Machiavelli, prebendalism and conspiracy of the Nigerian elite, By Law Mefor
Posted by News Express | 2 October 2019 | 774 times
The problem of the Nigerian nation is prebendalism (political systems where elected officials and government workers feel they have a right to share government revenues, and use them to benefit themselves, supporters, co-religionists and members of their ethnic groups) and Machiavellian conspiracy of the inept ruling elites. What the Nigerian nation state has since become is therefore not so much for issues of tribe or religion but actually the result of the evil machinations of the said political elites.
The Nigerian political elites are perhaps the worst to be found in any clime, bereft of any progressive ideas, and overly corrupt and hungry. To them, power and leadership are ends in themselves, not means for accomplishing any tasks or meeting any common goals. In other words, Nigerian elites and Nigerian political leaders are one and the same and constitute the unenviable, catastrophic force that has cornered and brought everything Nigerian under their sway. To them, state and everything therein are theirs, a crazy false sense of entitlement, which has turned them into locusts.
They recruit members from across board, to douse agitations and source resource persons to give what they do semblance of governance and add a pep of intellectualism. Thus, the professor will only be glad to leave the ivory tower and his research to become a party official as others are driven out, to other countries where they could keep their sanity and pursue happiness in some decent manner.
This syndrome is what we now call, Brain Drain. Such prevailing examples constitute means-end inversion and are definitively affecting growth and development. But what should the researcher/professor be doing in the citadel where his work has nothing to do with who gets what in his own country?
We got here simply because Nigerian political leaders have proved to be passionate disciples of prebendalism and Niccolo Machiavelli’s evil political thoughts, and these thoughts are by the day, proving counterproductive to the nation-building efforts. But they have also abandoned the only good aspect of Machiavelli's recommendations that says leaders should abhor corruption, to the extent that seeking an uncorrupt leader in our shores has since become a wild goose chase. For placing emphasis on power without morality, Nigerian leaders see politics and leadership as a legitimate continuation of war in other forms and political offices as tools for cornering state resources.
We got here because our leaders erroneously make a distinction between public morality and private morality; they practice certain rules of morality, what could be called prudential maxims, which they observe limitedly only in their private activities as individuals but do not bring to public life; such maxims as not stealing, keeping promise, not telling lies. To them, prudential maxims, which serve as guides to action for the individual in his private activity, will be disastrous if they observe them in public life, thus they flexibly apply the maxims only discretionarily and circumstantially.
Squarely put, if a leader cannot assume that conventional moral standards can easily be reconciled with the attainment of public objectives, it then means the leader should disregard such moral maxims that will undermine his hold on to power. Practicing this ardently, the Nigerian leader invariably learnt how not to be good. Even Machiavelli, who first advocated this iniquitous differential in morality in private and public life centuries ago, did not mean the ruler, should customarily disregard moral maxims all the time in public life.
The real implication of this is that prudential maxims should either be adhered to or disregarded as dictated by the situation as interpreted by the leader and at his convenience, making the state a mere property or extension of the leader, the meaning of prebendalism. This is where the Nigerian leaders glided into the abyss. This approach to public good and public political health is seen more clearly in Nigerian leaders' attitude to government funds.
Even the general public does not see the corrupt and thieving leader as the thief he is, but will lynch a petty thief for stealing just N10. Fela bemoaned this when he sang: “Authority sealing pass armed robbery…Armed robber will steal 82 thousand naira and they will steal 2 billion…but you no go dey hear them shout thief, thief, thief…No, no o! You go hear them shout rogue, rogue…”
In Nigeria, public fund is not really seen as anybody’s fund and those who have access to it are but conquerors of some wild beasts, which they tame and appropriate as theirs. The president, governors and LGA chairmen thus ‘donate’ what they please from public teal and people go up in glee for their generosity and avid philanthropy. They finance their election litigation from public fund. The looters of public treasury now return to tumultuous welcome in their communities and traditional rulers give them titles that suggest they went and they saw and they conquered – as the Italian would say, ‘veni, vini, vici’. But the truth is: they (our so-called illustrious sons and daughters in public office) went, and they saw and they plundered! In a place like China, they would be publicly executed as common criminals they are!
Since the realm of public morality relates to our interaction with others and guides our conduct with other human beings both in public and private lives, accepting and practicing Machiavelli's recommendations has often proved fatal and a monumental disaster as exemplified by Nigeria, especially in the recent times. EFCC and ICPC sources keep revealing that many more public officers (past and present) are fantastically corrupt.
There is this conspiracy of the elite and how that conspiracy is actually yielded by Machiavelli’s demonising but lionising thoughts that sought to exploit the basest instincts of Nigerians can further be explained.
Machiavelli was said to be a sort of person who would present a cup of poison to a ruler and ask him to always give his friends and enemies to drink from time to time. This means so many things. For example, it draws a distinction between physical force on the one hand, and deceit, lies, brainwashing and propaganda on the other. It points to his preference of fraud over the use of physical force, suggesting that Machiavelli believed the use of fraud is usually more efficacious than the use of physical force. Nigerian leaders combine both effectively and ruthlessly.
The Nigerian politician uses both fraud and physical force despite indiscriminate utilization of physical force being counterproductive.
In his book, ‘Discourse’, Machiavelli stated that cunning and fraud are preferable to physical force. Indeed, what can be achieved by force can also be achieved by cunning. The leader, who understands this, uses cunning to make it less obvious to people that he has done something wrong. Machiavelli says a clever leader also employs economy of violence, using physical force only sparingly and in extraordinary circumstance, when it becomes the only means of achieving our ends. But Machiavelli also prescribes that a leader should eliminate all his enemies immediately he assumes power. No wonder political godsons soon turn against their godfathers in Nigeria, visiting so much violence on their benefactors to achieve elimination.
Although Machiavelli also says that the leader should be able to use force and fraud as occasion demands, he also says a leader should use generosity and acts of kindness to solidify the stability of his political system. An act of kindness and benevolence will have more influence on the minds of men than violence and ferocity. It provides a more solid base for the authority. No wonder the Nigerian politicians would romance philanthropy, even when they inwardly abhor philanthropy.
Plato and Aristotle who came long before Machiavelli believed and morally campaigned for leaders to change for the better. They wanted the political educator and leader to fashion things in order to bring out the best in followers. Contrarily, like Fredrick Nietzsche another anti-morality campaigner and the author of 'God is dead', Machiavelli campaigned against these moral positions, insisting that rather than follow the pious statements by Aristotle and Plato, a leader should focus on what men desire which are power, glory and material wellbeing. He advises leaders to cash in on these weaknesses. The actions of Nigerian politicians have even improved on this deviation from the good as recommended. Machiavelli believes that since the demand will always by far outweigh supply, man’s urge for these things will not naturally allow much decency in the limited political space.
Machiavelli therefore came up with the reckless hypothesis: ‘The end justifies the means’, basing it on the fact that the desire and struggle to get to scarce resources will always lead to conflict, emphasising that scarcity creates conflict in all societies, and desires are greater than the faculty to acquire. The kernel of this argument is that to get more, we have to deprive others of their own, which leads up to cyclical conflict situation in the social and political arena.
Following this line of thinking in response to tussle for power as a permanent moral dilemma, one can appreciate why the Nigerian politician can stop at nothing. They kill and steal at will. Suspected political killings in Nigeria in the last 2 decades marking the return to democracy in the country remain unprecedented.
It is believed that Machiavelli’s main aim was just to show how men could attain power and material wealth and at the same time avoid the consequences resulting from the robbery they carried out on the common wealth. This again is true to fact about how and why the Nigerian politician sees getting to power as do-or-die and staying in power even more so.
Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Machiavelli believed that evil could never be eradicated from the world, saying it is part of the human predicament that we cannot divorce evil or violence from politics. The Platonian and Aristotelian position is that public action and leadership should aim at offering prescriptions for eradicating evil from public life and lifting man into his better self but Machiavelli wants to reinforce such base instincts such as man being born evil.
It can be argued that since the distribution of power and its usage affect the distribution of other things, Machiavelli should be seen as merely helping to evolve a system of government that can provide abundance of happiness and materials while at the same time reducing conflict in society. This claim is misleading. Using Nigerian experience, conflict has only exacerbated because the politician is now more Machiavellian than conciliatory.
His other claim that man’s insatiable thirst for power and glory, which he called basic human predicament, cannot be altered by man, is also not true, because many modern states have evolved as decent societies where democracy is fairly practiced and leaders have lost elections because the masses desire their change. President Trump is facing impeachment threats for example.
Nigerians should be concerned about how they ought to live and not focus on how they live now in subhuman conditions. The actions of our leaders should make suggestions on how to improve Nigerians and not pander to our basest instincts of aggressive pursuit of power and wealth at the expense of nation and citizenry. But rather than work for change, our leaders are more concerned with crude methods of how to preserve and perpetuate themselves in power, which includes tactics of stabbing friends and enemies at the back. But only cowards stab at the back. A lot of political violence going on in most parts of Nigeria follows after such heinous prescriptions.
If we agree with Machiavelli that any means that leads to the achievement of our ends is legitimate, then, it is adieu to morality and normal society. It will inadvertently mean a return to Hobbesian state of nature where life is a condition of a general disposition to war of “every man against every man.” Strangely, this is where the Nigerian nation is facing and nobody seems to be bothered.
Nigerian situation is not quite far from this Hobbesian state if we face it. Force and fraud flourish and there is perpetual fear and strife. Industry, trade, agriculture, arts and education in Nigeria are going into extinction. Like in Hobbesian famous phrase, Nigerians’ life is now “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The insecurity in the Nigerian state arises from the drive by each individual for his own selfish life and end. Consequently, Nigerian people live in constant fear of violent death. Armed robbers can write letters to banks to keep enough money and specific denominations and on their announced days of visit. Their highway operations and visits to private citizens have also been as devastating because they sometimes number 30-100, armed with AK47s, machineguns and sledge hammers with which they open walls of houses.
To our political class, politics is indeed a matter of immorality and achievement of personal goals. Our leaders follow this precept but always put up deceptive appearances to captivate the public. Many of them have elevated to an art the act that they should pretend to be good when in actual fact they are bad. Some relish names they earned in this manner such Evil Genius!
There has been an accepted position in philosophical circles that it was Fredrick Nietzsche who campaigned against morality and crowned it with saying, “God is dead.” But, to me, the actual deathblow on morality in political life was Machiavelli, for writing that for one to be good all the time in politics is bad and that we must all have the mind to change to opposite quality, which is ruthlessness, insisting that it is better for the leader to be feared than loved. In short, a leader should not be kind or humane and our leaders do not care whether we pick food from the dustbin.
Undesirable Machiavelli precepts stretch damningly quite far. Further examples are his beliefs that a careful study of great men and nations as well as their failures will reveal how to organize societies. What example did he use as case study? Oliverrotto Dafermo, who made himself Prince of Fermo after a massive bloodshed (see ‘The Prince’). So, by such diligent study of the past we may be able to foresee the future of our nation and apply those remedies as were used by the ancient people like Oliverrotto to correct existing ills. We can agree with Machiavelli, at least for once, that contemporary events may be explained by diligently studying the remedies of similar problems as occurred in the past, but what remains unacceptable is applying 17 the century solutions to 21st century Nigerian problems as we do today, politically.
Machiavelli also goes against the popular maxim: in politics there is no permanent enemy and there is no permanent friend. In reality, Machiavelli implies, in politics, we have permanent enemies because the ruler/leader must capitalise on the fact that people are expected to be manipulated. This is what gave birth to politics being a dirty game. What makes this really bad is that, to Machiavelli, politics means the whole life activities – politics in public life, the family, classroom, and everywhere. So, as a husband, you have to manipulate your wife and children and vice versa.
Let it be said also that virtue, ingenuity, cleverness, purposefulness and control are not of divine origin and must be developed by leaders if they will lead well. Virtue refers to the abounding positive energies to mould society in a particular way. Good citizenships and good leaderships are examples of virtue.
These are not heavenly divine nor ethnical or moral.
Corruption is the direct opposite of virtue. It is corruption or virtue that moulds a state into a particular regime. As the matter varies in quality so do political systems vary. Corruption is lack of interest in public good with an adverse consequence of underdevelopment.
Nothing can explain why the Nigerian nation remains prostrate and underdeveloped, more than this postulation on corruption – our leaders chose the path of corruption rather than virtue and the end is these appalling results of gross underdevelopment and life of strife and sorrow that Nigerians are condemned to.
Where virtue reigns supreme, we have a progressive, genuinely democratic government. While in a system of corruption, tyranny reigns, as it is in the Nigerian case. This is the fundamental datum in explaining the constitutions of societies and why political systems vary, why some nations are developed and some are not.
Nigeria is not developed because the funds meant for development have been wiped out by corrupt leaders. Our nation is undemocratic because the political elite, without a second address and rapacious and pursuing power as merchandise and politics as a profession and source of livelihood and as such cannot afford to let go. It is therefore a long, steeply climb for those seeking change in Nigeria.
•Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja-base Forensic and Social Psychologist, Author and Journalist; email: email@example.com; Tweeter: @LawMefor1