Unlike many Nigerians who think the appointment of Dr. Doyin Okupe by President Goodluck Jonathan is a wrong choice, I think it is a choice which is consistent with the social and class base of Nigerian political elites. Contrary to popular but wrongheaded views that tend to suggest that Nigeria’s problem is ethnic, Mr. Okupe’s appointment shows that our serious ethical problem in governance and in the economy is not derived from ethnicity, rather it is derived from the social and class base of our political elites. The material and class conditions of our political elites have produced in them a distorted and jaundiced sense of ethics in governance. Thus, what is palpably unethical has become normal for them.
Let us leave the theoretical jargon and offer some basic facts. So step back a bit. When PREMIUM TIMES and other media exposed the monumental corruption in the petroleum industry under the watch of the minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke, and the Malabu oil scandal, which was facilitated by President Jonathan himself and Attorney General Mohammed Adoke, the official and unofficial defenders of President Jonathan put an ethnic spin on it. Also, when Nigerians made a simple observation about potential, real and concrete conflict of interests in Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede’s task as the chair of the committee that reviewed oil subsidy payment given that a company partly owned by Mr. Aig –Imoukhuede’s brother was involved, same ethnic spin was put on the observation. The spin? Official and unofficial spokespersons of President Jonathan say critics do not like the president because of where he comes from and because of his “humble background”!
Waxing lyrical, one of the official class propagandists of the Presidency, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a recent defence evoked a strange “Saul complex”, an evocation which sadly ended up being an exercise in queer and poor thinking because his evocation is a-historical and a bad analogy that fails simple test in reasoning! Such consistent flight from rationality and reasoning as we often witness in President Jonathan’s official and unofficial spokespersons shows the paucity of good thinking in the presidency. You cannot force a bad analogy on bad ethics and make it stand logically and soundly, for no one thinks well when one is paid from taxpayers’ money to unfortunately defend inherently bad ethics.
Contrary to Mr. Abati and the coterie of presidency propagandists, basic literatures in social theory run contrary to “humble background” or “simplicity” as an uncritical universal category that can produce good governance. In fact the so-called “humble background” may be a moral burden because it may be the social explanation why people with the so-called “humble background” end up being bad and irredeemably corrupt leaders. Why? They may just be mortally scared to return to the so-called “simple” and “humble background”. Hence, they will do anything including the most morally sickening and putrid to hang on to power. The African fragment “Ojú ò rí ọlá ri, tí ń pe ọmọ ẹ̀ ní Ọláníyọnu” philosophically explains the moral paradox of people with “humble background” who end up being poor and corrupt leaders who engage in class acts against the members of the “humble background” he/she presumably came from originally. The African fragment simply means “The one who suddenly bumps into wealth will misidentify and misname the perceptual social reality before him or her” because he/she is not used to it, he/she is overwhelmed by it. And this is a social and class issue and not an ethnic issue. Good ethics is the first condition of the leader who wants to be a change agent, and who wants to be taken seriously and not “simplicity” or some fictional category called “humble background.”
So when defenders of President Jonathan take the ethnic myopic view, I had always wondered if they forget the Obasanjo-Jonathan-Otedola continuum. Mr. Jonathan once boasted openly that Mr. Otedola, the petty oil trader and a funder of the Peoples Democratic Party, who earlier on donated the questionable 200 million naira to the Obasanjo Library project is his personal friend. Obviously this triangular – Obasanjo-Jonathan-Otedola association is not ethnic, it is one out of many instances of a class act of members of Nigeria’s political and economic elite. The ethics or the lack of it that is derived from this act is basically economic and not ethnic. This is because the profits derived from this class act do not go to Nigerian working people whether they are culturally of Yoruba or Izon extraction.
The official and unofficial defenders of Mr. Jonathan who want to spin this sort of class act as mere “friendship” and “innocence” of the president ought to be more forthcoming with truth. Let them come to the public square with some sense of openness and truth. Here we are dealing with a serious issue of the social and class base of the immoral acts of Nigerian political and economic elites against Nigerian working people, and not some private or personal predilections. President Jonathan -just like previous presidents- is a member, a willing, ready and an active participant in that social and class act. He represents a wing of that domination and act.
Thus, in implementing its class act, this ruling elite will always need and will recruit academics, intellectuals both real and unreal, official and unofficial and invisible propagandists of different kinds to help burnish its image. For take it or leave it intellectuals, academics and we pen pushers are also split down the line between those who will be the media guardians of the unethical class estate of the ruling elites and their boiling stench, and those who will speak up against this immoral estate and for the street conditions of the working people. Historically, each person regardless of his or her vocation has always had a moral obligation to make a public ethical choice. This act of choice making cuts across times and nations-and our dear country and era are no exceptions. Thus, Dr. Abati’s moral choice is welcome. At the appropriate time, history shall be the scrutiny of our ethical choices for self, and for and against Nigerian working people.
So enter Dr. Doyin Okupe. But the crucial thing is his entry is the social and economic base of Dr. Okupe as one of the class 2012 class propagandists of the Nigerian ruling elite and the most recent joiner and recruit to President Jonathan’s propaganda machine. A class is an economic group, not an ethnic group. Thus, this explains the pan-Nigerian nature of Mr. Okupe’s illicit contracts, in which he collected taxpayers’ money for and did not execute. If Mr. Okupe took contracts he collected money for and did not execute from Benue and Imo states and he is not prosecuted for breaches of contracts, this shows that Nigerian political elites is driven by a class agenda, and not an ethnic agenda. Yes naturally they come from so-called zones and ethnic groups, but they act –though sometimes in a disorderly manner -as a class. Their lack of morals and warped ethics are mere tools to facilitate such dubious economic agenda, which is a class action in defense of their pockets and against Nigerian working people. The evidence is obvious. In terms of residency, Mr. Okupe is not from Benue and Imo states yet he took taxpayers money from these two states without doing the job he collected taxpayers’ money for. Pray tell me what this is. Is this an ethnic issue or a class issue? What “ethnicity” or even residency tie Dr. Okupe to both Imo and Benue states simultaneously? None. His only tie -with his class peers in these two states and in the PDP- and “legitimacy” is a social class driven and sustained by bad and dubious ethics.
And pray, what is the difference among the serial lack of ethics in Mr. Okupe, Mr. Kuforiji, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Mr. Abdullahi Inde Dikko, Mrs. Arunmah Oteh, Mr. Dan Etete the ex-convict, and one of President Jonathan’s god fathers and his Malabu oil scandal; Mr. Otedola’s questionable 200 million naira donation to the library project of the then sitting president, Mr. Obasanjo; President Jonathan’s own Otuoke Church gift; Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede’s unresolved palpable conflict of interest in the oil subsidy payment issue? There is no difference, but there is a similarity-a class act driven by bad ethics.
This bad ethics has explanation in the material and social conditions under which our political class and elites reproduce themselves. Our political elites are not a productive class. They do not engage in any concrete production that adds value to the economy. They sell oil. They use political connections to acquire oil licenses and resell those licenses. They acquire land licenses and resell them. They take contracts and re-sell the contracts. And they change simple vocabulary and wrongly call these acts –business. The major profession of our political and economic elites is to join political parties , which are more or less business enterprises and position themselves to share resources, it is not to produce resources.
Based on their material conditions and social being, the ethics of our political and economic elites is therefore the ethics of sharing of resources and not the ethics of production of resources. An ethics that is not founded on manufacturing and productive economic activity cannot be a decent ethics. For the purpose of lucidity, we are going to be as explanatory as we can. For example, you do not produce crude oil, you share it. But because you have to work on the farm to crop, you produce palm oil, fish, cattle, timber, cocoa, groundnut, rubber, cassava, industrial products such as cars, computers, hardwares, softwares, TVs, etc none of which our political elites do even when they call themselves “businessmen”. It is an idle class with idle indecent and putrid ethics. Dr. Doyin Okupe and other coterie of class propagandists in the presidency are part of this, for they are media recruits to perfume the bad ethics of a nation’s political elites.
So contrary to official spins from the presidency’s spokespersons, objections to President Jonathan’s ethics have nothing to do with ethnicity. President Jonathan and his appointments such as that of Doyin Okupe are part of the negative burden of the immoral choices of a nation’s political elites. Our future and that of our children have been compromised by these unethical choices. We must free ourselves and the future of our children. Nigeria is in need of a manufacturing, productive class, and not rent collectors and sellers of oil, mineral and land licenses. This is when the public ethics will change. Our own moral choice is to contribute to cleaning this Augean stable. This is a class Augean stable and not an ethnic one.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.