On “Cynical Tendency” in Nigerian Politics
The term, “cynical tendency” used in the lead article of West Africa of July 13, 1987 appears to have a close relationship to the so-called “Militant Tendency” within the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. However, unlike the British parent term that stands for the orientation of a fringe or marginal group, the “Cynical Tendency” in Nigerian politics is probably a mainstream phenomenon. After the experiments with several forms of government under eight heads of state within 27 years, the average Nigerian would be behaving in a perfectly rational manner if he/she were instinctively cynical towards politics and politicians.
For some curious reasons, Nigerian military political leaders resent being described as politicians. I have always been struck by the distance they deliberately seek to establish between themselves and the politicians. Yet, the country has been ruled by military leaders during 18 of 27 post-independence years. It is only logical that they should share responsibility with civilian politicians for whatever might be the negative features of the Nigerian political culture that needs to be changed.
There is a real sense in which the military political leaders’ “holier than thou” attitude vis-à-vis civilian politicians constitutes a strong factor pushing the average Nigerian to the “Cynical Tendency” school. After “collecting” or “seizing” power five times and actually running the government for two-thirds of the time, successive “corrective” military governments have not succeeded in turning things around. Why should anyone believe that the period 1987-1992 constitutes Nigeria’s magic dates with destiny, as the incumbent Babangida Administration is promising?
Although President Babangida speaks only of the “dawn” of a new era, it still amounts to a variation on the theme of a “new Nigeria” that most of his predecessors, both military and civilian, who had promised Nigerians, as if it could be achieved by the magic wand of rhetoric (Obasanjo’s “humane African society”) or dignified inaction (Shagari’s “ethical revolution”). However, a significant difference is Babangida’s apparent awareness of the prerequisites for the successful establishment of a new social order in the country.
His summary of the prerequisites is largely accurate: “In our search for solutions in the past, we considered beautiful institutional arrangements without the supporting values which would make these institutions work. We tried to find approximate solutions to immediate and approximate problems without adequate attention to long-term problems which call for long and gradual but solid solutions. One of the cardinal tasks of this administration, therefore, is to bring about a new political culture which, like a veritable fountainhead, will bring forth a stable, strong, and dynamic economy.”
President Babangida’s diagnosis and prescription call for three comments. First, he is correct in making the observation that “beautiful institutional arrangements” will only work when the necessary values are present within the society where the institutions are expected to function.
Second, his assertion that Nigeria needs a new political culture that would ensure congruence between institutional arrangements and societal values is incontrovertible. The third point to make relates to president Babangida’s mistaken view that his Administration can actually “bring about a new political culture” for Nigeria. His error here is typical of the assumption of the “men on horseback” (and their praise singers) who believe that the “resolve and certitude characteristic of [our] military profession’ (Babangida’s words) can successfully carry out social and political engineering within a few years. Political history teaches us that Babangida’s faith has no foundation whatsoever.
Pleading guilty to the charge of cynicism in advance, I wish to assert that by 1992, the Babangida Administration would not have brought about a new political culture in Nigeria. However, what we will find out between now and 1992 is whether the Babangida Administration would have taken steps that will begin to lay the foundation for the emergence of a new political culture whose salient features will be capable of sustaining a stable political order by the time Nigeria celebrates fifty years of nationhood in 2010.