By Charles Onunaiju
The main bone of contention in electoral competition is power and it is not physical or spiritual power but State power. Therefore, to understand power without understanding the State through interrogating its nature, structure and even origin is grossly inadequate. In the same manner, to assess the candidates in the contest for State power, without examining their understandings, attitudes in relation to the State can also be fatally misleading. A common popular refrain in the current electioneering campaigns for the presidential poll scheduled on the 25th of February is that character, competence, capacity, agility and even age would define the quality of the leader to move the country out of the doldrums. However, these qualities are at best essential but marginal to the core issue of any of the candidate’s understanding of the State and its central, strategic and transformative role as catalyst and also beyond been mere object of manipulations by vested special interests, factional cliques and a banal surrogate of international finance capital. Understanding the historical condition of the state its trajectories, especially in the context of its current quagmire would unlock the historical imperative to transform it, reinvent its key institutions as competent, impartial and efficient service providers and legitimate interlocutors in public affairs. The political capacity to understand the use of state power to shake up its institutions, realign them to the collective will of society and understanding of the transformative character of the state is beyond the mere technical capacity of any individual no matter how invested with character, competence and agility.
The historical condition and current stage of the Nigerian state has attained a chronic status of dysfunction due to incremental weakness exerted by vicious vested special interests, factional cliques and cabals, all functioning as gate-keepers, kitchen cabinets and other sundry manipulators of the state. In many instances and several occasions, the state has degenerated to be mere rogue accomplice to manipulating vested special interests and factional cliques.
To rescue the state from jaws of the vicious strangle hold of the vested special interests and other sundry cliques, as the historic mission of the state, is the only path that guarantees the restoration of Nigeria and its manifest destiny to accomplish prosperity and prestige for her numerous people. The historic deficit of economic productivity for hedonistic consumption is not a character innate of a state, but an the acquired immune syndrome fostered by mindless and excessive hollowing out of the objective character of the Nigeria state by vested special interests. The original nature and character of the state in a certain stage of its historical transition is to impartially direct the affairs of society with the aim of superintending fair allocation of resources on the basis of returns and rewards according outputs. The state institutions, structures and processes that discharge its duties and responsibilities are not abstract categories invented or coined from without.
They are aggregate summaries of the totality of the civic outlook of any given people drawn from their experiences, historical and contemporary realities and expressed in concrete terms of their existential framework otherwise known as the constitutional process. A constitutional process that do not capture these realities and is simply contented with bogus and aspirational expressions would be grossly deficient in its organic relationship with the state, without which it is largely lifeless and in operational except for the mere legal twist and turns that exist outside the social and historical context of the state. The State is not a mechanical behemoth that exists in a finished form, simply taken over and deployed as all-time problem solver of all types and in all circumstances.
The state is a living organism, nourished by the diet of the dynamism of its institutions and processes and it’s at its best, when adapted to the realities of its existential clime and fostered in the specific context of its historical trajectories. Having situated the Nigeria state in the disconcerting operational environment that currently explains its dysfunctions, it is improper to disavow it and its strategic role for national renewal, while at the same time, seeking its power. Against this, we would attempt a summary of the publicly expressed attitudes of the key or major candidates in the February 25th presidential elections. It is important to note here, the currency of integrity as a factor in the consideration for the highest office in the country. But suffice to state that integrity must be beyond mere personal honor as important as that is, to consist of an adequate understanding of our current weakness and the strategic advantage that issues from it in the national efforts for rebirth and redemption.
For the avoidance of doubt, there is no attempt here to canonize or fetishize the state but there is no gain saying that in its nature and form, it is a strategic enabler. Among the major candidates, Mr. Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party would offer little or no scope to the state especially in the key role of economic reconstruction. In many of his public interventions, he disavows the state as a potent factor to the reestablishment of productive economy. He would rather leave the role to the organized private sector.
His party undertook massive privatization of public utilities in the sixteen years, they held sway and despite that the results is less than salutary, both in performance and the overall economic architecture, he hold the template as a cannon.
Even for the private sectors to play by the rule and to give level playing field to the different shades of private sectors, including the small and medium scale operators, a strong, efficient state is absolute necessity not only to hold the ring among the players but to innovate and drive policies conducive to optimum productive, economic expansion and sustainable growth. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and candidate of the opposition PDP, seem to have a vision to denude the state, using state power to overthrow the state. His near evangelical canonization of the private sector does not seem to benefit adequately of what Nigerians have experienced from the private sector dominated economy in the past 20 years. The fact is that private sector in the Nigeria’s context in the past 20 years is more or less, a euphemism for state capture by vicious vested special interests and there is nothing to suggest so far, it would not remain so. It has neither enhanced productivity nor inspired economic expansion in any significant way to impact the living standards of the majority of Nigeria. President Buhari’s reassertion and reestablishment of the centrality of the state, fell into clannish and clique rule, with the state operating as a mere smoke screen of paternalistic surrogacy.
The new political kid in the block, Mr. Peter Obi has ambivalent attitude to the state, but if his governance experience in Anambra, South East, Nigeria is any pointer, he will use state power to bypass the state, outsourcing responsibilities and functions to his beloved potpourri of civic and religious groups. The candidate of the ruling APC, Mr. Bola Tinubu appeared to have clarity about the strategic role of the state. But whether it would be Buhari’s type of state that degenerated into clannish cliques and factions or a reconfigured national state, broadly inclusive, decisive and efficient in mobilizing legitimacy through structural and institutional outreach designed to generate consensus and outline specific goals in national development is a matter of speculation now.. His vision of state support for farmers, students and other critical sectors of the society can help build capacity and considerably add to the legitimacy of the state.
However, except the state is understood in its current historical condition of atrophy and the imperative to reinvent it through institutional reforms, otherwise it will remain surrogate of the vicious vested interests and their desperate proclivity for toxic influence peddling.
Mr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of NNPP has a positive view of the state and its central role. But whether as feeding-bottle state or one enabling productive activities and vested with institutional credibility, efficiency and dynamism is too soon to determine.
The 25th presidential poll is beyond the issues of butter and bread as much as they matter. It is mainly about the state of the nation as it is more fundamentally about the Nigerian nation-state.
•Onunaiju, research director of Abuja based Think Tank