In other words, if Daily Trust, a pro-north paper that overprotects the Buhari regime can be so violently shaken for a mere critical news report, what chances do southern newspapers stand, especially in light of Buhari’s notoriety for unabashed ethnocentrism?

While it’s true that the Buhari regime has caged the media through vulgar monetary enticement, the self-censorship that comes from the fear of losing advertising patronage from government and its agents, and from the dread of being raided by the military, this isn’t really new. The media weathered similar or worse threats during past military regimes.

What is new, I think, is what I call the Tinubu factor in Nigeria’s media politics. I use “Tinubu” here mostly as a synecdoche to represent the mainstream cultural, political, and intellectual currents in Nigeria’s southwest which, for historical reasons, is the nation’s educational, media, and cultural capital. Although the symbolic power of the Tinubu political tendency is waning in the southwest, it is still, for now, the predominant one, and the southwest media, with the exception of the Nigerian Tribune in the last few years, goes wherever Tinubu goes.

In a sense, with a few exceptions, there is really no independent media in Nigeria. The media are critical of the power structure only when the dominant faction of the ruling elite in the southwest is kept outside the orbit of governance. It is customary to describe the news media as the fourth estate of the realm. In Nigeria’s southwest, which is the media capital of the nation, the media, at least at the moment, are the third estate of Tinubu’s realm, his first estate being the governments he helped to install and his second estate being his sprawling business empire.

Nevertheless, in the coming years, Buhari and Tinubu will fall out. When that happens, the southwest media will suddenly become “critical,” but it will be too late. Bertrand Russel once said, “Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure.” The Buhari regime is insecure because it is acutely self-aware of its illegitimacy and its sustenance on rank fraud after barefacedly stealing an electoral mandate for a second term in March 2019. So it can only get more vicious.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

INEC as Greatest Danger to Nigeria’s Democracy

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The current Independent National Electoral Commission headed by Professor Mahmood Yakubu is perhaps the greatest threat to the growth, flowering, and faith in the electoral process in Nigeria since 1999. This isn’t flippant hyperbole. Yakubu’s INEC is out and away the most incompetent and most compromised INEC Nigeria has had since the rebirth of democracy.

Given the well-known, inherent weakness of institutions in Nigeria, government agencies habitually assume the character and temperaments of their heads. For example, NAFDAC used to be vibrant, visible, and virile because of the vivaciousness and vitality of Dora Akunyili. Now, people barely know NADAC exists. Those who know it exists no longer have any faith in what it does.

Hamman Tukur’s fearlessness and forthrightness gave visibility and verve to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Now no one hears about the commission anymore. Yemi Kale’s aggressive independence and analytical rigor has rubbed off on the National Bureau of Statistics, a hitherto nondescript government agency, and has made it influential in national discourse. Should he be replaced as boss of the NBS by someone with a different temperament, you can bet that it will go the way of NAFDAC and RMAFC.

The examples are legion, but the important point is that in the absence of enduring self-sustaining structures to nurture institutions in Nigeria, the personal attributes of heads of agencies have come define the character and performance of institutions. Weak, corrupt, compromised people reflect— or, more correctly, infect—their moral failings on the institutions they head.

When Professor Attahiru Jega was appointed head of INEC, he brought his enormous social capital and strong moral character to bear on the organization. Suddenly, people began to invest faith in the sanctity of the electoral process. Even though his midwifery of elections wasn’t faultless, it was comparatively transparent and progressively corrective. It was the personal example of fierce independence and transparency he brought to the job of heading INEC that inspired what I called “misplaced PVC [Permanent Voters Card] optimism.”

For the first time since 1999, people had been led to believe that their votes could actually make a difference, that their votes would count. But current INEC chairman Yakubu has shattered that illusion, and faith in the electoral process is now the worst it has ever been. This is a reflection both of the frail moral character of Yakubu and of the integrity deficit of Buhari’s desperately fascist regime.

First, there are indications that Yakubu got his job as INEC chair on the recommendation of Abba Kyari, Buhari’s notoriously avaricious Chief of Staff who is sullied by visible ethical stains. He is Yakubu’s puppeteer and doesn’t even hide it. For instance, on October 26, 2018, Kyari invited Yakubu to his office at the Presidential Villa for a closed-door meeting. There is no parallel for that level of explicitly unabashed meddlesomeness in the electoral process in Nigeria’s history.

Strangely, no one protested. Not even the Atiku campaign, to my knowledge, protested. And it went downhill from there. As I pointed out in a previous column, the Chief of Staff to the President is not even a constitutionally recognized position. It’s an informal contrivance that incompetently mimics the American system. In other words, an unconstitutional Chief of Staff to the President can’t legally summon the INEC boss for a meeting in his office, but he did.

Of course, Yakubu himself has an unflattering record as Executive Secretary of TETFund from 2007 to 2012. And that’s the nicest thing anyone can say about his horrible record there.  So Yakubu was susceptible to blackmail from government agents because of his sordid record at TETFund. Most importantly, though, his moral deficiencies, absolute lack of principles, and right-down incompetence have come to define INEC. The once relatively transparent and effective INEC that Jega headed has now come to assume Yakubu’s morally questionable personality make-up.

The result is that elections are now a cruel charade, and people have lost confidence in the electoral process. I warned about this. In my Daily Trust column of October 6, 2018 titled “Three Reasons You Should be Worried about the 2019 Elections,” I wrote: “So, obviously, APC has a new rulebook of rigging, and it goes like this: Can't win an election fair and square? No problem. Get INEC to declare the election ‘inconclusive.’ During the rescheduled election, hire police officers, soldiers, and thugs to intimidate voters, openly steal PVCs, and then brazenly rig. And, voila, you're a winner! The more electorally vulnerable APC is, the more vicious these agencies will be in their partisanship and strong-arm tactics.

 “If that doesn’t work, hire thugs to screen voters who will allow only those who will vote for you to be at the polling station.

“Or, as happened in Kano, just manufacture arbitrary but fantastical figures from nowhere and pass them off as the number of votes your preferred candidate won. Because APC has gotten away with these newfangled rigging strategies, they will perfect and replicate them in 2019. Watch out.”

It's incredible how my prediction has materialized with almost mathematical precision, with the Kano daylight electoral heist of March 23 being the latest.

In other past columns and social media interventions, I warned Nigerians about Yakubu’s INEC. For instance, in a viral February 12 social media post titled “Atiku’s Fiercest Foe Isn’t Buhari; It’s the INEC Chairman,” I pointed out that a source close to Yakubu told me Yakubu “has a deep-seated animus toward Atiku and has made many nasty, unkind remarks about Atiku in private. That, in and of itself, is not the problem. We are all entitled to our personal predispositions and biases as long as they don’t interfere with our judgement on occasions that invite our neutrality and fair-mindedness.

“However, the same source told me the INEC chairman has a profound personal investment in APC’s electoral successes, like Maurice Iwu had in PDP’s victories.” I wrote further: “I’m so sure of my information that I can swear by Allah that Professor Yakubu isn’t neutral toward Atiku and has said unmentionably disparaging things about him in private. I invoke the wrath of Allah upon me if I am making this up. I hope Professor Yakubu, who is a Muslim like me and with whom I have personal familiarity, can do the same.”

In the October 6, 2018 column I quoted earlier, I wrote, among other things, that, “The current INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is known to me personally, too. He is one of the most brilliant scholars anyone can ever wish to meet. His razor-sharp intellect is outmatched only by his piercing wit. Nevertheless, he is no Jega. He isn’t encumbered by the sort of self-imposed moral burden that drove Jega to reform INEC and to remain above the fray. Yakubu sees himself as an APC appointee who is beholden to the party. I have no confidence in his capacity to be fair in the 2019 presidential election. I hope he proves me wrong.”

Yakubu didn’t prove me wrong. He had a chance to write his name in gold, to redeem himself, by doing the right thing, but he blew it. The judgment of history, which he studied and taught, will be harsh on him. In spite of the colossal resources at his disposal and the technology he purported to deploy during elections, the conduct of the 2019 election was the most dismal we have ever had. No one, except deluded, low-wattage Buhari minions, believes elections mean anything in Nigeria again. That’s the greatest disservice to democracy.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How Buhari is Turning Nigeria into a Fascist State

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Buhari’s Nigeria is a suffocatingly fascist, illegitimate rigocracy, and it will only get worse in the coming years. Dissent is now violently suppressed. Opposition is pathologized and criminalized. Elections are militarized and rigged blatantly—and with criminal impunity. Rule of law and due process are officially disdained and murdered at the highest levels. The judiciary is now a pitiful poodle of the presidency. Rank nepotism and total disregard for even the wispiest pretenses to meritocracy are now normalized.

What we are seeing now is Hitler-level fascist conquest of the Nigerian democratic space. The imperfect but nonetheless emergent culture of democracy that re-sprouted in the country from 1999 is now being systematically annihilated and replaced with fascist totalitarianism.

Buhari’s ascendancy to the Nigerian presidency and the ravages he and his puppeteers are inflicting on democratic culture remind me of German philosopher Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. In this book, Adorno took issue with the conventional Marxian understanding of the nature of the progress of history. Marxian (and, before it, Hegelian) dialectics takes for granted that the resolution of the contradictions between the thesis and the antithesis of historical epochs often leads to a synthesis, which is invariably positive.

But that’s not always true. Adorno, a German Jew, witnessed Adolf Hitler’s unspeakable fascist brutalities firsthand; he lived through fascist barbarities that negated the high-minded promises of the European Enlightenment and of modernity. I will vulgarize Adorno’s insights to make sense of Buhari’s pollution and reversal of Nigeria’s democracy.

There is no doubt that from 1999 to 2015, Nigeria did make minor, scarcely perceptible but nonetheless visible progress in democratic ethos. Elections have always been flawed, but they became progressively better, even if only marginally, each year. The 2015 election, defective as it was, represented a qualitative improvement over all other elections that preceded it, and is perhaps Nigeria’s best to date.

There has always been intolerance for, even suppression of, dissent, but because this was often resisted by critical sections of the society—the media, civil society groups, and sometimes the judiciary— it often came across as anomalous.

All that has changed. Critics of government lose their jobs without as much as a whimper from anyone. Critical voices on social media are arbitrarily arrested and jailed on trumped-up charges. The news media are forced to self-censor and squelch critical voices in their opinion pages. The judiciary has been subdued and decapitated. Votes no longer matter. INEC now arbitrarily allocates fraudulent figures to poodles of the presidency during shameful shams called “election.” Fraud and state-sponsored violence are now legitimate instruments of governance.

The Buhari regime legitimizes its strangulation of basic democratic liberties through duplicitous appeals to a transparently fake anti-corruption crusade that has been intentionally designed to ensnare only opponents of the regime while mollycoddling crooked pro-regime fat cats. That is classic fascism: it subsists on the self-created notion of widespread societal decadence, which justifies the enthronement of the authoritarian state, the worship of the supreme leader who reputedly embodies moral regeneration, and the suspension of civil liberties in the service of a putative moral revival.

To be sure, Nigeria is no stranger to asphyxiating absolutist tyranny. But it has never experienced this depth, breadth, and severity of fascist despotism under a system that pretends to be a democracy.  Most importantly, under past military dictatorships, the country always had a robust culture of civil rebellion to checkmate and neutralize tyranny.

But Buhari’s fascist monocracy is enabled and nourished by the very people who had made it their life’s calling to fight past military dictatorships. And that is what is particularly scary about what is unfolding in Nigeria today. Human rights organizations, pro-democracy groups, and the legacy news media formation either are in bed with Buhari’s fascist regime or are too cowed to speak up. The result is that people are increasingly becoming desensitized to the habitual rape of democracy, and tyranny is being normalized.

Even when Buhari told the Nigerian Bar Association that he had no use for the rule of law and due process, there was no outrage. When he illegally “suspended” the Chief of Justice of Nigeria over allegations that have now turned out to be bogus by the admission of the regime’s own prosecution counsel (which I’d called attention to several times in the past), there was no condemnation, much less a protest. Of course, when he coerced INEC to declare him winner of an election he clearly lost, everyone who should talk has looked the other way.

The next phase of Buhari’s fascism is to perpetuate himself in power beyond 2023—if he is lucky to survive the mandate he stole this year, that is.  The incoming National Assembly will be a pliant, slavish, rubber-stamp congress of yes-men that will tweak the constitution to legitimize and even prolong Buhari’s tyranny. Opposition parties will be decimated and Nigeria will become a one-party state.

Since Nigeria’s intellectual, cultural, and political elites are already compromised, resistance to Buhari’s fascism is a forlorn hope. Most people know that Nigeria is in the throes of economic collapse, that the slenderest tinctures of democracy are being eroded every day, and that there is more division now than at any time in Nigeria’s history, but they feel helpless and appear to have come to terms with this depressing reality with listless surrender.

A newspaper editor told me last week that, “People here are carrying on like a conquered people.” There is no doubt most people in Nigeria outside the circle of the bloodstained buccaneers who are ruthlessly fleecing the nation now are overcome by a sense of helplessness and have developed ego defense mechanisms to justify their indifference to the creeping totalitarian fascism in the nation.

Michael Rivero, an American journalist, actor, and activist, once captured it this way: "Most people prefer to believe their leaders are just and fair even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which they live is lying and corrupt, the citizen has to choose what he or she will do about it. To take action in the face of a corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. To choose to do nothing is to surrender one's self-image of standing for principles. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice.

“Hence, most propaganda is not designed to fool the critical thinker but only to give moral cowards an excuse not to think at all."

In other words, in order to free themselves from the twin burdens of critical thinking and direct action to change or challenge a bad government, people become willing suckers of sterile government propaganda. Nowhere is this more nakedly apparent than in Nigeria. Many otherwise sober, clearheaded people are making peace with the fascism in the country.

They legitimize their moral cowardice by swallowing the propaganda of the regime: Buhari is fighting corruption; it gets worse before it gets better; even though Buhari is bad, the alternative is worse; in the interest of stability, let’s not rock the boat; Buhari will hand over power to the people of my region, so we can wait out his incompetence for another four years; and so on.

I warned several times in the past that Nigeria might not survive a Buhari second time in its present form. Although he did clearly lose the election, he rigged himself back to power in ways never seen before in Nigeria’s entire history, and will be sustained in power by people’s moral cowardice. Then he’ll complete the destruction of the country he started. I hope people of conscience act before it’s too late.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why Pius Adesanmi’s Death Shook Us to our Roots

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I know of no death in Nigeria in recent time that has dominated social media conversation and inspired a welter of sustained lamentations with as much undying persistence as Pius Adesanmi’s heartrendingly sudden death in an air crash last week.

He was no politician. He was no wealthy man. He was no king or prince. He was no pop culture celebrity.  He was only a scholar and a social critic who railed against incompetence and malfeasance in government and who fired our collective imagination about our unrealized but realizable potential as a nation. Yet he was mourned—and is still being mourned—by an unbelievably vast swath of humanity.

Shakespeare said, “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes." Pius was no prince, yet the heavens are blazing forth his death. Why has his death detained our imagination and united us in grief? Was it because when he lived he radiated so much communicable warmth and love? Was it because he inspired tremendous, transmissible mirth wherever he was? Was it because he exuded life like no one? Was it because he shared love and built bridges across traditional fissures like no one in his generation? Well, it was all these things and more.

Pius lived his life publicly on social media. He shared his prodigious intellect with a massive, engaged social media audience. His biting wit, his sharp repartees, his homespun witticisms, and his equal-opportunity rhetorical “kobokos” (as he liked to call public censures) on Nigeria’s decadent and shortsighted political and cultural elites animated social media chatter and inspired hundreds of thousands of Nigerians.

He was an open book who shared the joys, the thrills, and the challenges of parenting with his friends and followers on social media. Everyone who followed him knew of his 7-year-old daughter Tise— and of her precocious questions to and conversations with him. He shared details of his travels with his friends and followers and even invited them to partake in his anxieties even in things as quotidian as the gastronomic choices he had to make in grand, glitzy, Western-style African hotels that marginalize African culinary delicacies.

He let anyone who knew him to take a peep into his deep, vast, phenomenal mind and see the angst that troubled him. People who cared to look saw a man who was deeply concerned about the present and the future of Africa. They saw the mind of a man who was impatient with the snail-pace progress of his native Nigeria. They saw a mind that was gripped by the fear of the judgment of history. They saw a man who was prepared to risk being unpopular rather than bend or sugarcoat the truth.

In short, in Pius Adesanmi, people saw a complaisant, brilliant, fearless, patriotic yet modest hero in whom they had become intellectually and emotionally dependent. That was why his death felt like—and actually is— the death of a piece of us.

I first met Pius in 2004 when I started publishing my articles in the Nigerian Village Square, a website set up by a Chicago-based Nigerian by the name of Philip Adekunle, where Pius also published. It was the go-to electronic marketplace for Cyberians, as I like to call Nigerians on the Internet, before the profusion of social media. In time, we discovered that we had more in common than our viewpoints about Nigeria: I found out that my late wife, Zainab, and he shared the same hometown. They were both from Isanlu in Kogi State. After this discovery, we started to call each other “my in-law.” Until his death, every communication we had—emails, phone calls, texts—was preceded by “my in-law.”

It was through him I got to know that my wife’s grandparents—or great grandparents—were the first Okun people to accept Islam in Isanlu and that a prominent Muslim secondary school in Isanlu, known as Oluyori Muslim Comprehensive High School, is named after my late wife’s grandfather (or perhaps great-grandfather).

When my wife died in a car crash in Nigeria in June 2010, Pius was distraught and was among the friends who rallied Nigerians in the diaspora to lend me emotional and financial support. In spite of his “sister’s” death and my remarriage four years later, we still called each other “my in-law.” When his wife gave birth to their daughter, Tise, more than a year after my late wife’s death, I was one of the first people he informed. “My in-law, Muyiwa delivered a beautiful baby girl this morning. Mother and daughter are doing great!” he wrote to me on Facebook on November 22, 2011.

Pius kept up with and lubricated his vast network of friends through dutiful outreach and relational nourishment. If a milestone happened in his life and you didn’t write or call to congratulate him, Pius would send you an email or a text to chastise you—often employing his trademark satirical raillery. He did the same if something momentous happened to you and he got to hear of it from others. But he was quicker to forgive than he was to take offense.

That is why a whole lot of people who knew him are distressed beyond comforting by the gut-wrenching news of his death. I personally don't think I will ever come to terms with his death.

A mutual friend of Pius’ and mine by the name of Bamidele Ademola-Olateju moved to the Atlanta area from Michigan about a year ago. She told me Pius kept reminding her to call me so we could visit each other. 

She finally called me about two weeks ago, and my family visited her family on March 9. In the nearly five hours we spent at her home, as you would expect, we talked about Pius. Bamidele's husband had fun things to say about Pius, especially about his travels to Ghana where Bamidele's husband grew up. Their lovely daughter, Imani, took photos of our visit, which Bamidele said she would share with Pius the following day.

Bamidele's call woke me up the following morning. I thought she called to tell me that Pius had seen our photos and videos and got a good laugh from my 2-year-old daughter’s clowning. Instead, she told me Pius had died in an air crash! Because I was still in bed and not quite awake when I answered her call, I thought I was having a nightmare from which I would wake up. So I called her back a couple of hours later to confirm if she did actually call to tell me Pius had died. I was hoping against hope that it wasn't true. She said I wasn't dreaming.

In many ways, Pius reminds us all of the intrinsic impermanence of our very humanity and of the imperative to always be self-conscious of our mortality. In many discussions with friends, Pius often said he had a foreboding that he wouldn’t live long enough to see his daughters grow to adulthood. That was why he lived every day as if it was his last. He always knew and said that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. That was why he always stood on the side of truth, justice, and fair play.

 More than anything, it was Pius' commitment to these ideals that earned him universal admiration and why we have a hard time accepting that he is physically gone from us for good. But he lives in the millions of lives he inspired and in the ideals he passionately espoused. May his soul rest in peace and his family be comforted.