Nigeria lacks elite consensus

Despite having a constitution that should be the grundnorm of the polity, Nigerian elites lack a consensus on what Nigeria should be. So says Dr. Reuben Abati, principal anchor of Arise TV’s “The Morning Show,” and former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Abati should know about the disjointed and uncoordinated posture of the Nigerian political class. He worked with the most senior public officer in Nigeria, the President, and was also a running mate to a “governotorial” candidate in Ogun State.

Evidence that Nigeria’s elite-politicians do not share common values, even when they belong to the same political party, is the recent rebuke by a female senator, of her colleague-senator who chided the government for failure to adequately tackle the problem of insecurity in Nigeria.

It’s a shame that members of the elite class, even of the same political party, cannot even find a common ground in something like security of the people, which Section 14 of Nigeria’s Constitution says is Job Number One of any government.

It’s a shame also that they do not even seem to be aware of the promises of Chapter II of the Constitution, which states the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy on political, economic, social, educational, foreign policy and environmental objectives and the directive on Nigerian culture, obligation of the mass media, national ethics and duties of Nigerian citizens.

This lack of consensus must have been responsible for the decision of you-know-who’s military regime to cancel the Lagos Metroline project embarked upon by the civilian government of Governor Lateef Jakanke.

Practically every political party in Nigeria is a smogarsbord of nearly irreconcilable conflicting class, ethnic, religious and ideological interests. A good example of a house that is divided against itself is the ruling All Progressives Congress.

It is made up of ultra-conservative New Peoples Democratic Party, pseudo-progressive Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change, formed to actualise the presidential ambition of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), ethnic-based half-child All Progressive Grand Alliance, and several other prebendal tendencies.

Prebendalism, if you like to know, is a situation where public officials act as if they, their supporters, members of their ethnic group or even their religious persuasion, are entitled to government revenue and they can use it for their own purposes.

It may be extremely difficult to have a common ground of values among Nigeria’s political elite. This is mainly because the loyalty of the average Nigerian politician is to his primordial interest group, his ethnic group. That explains the idea of shifting political power between the Northern and Southern Nigeria.

It also explains why the people of the South-East zone, the Igbo, feel marginalised because none of them has been President of Nigeria, ceremonial or executive, since the regime of military Head of State, Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, was terminated in a countercoup in 1966.

And while a section of the nation swears by the Western values of democracy, individualism and self-actualisation, the other is firmly wedded to the fatalistic values of the paternalistic world view of the Arab.

While allowing that political parties may have differences of opinion, ideology or even class interests, there must be an agreement about the group interest of the nation. And it must be shared by everyone, regardless of their ideological leanings or political persuasion.

Another way to look at this is through the prism of “group intelligence,” which encourages all citizens to submit their individual interests and capacities to the common good, with each citizen elevating  group interest above selfish interests.

Now, submitting personal goals to group interest is not the same as abandoning personal ambition. Oh no. It means that every citizen can see how achieving the common goal meets individual or personal goals.

For example, if everyone pays his personal income tax there is a likelihood that common services like internal security, external defence, and infrastructure will be provided for the use of all that are resident within a country.

After listening to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address to a joint session of America’s Senate and House of Representatives, a Republican politician stood by the differences his party has with the President’s Democratic Party, but still identified with common American-interest grounds, like competition with China and America’s security.

And if you had thought that America’s new President Biden would be loving China, to spite the former President, Donald Trump, then you do not know how America works. That nation has no permanent friends or enemies; it only has permanent interests.

Sometime in the mid-1970s, the American government, desperate to enlist Nigeria in the boycott of 1980 Munich Olympics, sent boxing legend, Mohammed Ali, to Nigeria. Asked by the Nigerian press why he, who suffered so much persecution in the hands of the American system, would embark on an errand for America.

He replied that, in spite of his personal experience, America still remained the greatest country in the world and he would always defend it. That is the stuff of elite consensus that Abati is talking about.

Another evidence that America has underlining principles that cut across partisan lines is the wish of former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, that co-Republican, sitting President Trump, should not attend his funeral, but specifically invited former President, Democrat Barack Obama, who had defeated him in the 2008 race to the White House.

On a lighter mood, you may be aware of the open friendship between former Republican President George W. F. Bush and Michelle, wife of former President Obama. Despite the fierce rhetoric of former President Bush against presidential candidate Obama who eventually succeeded him, both are the best of pals that express the same opinion on national issues these days.

The three tenets of the American Credo, shared by all Americans, are: Political and economic rights which protect the dignity and freedom of the individual; constitutional government designed to serve the people; and fundamental belief in God.

When it looked like former President Trump was crossing the line of decency and was not going to abide by this credo, past and present members of the Republican Party formed the Lincoln Project, a political action committee, in 2019.

Political Action Committees, which are legal, by the way, and have become significant players in American politics, are formed to pool financial contributions from members and to be donated to campaign for or against a candidate.

The Lincoln Project PAC, formed to honour former American President Abraham Lincoln, was formed to prevent the reelection of Trump, defeat all Republican candidates in the close races for reelection throughout America and endorse Joe Biden, who eventually won the presidential election in 2020.

Of course, critics of the American political system, like Herbert Schiller, suggest that American media is controlled by a few that create, process, refine and preside over the circulation of images and information which determine the beliefs, attitudes and behaviour of Americans.

In his book, “The Mind Managers,” he avers in more specific terms that the master puppeteers of the American politics, advertising and mass communication, pull the strings of public opinion one way or another.

Anyway, whether contrived or organically developed, a set of common values is necessary for the Nigerian political elite to fulfil its purpose.