Nigeria: The fear of newness
I followed a recent Twitter back and forth between Ayo Sogunro and Reno Omokri. Mr. Omokri, the Asiwaju of the Nigerian Federation of Trump Lovers, had praised US President Donald Trump for canceling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Europe in retaliation – the Speaker had drawn first blood by canceling Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address. In a swift riposte, Mr. Ayo Sogunroasked why Nigerian Trump lovers always praise in Donald Trump things they denounce in MohammaduBuhari. Mr. Sogunro wondered how Mr. Omokri would have reacted had President Buhari ever felt sufficiently enamoured to deny Senate President, BukolaSaraki, use of an official plane.
I had made a slightly different observation before I encountered Mr. Sogunro’s reaction to Reno Omokri’s intervention. For my part, I had noticed that someBuharideens were excited by Ms. Pelosi’s initial move against President Trump. They praised her steel, resolve, independence, and determination to maintain the constitutional integrity of the US Congress as a co-equal branch of government with the Executive.
Nigerians at large have a very short memory. Nigerians on social media are even worse on the memory front than their compatriots out there in the real world. Nigerians on social media have no short memory. They don’t do the memory thing at all. They are also extremely hostile to irony and nuance. The sociology of Homo NigerianusTwitterum/Facebookum cannot be exhausted in ten doctoral dissertations.
Thus, Buharideens whose mission it has been in the last four years to transform Nigeria’s National Assembly to an inferior and toothless institution in the Buharidom they envision for Nigeria were praising Nancy Pelosi for a move they would have fanned across Twitter and Facebook to denounce had it happened in Nigeria. How many times have we witnessed their hysterics every time they have determined in Buharisphere that NASS had been “rude” to the President? Even the heckling they see every time on TV in the British Parliament and the US Congress as legitimate democratic practice drove them into spasms of convulsive anger when it happened in Nigeria. Senators had dared to heckle Buhari!
Ayo Sogunro’s observations on loving Trump for precisely the reasons you hate Buhari with a passion and my own observations on hugging the US Congress for reasons you would have immolated Nigeria’s National Assembly got me thinking about a thesis I have nursed for a very long time in my career as a student of the Nigerian condition – our fear of newness; our paralysis when confronted with prospects of the new as civic and political actors. I have been to more than thirty African countries in my career as a scholar so I know that this is an African condition – an ugly aspect of our postcolonial abjection. However, the condition – as in every African condition – is exaggerated in Nigerians.
Colonialism is the foundation of the Nigerian’s encounter with modernity. Colonialism and its cultures created and shaped the Nigerian’s psychology. We know from the work of one of Africa’s illustrious polymaths, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, that there is a vast difference between citizen and subject. Colonialism created subjects. Fifty years after independence, the African, especially the Nigerian, is unable to become a citizen. He is trapped – in most instances he self-traps – in the subject condition. This accounts for his hostility to conceptual, symbolic, and institutional newness. In fact, colonialism has induced a condition of psychological hostility to the new in Nigerians who are two generations away from the colonial experience. Colonialism is ancient history to the Nigerian millennial but he suffers from this condition like his parents and grandparents.
Let me explain. The only culture, only mentality allowable for the subject under colonialism, is a self-abnegating, self-demeaning awe of authority and authority figures. The colonial machine was an institution of epistemic violence which manufactured psychologies of subservience to authority. Under colonialism, you must love Big Brother represented by the white District Officer and the white Governor-General. You must show this love through excessive fawning and sheepish performative hailing during their public appearances. Go to the archives and study photos of hailing by African and Nigerian crowds during Empire Day and other public occasions when the white symbol of authority blessed the public with his presence.
In essence, the apparatuses of colonial state violence created subjects who must form a personality cult around the authority figures of the colonial state. That mentality is what has been carried over into the fifth decade of our postcolonial lives. That is why the Nigerian who can fathom Nancy Pelosi’s congressional and institutional independence from the Executive branch begins to froth and foam in a paroxysm of anger if any such thing happens in Nigeria. Baba must not be heckled.
Personality cultism as colonial heritage is not the exclusive preserve of the Buharideen. The Buharideen may be the worst specimen of that colonial disease today, he inherited it from the Jonathanian. Yar’Adua and Obasanjo had personality cultists. AtikuAbubakar has personality cultists. I have claimed that this culture induces a psychic hostility to anything new in the Nigerian. Because colonial subjects were succeeded by postcolonial subjects in Nigeria, citizenship – a terrain which comes with civic sentience and dignity – is new and foreign to the Nigerian. Consider how the Nigerian treats anybody who has the dream and ambition to help him make the transition from subject to citizen and you have your answer.
Hostility and resistance to newness is the reason they deride ObyEzekwesili and are hostile to Omoyele Sowore, Kingsley Moghalu, Tope Fasua and every other non-establishment candidate. This past week, President Buhari has presented the Nigerian audience with incontrovertible evidence of cognitive disability and physical weakness. He is mentally and physically unfit to continue to be President. If he weren’t such an entitled monarch with zero respect for Nigeria, he would not have dared to present himself in his current condition. AlhajiAtikuAbubakar has finally made a triumphal entry into Washington DC. Allah be praised. However, his trip to the United States is of no moment. It does not in any way invalidate the US Congressional report on his gargantuan corruption. AlhjajiAtikuAbubakar is unfit to be President. I also understand he is planning to enrich his friends. Perhaps I should download the friendship application form from his campaign website and apply? Shior.
Yet, precisely because they are symbologies of subjecthood, personality cultism, and the familiar, thecandidaciesof Buhari and Atiku have been settled by Nigerians as the “only viable options”. The candidacies of ObyEzekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu, Omoyele Sowore, and Tope Fasuaare symbolically portentous of citizenship and dignity, not subjecthood. They want to make citizens of subjects. They want to transfer Nigerians to the province of the unfamiliar and the new. Colonial mentality abhors newness. The tragedy of these new candidates is that they have not collectively come to terms with the colonial origins of the national psychology which continues to dismiss and undermine them.
I see the advent of new possibilities with the candidacies of Oby, Sowore, Moghalu, and Fasua. Some have argued that they should have come together to form a formidable common front. There is considerable merit to that suggestion. However, by going it alone, they are also showcasing the array of individual talents, strengths, and complementarities that Nigeria has in abundance. When all the dust has settled, my hope is that there will be a conjugation of these talents so we can sit down and address certain fundamental questions. We cannot insult, harass, and abuse people into an embrace of the new. We must put our heads together and map concrete, inclusive, and comprehensive strategies towards making a philosophical case for newness. To do that, we must first understand the origins of hostility to newness.