Sunday, 1 April 2018

Article: Reflections On Nature, Character And Potential For Transformation

By Jaye Gaskia

[Being the text of a presentation made during the National Policy Colloquium on inequality organised by Oxfam in Nigeria and HEDA Resource Centre to commemorate the 2018 International Women’s’ Day (IWD)]

The most appropriate place to begin this reflection is to try to unravel the inherent contradiction in the notion of elite capture of politics and political space.

If we understand the phenomenon of the elite and the character of politics and power, then it seems to me that the potential for the elite capture of the polity and the state is already inherent, and thus rooted in the phenomenon of elitism from origin.

In essence therefore, the very existence of an elite, or put differently the very existence of conditions conducive and enabling for the differentiation of a certain category of the society, into an elite, with far greater access to opportunities than others, and thus enabling it to consolidate into a ruling class; already lays the foundation for the possibility of political capture by such an elite.

The conditions that make it possible for an elite to emerge and thrive at the expense of the rest of society, already contain within it seeds of political capture, including the capture of the state and its institutions, and the diversion or hijack of the utilisation of its processes for private elite purpose.

So, what are the characteristics of the elite? Better, more humane and more conducive condition of living, and a greater potential for self-realisation, than the rest of society; based on disproportionately greater access to opportunities, and basic services in education, health, shelter, nutrition, etc among other things.
A resultant effect of these processes, includes the tendency towards domination in the economy, in the polity, and also in the socio-cultural spheres of life.

The elite is thus already by character, and by the nature of its origin and evolution already a dominant, dominating and powerful category of society, with inherent and growing authority and power.

Following from the foregoing therefore, the sharper the distinction between the elite and non-elite categories, the wider the gulf between them in terms of conditions of living and existing; the greater the tendency towards a more or less conscious elite political capture.
The sharper these distinctions, the wider the gap, the greater the tendency towards impunity on the part of the elite, essentially because the less the capacity of the non-elites to combat, tackle, and hold the elite, the economy it runs, and the state it superintends to account.

It follows therefore that the more unequal a society is, the greater the tendency towards elite capture.

Checkmating and reversing the process of elite capture will therefore require concerted citizen action, often led or instigated by dissident sections of the elite, aimed and focused at orchestrating a process that will compel policy and governance reforms aimed in the direction of bridging the gap between the poor and the rich; reversing inequality; ensuring equal access to opportunities, as well as to basic services; deepening the democratisation process through qualitative ways of deepening citizen engagement with, participation in, and control/oversight of governance.

In the specific Nigeria context, this will require that we build and enable a mass movement of citizens and citizen organisations, that can engage politically, and with enough momentum to create enabling conditions for the radical transformation of governance and the thorough going reform of public service delivery.

Such a movement and campaign can be built around the demand for the enforcement of the provisions of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria [CFRN] as amended Titled ‘’Fundamental Objectives And Directive Principles Of State Policy’’. The chapter has 12 Sections – Sections 13 to 24; and covers socio-economic and cultural rights issues among others.

And contrary to the deceptive elite conspiracy that has been pushed since the 1999 return to democratic rule with respect to the falsehood that Chapter Two is not justiciable; I hold the view, embedded in the constitution itself that this chapter is completely justiciable and enforceable.

Each of the sections and subsections of this chapter begins with the phrase ‘’The state or government shall….’’; now, the word shall is an obligatory, and not a conditional verb.
If the intention of the drafters of the constitution was for the provisions of the chapter to be optional and not binding on the state or government, they would have used the verb ‘’May’’, and not the verb ‘’Shall’’.

And to buttress this point, let me quote the first section of Chapter Two for the avoidance of doubt; ‘’Section 13. It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government and all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive, or judicial powers to conform to, observe, and apply the provisions of this chapter of the constitution’’.
I need say no more. And I know a lot of us, including myself querry the illegitimate origins of the 1999 CFRN as amended, given it was drafted by the Military autocracy, and promulgated as a Military Decree on the 5th of May 1999, several months after the transition general elections, and barely 24 days to the inauguration of the government elected in the context of an election conducted without a constitution.

Nevertheless, the promulgators of the Decree, actually lifted copiously and borrowed substantially, if not wholly from the 1978 CFRN which was written and adopted through a constituent assembly.

This was how chapter two found its way into the 1999 CFRN given that it was lifted from the 1978 CFRN.

At this point, and just before I conclude, it is important that we understand how and why Chapter Two came to be included in 1978 CFRN, and subsequently in the 1999 CFRN.
The 1978 CFRN, and consequently its offspring, the 1999 CFRN, was the result and outcome of an historic compromise in the late 1970s between conservative ruling class fractions on the one hand, and social democratic ruling class fractions as well as socialist influenced mass social movements on the other hand.

Chapter Two was thus a concession forced out of the hands of the ruling class by the popular masses through resulting in a historic compromise.

We can therefore seize on reclaiming this historic compromise, to build a movement for social justice and equality, that can reverse elite political capture, within the bounds of constitutionality.

And this is my clarion call today.

(Gaskia Is Director Praxis Centre And Convener, Take Back Nigeria Movement)

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