The key to understanding the true nature of power and political competition in Nigerian politics lies in the structure of friendship, a leading Nigerian political anthropologist has stated.
Dr. Wale Adebanwi, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, USA said this on Tuesday while delivering the 2013 Annual African Studies Lecture at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University, United Kingdom. The lecture was entitled, “What are Friends For? The Fatality of Affinity in the Postcolony.”
“Politics seems a real testing ground of friendship chiefly because it is a testing ground of character and goodness” remarks Adebanwi who avers that “In the context of political competition, friendship is often not used for virtue but for utility thereby turning friends into enemies.”
The hint is vivid in Adebanwi’s reasoning that the veins of political fellowship in Nigeria maintain a pattern of ‘disastrous friendships’ that contain the possibility of danger and death,” an experience that he says should challenge African scholars to pay attention to friendship among powerful people in understanding the nature of power and political competition in Africa.
He cites philosophers who state that friendship can be used for three things, including virtue, pleasure and utility; and adds that in the context of political competition, friendship fosters utility rather than virtue which is why it easily turns friends into enemies.
He illustrated his point with the friendship between President Olusegun Obasanjo and late Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige, and that of former military president General Ibrahim Babangida, former Head of State, General Sani Abacha and the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Adebanwi, the author of Authority Stealing: Anti-Corruption War and Democratic Politics in Post-military Nigeria, also analysed the friendship between Babangida and his late friend, a former Minister of Federal for the FTC, Abuja, Major General Mamman Vatsa, Abacha and late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and former Burkinabe leader, Captain Thomas Sankara and President Blaise Compaore. He concluded that the friendship that existed between these competing and ambitious leaders contained the possibility of danger and death.
Adebanwi stated that it was not a surprise that the kind of “instrumental” friendship that these leaders shared among them led to the death of some of them in their pursuit of power, position and prominence.
To press home his thesis, he offered the following illustarions: the execution of Vatsa by his friend and best man, Babangida; the assassination of Sankara by his friend, Compaore; and the alleged murder of Yar’Adua through the injection of a killer virus into his body by the agents of his friend, General Abacha; the annulment of Abiola’s election by his friend, Babangida, and the imprisonment in solitary confinement of Abiola by his friend, Abacha. Adding finally, the assassination of Bola Ige while serving under his friend, Obasanjo.
He added that it is ordinarily surprising that in spite of the gruesome way in which Ige was killed and his loyalty to President Obasanjo, Obasanjo later dismissed his friend as someone who did not know his left from his right.
He told the audience that Ige was assassinated while planning to return home to stop Obasanjo’s party from rigging the 2003 elections in the southwest. The lecturer also reminded the audience of the famous statement by the philosopher, Aristotle, “O my friend, there is no friend!”
Adebanwi, a former Bill Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, explained further that, “from the profile of all these men, their roles, and the positions they occupied in Nigeria’s national life, it is already evident that their friendships could not but have been politically consequential.
“However, the fact that their friendships were also fatal in virtually every case invites us to examine the potential fatality of friendship when friendship intersects with the search for power in Africa. Secondly, the friendships and ambitions of these men have largely defined the political history of Nigeria in the last three decades and half. Thirdly, the friendships of these men were largely cross-cutting.” He stated.
Adebanwi, whose much-expected book on the Awolowo political movement will be released by the Cambridge University Press in 2014, recalled the secret execution of General Vatsa and General Domkat Bali’s expression of regrets many years later.
General Bali had stated that there was no clear evidence that Babangida’s friend, Vatsa, was really involved in the coup plot for which he was executed. He also recalled Babangida’s statement that he realised after the execution of Vatsa that he and Vatsa had been involved in a competition for most of their lives.
Dr. Adebanwi traced the personal and political history of the friendship of all these Nigerian leaders and quoted someone who said that “Politics seems a real testing ground of friendship chiefly because it is a testing ground of character and goodness.”
He added that political friendship does not only have disastrous consequences for individuals who are involved in the friendship, but also for nations, as in the example of the Nigerian leaders and the Bukinabe leaders show. The lecturer also stated that Nigeria’s crisis is not unrelated to the fact that the “disastrous friendships” of these Nigerian leaders have defined the fate and destiny of Nigeria in the past 30 years.
The chief host, Dr. David Pratten, the Director of the African Studies Center, Oxford University and Fellow of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, stated that the University was happy to invite Adebanwi to give the annual lecture which had been delivered in the past by distinguished scholars from all over the world.
Those who attended the lecture included the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and his wife, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, representing Ekiti Central at the National Assembly, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, Edward Dickson, the Managing Director and Editor-In-Chief of the Tribune newspapers, former editor of TheNEWS, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, popular Punch columnist, Mr. Tunde Fagbenle, a famous British publisher, Mr. James Currey, and Dr. Anthony Akinola of Oxford.