“We can confidently reassure Nigeria’s Hennessey-sipping elites that the likes of Mr. Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo will never become the driving force of Nigerian politics. Rather, generations of these tough guys will be available to rig and win elections for the lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, and other professionals who decide to become billionaires by serving their people.”
Mr. David Hundeyin, the multi-talented writer and much-valued occasional contributor to Arbiterz, whose range adroitly straddles politics, economy, technology, and much more, penned a surprising political hit, MC Oluomo is Coming For Us All, for Opera News mid-December 2019 (later published on the back page of ThisDay on January 2nd, 2020). The piece was widely shared on social media, including WhatsApp groups for professionals, activists and politicians. Its main theses are:
- Young, educated and sophisticated Nigerians (who attended private schools) have succeeded in culture/entertainment but have refused to organise politically.
- These educated elites have been protected from the rule of the street (i.e. the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, led by Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo) only by their parents/older elites (e.g. Mr. Ahmed Bola Tinubu) who have earned the right to rule by fighting military dictatorship.
- When these parents/older elites die, crude elements from the streets such as MC Oluomo will take over Nigerian politics and victimise the educated and sophisticated folks because they are the only group of younger Nigerians who have deliberately organised themselves politically.
We thoroughly disagree with the premise and almost every word in the analysis. With this piece, Mr. Hundeyin almost creates the political analysis equivalent of science fiction, which could be named pol-fant. It is ridiculously alarmist. It is surprising that the premise and conclusions of the article weren’t called to question by the elites that the author sought to spook, perhaps except for a very mild criticism by Zainab Usman, a Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank. We can confidently reassure Nigeria’s Hennessey-sipping elites that the likes of Mr. Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo will never become the driving force of Nigerian politics. Rather, generations of these tough guys will be available to rig and win elections for the lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, and other professionals who decide to become billionaires by serving their people.
Here is why:
- NURTW enforcers are a severely oppressed and underrepresented minority in Nigerian politics. Big-muscled guys are one of the most critical factors in winning elections. They make extraordinary sacrifices for the victory of their political parties and candidates, often losing limbs, eyeballs and sometimes their lives. And what do they get for these valiant efforts? Nothing more than generous supply of Mary Jane, bottles of cheap liquor, and cash that doesn’t last more than a week. There are many lawyers, medical doctors, Ph.D. holders, architects etc. in state houses and national and state assemblies. We don’t know of any of them who rose through the ranks at the motor park in Oshodi to become a Governor. And these elites never appoint the NURTW strong men as Special Assistants rather they invite their kith and kin who were working in banks in Lagos while the NURTW men were securing their victory with guns and cutlasses. So, it is so mean and uncharitable to start crying wolf when the odd NURTW member is selected for recognition and reward after elections as MC Oluomo has been chosen. Is it only people who attended private school who deserve meaningful participation in looting Nigeria?
- NURTW has zero Ideological Pitch: successful political organization and careers have to be built on a modicum of ideological posturing that people find minimally credible and political leaders have to also offer some evidence or reason to believe in this ideology. Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu aka Asiwaju trades on a modification of the Awoist chauvinism that the Yoruba possess the technocratic and moral superiority (Omoluabi) to lead a successful Nigeria or develop a world-beating South-West enclave (True Federalism). The President, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, has built a political following on opposition to Western free-market economic policies and the idea that fighting corruption is a cure–all for Nigeria’s problems. Of course, he added more than a sprinkling of positioning as the faithful leader of the Muslim North. The PDP built its appeal on the promise of fair and equitable access to power and national resources to all Nigerians (really, this meant few elites chopping EQUITABLY on behalf of all regions and ethnic groups). These ideological posturings connected deeply to the aspirations and fears of millions of Nigerians. NURTW leaders completely lack the skills and credibility to build or pitch any ideology. The farmer in Tudun Wada or petty trader in Abakaliki wants to follow people who look like what they would like their own children to become i.e. successful professionals and businessmen. Even political organizations and revolutions of the poor against the rich are led by elites – Comrade Vladimir Ilich Lenin, leader of the 1917 Russian revolution, was a lawyer and not a peasant. No Nigerian ethnic group would want to be led by strong men from the motor parks. A good CV still counts for a lot in Nigerian politics – witness the manner political parties and godfathers brandish the technocratic credentials (this degree, former that) even if the primary intention is resource control. Political elites can draw on professional networks developed in the military, law, business etc. and in the universities in building political organisations. In contrast, the motor park business is extremely localized. Imagine an aspirant national political leader from Oshodi calling his equivalent in Gwagwalada motor park, “hey, Auxilliary on the phone, remember when we used to slash buttocks after rounds of paraga?”
- Politicians everywhere supply the principal thing that voters demand: Nigerian professionals have this conceit that Nigerian politics is full of or dominated by dimwits. So, the country is poorly governed because there is a shortage of smart people who have attended Corona Nursery School or Harvard University like them in government. They never stop and ask how the many technocrats (aka Nigerians with PhDs in Compromise) who hold government positions actually conduct themselves or what difference they have made. The problem is much deeper. Nigerian politics is structurally based on the competitive sharing of national positions and resources. In politics, voters get the main thing they ask for – Nigerian politicians have mobilized voters to demand and debate an equal or bigger share of the national cake. Political discussions and action are completely based on the almighty inter-ethnic contest to dominate or distribute national resources. It is also the principle on which national institutions and political parties are organized. Nigerian Presidents, Governors, Ministers etc. do not fail to supply good roads, healthcare, education etc. because they have not attended elite primary schools but because what their respective supporters or voters primarily demand is greater participation in distributing the nation’s resources. Of course, you can argue that the problem is really a refusal to supply i.e. Nigerian political parties have concentrated on mobilizing ethnic identities rather than competing based on superior ability to supply and maintain roads and clinics and ensure effective policing and a stable national currency. The culture of political organization as the organization of ethno-cultural coalitions to capture political power for personal advantage is very strong. For politicians and political parties, policy making is something you do as a sideshow or as hazy lip service. So, the All Progressives Congress (APC), for instance, arrived in power and the big noise about poor economic performance under President Jonathan immediately deteriorated into the basic ingredients of the coalition i.e. inter-ethnic bickering over power and positions. Polities like Malaysia or Dubai have delivered development not because the leaders are smarter or more austere but because they primarily are not organized on the basis of competitive struggles by culturally defined opposing elites to dominate national positions and resources. In fact, they imported and continue to import the brain power to develop their countries – because that is what their politics is structured to supply and what citizens have been mobilized to demand. So, the task for Nigerian professionals is to organize, retail to and mobilize the masses for a new type of politics which is primarily animated by the discourse and supply of economic plans and progress. And it isn’t Mr. Hundeyin’s comedians and musicians who are best positioned to initiate or lead this change but Nigeria’s younger businessmen and its army of professionals who would lead and fund alternative political parties. Surprisingly, this sort of politics sometimes also employs people with big muscles in the quest for political domination.
- NURTW only supplies foot soldiers: this is blindingly obvious. The NURTW toughies are in a very inferior position to the politicians no matter how high they rise. The state and hence politicians remain the sole custodians of legitimate and the most effective use of force through control of the Police and the Army. Politicians use tough men not because the Police or Army under them are not sufficiently powerful but because even in a Banana Republic, a status which Nigeria has not completely attained, the extent to which the Police could be used to harass opponents, snatch ballot boxes etc. is severely restricted. Politicians could easily shut down the roles played by thugs in elections by allowing security agencies to do their jobs professionally. Remember how swiftly and thoroughly Governor Fashola cleared Oshodi, the spiritual and financial capital of the NURTW? The next set of lawyers, accountants, engineers, businesspeople etc. who will inherit control of Nigerian politics from the Tinubus and Buharis will continue to employ NURTW members to snatch ballot boxes and beat up opponents – NURTW men will never displace the elites who control Nigerian politics. What we should actually fear is that as the currently dominant policy-lite mode of Nigerian politics further shrinks economic opportunities, more Nigerian professionals would be forced to seek survival through participation in politics. And they have to be ready to pay NURTW people to be successful in politics.
- MC Oluomo is only Pa Adedibu with an MBA: Nothing is new under the Nigerian sun, including tough men who rise to political prominence and with great economic means. Professor Wole Soyinka revealed in his book, The Open Sore of the Continent, that after disparaging security agencies over their inability to control the violence unleashed by thugs in the political battles of the 1983 elections, his contacts in the then National Security Organization (NSO) showed him pictures of the then President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, lighting a long object emitting smoke between the lips of Bayo Success, the MC Oluomo of the era, that was allied to the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the era. More recently, Nigeria witnessed the respect accorded to the late strong man of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, by politicians including President Obasanjo. The role of the strong man in Nigerian politics is hence not new. We should also not forget Ganiyu Adams, leader of the rival OPC faction, who was honored with the most prestigious chieftaincy title in Yorubaland, the Aare Ona Kakanfo, a far stronger platform to benefit from regional and national politics. MC Oluomo has only taken the game a notch higher by appearing and positioning as a professional – the pictures on British Airways first class cabin, with investors such as the Chinese company, Opay on a carefully curated Twitter account. If anything, the professionals should be flattered that a guy from the street wants to be like them to be more successful. MC Oluomo na only Pa Adedibu wey dey roll with MBA people.
- Lagos is not Nigeria: as Zainab Usman pointed out, Lagos is not Nigeria. In the history of Nigerian politics, you will really struggle to find ten strong men like MC Oluomo, Bayo Success or Lamidi Adedibu who have survived the brutality of their trade to rise to positions of significant political influence. You would have noticed they are all from Lagos or about 100km away in Ibadan. Where today are the children or the political movements or ideology of Bayo Success or Lamidi Adedibu in Nigerian politics? But Awoism is still a force with some pulling power, and all over the country, you can find the children of lawyers, doctors, teachers etc. (like Saraki, Shagari, Eniola Fadayomi, Ribadu, Yar’adua, Mbadiwe, MKO Abiola etc.) using their family political legacy to do a brisk trade in Nigerian politics (of course, you will find the odd one who is serving rather than trading).
To conclude, we don’t think that the task of building a kind of politics that is attuned to solving Nigeria’s myriad problems is in altering the current pattern of “elite formation” as Zainab Usman suggested – this position also suggests that the solution is recruiting more competent people into politics. Nigerian politics, as we have argued above, has a very adequate supply of technocrats. Rather, what is required is the rise of an alternative or counter-political elite who will gradually but steadily focus Nigerian politics on solving problems, away from the current inter-ethnic preoccupation with capturing and distributing economic resources.
Nigeria’s politics as resource capture has never been attractive to the mass of the country’s professionals even if it is the educated, professional class that has always been at its helm. Larry Diamond of Stanford University in his classic, Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria: The Collapse of the First Republic, cited a 1965 survey that found that more than 70% of educated Nigerians considered post-colonial Nigerian politics repulsive. (Yet, people like Lamidi Adedibu who were active in politics of the era, remained in politics and died as toughies who owed their positions to professionals like Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo who needed them for doing things not permitted by the law). The problem is not that professionals are actively barred from participating in this sort of politics, rather it just doesn’t attract them. This has left the unlettered and hungry as the bulk of party followers and voters.
Post-colonial Nigerian political leaders legitimized their hold on power by fighting against the colonialists and thereafter, positioning themselves as the champions and protectors of their ethnic groups or regions from other rival ethnic groups. The next generation of politicians built their appeal through the struggle to rescue Nigerians from military dictatorship. These two generations of political leaders have developed and practiced a kind of politics based on the character of their mainly undiscerning and unlettered followers – it has been extremely personally rewarding. They certainly are not our parents! They know their own children. Today, their brand of politics repulses professionals just as it repulsed their parents.
Reformatting Nigerian politics cannot be achieved even if the current leaders zone all politically relevant positions to people who recited Jack and Jill in nursery school, leaving nothing to the MC Oluomos. The professionals have to displace the political values, incentives, language, imaginations, ideologies etc. of their fathers. The new politics they have to create would attract more professionals as party members, voters and funders and would thus reflect their values and economic interests and aspirations. But it cannot be brought about by merely fighting to inherit Nigerian politics as currently is. We underestimate the tight hold the ideology, language, mental habits etc. of current Nigerian politics have on all of us, including the would-be counter political elites. And we should always remember that the incentives are overwhelmingly stacked in favour of choosing to play the kind of politics that puts power and personal benefits first, far ahead of ideology and impersonal collective action. Thus, professionals aspiring to change Nigerian politics may first have to disinfect themselves.