The Nigerians I compare to corporate Directors in our continuing discussion on the Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy are the elected members of government. These are federal legislators, governors and deputies, the vice-president and, of course, the president. These “Directors” can make policy and appoint sub-policymakers without consultation with, or input by the Nigerian masses.
The president is the most influential individual policymaker. The president can independently form policy and execute it, even if unpopular. The president can unilaterally deploy the army (against requisite legislative approval) to back his policy. The presidency can lock the premises of the National Assembly, or withdraw police protection from principal members of government without any real consequence. All these are possible because our socio-legal order has been constructed to make nearly everyone answerable to the president. The only Nigerians who can pressure the president—sometimes constitutionally—are the people I call “Shareholders”.
Some Directors are also Shareholders. But most Directors represent the interests of sponsoring Shareholders. In any case, the template of government works independently of the wishes or agitations of the Nigerian masses. For example, while citizens can theoretically recall or impeach their representatives, the process is as unrealistic—in practice and design—as employees of a Nigerian corporate entity voting out a director.
From our origin as the Royal Niger Company to date, the main objective of Nigeria’s Directors has been to sustain the business of the Nigerian corporation. This means ensuring the continuous flow of revenue into the coffers of government—and licensed private pockets. The composition, style and powers of the Directors are not as important as their willingness to perpetuate the political system. Thus, a change of Directors does not affect the basic political ideology. For example, military and colonial rulers enacted most of Nigeria’s laws, yet these laws are implemented in today’s seeming democracy without much difficulty. The political philosophy is consistent despite changes in the style of Directors.
The only Nigerians who benefit from this consistency are those who own shares in the country’s business. Richard L. Sklar, a political scientist, termed them “the Political Class”. This is not because they are politicians—many of them are not—but because their social and economic dominance is derived from their positive relationship with political power, rather than from any productive capacity. Nigeria’s Shareholders not only control policy through opaque and unsupervised “executive” bodies entrenched into the Constitution, but these individuals and their businesses also derive exclusive benefits from the socio-legal order. These include tax breaks, policy waivers, and exemptions from laws at the sole discretion of a minister, governor or president.
Who are these Nigerian Shareholders?
The first Shareholders were the British but we can safely rule them out of the current business. The current Shareholders are, logically, the individuals and families who inherited the business from the British. They are the Nigerians who—as individuals or families—can claim special privileges as policymakers and policy influencers under the various economic, political, social templates in the political system through the subtle segregations embedded into our socio-legal order.
In the next paragraphs, I identify four categories of shareholding since 1900 (the year George Taubman Goldie transferred the territories “owned” by the Royal Niger Company to the British Government). These categories overlap in their relationships, and have varying degrees of influence on policymaking.
One: Traditional Rulers. The paramount traditional stools and titles were the first partners with the British in the Nigerian project. In the early days of the Royal Niger Company, titleholders were forced or cajoled into cooperating with British commercial interests. Today, through land use polices and various Chieftaincy Laws, their relevance to policymaking is assured. Their children and families are privileged, and only in rare instances are they subjected to notions of democratic process.
Two: The Nationalists. The so-called “Nationalists”—and their direct descendants—constitute the second stage of participation in Nigerian shareholding. These were the immediate beneficiaries of British education and training. They successfully agitated for shared policymaking powers with the British, but only few of them tried to extend this power to less privileged Nigerians. The Nationalists were also the first industrialists. They quickly controlled factors of production and gained shares in the economy through their access to government. Today, their direct family members and protégées are still effective Shareholders in the Nigerian business.
Three: The Military Politicians. The Military hegemony is the third entry point into Nigeria’s shareholding. From 1966 to date, the military brass (whether bestowed by rank or grabbed by coup) has been fully involved in Nigeria’s policymaking. Like the Nationalists, members of the Military hegemony have ingrained their influence into the socio-economic templates. They own universities, oil blocks, agricultural businesses, and sit on the boards of several commercial enterprises. We owe the continued existence of the Nigerian business today to the corporate unity enforced by the Military hegemony.
Four: The Pseudo-Democrats. These are the main policymakers in the current stage of our Shareholding evolution. They are the Nigerians who inherited power from the Military, both in 1979 and 1999. The bulk of these Shareholders are a mix of the family members of traditional rulers, the Nationalists, and the Military Hegemony. “Outsiders” are admitted into this level of policymaking through the screening mechanism of political parties. Considering that the political class controls almost all economic sectors in Nigeria, it is difficult for any political party to gain the resources required for power without the participation of major Shareholders.
Thus, the only way to get into public office in Nigeria today is to go through a process under the control of existing Shareholders. Nigeria has a political template structured to prevent those desirous of dismantling the existing political system from acquiring the legal means of achieving this. There are no spaces for structural reform.
Unfortunately, the evolution of public opinion on Nigerian politics and government has focused more on the abilities or integrity of each passing set of Directors and Management, rather than on the exclusionary political system.
Today, we the ordinary Nigerians—encouraged by agents of the political class—are in the ridiculous position of employees arguing over which director is the best; or which shareholder is least corrupt. We are mostly oblivious to the fact that we are incapacitated in our own political system: our opinion is irrelevant; and we have no voice in policymaking. This will not change until we dismantle the Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy and fashion a democracy where every willing citizen can participate in policy formation without the shadow of patronage.
Originally published in slightly different form here in my weekly column for Sunday Punch.
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