Sunday, 6 October 2013

Y2015 ≠ X: The governed,the governing and the perception of political power

                                                              Y2015 ≠ X

Nigeria @ 53: Redefining the governing-governed relationship through the perception of political power

Last week, the focus of my maiden article in this Y2015X series was to bring to fore the impact of diversionary and lightweight narratives dominant in Nigerian’s mindspace that gives the impression that our destiny is in the hands of a few. See the full article here
This week, my sub focus is on an enlightened citizenry taking advantage of the widespread availability of information in this internet age in order to improve the governing –governed relationship across the country.
One of the challenges we currently have in Nigeria is our relationship with power and those to whom we choose to assign it in trust for a period of time. I guess our perception of the power that is derived collectively from us and given to the men and women who we entrust to use it as a tool for governance is the root of most of our problems.

The Origins:
Pre-Nigeria, many of the groups that currently make up Nigeria were members of different kingdoms or governing areas where political power in addition to other forms of power was derived from the ultimate traditional ruler (be it King, Oba, Sultan, ruling heads etc), hence the view of power of both the governed and the governing was through these lenses. The governed saw power through its own lenses and its field of view displayed power as unquestionable, absolute and revered. It also transferred these attributes to the leader in whose hands power was vested. The person in power was viewed as power itself; hence the reverence assigned to power in the eyes of the governing was transferred to the leader. This was also re-enforced by dominant narratives of the day as well as instruments and guardians of such power such as the laws, the paraphernalia and the armed forces /security services of that day.  On the other side of the lens were the governing; a class of one or many persons, who saw power through a different lens; in their view, power was a means to protect their interests, control all privilege and patronage and enforce their will on the governed. In some cases, their people were satisfied with their leadership, but discussions of their performance are not in scope of this write-up. There was no question of good governance then as whatever the rulership did that the people deemed favorable, they appreciated. The leader could give and withdraw patronage at a whim, had personal control of all security services personnel and infrastructure to enforce his/her rule across the domain where he/she was sovereign.  In some of these models of governance, transitions may have been “orderly” but competition for power was restricted to the fixed set of governing class members, who continuously schemed overtly or covertly to position themselves within the reach of such absolute power and the privileges that come with it.  This short burrow into history is meant to help establish in your minds the two sides of power (governing and governed) separated by the lens through which they view it and the evolution of political power and these two sides into what we have in present day Nigeria @ 53, how it relates to the myriad of challenges we face today and possibly as a framework to resolving them.

The evolution in summary:
 As pre-Nigeria transitioned into Nigeria, absolute political power first changed hands from traditional rulers to the British colonial government. The nature of political power remained relatively the same in that the British acquired absolute power over Nigerians and the lens with which the governing Brits saw power in the Nigerian context was the same as before, to protect their interests and enforce their will, basically, the master-servant governing model. As such they built institutions oriented around this governance model as well as the political narrative that seals this model on the minds ensuring the lens with which the governed viewed power remained the same. Luckily for Nigeria at that time, there were some progressives amongst the governed across the confederation that sort political power be restored to Nigerians and derived from the will Nigerians. “Independence” was granted, the first republic emerged as a parliamentary democracy and for the first time, power was derived from Nigerians. it did appear that a new dawn might emerge and as the country was newly birthed, it provided an opportunity for a new relationship created and a new lens established with which the governing and the governed viewed political power. However events of those days skewed this evolution and a military state emerged, political power was acquired by the military and entrenched in the hands of its leaders, and it was absolute and with all the privileges and patronage thereof.  The lens with which the new governing class viewed power was no different than in Pre-Nigerian kingdoms except that now, access to power was limited to the new military governing class who, actually a subset of them who could muster up support of other key officers to attempt power acquisition. The governed were certainly not participants per se besides those issued patronage by the governing class at their whim.  Luckily again, the very many progressives amongst the governed, many of whom gave their lives as well as those within the military, along with friendly nations worked covertly and overtly to ensure democracy was restored, albeit in a way many believe was not derived from people’s will. It was however welcomed.
As you can imagine, the institutions of state had not been built to support political power derived from the will of the people; our security and intelligence services, civil service organizations and even corporations, but the latter is not relevant to my discourse. However, the most critical component that needed change was the perception of political power in the eyes of both the governed and the governing. It appears that even though political power evolved and the governing class evolved or rather expanded, they governing and the governed still view political power through then lenses of the way it was when kingdoms, the Brits and the military held sway.  Ironically, it seems the governing want it that way in order to entrench themselves and the governed seem not to know any better.  Perhaps the governing are also ignorant; however that is debatable. What is factual is that they project political power in a military-esque way ignoring the fact that the powers they may imagine to have may not the power given to them by the constitution (which certainly also needs some evolution to fully support and empower political power derived from the people); in addition, there are conditions that have to be met before some of the power they project can even be projected or used but they seem ignorant to this obvious fact. The institutions which uphold the nation state are evolving but they too need to evolve faster to support political power derived from its people. The political power “divide” i.e. the governing and the governed must be enlightened to understand their roles in the assignment of political power, the assignment, distribution and execution. From the perspective of the governed, they have to realize that when it comes to political power, they hold the aces, irrespective of what the governing influenced media chooses to project. The true lens is the constitution, which itself may not be perfect, but is a starting point of reference to understand the borders of political power of a governing party and what defects exists that require to be worked on.
I’ve heard many say we need a revolution, indeed we do, but not a revolution of blood but of enlightenment of the governing and the governed. As a revolution of blood will only destroy people with the same problem and replace them with people with the same problem.
To my first point, this internet age provides us the opportunity to access information at a click, hence should speed up the transformation of the view for political power in the eyes of the governed and governing. Nigeria will certainly be better tomorrow than it is today, if we begin now.

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