By Rev. Fr. Anayochukwu Udenwagu (PhD)
A wind of change smoldered in Nigeria between July and August and culminated in the Lekki toll gate massacre of October 2020. It was ‘nicknamed’ #endsars: A peaceful protest, aimed at correcting the ills of a section of the police force against a people it swore to protect. The status, of that peaceful protest before it was hijacked, probably by beneficiaries of the status quo ante, point to the nature of the polis (state) – change. (cf. Michael Davis, The Politics of Philosophy. A Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, 91) The state applies the principle of change to attain its end, (common good). It could happen, through electioneering and its attendant change of regimes; it could be through constitutional changes or other effective means that could bring about the end of politics – the common good. No matter the dimension of the change, without it, the state is paralyzed. Therefore, reconciling the gap between the ancestral and the needful seeks to address such anomaly. It questions the adopted, (fence position) of the sitting regime regarding the demos (the people) and the ancestral it purports to defend. It also explores the probable consequences of such ill disposition while projecting a remedial approach.
The ancestral and the needful in Nigerian politics
In his analysis of Athenian regimes before him, Aristotle criticized Hippodamus’ political proposals. He regarded Hippodamus’ proposal for rewarding innovations as a threat to their (ancestral) laws. But given the needful and his bid to improve on the given, he yielded to popular opinion; “Men in general desire the good, and not merely what their fathers had.” (cf. Aristotle, Politics, II, 1269a3-4) Therefore, the ancestral, (to patrion) in Greek, translates as that which belongs to one’s fathers. It is that which an individual, or a family, nuclear or extended, inherits from their father(s). The ancestral interpreted by Nichols is what belongs to a people. (cf. Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and statesmen. A Study of Aristotle’s Politics,43) It could serve as a foundation for consolidation. In politics, it serves dual purposes. First, as expressed in the apolitical community of 4th century BC; families in the ancient period, trace their origins to want and necessity. (cf. Aristotle, Politics, I, 1225a20-1253a35) Such social arrangements offered us a monarchical system of rule distinguished by its dictatorial character. Secondly, the expansion of that community into a political society instructs us on the role of reason and choice. The apolitical community based on necessity existed for the sake of life. However, it continues to exist at a higher level as a political community, for the sake of a good life. Such a transition from mere living to living well applauds Hippodamus’ proposal for novelty. It suggests the place of reason in politics and a transition from despotism to the role of deliberation and choice in political affairs.
A survey of post-independence Nigeria leaves one in doubt regarding the role of choice and what we may call the ancestral. Before independence, our founding fathers were together in their belief for a federal system of government. Therefore, at the dawn of independence, Nigeria governed through regional governments (the northern, eastern and western regions and later the mid-western region) with a weak centre. Harnessing their natural endowments independently, (hides and skin, groundnut,etc. in the north, palm oil and palm kernel in the east, rubber and cocoa in the west), there was rapid and competitive development in the country, irrespective of our cultural heterogeneity. The competition and its attendant progressive development among these regional governments left no one in doubt of what was the legacy of our heroes past. Suffice it to say that true federalism is our to patrion – the ancestral.
However, the crises that robbed Nigeria of her post-independence celebration brought the military into politics. Their actions not only robbed us of the ancestral (true federalism), it imposed a unitary system entrenched into a constitution, drafted by a section of the military and never by the people. It has untold consequences; a unitary system of rule that denies change and its potentials, an excessive predominance of an ethnic group, and recycling of demagogues rather than statesmen in governance. These remain underlying factors that have continued to fuel the tension between the ancestral and the needful. Such imbalance has paralyzed the state, making it impossible for her to realize her natural end as an entity. Part of the outcome is a weak and tribalized military. It includes a Police force that has lost the confidence of the masses and a government that sits on the fence on national issues as security. Be that as it may, there is a public outcry all over the country for the needful. The needful, responds to what circumstances permit in pursuance of the common good – happiness for all. It yearns for equality among peoples of Nigeria; it yearns for security for her peoples. It also recalls with nostalgia, the blessings of true federalism, against the crippling unitary system wrongly adopted and defended as our own. To cap it all, it grounds the art of governance questioning our locus standi.
Which way Nigeria?
The album title: Which Way Nigeria?by the popular Nigerian Musician, Sonny Okosun (of blessed memories) in the mid-eighties, reflected the agony of a derailing nation, Nigeria thus: “Inefficiency and indiscipline [are] ruining the country now, corruption here and everywhere, inflation is soaring high…let us save Nigeria so Nigeria won’t [will not] die.” Decades after his prophetic call for remedial policies, Nigeria continues to derail. It continues to derail because our leaders refuse to listen to the voice of reason; a shift from the tyranny (necessity and want) imposed by our thwarted inheritance to the needful occasioned by deliberation and choice. That voice of reason sounded through various channels in the recent past. They include the Oputa panel on human rights violations (2002), and most importantly, the 2014 national conference. The submissions of that confab offer a middle term between our acclaimed inheritance and the needful. Its propositions attend to the demands of the people for true federalism. It remains (in the recent time) the only legitimate call by the people for their own – the ancestral, against the voice of the few standing against the needful constitutionally. Unless the people are listened to, in a regime whose naturestands againstthe people tensions will remain high as Nigeria remains at crossroads.Such a lonely path calls for the needful and the continuous denial of the needful amounts to the dangers of politics – denial of necessity.
Nigerian politicians for decades have paid lip service to the dangers of politics. Their clinging to the office even when they have outlived such an office is worrisome. On the one hand, they assume immortality, thereby playing gods. On the otherhand, they regard other citizens as beast incapable of reason and political office, affirming Aristotle’s assumption in his inconclusive theory of slavery in the Politics. (Cf. Aristotle, Politics, I, 1253b 15-1254a1-15) But not minding their denial of change, the tension, resulting from the imbalance in the constitution they rely on for protection, reminds them of Nichols’ suggestion against the dangers of politics – finding a place for the beast and god. (cf. M. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen, 53) A place for the beast and god frownsat constitutions that stand against the virtue of equity and equality among citizens. It stands against our purported inheritance that impedes growth and development. In all, it calls for the role of reason, deliberation and choice among divergent peoples to change such laws, for the full realization of their common good – to patrion. The just-concluded election in America is a lesson for Nigerians. It instructs us that individuals or regimes, no matter how powerful, cannot stand against the (legitimate) will of a people regarding their common inheritance; it requires their mandate – the constitution.
This article addressed the tension between the ancestral and the needful, regarding Nigerian politics. The (ancestral) represents what people inherited from their ancestors. Such inheritance, if properly managed, could spur further achievements. On the contrary, it could trigger unabated tension, among divergent peoples as Nigeria. The #endsars protests that raged in Nigeria against police brutality is an example. The remote cause is the thwarted patrimony blindly defended by the sitting government. The unitary system imposed on peoples of divergent culture against their “ancestral”is a contradiction in terms. It contradicts the nature of the polis (change) as an instrument for its realization. It also denies, the role of reason evident in man’s quest for the realization of his potentials within the society.
The consequences are evident in the political crises that have engulfed Nigeria as a state; invasion of communities by herders, insecurity on Nigerian roads, lack of basic amenities that sustain life, dwindling economy and neglect of educational institutions as a plot to silence the voice of the people forever. However, public outcry for independence within an independent nation alludes to the crisis between the ancestral and the needful. For a peaceful resolution, therefore, this paper argues for a change. Politics should be reduced to reason to enable the desired change – from an imposed unitary system to the true federalism bequeathed by our founding fathers. It is only through dialogue and its attendant deliberation as exemplified in the 2004 confab that we can as a people resolve the tension between the “ancestral” and the “needful”– true federalism – our ancestral (to patrion).