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MADUNAGU: REVIEWING A PREDATORS' REPUBLIC (3)

By NBF News
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WE have been trying to construct a universal, liberal and inclusive definition (or hierarchy of definitions) of 'progressive' and 'progressive politics,' first for its own sake, and secondly, for the purpose of confronting, at a latter date, the claim that the progressives are on the march, once again, in Nigerian politics. And our method has been to proceed concretely and historically by revisiting the national seminar on Towards a progressive Nigeria organised and hosted by the PRP government of Kano State in December 1982. Last week I presented the introductory part of the contribution made at the conference by Dr. Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe and part of the communiqué issued at the end of the seminar.

We shall, this week, be proceeding with this effort of seeking the most appropriate (that is, contemporary and historically determined) definition by 'visiting' some other personages, including Biodun Jeyifo and Eskor Toyo. This is essentially the taking of inventory of ideas, on 'progressive,' 'progressive politics,' and indeed, 'human progress.' I should however state clearly at this point that in this particular exercise I am taking inventory, not of all ideas, but ideas that more or less express my own thoughts and beliefs differently, and perhaps more clearly. Thereafter, the next logical step would be to attempt to 'tie up' the ideas to produce a draft profile of 'progressive politics' and 'progressive governance' in a neoliberal capitalist economy, in general, and its 'rentier,' 'lumpen' and 'predatory' variant in particular.

A couple of months ago, Dr. Kayode Fayemi won, via the court, the long, bitter and costly battle to reclaim the electoral victory that was stolen from him and his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), in the April 2007 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. He was thus inaugurated governor barely eight months to the end of a four-year period he was elected to serve. In his assessment of the prospects of the new governor's administration, Professor Biodun Jeyifo acknowledged Fayemi as a 'man of ideas, a genuine scholar and a progressive intellectual' who obtained a 'massive electoral mandate in Ekiti State.' Furthermore, Comrade Jeyifo testified, 'Fayemi also happens to be a man who cares passionately about the lot of ordinary men and women in a skewed, unjust social order.' (Welfarism in a rentier state: Fayemi's real and symbolic challenges,' The Guardian, November 7, 2010).

Those were the credentials of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, articulated and provided by Biodun Jeyifo, as the former assumed office late in 2010. From credentials we move to expectations, also provided by Jeyifo in the same article: 'It is almost certain that the people of Ekiti State will fare considerably better under his administration than they  have under previous administrations and probably under any other state government in the federation.' The areas where the people of Ekiti State are expected to 'fare considerably better' under Fayemi, according to Jeyifo and as the Governor himself said or hinted at his inauguration, include education, health care delivery, old age pension and social safety network. He is also expected to 'put an end to corruption and trim down the size of the inherited governmental apparatus and the recurrent expenditure needed to sustain its bloated scale of remuneration and pecks.'

From expectations we move to admonition, still remaining with Biodun Jeyifo: Governor Fayemi 'must demonstrate that ideas matter and matter a lot in the world of a 21st century global economy now in one of its worst crises everywhere in the world, especially as this global crisis has served to immensely complicate economic conditions for the vast majority of the people in our country and our continent.' Let me put this admonition differently and more directly: One needs ideas to confront and simultaneously negotiate with the Nigerian state and the Nigerian ruling classes and blocs to be able to take even a single preliminary step in executing Fayemi's welfarist programme in Ekiti state, or even a couple of states. Put differently again, welfarism under neoliberal rentier capitalism inescapably and, indeed, imperatively, entails confrontation and simultaneous negotiation with objectively and subjectively entrenched interest. You have to expect head-on collisions with capitalism and its profit-seeking logic.

For the avoidance of doubt we should briefly define and put in context Jeyifo's operational concepts: welfarism and rentier. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1993, a welfare state is a 'social system based on the assumption by a political state of primary responsibility for the individual and social welfare of its citizens; or a nation or state characterised by the operation of the welfare state system.' And welfarism is 'the complex of policies, attitudes, and beliefs associated with the welfare state.' It is understood that the primary beneficiaries of welfarism are the 'disadvantaged groups.'

A rentier is a 'person who lives on income from property or securities.' And Jeyifo says that in a rentier state, such as Nigeria, 'revenues for running public services come overwhelmingly from payments (rents) made by extractive industries for leases for prospecting, mining and extraction of mineral deposits or fossil fuels.' Moreover, in a rentier state, 'value-added economic activity is minimal and the tax-base either insignificant or virtually non-existent.' Professor Eskor Toyo has also described this type of political economy, that is, the type now operating in Nigeria, as lumpen capitalism.

The terms 'rentier,' 'lumpen,' 'dependent,' 'peripheral,' 'outpost,' etc, are all alternative descriptions of Nigeria-type economy. But in each case we should leave no one in doubt that the economic system is capitalism and that lumpen, rentier, etc, are qualifiers, to describe the exact variant or form of capitalism. We insist on this clarity because it is possible to theoretically construct a rentier state or lumpen state that is not capitalist or is state-capitalist. We have seen several types of socio-economic monstrosities claiming to be socialist simply because they run counter to some logics of capitalism.

Lumpen  is not a 'socialist' word. Used as adjective, it is defined as 'of, or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified.' From here come specific sociological concepts: lumpen proletariat, lumpen intellectuals, lumpen capitalism, etc. What are you, but a lumpen, if you and what you are doing can disappear over night with a no trace and no impact  on the economy? What are those hundreds of daily paid, non-unionised women and men employed to sweep the streets? What are the gigantic vehicle distribution enterprises, 'service' enterprises in the oil sector, fast-food joints, all those banks with imposing buildings, and most of our churches? How do we describe a Nigerian capitalist that makes a profit of one billion dollars simply by buying and selling oil blocks? They are all sectors of lumpen capitalism.

Beyond acknowledging the new governor's admirable credentials, indicating popular expectations, and offering some advice, Jeyifo submitted a frank proposition which was, of course, not intended to discourage, but to help prepare him for the battle ahead. And the proposition is: 'Even with the best intentions and the cleanest administration in the country or even the whole world, Governor Fayemi will never be able to run a working, productive welfarist dispensation in a rentier state of the kind that we have in Nigeria.'

These are the reasons: First: the money will simply not be available-even if Governor Fayemi succeeds in stamping out corruption and state robbery or radically reducing them. The current political economy, as partly expressed in the budget, for instance, will not permit the huge allocation of resources needed for a welfare programme. Second: the governor will, before long, run into conflict with entrenched capitalist  interests, including contractors and captains and apostles of 'free market,' 'free trade', 'privatisation,'

'commercialisation' and 'deregulation.' Third: he will come into conflict with the Nigerian capitalist state. Fourth: he will come into conflict with influential leaders of his own party and the other arms of his own government.

• To be continued, but under different titles.