Politics in the Age of Madness by Abba Gana Shettima
The French Philosopher Michel Foucault in his seminal work Madness and Civilization...
The French Philosopher Michel Foucault in his seminal work Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1961) examined how madness changed from a relatively harmless, “wisdom of folly” and accepted condition to one of abject terror in the 18th century. Foucault views “madness” as a subjective social construct created by powerful individuals and institutions in a given society to define them in opposition to, and in contrast with, the “other” or the “abnormal”, namely, people who are defined as “mad”. “Madmen” were not only considered economically unproductive and hence, serving no purpose in the mercantilist era, but like the lepers before them, they were considered as the pariah of society. “Madmen” were branded as a social nuisance to be brutalized, publicly scorned and sentenced to a life of confinement—away from society. Above all, the keepers of the “madmen” had a carte blanche to do with these “madmen” as they pleased.
Foucault’s view on madness was not entirely original even in that epoch, because much earlier, Ruth Benedict had argued as far back as 1930 that insanity is often a cultural construct rather than a physical malady. In the light of contemporary scientific knowledge on the subject of insanity, however, we cannot absolutely limit its etiology to cultural factors. The philosophical and sundry academic debate on this subject is beyond the scope of this essay. In this essay, we are particularly interested in Foucault’s extension of the social construction of “madness” to the field of discourse analysis. According to Foucault, the speech of “madmen” “either fell into a void—rejected the moment they were proffered—or else men deciphered in them a naive or cunning reason...at all events, whether excluded or secretly invested with reason, the madman’s speech did not strictly exist”.
What was true of “madmen” in 18th century European society is today true of the majority of us in Nigeria—ordinary mortals outside the corridors of power who are treated as no better than “madmen”. Or else, how can one explain the way the merchants and mercenaries of the perilous third term agenda are going about their dirty business? When one listens to them brazenly defending why President Obasanjo should continue beyond 2007, one comes to the painful conclusion that it is either “they” or “the rest of us” (the “other”) are certainly “madmen”. But since they are in authority and have thus appropriated the political and intellectual licence of branding and banishing like the men of power of all ages, it is safer to conclude that the later is the case. The political merchants and mercenaries of the third term tend to completely dismiss, with a condescending callousness, all those opposed to their satanic agenda as no better than “madmen” to be branded and banished as such; and whose speech “either fell into a void—rejected the moment they were proffered—or else men deciphered in them a naive or cunning reason”. Indeed, the speech of those in opposition to President Obasanjo’s third term schema, “do not strictly exist” in the ocular world of his cronies and political mercenaries.
First, the overzealous champions of the third term agenda are sickened by all the hogwash critics have been screaming against it because ‘it is something that doesn’t exist’. They tell us that since President Obasanjo has not said he will seek a third term re-election, then all the hullabaloo about the issue rests in ‘the realm of hypothesis’ and those opposed to it are simply engaged in ‘speculative criticism’. Well, well. We may be mentally deranged but we know that President Obasanjo has not said he will not seek a third term re-election either, and since what is not said about an issue is as important as what is said, this ‘hypothesis’ can be confirmed as true, and accepted with a high degree of confidence. After all, it is said that ‘ a truth that remains silent becomes poisonous’ and also, ‘silence may be equal to confession’.
Secondly, a major reason often put forward by the mercenaries of the third term agenda is the need for continuity in the so-called reform programme of the present administration. But since the present administration embarked on its so-called reform programme, it has brought nothing but anguish on ordinary Nigerians and what the administration has done is to effectively hand over Nigeria to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). That’s why the reform has left out the people; that’s why in the name of reform, civil servants occupying government quarters could be mercilessly evicted and the houses sold off to speculators who have made money harvesting the political industry; that’s why this reform programme is violently throwing thousands of young people out of jobs, to join the millions already unemployed, roaming and ‘browsing’ the empty streets; and that is also why in the name of restoring the Abuja master plan, shops belonging to ordinary Nigerians could be pitilessly demolished. And these are ordinary Nigerians who are self-employed and doing their best to keep off from crime in a city that’s gradually becoming the crime hub of Nigeria.
Certainly, this reform programme is unpatriotic in nature, undemocratic in content and anti-people through and through—with looming immediate and long-term social, political and economic devastation on the citizenry. But because the rest of us are “madmen”, whatever we say to caution the government on this matter of grave national consequence simply falls on deaf ears. After all, the speech of “madmen” ought to be ‘rejected the moment they were proffered’. Thus despite the reality on the ground, a highly compromised president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Engineer C. C. Ugwuh, speaking in support of President Obasanjo’s third term road map, described various components of the reform programme as “positive developments”. With “positive developments” like these, it is only “madmen” that can have the mental insolence to question the third term agenda and contemplate any change of the status quo.
Thirdly, another related argument for the third term proposition is hinged on the administration’s war on corruption. Since assuming office in 1999, the administration has no doubt made some significant efforts at fighting corruption especially with the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), thanks largely to the extraordinary personal efforts, sacrifice and untainted patriotism of its chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu. Unfortunately, however, even Nuhu Ribadu’s hard- earned name is now in jeopardy, because as the contest for 2007 becomes fierce and daggers are drawn on all sides of the deep divide, it is becoming ever more clear that the war on corruption is a selective war, directed only at those who have fallen out with the administration. That’s why some thirty-odd state governors have found a new trick to keep the EFCC away from searching the skeletons in their cupboards, huge, rotten skeletons; and it is that simple—support President Obasanjo’s third term agenda and avoid falling the foolish way of former governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa state. What is more, many of them are also interested in a third term re-election or rather, selection and turbaning. How naive was Alamieyeseigha to have pitched his tent with the opposition! How childish was he to have been eating and quarrelling at the same time! Certainly, sweltering pepper was likely to go the wrong way.
Fourth and finally, the pro-third term leadership of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) keeps on arguing as if it is the only political party in Nigeria, and that anybody opposed to its undemocratic tendencies is an enemy of democracy and indeed, the nation. Is it not curious, for example, to hear Chief Ojo Maduekwe, PDP national secretary describing the members of the Movement for the Defence of Democracy (MDD) and the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) as enemies of democracy? Yet, in truth, has there been a greater enemy of democracy than the PDP in the last six years? The party has subverted the basic principles of democracy by killing the first and most important “due process” in any democracy, namely, credible elections.
At the level of internal party politics, the party is becoming more like a monarchy, indeed, the monarchy as I know in Borno state and many other parts of northern Nigeria, with an experienced and well-disciplined council of king makers, is more democratic in the choice of its leaders than the PDP. In contrast, the PDP has only one king maker in the person of His Excellency, President Obasanjo who hires and fires the party leadership at will. Which was also why it couldn’t conduct credible national elections in 2003, and from the way the PDP top hierarchy in the north, south south, and south-west are talking, it would appear that the outcome of the 2007 elections has already been decided—the PDP will record a landslide, even a ‘sea-slide’ this time! The only contentious issue that remains to be settled is whether power will shift from one geographical region to the other or not, and who, indeed, will be the President of Nigeria.
Thus such is Nigerian politics in the age of madness. Nobody except the “madmen” talk about the nation and the people. It’s all about power and the cunning, brutal ways of capturing or clinging to it forever. Politics, which has often been derogatively referred to in the country as a ‘dirty game’, has never been as filthy and stinking. It’s at its savage worst, with politicians threatening the unity of the country if they don’t have their way. Politics, especially democratic politics as practiced everywhere in the world is a politics built on persuasion, principles, programmes, lobbying, and negotiation. But not so in the present day Nigeria where, instead of slickly talking to each other, everybody is hoarsely shouting at everybody else across the Niger—the north at the south, the south at the north; the Christians at the Muslims, the Muslims at the Christians; the third term antagonists at the protagonists and the protagonists at the antagonists. It is a desperate, maddening game, which is played out by each side of the divide as if the other side doesn’t matter in the power equation; and as if anybody can become the leader of Nigeria without a Nigeria. What is more, all the sides go about their bravura scheming for power oblivious to the perils of political hubris.