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Published On: Fri, Oct 30th, 2020

Political class struggles, #HashTag movements and nationwide referendums

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By Ozuomba Egwuonwu

If one is very observant in the sociopolitical history of Nigeria especially with respect to independence, coups, republics,democracy, activism/protests, one would not fail to appreciate that the recent ENDSARS protest is more or less a class struggle which was bound to come sooner or later.
it must be stated upfront that the continuation of the ENDSARS protest, even after all the demands were promptly conceded to was not a youth/ recycled politician thing. This caveat is very important because ENDSARS protest is probably going to usher in a set of young people into subsequent political strata or class, as a sort of inter class ephemeral payoff and inducements. If one desires to be further convinced of this, then one should mentally project to find a retrospective way to ask the youths that came to power and corridors of power few decades ago- the Gowons, IBBs, Obasanjos, even Buhari and shortly thereafter, also the Tinubus, Amaechis, El Rufai etc.
Though most scholars place society into five to three classes ranging from upper, middle, and lower class and scholarly intermediaries , in Nigeria, especially with respect to Democracy and its dividends, we must appreciate that the societal stratification that is dominant and subject to divergent interests and resultant upheavals, is not really economic in the Marxist sense of it, it has always been first of all, political, though with significant economic undertones.
Political stratification has been the dominant bases of class struggle in Nigeria since not only independence but even as recently as the return to Democracy and the #ENDSARS protests.
With keen scrutiny one will observe that these Political classes as contemporarily settled in Nigeria, fall into three strata. These strata are based on political means and tools of negotiation available to each class in furthering its core interests and survival. They include:
1) The rulers or those in government – made up of primarily the executive, (ideally not meant to be so but) in Nigeria, has come to include top echelons of, (and therefore all of) the Judiciary, the security agencies, and civil service).
The government political class used and still uses colonial subterfuge as inherited from the colonial masters- who constituted the Political entity called Nigeria, to protect its(the government) survival and interest. We must realize that the government in reality, predates and has proven to be bigger than Zik, Gowon, IBB, Obasanjo, Jonathan, Buhari etc. This is why for instance before they come to power, while in power and when out of power they have three different ideologies. This is also the salient reason a Buhari would lament that there is no panadol in Aso Rock clinic even though he is the president and the bulk seemingly stops at his desk.
The independence struggles, Coups, counter coups,the second, third republics June 12, NADECO, fourth republic, were all struggles within this class and struggles of getting into this class. They were never really societal inter-class struggles. One needs no further attestation to this fact than the political projectile of Tinubu for instance, in above last three listed sociopolitical platforms.
2) The Legislators political class– The legislators as contemporarily constituted has access to the political tool of executive impeachment and other independent non constitutional and constitutional tools to protect its very narrow interest, hence it got away (and still does) with N100 billion annual constituency project by threatening to impeach the then president Obasanjo etc, and similarly it gets away with budget padding, oversight arm twisting etc for the purpose of self preservation and enrichment. It would not strengthen electoral transparency and credibility for instance, over possible financial returns (rightly or corruptly) accruable to it from the proposal of such exercise, or struggle for the just distribution of resources or better governance in Nigeria, because unlike the N100 billion constituency project for example, such objectives are not vital to its core interest or survival as an organic stratum.
3) The masses political class- over the years the other two political classes had used political instruments at its disposal to nib away more and more at the little and not so effective political tools usable by this class. As they succeeded more and more at this, their arrogance and contempt for the masses grew. To make matters worse, aside the beating in of all aspiring political icons-a 50/50 political negotiation phenomena partly available to the masses in the molds of the Solarins, Fawehimins etc of old, the last ephemeral tools of political bargaining available to the masses–the not so independent electoral body, the not so independent Judiciary, and the Labor unions- with their (though flaccid, but a possible tool of engagement) strikes, were all observably, openly, and continues to be raped in recent times by the same arrogant government with little or no comment by the Legislators( who had since promptly gone on emergency recess to enable them exit the country while there is still some level of sanity to do so) . If the labor unions, on the heels of the electricity and petroleum tariff increase for instance, had embarked on a protracted and non-partisan 5- 7 days strike that had culminated in the government shifting ground reasonably, one can safely bet that subsequently, the ENDSARS protest would not have happened, not at the time it did.
It is very important that one understands what has been going on since Nigerian independence, especially in recent times in the context of political class stratification and struggle as presented above.
Because it is when one sees it in above light that one may begin to objectively advise on the way forward for #hashtag movements as a political tool and the politico-economic maturation of the political entity that has come to be Nigerian, as presently constituted.
In the above context, one comes to realize that the way forward for Nigeria better governance and political space would not be another government policy, or another government initiative or an initiative of the Legislators.
Again one also comes to appreciate that it may not be the best way forward for the masses through this and subsequent #hashtag movements, to, in one sweep, send the government packing; it is visible to all that the government has shown itself as more or less the proverbial fly that is perched on the scrotum. Of course one can rush in and insist and crush out the fly and damn the consequences (yes and in this case, the fly is making it known that it is willing to set the whole body including the scrotum on fire with whatever venom it can muster before it acquiesces to being crushed out). On the other hand, restraint and care are not the least of options one may be guided by in tackling the situation.
The #hashtag movement would be nurtured by ICT as now available, selflessness and organizational unity as have been demonstrated and can be demonstrated again.
The armaments against the #hashtag movement as rolled out in recent times by the other two political classes (the government and the legislators) to neutralize its effectiveness as a political bargaining tool had included:
So one must ab initio, have counter strategies and propaganda against these armaments, before, during and on adjournment of the use of #hashtag movements as a political tool.
Given that the #hashtag movement as a political tool would be for the overall interest and good governance of the Nigerian political entity, the question that needs be asked is: to what immediate objectives should it be used subsequently for maximum effect, knowing the mirage of misgovernance problems bedeviling the country, without running the risk of imprecision and amorphous dissipation of effort?
There has been series of demands, ranging from electoral reforms, to slashing the salary of House of assembly members, to sacking of the executive cabinet and service chief. All these demands are fine and good, but to retain and protect the #hashtag movement as a viable political tool in contemporary Nigerian and to go cautiously, the #hashtag movement must resist the temptation of trying to accomplish and rectify so much so quickly and so, risk becoming an easy target of official derailment and underhand political stalling.
Arguably, the best subsequent use of the #hashtag movement under caution and all things considered, would be towards pressurizing the legislative arm ( for a change), to introduce nationwide referendums (in the yes or nay order, to be initiated by an executive, legislative or civil committee or as a fallout of mass agitation or protest) in the Nigeria constitution or as an independent bill. Referendums (in some countries synonymous with plebiscite, or a vote on a ballot question) are direct votes in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal or process.
This bill alone would help stabilize and legitimize future #hashtag movements. For instance a clause of the bill could give a minimum of 10 days of nationwide agitations that cripples free movement of citizens and services and free conduct of affairs of the polity nationwide, for any issue to escalate to an automatic item for a National Referendum. Other clauses could take care of transparency, frequency, agitation spread, and modalities of outcome inculcation.
With this bill in place, governments would have no choice but to carry the masses along in introducing certain unpalatable policies. Also, subsequent inevitable future agitations in the scope of ENDSARS protests need not escalate to violence etc but would be guided to a resolution through the constructive channel of a nationwide referendum. Government would also put more effort in good visible governance in order to avoid recourse of the masses to use the #hashtag movement and demands for referendums in certain situations. For instance, if such a political tool was available to the masses one can be sure that the present government would not have dragged the current service chiefs this far. A threatening national referendum on a vote of confidence on the present service chiefs would have forced either the service chiefs or the government to buckle up or offload the lot accordingly.
Referendum as a political tool is currently used in most countries especially those that have come through periods of national protests and agitations. In Ireland for instance it is enshrined as article 46 in the constitution. In the United Kingdom, Referendum laws are as contained in the political parties, elections and referendum Act. In the US, it is governed by the legal process of initiatives and referendums. According to the Constitution of Singapore, referendums can be held in some circumstances, including situations when a constitutional amendment passed by the Parliament is rejected by the President. In Nigeria for instance Obasanjo etc could have rejected the constituency project legislative over-arch with the masses support through the masses political instrument of transparent referendum.
The National assembly’s need for a safer viable polity (some of them had all but openly wept when they spoke on the floor on this, especially with regards to homeland security) would be better assured by availability of a negotiating political tool independent of executive overarch, to help keep the executive better accountable to all and sundry, potently inclusive of the masses, whose interests they swore to represent.
The way forward for the Nigeria political entity is that #hashtag movements as a political tool must be nurtured to stay and be used now and again and used effectively. It must be borne in mind that in the end, all the masses want is good governance, not to cow the government as the government has proven to desire for the masses through subjugation of 50/50 political bargaining tools initially at the disposal of the masses, not to corner humongous resources, as both the government and legislators have manifestly proven to do these past two democratic decades. Again, the only thing we as citizens are guaranteed is the ranks of the Nigerian masses. No person or their ward is guaranteed a lifetime or generational guarantee of being in government or a legislator.
Ozuomba Egwuonwu is a Public Affairs Analyst


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