Monthly Archives: April 2015

Election Reflections: Nigeria’s Religious Secular Democracy

Nigeria Decides 2015

Democracy, tyranny, secularism… these are among the many words we take for granted often because we think we have an idea of what they mean. Such is the folly that accompanies natural language in contrast to precise languages like mathematics. Most people would find it puzzling for instance that a government can be democratic and tyrannical at the same time, or even secular and religious at the same time. They might be more confused to find that the extent of democracy is not necessarily indirectly proportional to the extent of tyranny; meaning one could have a highly democratic state that is highly tyrannical at the same time. Today, most would also agree that democracy is secular, and might not be able to conceive a democracy that is religious (which enriches the dichotomy in their minds that there is something called secular as opposed to something called religious). At this point I would like to assume that most Nigerians think along this line, that democracy is inherently secular, then go ahead to show the contradiction I find of interest.

Democracy: control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.

Tyranny: cruel and oppressive government or rule.

Let us first begin from Nigeria being recognised globally for being quite religious; if not for our popular evangelical miracle healers, then for the notorious Boko Haram. Political processes are not spared religious “intervention”. It is widely reported that during the 2011 presidential campaign, GEJ (the out going president) succeeded by and large due to Church endorsed votes. The just concluded election has been full of religious interventions as well. Pastor Mbaka called against voting GEJ, while CAN (leadership) clearly supported GEJ, then Gumi called not to vote either of the two major contestants. These were religious intervention with a lot of human element.

Within Mosques and Churches, a lot of prayers, supplications, praises have been offered to guide the outcome of the election in a certain direction; for some it is victory to their party, and for others it is avoidance of post-election violence. Without investigating how it is that prayers actually work, which is stepping into theology, let us accept that prayers are “answered” in the way most people believe it is. Then we can conclude that religion/prayer is a tool used prevalently in Nigeria to determine political outcome; the outcome which is itself democratic. Religion/Prayer is thus a democratic tool; in practice even if not consciously acknowledged.

Now religion as democratic stands in contradiction to the popular belief that democracy is secular, unless one considers the process of getting to power as outside the scope of democracy. But that would be absurd, as it continues to be in the cause of the leadership tenure. For instance, religion/prayer is used to get a person into office, but it is not used to get a person work properly in office. We rarely pray for our leaders to do the right thing, nor put our faith in prayer to get them to do this and that, we employ more direct approaches like letters (nothing like open letters!), protests, commentaries, and other civil engagements etc.

Noted that some of us pray that leaders be guided by God in their leadership. The difference between those who pray for guidance of leaders and those who don’t is not simply that of the religious and the non religious, it is a difference of different theological schools simply. Among the Abrahamic religions, we can classify beliefs about God’s relationship to creation into two broad categories: where God created creation along with the mechanism to keep it going (e.g. natural forces) then let the world to work according to His design; second category is where God created creation, equipped it with mechanism to sustain it, but is also “in touch” with creation as to guide (or intervene in) it. We can see where the two groups belong.So the contradiction between religion as a democratic tool and democracy as secular remains whether we pray for elected leaders to be guided by God, or engage them through the mechanisms of democracy.


I came across two amusing accounts on the use of religion during the concluded campaigns. Unfortunately Christian readers may not get the amusement being grounded in Islam’s texts. The anecdotes would be digressing if in the main argument above but fit within the use of religion as tool for democracy.

The first story is to do with Ibrahim Shema (the outgoing governor of Katsina state) who is supporting a candidate with first name Musa. It is reported that rallies at villages, Ibrahim quoted a verse of the Qur’an from Surah al A’la (Q87:19) to prove to the crowd that his candidate (Musa) should be voted AFTER him (Ibrahim): “… Suhfi Ibrahima wa Musa”. He performed an exegesis saying the order of “Ibrahim” then “Musa” is basically a divine order! Actually the translation is simply “The scriptures of Abraham and Moses”.

In the second case, some Nigerians were very hopeful that perhaps 2015 would emerge the first female governor (who has been declared to have lost). This was the candidate for Taraba State, which was one of the few states that election had to be conducted a week later due to the controversial occurrence. While the candidate has accused the declared winner as employing severe malpractice, the public has wondered what really happened in a state like Taraba where leadership has been strongly along religious lines. We may have the answer! The explanation is the that Muslim votes were swung away from her (being Muslim herself) by the use of the controversial ayah of the Qur’an in Surah al Nisa’ (Q5:34) which says: “Ar rijalu qawwamuna alan Nisa…” (translated “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women…” or “Men are in charge of women…”). This was the tie breaker it seems. Even in religiously charged space, patriarchy champions!


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Election Reflections: A Voice or Musical Sound

Nigeria Decides 2015

Poets are the conscience of a time

Musicians today are supposed to be the poets of yesterday, given their prominence in popular culture. Unfortunately the lyric is often pathetically unpoetic which is why the instruments are steadily taking dominance over the voice; we don’t want to listen, we just want to dance. Poets of the past were public intellectuals, and poets of the past are also musicians of today. This replacement across time has lead to the conflation of the public intellectual and the musician, which has had a profound impact on the level of influence musicians enjoy over their listeners/fans.

A lot of music has been released in the campaigns of the ongoing Nigerian general election. From Hausa pop music to the urban “Nigerian” music, all have been represented. Most tracks are promoting candidates prior to election but a few that did not fit into that category. One track was literally lionising the Chairman of INEC after the successful presidential election, a few others were celebrating the victory of the president-elect, and I heard only one which was gloating over the loss of the outgoing president. At first glance, it appears that these musicians have something to say to the world. That would be inaccurate without adding the fact that most of the tracks were sponsored. Being commissioned to say something, even if you believe it, is not considered as sharing your opinion. It may be a musical sound, but not a voice in the sense of  “the voice of the people”.

In an interview with BBC Hausa, an interviewed musician welcomed the election season because the demand for sponsored music soared. He mentioned that prior to the campaigns, it would take weeks and months to be sponsored to make a track, but these days he makes up to 3 or 5 tracks a day! At this rate, it means the tracks you hear are only the few that became popular. It is important to note that the business model of Hausa pop music is obviously not very sophisticated, which is easy to pick from the audio production quality, which is also why most weddings are able to sponsor an “album” or two all about the wedding. It also speaks about the cost involved not being high. We can comfortably say that a lot of Hausa pop music are services to be rendered, at a cost, to the requestor (low budget movies, weddings, political and non-political campaigns).

Then there is the side of Nigerian urban music, which is basically referring to the music heavily influenced by what amounts for music in BET, MTV, Reggae and Jazz. As an industry, there is more income, the musical production is higher quality, and the business model is more sophisticated following the footsteps of consumerist and celebrity centred models of major labels in the US. Sophisticated enough to have tours. Like their counterparts in the US, you could invite them to perform for a private party, if you have the right dough; it is probably cheaper in Nigeria comparing the equivalent percentile of artist. Movie actors of Nollywood are considered to belong to the same celebrity pool as the Nigerian urban musicians. These two groups appear together in cause-driven campaigns usually sponsored by NGOs.

This election featured a number of campaign music and videos featuring celebrities from Hausa music and film industries, and also from urban Nigerian music and film industries. It would be misleading to take that as a sign of commitment from them towards political change. It is more accurate to consider them as committed to offering the service they offer best. There was a report that some celebrities got into a public disagreement over the sharing of payment for a campaign video, which suitably appeared in a celebrity gossip website, which also shows that the payment was probably not contractual but rather it was merely a token from the politician, as a king would to performing fools, or politician to sycophants. Then there was the news of celebrities that sang or appeared in video of campaign were out of the country at the time of election, which means they won’t be walking the talk. Of course this assumes that the reported news (which I can’t locate at the moment) are true. Nonetheless, many would agree that many mainstream celebrities in Nigeria are political whores; or more appropriately political servants.

Another campaign music video caught my attention as an advert on Youtube. It is a campaign for the APC gubernatorial candidate in Lagos, Ambode (who has won at the time of this post). The first striking thing is that there is/are artists who are not even indigeneously from Lagos, or probably not registered voters in Lagos, which makes it highly unlikely that there votes will count in Lagos state gubernatorial election; artist for hire?… Sell out?

When an action generally regarded as a sincere expression of personal convictions, is immersed in a highly service based industry of show biz, should the “performers” be stripped off the authority of public intellectuals that they are accorded by default? What about musicians that make “serious” tracks under the reigns of their record labels for the sake of targeting a particular audience? I opine in the affirmative! Service based musicians, at least in their sponsored or marketing tracks, should not be granted the attention of public intellectuals. But they enjoyed it quite considerably this concluding election.

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Election Reflections: Call to (Non)Violence

Nigeria Decides 2015

It seems commonsense to count on political aspirants to keep their supporters calm from violent uprisings. Experience has shown that political aspirants are able to incite violent uprisings by the instruments of their supporters. A logic is derived from this experience: if they can instigate violence, then they should be able to calm it down. The sustained assumption is that inciting violence takes the same or similar abilities as is required to douse an uprising; or at least it takes similar political status and privilege to make it happen. We have seen a number of calls for peace prior and after the Nigerian 2015 Elections by the “leaders”.

On closer examination, the abilities we confer on these “leaders” can be seen to be based on a faulty assumption because everyday experience shows that those who are easy to bring about disturbance are often far from being endowed with restoring calm; or vice versa. It appears these are two different skills. Unless one assumes that all speeches from people of political status is more or less the same, and that the only thing that matters is the content. Surely this may be true about bureaucratic documents but hardly believable for social interactions like public speeches. Nonetheless, let us assume it is so. The implication then becomes political “leaders” control the mass of voters. This may be true in experience, but this is also where the contradiction lies; with regards to democratic ideals.

Democracy aims to provide structure where voters control their leaders, and even decide who becomes the leader. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, a democratic leader is not one you have submitted to, or have faith in to handle your affairs. She/He is someone you are comfortable enough with to handle your affairs but whom you have under your observation; to be held accountable. That is why there are several feedback mechanisms to communicate to this leader(s) on the decision of the masses, from simple letters to petitions to threats and protests directed at the leader. Such a leader can avoid the wrath of her/his constituency by giving into their demands; at least if they are a substantial percentage. Therefore it is safe to say that in democracy, it is the people who control the political leaders, not vice versa.

It then requires an assumption that is a contradiction to democratic ideals to have a politically elected/aspiring officer calling for non-violence, for instance. It is less of a contradiction when entertainment celebrities take this role because they have no obligation to serve their audience, or be controlled by their audience, unlike the democratically bound politically elected/aspiring officer.

It could be argued that political leaders are called upon to douse uprisings not by their capability to positively calm it down through any of their abilities, but because having them denounce violence, then we are assured that they won’t be calling for violence. In other words we want political leaders to commit to non-violence so that if they were to attempt to incite violence, they would run into contradiction! Interesting use of contradiction. The issue then becomes one of calling for violence vs NOT calling for violence, rather than calling for violence vs calling for peace. We could say this is what it means for a political leader to call for non-violence but you and I know that is not what is implied, or at least that there is a problem in accepting that. Again (as in previous posts on this series), Wittgenstein comes to save us. Meaning should be sought in its usage. We can all agree that the usage of calling for non-violence is really under the belief that the leaders have an ability to calm violence down. In other words, we believe (and perpetrate the belief that) those leaders control the will of their constituency rather than serve it. But Democracy would have these leaders serve the Demo i.e. the people. Thus the contradiction!

Next time you find a democratically elected leader calling for non violence, consider the contradiction at play.

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Election Reflections: Delivery or Democracy

Nigeria Decides 2015

Nothing screams incompetence in the parlance of this election like being unable to “deliver” your polling unit. This is typically leveled at politicians whose party lose at a polling unit that is considered theirs. What does it mean for a polling unit to belong to a politician? This claim of possession is itself arrogant appropriation, and imperialist in ambition, like colonisation where the powerful lays claim on resources to be used to their advantage. This micro-imperialism is why it sounds absurd to accuse a typical voter for failing to “deliver” their polling unit, because he/she is not expected to deliver anything, but be delivered… on a plate… to the “imperial crown”, which are political parties, as booty of election campaign. This has been business as usual in past elections, and this ongoing election I’d argue.

There have been counter campaigns urging voters to “deliver” their polling units and states; as opposed to having the typical politicians deliver to whichever masters they happen to be serving. At first glance this looks like a counter movement, but on closer look it is actually simply a competition to the regular politician that “delivers”. The ordinary voters who take the mandate to deliver their polling units are also answering the calls of another party, just like the typical politicians, only that they may not be as crooked and may not have the resources to mobilise in the same manner. This has been one of the genius of the opposition party; getting voters to take up the mission to deliver without funding them, which gives them the inner comfort of living the democratic ideal. In Marxist jargons, these are the petty-bourgeois who see the revolution not as the end of capitalism, but that they also attain bourgeois privileges. In the past, “delivery” of polling booth was mandated on politicians alone, this time around voters have been empowered to deliver their booths; but both competing groups deliver to political parties. So rather than a few people taking a credit for delivering their polling units, so many can now share in the glory, which is why it appears democratic. Unless it is through reasoning (public debates etc), a presumptuous leadership role to “deliver” is undemocratic (ideally). Delivery by politicians and by voters have the same goal, and the same assumptions, even if different methods, so one is not contrary to the other. The contradiction is then between “delivery” and ideals of democracy.

The idea of delivery, of anything, seems positive, being reminiscent of birth i.e. appearance of long awaited fruit of labour. The other meaning of delivery is in the sense of postal service where the mail man takes a certain object and gets it to customer. In movies of the ancient, this would be analogous to a servant serving a master. Or more appropriately an imperial band of “traders” delivering slaves to the home of the crown. It is in this latter sense that politicians are expected to deliver; the politicians are the servants and the political party (or its personified leader) is the one served (crown). That politicians are “servants”; their master is not the people but their political parties, and individual votes are the objects that are delivered. This is objectification of the populace and dehumanisation of voters for ease of appropriation. An object (vote) doesn’t have a will in itself because the will is usurped by political party they align with through the agents of “delivery”.

This idea of “delivery” is so prevalent that a failure of a politician to deliver is not simply seen as victory of the people (triumph of democracy) but it is seen as successful delivery by another individual from the opposition party; this is how the opposition perceive it. So either way, the voters cannot claim triumph or even responsibility on the most basic of their entitlement which democracy offers. This belief goes so deep that even when people celebrate the triumph of democracy, they do so by celebrating the failure of a politician to deliver; which also means the opposing politician has delivered. Many “activists” and commentators are guilty of this when they celebrate democracy by putting emphasis in shaming the failure of a politician to deliver.

An alternative to this stark analysis/reading of our election culture would be to consider the charge to “deliver” as a show of a person’s popularity at their polling unit. On the face of it this may seem plausible but it doesn’t stand when contextualised. First of all, the typical politician does not have grassroot support, instead is able to afford the monetary cost of sponsored support. When we shame Goodluck, Namadi etc for being unable to “deliver” their polling units, we are not assuming they are somehow representative of their peoples concerns; as economists would say demand in a market economy. What we mean in that usage is that they didn’t “mobilise” voters in their locations; or their mobilisation efforts failed. Wittgenstein simplified the issue of meaning of words by saying words’ meaning should be sought in their use. It is in this Wittgensteinian semantic that we conclude that the shaming of politicians is really in the sense of expecting them to be lords over their voters. Hence the contradiction to democratic ideals.

So do you want delivery or democracy?

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Election Reflections: Making of a Hero


Presidential election was carried out, which was the most intense in Nigeria’s history. Riots, civil war, insurgencies and assassinations were all palpable possibilities in the aftermath of the election. The ruling party lost the election. The ruling president called the president elect and congratulated the president-elect . This action of one humble man saved the country from a potential civil war; he deserves a Nobel peace prize. This action is praise-worthy, deserves congratulations, a display of humility and democratic sportsmanship…

This is the mainstream narrative. It begs for reflection: how do we ascribe characters to individuals?

We don’t ascribe characters to individuals in a vacuum. For instance we don’t simply say “Sadat is hardworking”, because Sadat may also be troublesome, kind, punctual and temperamental. The choice of the attributes of Sadat we mention depends on the purpose which that information seeks to redress. So in a discussion about office work, I could say Sadat is hardworking and it would serve the purpose, but saying the same sentence when discussing public vandalism would be out of place. This is the most basic way we align our characterisation of individuals with purpose. There are more relevant purposes for instance how does one characterise an individual when the purpose is to assess the contribution of that individual to a project, or to mark a historical event, or to create a myth, or to romanticise an individual. In this case, it would take more than a statement, it would take a lot of statements (or story, or narrative). Interestingly, people are not always explicit, or even aware, of the purpose why they seek to characterise a person. The question then becomes how do we ascribe character to individuals, given that there is always a purpose?

Novels and biographies may provide insight to this question. After reading a novel, we are left imprinted with the character of the story’s main individual e.g. honourable, composed, anxious etc. Is the character of the person determined by a single momentary action, or is the character to be determined by aggregation of actions over time (through the novel)? If by aggregation of actions, then is the aim of determining character to show the complexity of the person, in all their positive and negatives? Modern novels achieve this complexity by evoking empathy through humanising those that would be typically considered villains like serial killers and tyrants. Or does aggregation of actions tease out consistent actions that can be grouped together, then ascribe these as the reputation of the individual? Among the three options above, I favour them in a certain order, which is based on the extent of contradiction between the option chosen and the purpose to which one seeks to characterise another person.

There is a need to understand the formation of a narrative (story). Experiences and events are converted to narratives in order to make sense to the mind and memory, and to be suitable to a purpose i.e. taking only what is relevant from the messiness of experiences and events to suit the purpose. In the context of the recent Nigerian election, the dominant narrative here is the first paragraph, the person that has been characterised (protagonist or antagonist, depends on your choice) is the outgoing president. Just as we are left imprinted with the character of the main individual after reading a story, we are left imprinted with the character of other people in our lives after we internalise our experiences with them as narratives. In this case, the narrative above imprints on us a certain character about the outgoing president; a rosy character indeed.

Different purposes call for different methods of characterisation of individuals using narratives. If our purpose is to write history, then the prevalent choice would be either to use single historic actions/moments, or to aggregate consistent actions. If the purpose is to humanise a person, as would be found in biographies, then the prevalent choice is to expose the complexity of an individual, or again look for consistent actions. If the aim is to construct a myth or a hero, then the best choice is to focus on single historic actions/moments; because any other characterisation run the risk of de-myth-ifying. Contradiction arises when we choose a method of characterisation which does not suite the purpose, or which subverts the purpose. For instance, when we use the single historical action of the outgoing president to make assessment of his leadership abilities as the president. But it wouldn’t be a contradiction if the aim is to make him a hero. Moreover the ending of any story or narrative is powerful because it often leaves a lasting legacy. So a key assumption henceforth is that the narrative on the outgoing president above is meant to be serve as an assessment of his leadership acumen.

Although two narratives could appear opposing each other, they don’t necessarily invalidate each other because they could be shaped by same events; with only one narrative ignoring some events or accounts. Therefore the narrative of the outgoing president above could still be true even if it is pointed out that relevant information has been left out, but it would be a charade and misleading. Narratives cover just as much as they expose; they emphasise and they downplay, and this is perhaps why the saying “History is written by victors” or even “History is His-story”. So when confronted with a certain narrative that does not fit the purpose, it is another way of saying the narrative is not rich enough, or too rich as the case may be. To deal with this, one may simply wish to “enrich” the narrative and then re-assess how it fits the purpose.

In the case of the outgoing president, there is an alternative narrative, or I could say an enrichment of the more prevalent narrative. Some shattered that hero-making narrative by pointing to other failures of the president without negating that narrative, then others responded saying a people have the right to decide who to make a hero; aka willful delusion. Even more interesting, some even think the president is not just a scoundrel, but also not as honourable as a thief that confessed. Well here is an alternative narrative (I have italised all the enrichment to the original narrative above):

Election was carried out, which was the most intense in Nigeria’s history. This is in the backdrop of what many perceived as neglect of insecurity (in a particular region of the country) which is translated as commission by omission, the neglect of corruption by certain elites, and also the favoring of a particular region for economic and leadership opportunities. Riots, civil war, insurgencies were all palpable possibilities in the aftermath of the election. The ruling party (under the leadership of the president) having perceived the coming loss explored several ways to rig the election or sabotage the transition like postpone the election to buy more time to strategise, sponsor campaigns calling for resignation of INEC Chairman, sponsor campaigns to boycott biometric accreditation  of voters, attempt to divide and conquer the opposition by breaking its rank, non-action/encouraging public militant threats to “protect” the ruling government, alleged offer to the military to take over an interim government, disrupt the result announcement process by provocation of the INEC Chairman,  attempts to declare curfew in some states, alleged conspiracy to detain the INEC Chairman during collation of results as Security Agencies were warned by CSOs. The ruling party lost the election. The ruling president called the president elect and congratulated the president-elect . At this point, the outgoing president had clearly lost and to call and congratulate is a way to gain soft landing. The US and UK had repeatedly emphasised the need for peaceful transition fearing another occurrence of Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’ Ivoire which had a similar build up the situation of the president. This action of one humble man saved the country from a potential civil war; he deserves a Nobel peace prize. This action is praise-worthy, deserves congratulations, a display of humility and democratic sportsmanship…

Immediately one sees a contradiction within the narrative itself. But we are more interested in contradiction between characterisation method and purpose. The first narrative focused on one action which is only un-contradictory if the purpose were to create a mythical hero out of the outgoing president, but contradictory if the purpose is to assess the outgoing president. The second narrative characterises by aggregation of actions which would also be contradictory if the purpose were to create a mythical hero, but would be suitable if it is to assess the leadership of the outgoing president. There could be other versions of this narrative which characterise by aggregating actions for the purpose of assessment, which may not reach the same conclusion as this, but that would be a matter of what is included or omitted.

Another interesting angle is that for each of the actions above that could be argued not to be carried out directly by the outgoing president, many would agree it can be attributed to his party. However we are quick to attribute that epic phone call to the president and not his party. It is a good-cop bad-cop script, which could be used to always make the outgoing president look good. Keep in mind the president is the leader of his party and the Commander in Chief, so actions of his party and those by security forces can be fairly attributed to him. Well, there you have it. A lot of contradictions. Is the outgoing president a hero or not?

Another hero created during this election is the Chairman of INEC who was interestingly vilified during the last election. His hero-fication may be worth exploring if you wish, I probably wont. But I shall write more on this series Election Reflections, which would simply be reflections on aspects of the Nigerian 2015 elections that caught my attention.

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