How Many Rivers must the Political Conference to
Dredge ? by Okello Oculi, Ph.D., Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525

A delegate from Akwa Ibom State was earnestly angry at
Nigeriaís desperate condition; the reason for which
she now found herself at the Political Reform
Conference holding in Abuja. There was in her tone a
sense of bewilderment as to what was at the root of
what is regarded as a national derailment from a once
widely hoped for, worked and planned for, civil-warred
for, road to development. She invited fellow delegates
to ìlook inwardsî and search for this virus of
national derailment.  It is worth throwing some
suggestions at her quest and challenge.

Once upon a time the Department of Political Science
at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, offered a course
for First Year students with the modest yet
authoritative title of: ìIntroduction to African
Politicsî; in which the lecturer started his
intellectual safari from the form of government
invented by the black Africans of the Ancient Egyptian
of the Pharaohs. The ambitious length of distance
covered from the politics of the Pharaohs to more the
recent systems of Ancient Borno or Kano;
Bunyoro-Kitara; the republican Tiv, Igbo and Nuer
political systems, was justified by a claimed and
celebrated continuity in the fundamental principles of
statecraft which became Africaís inheritance from
Ancient Egypt. The course sought to tease out insights
in political engineering from  these ancient (or
ìclassicalî) narratives of power. It may be useful to
revisit some key elements of these ancient narratives.

A point of departure is to consider a key lesson from
Ancient Borno which Lord Lugard would claim to be
original to his personal genius, namely: the ìindirect
ruleî system. The rulers of Ancient Borno invented a
way of protecting legitimacy for the central rulers by
letting power at the immediate local level reside in
the hands of persons who are known and  accepted as
coming from among the community. It was  primarily
governance for extracting taxes and  regular tributes
from the people while lacking in orientation and
aptitude for promoting popular economic development.
To ensure its durability, the system  had to rest on a
cushion of immediate rulers not being seen as alien
agents of a distant central imperial power. While the
system did not promote economic growth, it did not
govern people unto death at the local community level.
This restraint allowed for a sense of community (run
on subsistence levels of collective belonging) to
thrive and throb. It differed markedly from early
British colonial rule which took able-bodied males
during vital time for agricultural activities
(notably:tilling of the soil, sowing seeds and weeding
crops) to go and provide forced labour at the tin
mines in Jos or for building roads, railway tracts,
official residences for British officialdom; etc. The
effecte were immediate famine and hundreds of
thousands of children, the elderly and pregnant women
dying from starvation and severe malnutrition. Various
British administrators, "Residents", reported in their
annual reports, these social tragedies all across
Northern Nigeria. The World Bank and IMF regimes
(beginning with the structural adjusment programme
which started in 1986 and still rages on), follow this
colonial legacy of officialdom governing peoples unto
death. Conference participants should seek out
strategies of even minimal rstraint which the rulers
of Ancient Borno used to guarantee the survival of
society and community-feeling even in the face of
expropriation by the rulers.

In Ancient Kano there was added the innovative notion
of new immigrants  being churned into a new formula of
community and citizenship known as ìkanawaî. Rulers of
pre-jihad Kano (we are told by historians like
Professor Abdullahi Mahadi), accepted new arrivals
from diverse geographical locations such as: Senegal,
Mali,Morocco, Sudan, Tivland, Nupeland, Oyo, etc and
offered  them the high and open road to top leadership
posts in the realm for those with vigorous political,
social or economic ambitions and tallents. A leading
scholar has, however, blamed the legacy of Usman
Danfodio for the establishment of a less exalted
variant of leadership which restricted upward mobility
in the polity. It gave the monopoly of power to
lineages closed and guarded by blood through birth
into families which had been given the flag of power
in the social and political revolution of  1804.
However,this shift need not have had so degenerative
an effect if it had not been captured by a pre-jihad
culture of power which Rasheed Haroun Adamu has
depicted as being preoccupied with seeing and
exercising governance primarily as the craft of
emjoyment by "eating from the use of political power"
without regard for promoting the socio-economic
development of the masses of the people.

 The negative political income earned from this form
of power was permanent insecurity which had to be
vigilantly protected with maximum use of physical and
cultural violence. Barrington Moore has argued that
similar methods of rule by the aristocracy in Japan
and Germany resulted in violent repression of workers
organized in trade unions and socalist intellectuals
and political movements. In Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, and
elsewhere in the Sokoto Caliphate, the political
weakness of Sarauta governance was loudly demonstrated
in the 1950s and late 1970s when Northern Elements
Progressive Union, NEPU, and its sucessor the People's
Redemption Party, PRP, won elections even with
candidates who were tailors, barbers and bicycle
repairers trouncing princes and various title holders
in open elections.

The implications of this little history for the
National Political Reform Conference are two fold.
First, is the issue of how far back the political
memory of the delegates must travel in the searh for
what has gone wrong with governance in Nigeria.
Secondly, in the case being brought up at the
Conference against Kano's share of local government
allocations during military rule, it is probably more
rewarding for focus to be on how it is that the large
share of budget allocations coming into Kano and
Jigawa States (formerly combined) have not earned more
development for the masses of the people ; at least
levels of development higher than the apparently
short-changed peoples of Bayelsa and Rivers States
(formerly combined) ? Put another way, political
leaders in Bayelsa and Rivers States may profit
Nigeria more by interrogating the tradition of power
and governance in Kano and Jigawa States (or the
Sokoto Caliphate) rather than merely limiting
themselves to the arithmetic of sharing oil revenues.
At the most minimal level of benefits,  economically
developed Kano/Jigawa States may  pay back the
oil-producing states by offering a rich and growing
market for export products from
Bayelsa/Rivers/Delta/Edo/Ondo/Akwa Ibom/ Ondo States;
and would even have the need to import industrial
workers from the whole South.
To arrive at this possible state of mutual economic
benefit, the Conference participants would need to
confront the intellectual and political challenge of
inventing tools for opening up a non-development based
tradition of power and letting loose the political
will of the masses of the people. In the past,
politicians like Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the impeached
a PRP Governor of Kaduna State (1979-81), put forward
the need to open the lid of accountability to the
needs of the people by making Emirs, District Heads,
and Village Heads subject to periodic elections by the
masses of their peoples.

With regards to Tiv classical traditions, the two
themes which are clearly of relevance are: (1) the
ancient tradition of the youth defending good
governance by publicly humiliating elders (as power
holders) who are harming the public good; and (2) the
vigorous egalitarian defence of each family
household's right to and real effective access to
adequate land to ensure ability to farm and feed its
members. In this regards,human dignity was so valued
that an individual in a state of hunger was allowed to
harvest a limited amount of yam (just enough for a
meal or two) and if found doing so, was merely refered
to as "a spirit" and not called by named for fear of
bringing shame to their person in public.

It is not clear that educated elites in Tivland have
since Nigeria's independence paid attention to the
task of adapting these political values and tools for
use against the long decades of military bad
governance or for rebuking post-1999 deficits of
democracy and its dividends in Benue State. The State
appears to have experienced the hijacking of gangs of
youth for the violent repression of political
challengers and not for the classical tradition of
defending  collective community welfare and good
governance. The Conference deserves to refer to this
library of societal management.

The Yoruba and the Jukun carried in their ancient
memories the Ancient Egyptian political dictum that
the ruler must ensure and embody the well-being and
prosperity of the people over whom he or she governs.
The price of dictatorship and rapacious adminisration
was death or regicide. The ruler was given poison to
drink. Most Nigerians associate Yoruba post-colonial
history with violent and convulsive rejections of
rigged elections, or in the case of 1993, the
cancellation of Chief Abiola's election victory. While
this has contributed to the growth of Nigeria's
culture of democracy, they may have failed to apply
their vigilance against corruption, embezzlement of
public funds, the so-called "abandoned projects"
syndrome, fraud and inflation of contracts: the very
issues which have been at the core of the
socio-economic well-being of the people in
post-colonial Nigeria. Members of the Conference may
well demand that vigorous thought be given to
integrating the Yoruba/Jukun tool for ensuring
accountability into both state and federal
governance.At a minimum some level of stocktaking
should be done over the costs of not holding on to

Chinua Achebe drew attention to the dangers and merits
of applying the Igbo principle of fulfilling the
mission allocated by God through one's "chi". Okonkwo
did well to apply his own and excell in the use of his
talents while his father had failed to do so. But
Okonkwo went too far in taunting the blessings of his
"chi". He killed a blood-debt child who had grown to
call him "father", even when warned not to; and he
killed an agent of British power even when the
community would have opted for caution. Applied to
post-civil war governance, it is fair to ask if elites
who defrauded state coffers, "abandoned projects",
ruined health care and education services in the Igbo
states have avoided the failures of Okonkwo. It is
also fair to ask if those who have misdirected and
trapped the "chi" of millions of Igbo youth into trade
in  industrial products rolled out by the highly
educated engineering and industrial "chi" of
Taiwanese, Koreans, Japanese, Swiss, Italians,
British, American,Indonesians, etc., have listened to
Chinua Achebe's warning. The National Political Reform
Conferemce would do well to interrogate this space in
a legacy of social engineering.

With regards to electoral politics, delegates at
Nigeria's National Political Reform Conference may
wish to revisit Mwalimu Nyerere's criticism of the
British two-party electoral politics as a devise for
putting society in a condition of permanent civil war.
The record all across Africa has shown that Nyerere
was most farsighted when he wrote his essay in 1961.
Candidates have fought elections as hot wars. Winners
often punished those who voted for their opponents. In
2002 when I interviewed village communities in Abia
and Osun States about elected chairmen of their local
governments bringing developments projects to them, I
was told that they were waiting for the end the
1999-2003 period when they will also elect "their own
son" to that post. In the meantime politics was for
them in a condition of "cold war" without hope of
harvesting the "dividens of democracy".

One way of getting out of this condition is to borrow
the Japanese model of electing as many as four
representatives from one constituency. Instead of
"one-past-the-post", those whose won votes high enough
to fall within two-thirds of the votes cast in each
constituency would all go to the local government
council, state assembly, or each of the chambers of
the national assembly. This would ensure that the
largest number of voters in a consituency have someone
representing them and can harvest some piece of the
"democracy dividend" for them. It would reduce the
level of embittered losers. It would make those
elected know that they have to compete with at least
two other elected representatives for the attention
and judgement of the people. It would thereby enhance
accountability an promote the politics of bringing
development to the masses of the people.This Japanese
model is very much closer to African traditions than
American and British or French models of electoral

More ancient traditions of organizing society all
across Nigeria  cry out for consultation from a
position of respect and not of contempt, shame, or
irresponsible intellectual laziness. It is obviously
easier to be a parasite and run to the more recent
political traditions of the United States of America,
or the new nations of Europe, including Switzerland;
or India and Germany for lessons in "federalism". The
soup one's Mama cooks is always sweeter, so goes an
ancient wit. The Conference should do well to hear the
pride of their Mamas calling for being consulted.