Wednesday, November 11, 2020 12:44 am
By Ademola Araoye
Nothing has exposed the dearth of sophistication in thinking in the handling of the delicate complexities of the Nigerian state and its tortured nation in being than the bungled management of the #Endsars protests. In the larger scheme of our national circumstances, it was a very mild and friendly tackle. The fervent outpouring of patriotic sentiments and the euphoric fluttering of the green white green held aloft as symbols of the invincibility of the Nigeria spirit was unmistakable. That sense of the emerged legitimacy of the concretized consciousness of an assured futuristic oneness was its mobilizing Nigeria redemption mantra. The atmosphere was carnival like characterized by unprecedented youthful display of nationalistic exuberance in almost immeasurable abandonment. At Lekki gate that spirit was shelled to a shocking awakening to the existential realities of the Nigerian state the umpteenth time. The brutal abortion of these expressions in the high octane energetic demand for the end of police brutality by Nigerian youth was dramatically re-engineered by agents of a confused state establishment into a pretend revolt. That narrative from a cave age was to serve fossilized partisan interest of the state as constructed. Through this unpatriotic act, agents of a partisan state, acting on behalf of the establishment enacted another catastrophic chapter of unnecessary and avoidable bloodletting in the annals of the wobbly trajectory of a sorely tested social experimentation in state building. This is in contradistinction from a nation building project that has obviously gone awry.
Nation building is a sentimental enterprise. It is long term exercise of melting diverse and often divisive human sentiments into a new group norm underpinned by the emergence and an understanding of a new communal “We”. It implies developing common communal ethos that is characterized by increasingly ascendant degree of cognitive and normative consensus. In that coercion and persuasion continuum in the choice of policy instrument to deal with internal crisis, in polities serious about its nation building intent, coercion has no place. Only variants of suasion are available in the menu of policy choices. This cardinal principle was egregiously violated by the establishments. At Lekki gate the frail Nigerian nation building project was overwhelmed by a seemingly implacable partisan drive to deploy mechanisms of state building devoid of sentimentality to dissipate the protests. Coercion was the instrument of choice In meeting a challenge that discerning observers would note was actually a constructive development in the context of contemporary assaults on the construction of the state. In this febrile context of pervasive doubts over the legitimacy of the one sided claims of perpetual nationhood of the Nigerian state, #ENDSARS was a clear validation of the sentiments of an emerging nation. That was so until the jittery salesmen of a coercive state stepped in. Rather than the soft protocols of nation building that is premised on the axiom of One People, One Nation, the preferred narrative of the state establishment and their ever groveling Southern allies has been to institute a dichotomy in the sentiments of Us and Them. That convenient and divisive narrative, more than the physical destruction and fiscal devastations wreaked by the weaponized thuggery mobilized by the state to pacify the theaters of protests, revealed the depth of the tragic fissures of the nation. It did this while doing more to exacerbate vexatious contentions over the continued validity of that state proclaimed by partisans to be indivisible and indissoluble. The concept of own goal comes to mind.
The disturbing paradoxes are engraved in the divergent preferences of the narratives of the protests proclaimed by the state builders and those of nation builders. The vendors of the indivisibility of the Nigerian state were quick to delineate deleterious dichotomies in commending the responsible restraint of “their youth” from the machination of the “other youth”. Their youth were extolled for resisting the influence of the excoriated misguided other youth in the demand for limited reform of an ailing section in a vast security apparatus. The silence of this level headed youth constituency to the protests was deafening. The Northern Elders Forum and the Northern Governors Forum, comprising fixations in antiquated sensibilities, in tones of passionate convictions spoke on behalf of muted so called northern youth. The northerner elders proclaimed that the very clamor for the limited reform of the Police amounted to a campaign to topple the regime. The Cable reports that in these quarters the protests were perceived as “machinations against northern interest” “sponsored because one of us is the president today”. The status quo statists claim to have seen some “machinations against northern interest in the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. According to these sources “diabolical influencers in form of hooliganism, ethno-religious bigots, and even political marauders bent on pulling the nation down and pushing for regime change in the guise of #Endsars campaign”. Thus informed by this surreal perspective of a mortal threat to the status quo, the deployment of the coercive machinery was justified. This contrived partisan approach and policy derived there from remain subversive of the narrative of one people in an indissoluble, indivisible union.
On the other hand, the nationalistic organizers of #Endsars saw their mandate as encompassing the totality of that territory known as Nigeria. Within the confines of its project of limited reform, theirs could by no means be defined as a radical repudiation of the status quo. #ENDSARS is at best a mild conservative ruffling of the dominant regime and dispensation, implicitly validating the status quo expressed in the federal republic as is. They are thus allies of the status quo and very far from the constituency of reformers and revolutionaries that seek to radically transform the fundamentals and construction of the state or, in the case of revolutionaries, completely repudiate the very notion of a Nigeria. The narrative and agenda of #Endsars reflected a determination to forge a national front against only a mere elemental speck in the continuous ruination of their future. In attacking #Endsars, the state had deeply alienated a vast constituency of limited reform minded allies. Hopefully, disenchantment of these young allies may not elicit a new constituency of more radical reformers in a robust mold, or even radicalized youth with greater determination to actualize agendas profoundly antagonistic to the concept of Nigeria.
Peter L Berger and Anton C. Zijdervild illuminate that plurality means a situation in which diverse human groups (ethnic, religious, or however differentiated) live together under conditions of civic peace and in social interaction with each other. The necessary conditions to actualize this include a process of cognitive contamination that should lead to syncretism of understandings, values, ethic through a process of mutual contamination. This is a constructive osmotic process that should direct the endeavor of post colonial states to build nations. The process would interrogate and transcend partisan worldviews, misperceptions of diverse values and worldviews toward the forging of new nations from the agglomerations of cultural fiefdoms in mechanically unified political spaces. The challenge of statehood in our clime is the fixation on obsolete, even antiquated assumptions in the character of axiomatic anchors to a false modernity. Rather than build nations, our constructions are focused on building states. The internal dynamic is often geared toward totalistic appropriation by forces and their agents in pursuit of the permanently parochial interest. The logic of totalistic appropriation colors perceptions of every development in the social, economic and political spaces in which all are trapped. It brooks no iota of dissent, no matter the goodwill intended.
– • Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine