The Stagnation of Political Consciousness in Nigeria


Umar Bello, PhD.


"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them"... Fredrick Douglas  


Political consciousness of the citizenry is a necessary requirement for any political advancement. Consciousness here means the ability to understand how political issues have relevance in your life and also to recognise the invisible hand controlling and manipulating societal ideas and to be able to resist or, where acceptable, accept them using fine-grained observation and critique. Ideas can undergo evolution and the capacity to understand such ideas in their currency and how their movement backward or forward may affect the political destiny and trajectory of your country is crucial, especially now that the country is gravitating towards being a failed state.


The advancement of such political ideas that can help us in checking the excesses of the political class has been hindered in Nigeria since independence because of the presence of some structures that are built deep down in us which restrain a horizontal motion of consciousness. The aim of this article is to look at those ideas and structures that continue to beset our calculation and thwart our awareness and to see also the costly distraction that they have created for us. 


The essence of a genuine, objective dispassionate criticism in the evolution of ideas in line with Hegel's dialectics is significant here. Hegel sees ideas in terms of a linear progression:


Thesis—Antithesis—Synthesis—New Thesis—Antithesis—Synthesis…


Societies hold in them deficiencies and contradictions that need to be pointed out, and then this pointing out can lead us to the stage of 'synthesis', a state where those deficiencies are possibly taken care of, retaining the best of both the early state and the constructive points in criticism. The 'synthesis' stage reached, then again forms another 'new thesis' and the process is replicated again towards further revolutionary transformation. There should, in essence, be perpetual vigilance.


Invariably, the growth that has taken place in the field of material sciences or technologies through this continued scrutiny and criticism of objects can be attested by just a glance at the environment. Every piece of technology you see around us has undergone a trajectory of transformations as a result of the pointing out of one fault or the other by a detached or attached (but external) observer.


Today the earliest car is not the same as the latest car in terms of size, efficiency and reliability and the shaping process continues endlessly. See the figure of the evolution of the automobile below.




All systems (social or material), thus, undergo transformations as a result of criticism in line with the demands imposed by our engagement with, or the perusal of, the objects. In fact, intensive scrutiny is more compelling in political situations to checkmate human behaviour especially at the leadership level. Physical objects are much more predictable and measurable compared to political behaviour. And, matter does not respond to sentiments nor does it need any obsequious sycophant to make it react to a kind of stimuli!


With leadership as an aspect of human behaviour, first, no leader is perfect and that continued improvement can only be attained through sustained observation and criticism. Secondly, citizens’ vigilance and feedback are necessary in helping leadership due to the leaders’ possible tendency to be forgetful, avaricious, egocentric etc. Thirdly, criticism doubles the otherwise limited vision of the leadership by providing far reaching insights and oversights on issues that deserve attention. Shedding critical lights on reality, away from the rosy and saccharine assessments provided by hangers on, can make that reality be easily grasped and worked on. As Winston Churchill would say “criticism fulfils the same function as pain in the human body because it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things”. 


 Indeed, democracy is one of the technologies of modern political power with essential methods of operations without which the complete system or apparatus will remain dysfunctional. It survives on feedback and representation. Nigeria’s political evolutionary process should be just like this:


Nigeria's democracy (THESIS)—Objective criticism (ANTITHESIS)—a better system (SYNTHESIS)—A better system (NEW THESIS)—sustained constructive criticism (ANTITHESIS) infinitum



Our political state, however, is still stuck at the 'thesis' stage because of diversions and distractions. The linear progression of pure ideas and criticism has not been realized essentially since the birth of our nation. This immobility of ideas that hamstrings an effective dialectics in our body politic corresponds to the immobility of our development, or, in clearer terms, results in the gross underdevelopment you see around us.

When we develop what Late Justice Oputa calls the ‘the cult of leadership’ where the leadership is almost deified and sanctified; when we find ourselves parrying critics of a system that dehumanizes us; when masses kill neighbours and each other to foster the political interests of a  distant elite tribesman; when we see our tribesman being in leadership as an end in itself even if the sundry effects of their leadership may be felt negatively by us; know that we are unconsciously victims of the dominant ideology, and this ideology is using us as merely amplifiers in maintaining and vouching for the  status quo. The leadership largely remains insulated from the genuine feelings and heartbeats of the nation.



In essence, the dialectics we have had with the nation is one that fosters sentiments that bear no relevance to the train of thoughts that aids the development we badly need and that is why most governments in Nigeria survive their complete lack of leadership. Sentimental structures are concretized that mystify the strength of the oppressed group and that dislocate critical consciousness.


Structures like ethnic, regional, and partisan create imaginary points of political solidarity. These structures work both ways in subverting the common will. Be critical for a change because a northerner or a Muslim or a Fulani or an APC member is in control for he is not of us. Or don't be critical for a change because the president is our own, a northerner, a Fulani, a Muslim, an APC president. Leadership is here invariably sacrificed on the altar of deep baseless sentiments.


The quest for better leadership through genuine and focused criticism is diverted and the ship of awareness remains motionless and rooted in one place. Both the supporters and opponents of leaderships on the basis of primordial sentiments have missed and continued to miss the larger picture.


Our criticism should be predicated on our leader’s inability to carry out a political responsibility (s/he has sworn to discharge) in the same way that you would scold a bungling mechanic who couldn't fix your car properly as agreed. In fact, leadership calls for your scrutiny much more than, say, the scrutiny directed at your mechanic for the former has the key to direct and control every aspect of your material life, including your ability to even drive around safely!


Feeling that governance should not be criticized or scrutinized or that should leaders should be placated only shows the level to which the dominant ruling class viewpoint has disconnected and redirected you from understanding the basic values of leadership into making puerile sentiments substantial objects in their own rights. The ethnic or regional construct of a leader or your mechanic are matters extraneous to the (social) contract.


How can where a leader’s umbilical cord is buried be of significance to his political competence or how can a leader’s language or his creed be the yardstick of your judgement of his viability in leadership? Instead of progressing forward with constructive ideas, we are vertically stuck and going deeper in a hole, burying ourselves with irrelevant issues.


When you go to have your car repaired, do you ask for expertise at that urgent material time or for tribal or religious affiliations as a precondition for that repair? Nigeria is at a more urgent state or context now. Sometimes citing rudimentary analogies like this could help shake us back to the realities of the basics of leadership under a democratic regime otherwise repressed by deeply entrenched but irrelevant diversions.


When you look for expertise in your private contractees but look for, say, ethnic affiliates in politics, know that you are acting (knowingly or unknowingly) under a conditioning that makes you think conscientiously in the former and sentimentally in the latter. By relegating politics or genuine political participation to the background, or by positioning yourself as a sentimental defender, you are raising a group of people far ahead and giving them the carte blanche to do as they please with your life. Pericles warns us succinctly: “just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take interests in you”.


Dr. Umar Bello writes this from Jubail, Saudi Arabia