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