Steps for Democracy…Forward or Backward? By Akin Adesokan
It was both sobering and pleasing to read a long interview with the governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, published last week in the online periodical Sahara Reporters. In that interview titled “My Ekiti Election Story,” Fayemi left no one in doubt that he understood the implications of his electoral defeat, even though he and his group had worked for a different result. A clear-headed analysis of current Nigerian politics, the interview showed him as simultaneously pragmatic and idealistic, with an engaging sense of history and political responsibility.
I don’t know Fayemi that well, and politicians are politicians, but taken together with his statement after reclaiming his victory in November 2010, the interview showed that, all told, there have been positive developments in Nigerian democracy since 1999, and the emergence of public figures of Fayemi’s orientation is one such development.
When I wrote recently that the problem with the outcome of the elections was the presence of Ayo Fayose as a candidate, my aim was to point to the example of politicians like Fayemi as a solution to that problem. It was a subtle argument, perhaps, and informed more by my intellectual concerns than political truisms that are slow to change. However, the triumphalism of Fayose and his party counted for little beside the fact that, in victory or defeat, Fayemi represented something hopeful in the country’s evolving politics.
It is necessary to clarify that this commentary is not about Fayemi as such, still less about the relatively decent politicians in the country, but about notable changes in the political system.
The question of Fayemi’s party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, being cut from the same cloth as the ruling party, PDP, will not go away easily. Nevertheless, it seems that Nigerian democracy is evolving, and the useful thing to do is to try and understand that evolution, knowing that historical change can be painfully slow. Nigerians who are inclined toward progressive politics have always imagined revolution as the preferred political change in the country, and many generations of Nigerians have made sacrifices to bring that about. I am not one to dismiss such a hope, and it is in the interest of our still-young history that that hope stays alive. The struggle continues, as the saying goes. But as another saying goes, Delicious is the taste of well-roasted meat, but what will we feed on while pining for the roast?
A statement that Fayemi made in that interview struck me as encapsulating his political morality, and I think he said something similar in one of his earliest statements after his victory was stolen in the 2007 elections. Asked by the interviewer why he conceded defeat to Fayose, the governor replied: “We felt we have a role to play in protecting this democracy no matter how flawed it is and that’s why I did what I did.”
Two things come to mind here. First, commenting on a public exchange in 2007 between Bamidele Aturu and Olaitan Oyerinde (two left-leaning activists who are sadly no longer with us), the Marxist scholar Edwin Madunagu spoke of one as “waging a class struggle” and the other as “playing party politics.” Oyerinde was a spokesperson for Adams Oshiomhole, then making a transition from Labor Party to the Action Congress, and Madunagu argued that concerns for public office were decisive in Olaitan’s position in the exchange. Aturu, however, had no such concerns in view.
The other case is more recent. At a point in his tribute to the great Nigerian socialist, Baba Omojola, who passed away in October 2013, Biodun Jeyifo, another Marxist scholar, wrote: “If revolution did not seem to be coming as passionately as he wanted it to, he looked to evolution, to gradual, incremental steps by which the same goals could be achieved. He was a radical and progressive humanist for all seasons.”
I have the highest regard for Madunagu and Jeyifo; their analyses have behind them loads of experience that we cannot treat with levity. Yet the point is to take Nigerian politics as history in the making. For whatever it is worth, there is something salutary in the paradox that political figures like Raji Fashola, Rauf Aregbesola, and Fayemi are emerging at a time like this. Perhaps it is still too early to tell, and definitely their emergence isn’t the revolution people have been working for. Imagine, though, the political intelligence of a Fashola in contrast to that of Raji Rasaki.
My point with using Fayemi as a case study is this: the experience of confronting theoretical knowledge of modern politics with the hard realities of a rentier state should be enriching for Fayemi, and be useful in his future political work. Nigeria as a country will be the better for it.