By Adagbo Onoja
February 28, 2013.
There is something that being wealthy or
powerful do not always protect anyone from and that is nemesis or the moment of
truth. If you call it synthesis, you would still be right. That is when all
lies, all hypocrisy and all smartness give way to the majesty of truth. It is
not truth in a moral or religious sense but truth as when the contradictions of
a subsisting reality attain that height of absurdity, producing something new
despite and in spite of itself.
There is a sense in which that is what we might soon be witnessing in Nigeria.
It can be called a revolution. You may say that a David Cameron or a
chairperson of the eight most industrialised countries in the world, aka G-8
can only be an unlikely revolutionary. But what do you call anyone who
champions locating, recovering and returning all looted wealth to Nigerians?
That is the revolution of the moment and it is permitted to call whoever is in
it a revolutionary in the context.
David Cameron’s speech on January 24, 2013 at the Economic Summit in Davos did
not make the front page story in Nigeria newspapers. But his use of Nigeria as
a case study of where transparency and accountability are totally strange to
power did not escape the attention of those he was addressing if two recent
Nigerian events in London are anything to go by. Two or three paragraphs out of
his 3,110 words speech at Davos are very direct and interesting in this regard
and we must quote him in full: There is a long and tragic history of some
African countries being stripped of their minerals behind a veil of secrecy. We
can see the results: the government cronies get rich, some beyond their wildest
dreams of avarice, while the people in those countries stay poor.
… I want this G8 to lead a big push for transparency across the developing
world, and to illustrate why let me give you one example. A few years back a
transparency initiative exposed a huge hole in Nigeria’s finances, an eight
hundred million dollar discrepancy between what companies were paying and what
the government was receiving for oil - a massive, massive gap. The discovery of
this is leading to new regulation of Nigeria’s oil sector so the richness of
the earth can actually help to enrich the people of that country.
And the potential is staggering. Last year Nigeria oil exports were worth
almost a hundred billion dollars. That is more than the total net aid to the
whole of sub Saharan Africa. So put simply: unleashing the natural resources in
these countries dwarfs anything aid can achieve, and transparency is absolutely
critical to that end. So we’re going to push for more transparency on who owns
companies; on who’s buying up land and for what purpose; on how governments
spend their money; on how gas, oil and mining companies operate; and on who is
hiding stolen assets and how we recover and return them. Like everything else
in this G8, the ambitions are big and I make no apology for that.
Once the G-8, as also a key international security actor, convinces itself that
state collapse in Nigeria will be an unmanageable complex emergency, they will
get the agencies and companies crucial to this to do what it takes to stabilize
Nigeria. In that sense, locating, recovering and returning looted wealth to
Nigeria becomes a simple exercise in pragmatism and in which they can sacrifice
anyone to the larger goal of staving off a poverty - induced anarchy in
It must be a revolution coming indeed because Cameron could not have been
grandstanding or saying what is not already a consensus in the G-8. And since
neither the G-8 nor its chair can be bribed, intimidated or diverted from
blocking a strategic threat to international security such as state failure in
Nigeria, it is safe to assume that Nigeria will, somehow, soon be in for a
moment of fresh air .
However, it important is to watch out for the contradictions of the Cameron
revolution as it unfolds because every reality is its own anti-thesis. The
heritage of living off Nigeria via the harvest of scams: the privatisation
exercise especially as it affected NITEL and other SOEs; the power sector
probe; the 2006 debt repayment; NNPC; the oil subsidy scam; the pension scam
and what have you means that loot recovery is stepping on hyper-sensitive but
weak toes, weak because they are not on high moral grounds.
It is against that background that an equally advisable thing for Prime
Minister Cameron and the G-8 to do about Nigeria in addition to the loot
recovery agenda is pushing for a consensus presidential candidate in 2015,
using their leverage. Consensus was how stability was restored in 1999 because
Obasanjo was, at that time, acceptable across the country and the world.
Western Nigeria did not accept him but that even became his greatest
qualification internally. And his coming did stabilize the post June 12
conflict situation. What happened thereafter is a completely different story.
The situation today is not fundamentally different. Nigeria is, in fact, in
worse shape, totally at a cross road, its survival challenged by the escalation
of violence across the country as well as the level of corruption and the
problematic regional and incumbency claims to power. In this sort of situation,
only a consensus is the way out so that everybody is a winner at the end of the
day and no one is tempted to adopt desperate options in gambling for power.
In the spirit of looking inward for solutions, some of us assumed and even
advocated that some of our senior citizens would, in spite of being the
architects of the ruining of Nigeria, push for this sort of consensus as a way
of restoring Nigeria. Such a consensual approach would have taken care of the
accumulated frustrations and pains felt by almost every segment of Nigeria,
pains which have totaled into the virtual impossibility of beneficial politics.
The senior citizens might have been doing their bits secretively but certainly
not in a strong enough manner to respond to the clear and present danger facing
the country. Since nature abhors a vacuum, a Cameron has stepped in. And we can
not talk about neo-colonialism without sounding jaded in this circumstance.
Nobody says picking a consensus presidential candidate in Nigeria would be a
simple operation. But not if we anchor it on two imperatives critical to
restoring stability immediately. The first is restoring the regional power pact
(rotation of power) so that succession does not become the threat it now is to
the democratic order. The second is then narrowing the search to that one
individual whose political personality can compensate for a system which has
lost its soul and its institutions.
Political personality here is defined to refer to three elements: (1) a
developed mind capable of rationality, objectivity and a sense of
innovativeness, (2) a sufficient technical preparation for power so that apart
from mastery of statecraft, the Nigerian president is one who appreciates what
it means to be a first among equals as far as Nigeria and speaking for Africa
is concerned and (3), a cosmopolitanism that is a critique of any form of
identity baggage or localism. The assumption is that a combination of these
three elements should produce someone with the modernist mindedness to
supervise a capitalist revolution in Nigeria that should, for example, lead to
Nigeria’s membership of the BRICS club in a matter of a few years.
Finding this consensus candidate can be a mission impossible because in a
recent sufficiently objective survey, one found that only two or three people
eyeing presidential power have anything called a development strategy, whether
radical or conservative. But a capitalist revolution is the way forward now
because the problems of Nigeria arise mostly from the unique primitivity of its
capitalism and the violence it breeds as reactions to the alienation and exclusion
of the majority from the benefits of modernity. A capitalist revolution is also
the only way for Nigeria to move away from politics as sharing to politics as
production. This requires a consensus choice with the intellectual or political
education to appreciate how strategic a capitalist revolution is to Nigeria’s
Or so that s/he does not end up relying completely on briefings by others who
are themselves too politically deaf and dumb to appreciate or replicate the
patriotism of the David Camerons and Barrack Obamas of this world when it comes
to managing an unusual depression. For example, in the Davos speech, Cameron
insisted on trade, tax and transparency to the point that he sounded
anti-capitalist. But he was not being anti-capitalism but about securing
And so that s/he would be someone who appreciates that the country, at the
moment, has nothing to show as far as universities are concerned. The academics
and their students are trying but the environment is totally against the very
idea of a university. However, as long as universities are the only source of
the doctors we need to deliver 21st Century health care, the men and women who
will protect Nigerians from new security challenges in the 21st Century as
spies, policemen, soldiers and sundry security experts, the specialists in
science, technology, architecture, engineering and agriculture who can network
us into and sustain us in modernity, it means we need someone who will
personally prioritise universities as a national security issue as opposed to
the lousy thing we are doing in that sector now.
Again, at Davos, Cameron insisted on world-class universities as a corner stone
of the emerging order. Nigeria started in 1960 with world class universities
which made elites out of children of peasants for whom education was the most
dignified model of social mobility. What is the situation today? Totally
disastrous and no patriotism should make anyone say anything different about
what we parade as universities today in Nigeria.
In other words, a consensus candidate is desirable so that we stop kicking
ourselves over nothing. Meanwhile, may we thank Prime Minister David Cameron in
advance for what he plans to do? And for using Nigeria as a case study of the
depth of corruption and lack of accountability at his Davos speech. Even that
alone is something. As the Idoma people say, when someone is helping you carry
a heavy load, s/he has reduced your task to telling him sweet stories so that
he can go far. We have enough stories to last Cameron and his colleagues in the
G-8 while they are in this business of locating, recovering and returning
looted wealth to the country.
Adagbo Onoja can be reached at email@example.com