Africa Today

Tatalo Alamu: Political Neurosis in Contemporary Nigeria

New Hampshire campaign worker: How is the senator this morning?
Mary, Senator’s daughter: Oh! Alienated as usual.
An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968, p.78

The above conversation was about Eugene McCarthy, one of the most graceful, cerebral and charismatic individuals ever to grace the American senate. Urbane and telegenic to match, McCarthy’s dramatic entry into the 1968 American presidential sweepstakes and subsequent resounding victory at the New Hampshire primary forced the incumbent, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to withdraw from the race.

But even at the summit of human distinction, there is a pecking order. The main reason for McCarthy’s “alienation” was because the Minnesota politician was in a class of his own: a star among stars and an outstanding senator in an outstanding senate. He was a poet, essayist, scholar and former small-town college professor of Sociology. Many considered him remote, cold, overly refined and offputtingly high-minded.

Now compare this starry credential with the risible resume of a serving Nigerian senator who is currently making an abject fool of himself in America with his buffoonery and sheer tomfoolery. His antics have gone viral and taken together with his oafish antecedents, they point to a new low in the legislative annals of Nigeria. How could Nigeria have ended up with this legislative brigand?

It was said that when things got a little bit rowdy in the ancient Roman Senate, Emperor Caligula sent up one of his horses to monitor and regulate proceedings. But at least it was a sane and sober horse—which cannot be said for many of our serving senators. The hoofed one could have done a bit of scraping and kicking, but it maintained a stately composure. Perhaps this is expecting too much from a rogue senate bristling with all kinds of asocial and anti-social characters.

But it will be unfair and an assault on objectivity to single out our senators. The behaviour of our political class, our traditional rulers, our elite clerisy and our so called intelligentsia points at a more fundamental rupture of our societal architecture. Just as the current country-wide clamour for restructuring is a shorthand or password for a more foundational crisis of nation-growing which cannot be ignored without tipping the country over, the institutional degeneration and disorientation of the Fourth Republic is sign that the country has come to the end of its legendary run of luck.

While the battle for the restructuring of the governance architecture must proceed apace, it should now be obvious that far more than a political crisis, we are faced with an ontological crisis. Unlike a political, economic or spiritual crisis, an ontological crisis is the very crisis of being and for a nation or a people, it is the crisis of collective consciousness.

Symptomatic of this existential disorder is a collective neurosis which compromises all efforts at political revival, subverts all attempts at economic reforms even as it neutralizes all efforts at intellectual innovation and legal sanitization. In the moral and spiritual occlusion and the ethical void, it is very hard to distinguish who is who and who is for what. In the relentless homogenization of ideas and ideals, progressives become ex-progressives while former reactionaries begin to sound like new reformers.

This is the nearest thing to what sociologists call a state of anomie. Anomie is the state of normlessness where the compass guiding a society has fractured, where normal behaviour cannot be expected and where a nation is on the verge of moral and ethical collapse. It is a state of complete alienation and national disorientation. Institutions created for specific purposes assume a life of their own and begin to threaten the very foundation of the order on which their existence and survival are predicated.

If one takes a look at our principal institutions, particularly the political class, the judiciary, the presidency, the legislature, the traditional order, the state parties and the spiritual clerisy, the alienation and disorientation are so severe that it is a miracle that a vestige of order survives albeit in a very precarious manner.

In the parties, the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. The legislature is driven by irrational self-interest. The judiciary stinks of moral squalor as the executive sinks into a self-dug hole of sectional infamy even as a gaudy religiosity replaces deep spirituality. This is surely the last snapshot of a society in the throes of anomic suicide.

God bless Adeoye Lambo wherever he is. In one of his casually thrown insights, the great psychiatrist made the seemingly outlandish suggestion that our leaders should first be subjected to psychiatric evaluation as a precondition for aspiring to higher office. Lambo was ruing the political and economic ravages of military despotism.

Eighteen years into civilian rule and with the benefit of hindsight, it should be obvious that the seminal healer was confusing a symptom for its own cure. Every form of madness is a product of a specific social formation, just as every Rome must produce its own barbarians. In other words, madness has its own unique method and methodology. There is nothing like universal madness.

Lambo’s unique contribution to psychiatry lies in his discovery that pathologies and mental disturbances contracted in a rural undeveloped community are best treated in a condition of rural and agrarian bliss rather than being forcibly contained in a modern institution. With its sanitized soullessness, its merciless rationality and institutionalized cruelties the modern psychiatric ward tends to exacerbate rural neurosis rather than ameliorate it. This is the birth of rural psychiatry.

Observing the terrible impact of western culture and education on many westernized Black people and the resulting human fiascos, Franz Fanon , the great Martinique-born psychiatrist, concluded that certain neuroses are social in origin. If we now transfer Lambo’s unique insight to modernity and post-colonial politics, it will be seen that the pathologies inflicted on Africa as a result of the rupturing of its old order by colonization and the advent of western modernity cannot and will never be cured through the wholesale adaption of western institutions but through the growth of society-specific institutions which take on board the unique history and experience of African people.

These institutions were not designed for Africa and Africans in the first instance and are the source of exemplary political disorder and strange neuroses. For example, the idea of an all-powerful, almighty presidency dishing out preferment and largesse to cowered subjects in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation like Nigeria is a recipe for untrammelled ethnic aggression and genocidal rage. At best, such an institution ought to be hedged and hemmed in by the countervailing office of a premier or prime minister.

The bane of Nigeria is that it has been ruled by kings rather than by philosopher-kings. Otherwise, it ought to be clear from the preceding analysis that the problem is even more severe than superficial restructuring or mere devolution of power since it speaks to the political pathology of the Blackman and the greatest conglomeration of Black souls anywhere in the world. The only alternative to a peaceful and purposeful restructuring of the governance architecture of Nigeria is periodic ethnic cleansing and endemic instability.

It is an engrossing historical irony that while a serving Nigerian senator was making a fool of himself in America, the Dutch premier was arriving at the palace of his sovereign on a bicycle to announce the formation of a new government. He did not forget to secure the bicycle. After liberation from Spain, the Dutch, in order to secure stability and national cohesion, crowned the family of one of its most illustrious freedom fighters as monarchs.

But even more importantly, western societies have learnt to tame and domesticate modern capitalism by adopting countervailing philosophies of life. The Calvinist doctrine emphasizes thrift, hardihood, iron restraint, delayed gratification, disdain for opulence and the production of wealth rather than its wild maniacal consumption. In Holland, everybody rides a bike.

It is noteworthy that all non-western societies that have triumphed over capitalism have done so by adapting it to local condition and their timeless indigenous philosophies: Confucianism, Shintoism, Buddhism and other oriental concoctions. This is the secret behind the modern success story of Japan, China, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. In Africa and particularly in Nigeria without the institutional bulwark of indigenous philosophies, an under-developing variant of capitalism reigns supreme.

In such circumstances, the various nationalities resort to self-help and self-medication with the east perfecting a brutal and aggressive mercantilism which is as fierce as it is ferocious in its survivalist disdain for regulation, with the hitherto industrious west succumbing to pirate capitalism and laissez faire indolence even as the old north, contrary to the Dubai paradigm, is embroiled in a historically anomalous struggle to contain capitalism under the rubric of rampart feudalism.

No Marshall Plan or World Bank munificence can work in such circumstances. Indeed, if one were to take an audit of the humongous amount of petro-dollars accruing to Nigeria sixty one years after Oloibiri, what a story of epic waste and mismanagement it would have been. Without a transformative philosophy powered by indigenous genius, it is impossible to transform a nation. We are merely putting the cart before the horse and repeating Einstein’s famous law of insanity.

Around the same time that oil was discovered in Nigeria, Dubai was an arid wasteland, Singapore, a dingy colonial cesspool and South Korea a traumatised society emerging from the throes of bitter partition and Japanese colonisation. Yet within one generation sterling leadership and commensurate national philosophy have transformed the countries into glittering spectacles of adapted modernity while Nigeria regressed into a whimpering caricature of a nation-state.

If General Buhari really wants to make a dent on Nigeria’s arrested development, it is obvious that a bipartisan congregation for the structural reconfiguration of the country’s governance architecture and the fashioning of a national philosophy is inevitable. This is imperative not just for Nigeria but for the Black person. In the absence of this holistic framework, the fight against corruption and efforts to sanitize Nigeria will continue to remind us of a Don Quixote tilting at the windmill, a doomed quixotic quest

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  • Toks Yerokun

    Could the Nigerian situation not only be an ontological crisis, but also an ornithological crisis. These birds are not all birds of the same feather, and we can no longer continue to fly together.

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