Political class abusing public trust, shows no remorse – Prof Jinadu

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A professor of Political Science and former Secretary-General of the African Association of Political Science, Prof Adele Jinadu, shares his thoughts with MUHAMMED LAWAL on the restructuring, and insecurity in the country, among others

What were your experiences in some of the prestigious positions you held in the past?

It was a humbling experience that enabled me to appreciate the importance and richness of diversity. It underscored for me the bonding force of diversity in strengthening our shared humanity, anchored on respect, mutuality, reciprocity, and solidarity.

How would you describe Nigerian politics at this time?

But there are serious indications that our federal system is dangerously moving towards failure. The drift down the political disaster is evident in the current gap in the elite accord driving our politics since the end of our civil war, particularly the increasingly disturbing criminalisation of our electoral politics, and the attempt to delegitimise the state and its institutions at our federal, state and local government levels. To this development must be added the weakening, perhaps the deepening inconsequence of the fences of federalism and democracy in the country.

In this respect, there are also disturbing trends showing that the vibrant pro-democracy movement within the state and civil society that united in the struggle to retrieve the democratic deterioration after the June 12 annulment has lost its value and is losing its direction and focus, falling a victim to the pretence of those who now falsely claim to be part of that movement and who have ridden on the back of the movement to political power.

Will you say the country has developed more politically than in the past?

Yes, we have developed politically since independence. This is because independence itself has provided new and expanding opportunities and possibilities for our individual and collective self-determination and self-development within and outside our country. There can be no better example of the political consciousness of what self-determination means for our people than the crisis of unfulfilled possibilities of democracy and the revolution of rising expectations that now envelop the country. Yet, there are worrying indications of our recolonisation, evident in our rising dependence on and influence of external powers. This is exemplified in the role they have been playing in dictating our development priorities and even in financing the electioneering campaigns of our leading politicians.

You recently described Nigerian politics as being Machiavellian. Why did you say so??

It explains why there is a glaring deficit of a higher moral purpose to pursue a goal aimed at the public interest among the mainstream leadership of our political class, despite their sanctimonious declarations about their commitment to constitutional democracy.  But this is of course self-defeating in the long run because the declarations are not anchored on a democratic political culture. This partly explains the chaotic nature of our party politics characterised as it is by backbiting, deceit, and mistrust among our political class and the ease with which politicians move from one party to another.

If they are Machiavellian in this sense, they are, however, not Machiavellian in another sense which is also central to Machiavelli’s political theory. They lack the republican virtue or spirit to moderate their politics of immorality, so necessary for the nation-building process. The missing link in our politics is precisely that the temptation towards impunity waxes strong among our political class precisely because they do not see and embrace political morality as a self-imposed law that must restrain them from abusing the public interest they have sworn to promote and pursue.

Little wonder that character counts little in their leadership value, and in leadership recruitment and nomination processes for party and public political offices. That is why they are comfortable with the ritual of constitutional, electoral and party reform from one legislative session to another since 1999 because they only see in it no more than strategic ploys to retain political power and disburse patronage to a wider public than party members through consultancies, while their diabolic politics continues as usual since they do not typically embrace law as a self-imposed law but one that must be manipulated for partisan political advantage and personal corrupt enrichment.

Many people believe that the issue of autonomous power for the local governments will cause massive development in the country. Do you also subscribe to the call for autonomy of the local government?

Yes.  The logic of home rule that informs the division of power between the federal government and the states should govern the relations between these two levels of government and the local government level, particularly between the state and the local government levels.  This is the trend in many federal systems and even in unitary systems. Recent African codes, standards and instruments on democracy and development, which our country has ratified and domesticated, such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance require devolution of power to create multiple centres of political power, from national to sub-national (regional, district/local government) levels of government to promote ethics, accountability, and transparency in governance processes. Whether granting limited home rule to the local government will lead to massive development is a different matter and seems unlikely in an environment of diabolic politics.

There has been a clamour by notable Nigerians for the country to return to the 1963 constitution to ensure the nation develops. How do you react to this?

Constitutions matter and they do make a difference to political practice. But we should not make a fetish of constitutions, turning them into magic to solve political problems. Any instrument or mechanism such as the Constitution can be used well, abused, or misused. In this sense, the problem is not necessarily with the Constitution but with how contradictions of politics are handled and the extent to which political practice diverges from the spirit of the Constitution. The lessons of our constitutional and political history point to one fact: failure to manage the contradictions of the 1963 Constitution led to the political crisis between 1963 and 1966 as a major predisposing or contributory factor that brought down the First Republic.

One major dimension of the contradictions should be sought in two aspects of the structural imbalance of the 1963 Constitution, with roots in the politics of the 1951 Constitution, the 1954 and the 1960 Constitutions; the structural imbalance between the three regions, and that within each region, where ethnic minorities saw themselves as internal colonies under the overlordship, not original than that of the British, of the ethnic majority group in each region.

A second factor was how party politics played out under the parliamentary system at federal and regional levels under the 1963 Constitution over a bifurcated executive—the Governor and the premier, the President, and the Prime Minister. In the case of the bifurcated regional executive, the question arises; under what conditions can a premier be removed from office? Is it through a vote of no confidence in the legislature, in the case of the Federal Executive, who has constitutional power over the deployment of the Armed Forces—the President or the Prime Minister?

A third factor was the increasing dominance of the Federal Government over the regional governments through the use of the emergency provisions of the 1963 Constitution to suspend the Western Regional Government, a factor which was partly responsible for the Eastern Regional Government to soft-pedal over the dispute between it and the Federal Government’s population census for fear that its intransigence might precipitate another emergency declaration in the region to upturn the power equation not only in the region but also at the federal level.

Considering the lingering tribal upheavals in the country in recent times, do you also support the call for restructuring which has been on for a while now?

The constitution is a living document. It evolves and develops and must be adapted to current realities. For this reason, although I am not sure how compelling they are, to reconstitute the elite consensus brokered after the end of the country’s civil war, particularly between 1975 and 1999, this has unfortunately broken down a victim of the behaviour of our Machiavellian politicians, who exploited the singular identity-marker of ethnicity for their self-serving interests to the detriment of other identities that should cross-cut and hold the singular ethnic identity under check.

One of the saddest aspects of our 2023 general elections was the failure of our political party leadership to speak out unequivocally against this precipitous decline in the moral content of our party politics, in the form of the voluble expression of hate speech across the country and, more sadly by prominent politicians and holders of high public political offices, who should be more restrained in giving such expression to their bruised egos. Unfortunately, our media, particularly electronic media provided a medium for the gospel of ethnic hatred to be spread nationwide.

If restructuring meant major constitutional reform to compact a new elite consensus of political leadership in the country, I think such a review should be taken out of the hands of our current crop of political leaders in the executive and legislature. Experience shows since 1999 that they have had a conflict of interest in drawing up a constitution, which may be so public-centred, and amount to their committing a class suicide. I think the model of constitutional review in several Eastern African countries, for example, in Tanzania and Kenya should be considered.

What this means is to sustain the “myth” of the “people’s constitution” through a process in which such a constitution is subjected, and results from a broad-based, national debate and a referendum. This was done in both countries where their legislatures partly alienated their constitutional powers by enacting legislation that provided for (a) setting up of a constituent assembly to review their constitutions; and (subjecting the draft constitutions prepared by the constituent assemblies to national referenda before parliaments enacted them into law.

The issue of insecurity has been a major one the country is currently facing. What advice do you have for the Presidency in this regard?

The best antidote to reduce the problem of insecurity is good governance, anchored on (a) compliance with public authorities with the provisions of chapter II of our constitution, Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy; (b) reform of our parties to bring about a responsible party system that mirrors the image of what diabolic politics should not be; and (c) a citizenry that asks questions and takes its obligations or duty to the state seriously as the most secure guardrail of democracy and development.

How will you react to the continued fall of the naira?

The gradual depreciation in the value of the naira over the past several years, but more especially since the beginning of President Tinubu’s administration is the flipside of the impunity of our politics and the corruption that feeds it. In the specific case of the naira, the two-tier official exchange rate of the naira opened the doors for its abuse and manipulation by foreign exchange speculators, through “round-tripping.”  The current depreciation flows significantly from not only the removal of both the fuel subsidies and the two-tier exchange rate but also from the insecurity in the country. While efforts are ongoing to shore up the naira, it must be realised that the problem is not simply an economic one. It is intertwined with the structure of our bad politics.

Some critics have said that the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari drove Nigeria’s economy backward. Is this true?

Beyond personalising politics, the general descent we have witnessed in our public life since independence points to a general failure of leadership in the state and society in general. I do not subscribe to the big man/woman theory of politics. What were we all doing when things were going down the precipice? Where was our civic responsibility when we saw things were on the decline? We often talk about our rights, but what of our obligations? It is part of the deceit of Machiavellianism that was referred to earlier that the party in power now will attribute our economic and political travails to the preceding administration which was constituted and run by the same party.

Nigerians must wake up and take the initiative from a political class that has serially abused the public trust and continues to demonstrate no remorse for doing so. We must probe beneath their subterfuges, their characteristic deception to see them for who and what they are.  Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Within the confines of chapter II and chapter IV of our Constitution, we must start the, no doubt, difficult and complex, process of protecting our electoral mandate and assume our obligations as good citizens to hold them accountable.

How will you describe the level of youth participation in the politics and governance of the country in recent times?

The EndSARS movement showed the potential of the youth as a political force, for good or for evil. Their potential for good, in the sense of elevating the public interest and promoting the diversity reinforcement dimensions of our politics, should not be taken for granted and must be related to the more general imperative of moral reorientation from the worship of materialism and huge deficits of the moral guardrails of democracy that currently characterised our politics. But sadly too, the EndSARS movement leadership was diffused and uncoordinated and, perhaps infiltrated by criminal and déclassé elements in our social structure.

No less worrisome is the lack of clear indications that the leadership of the upsurge of youth political enthusiasm over the prospects for regime change outside of the two major parties and the injection of ethnic hate speech into the electoral process during the 2023 general elections amounted to a new social movement not for change for the sake of change but one that unites by cross-cutting the divisive ethnic and religious hate speech deployed across the country during the elections.

Some are even saying that more youths should be entrusted with leadership positions and encouraged to pilot the affairs of the country. What do you say to this?

We must not forget that generational shifts in leadership are not uncommon in national development. If we take our political history as a point of departure, there are examples of Nigerians who occupied high political positions when they were between 20 and 30 years old, even as far back as 1951 semi-representative and semi-responsible government was introduced under the Macpherson Constitution. This is part of leadership circulation. Our concerns should be how we nurture, cultivate and strengthen a public-spirited crop of leaders across the various strata of our public political life. This is a long-term process of educational reform and the serious nurture of public-spirited leadership in state and society to serve as role models in our national leadership succession process. Our educational and religious institutions have a crucial role to play in this respect as part of their civic responsibility.

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