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In Search of Successor to Petty Bourgeois Rule in Nigeria (2) — By Okwudiba Nnoli


My Presidential Address to the 1984 Biennial Conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association was titled “Musical Chairs and Cheers for the Music”. It contained a refrain “And the Beat Goes On”, the title of a very popular 1967 song by Sonny and Cher. My intention was to dramatize how popular national leaders were cheered into office as Heads of State but jeered out of office, if not assassinated. The inference is that personal factors like moral rectitude, empathy for the suffering masses, efficiency, high education and knowledge of national and world affairs count very little in the sphere of politics. Karl Marx makes a similar point when he points out that although men and women are the ones who make history, they do not make it as their fancy drives them or according to their whims and caprices. As a level of political analysis, personality serves very little purpose in understanding the dynamics of significant political changes. Good politics is not a matter of personal will. Therefore, expecting that a good man/woman going into politics can change things from inside is mistaken, wrong and misleading.

The point of the refrain in my Address is that there are certain in-built and recurrent factors that determine how far the good person can go in politics, or which factors can force her/him to embrace politics as usual. They include the level of production in the country, the nature of the productive forces and relations of production, the level of development of classes and class consciousness, the nature and intensity of the struggles between classes and among class factions within classes. Less significant are the hostility or otherwise of the natural environment, the views of the ruling class and the customs and traditions of of the people.

It is these factors that determine the political system and the kind of politics the politician is forced to play. If the system is oppressive of the masses there is very little the well-meaning politician can do about it. At the heart of them all is production, particularly the role played in It by the ruling class, because class is a category of production. In other words, if a ruling class is a failure in production it is bound to fail in political rule. First, production provides the resources which politicians distribute to their constituents as dividends of politics. Without them there would be hunger, hardships, deprivations and alienation in the land, which will further diminish production. Second, success in production demands trust, cooperation, respect for contractual agreements. These spill over into the rest of society as respect for laws, as well as trust and cooperation among peoples. Third, production thrives on innovation which demands a high level of discipline to achieve. This value spills over into the society to adversely affect misbehaviors like corruption, wastage of resources, inefficiency and lack of focus. Fourth, it gives direction to policies to first and foremost enhance the various classes to maximize their output in production. The failure of Nigeria is the failure of production and, therefore, that of the petty bourgeois ruling class that supervises it. This is because the petty bourgeoisie does not play a direct role in production. Only the following classes play direct roles.

They are 1. The peasantry comprising substance farmers, herdsmen, fishermen, and farm hands in large-scale farms. 2. Workers who actually create the products of production. 3. The landed aristocracy which controls farm hands in large farms. And 4. The bourgeoisie which uses capital to innovate products.

Obviously, the petty bourgeoisie is not one of them.

Which of these classes should succeed the ruling Nigerian petty bourgeoisie? It cannot be the peasantry. Historically this class has not organized any political rule in any part of the world. It has a narrow and conservative perspective on social change. Also it is so very dispersed geographically that it faces serious disadvantages getting together organizationally nationwide.

It cannot be the landed aristocracy because it no longer exists in Nigeria. Colonization eliminated it in parts of northern Nigeria where it was headed by the Emirs. The new crop of large-scale farmers is not a serious productive force. Its members are essentially interested in getting free land from the Government, and using farming for laundering their ill-gotten wealth from the state. Most of them are former government officials, both military and civilian.

Unfortunately, the bourgeoisie is absent from the scene. It is so far the most productive class in history.

It has innovated instruments and products of production on a scale and to a degree that is mind boggling.

As a result of its success in the advanced capitalist countries it is now able to organize production worldwide in a phenomenon called globalization. This production is organized around the multinational corporation, and controlled by a cabal of production, distribution and exchange business executives who reside in the advanced countries. They control what is produced, when and how, and how the products are distributed. Also, they decide what needs and traditional consumption patterns are to be met by production. These are activities previously decided by the bourgeoisie of nation-states. Therefore, there is no need for these national bourgeoisies to emerge. Under the circumstance, Nigerian businesses cannot innovate products by using applied science to explore their immediate local physical, biological, and climatic environments. We are stuck with merely replicating the innovations of the multinational corporations which keep their research and development divisions in their respective countries. In order to ensure free reign for the multinationals in all the countries of the world, the globalization cabal has made a fetish of the market such that it now subsumes society. All is deemed well in an economy that is wholly privatized. Hence, the Mixed Economy which used to be the centerpiece of our constitution is now a mere relic of our basic law. And death and other sacrifices of our heroes in the past are now in vain as all the policies of the structural adjustment program against which many of them struggled and some died have since become part of our daily lives.

Thus, only the working class is left to succeed the petty bourgeoisie in ruling the country, no matter how numerically small or how fledgling it may be. Its role in production is the same irrespective of whether the products being created are innovations or replications. Because it creates, it benefits from the values which spill over from production to the rest of society. Besides, it occupies a strategic position in the production process, straddling the majority peasantry and the uncreative petty bourgeoisie. This enables it to form alliances with the former which shares similar values with it, as well as with the progressive wing of the latter that is threatened by proletarianization. Furthermore, it has a cosmopolitan and modern outlook arising from its role in production.

Thus, it is not necessarily for ideological reasons that the working class should succeed the bungling and dying petty bourgeoisie as the ruling class in Nigeria. More importantly, it must do so for reasons of national survival and development.

In the next segment of this series, I will set out what is to be done to ensure the success of this succession of power.

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