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President Muhammadu Buhari

Anomie, rage and redemptive suffering By Jideofor Adibe

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

It was Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist and philosopher who coined the term ‘anomie’ to refer to a situation where the conditions for happiness are absent. Our own Wole Soyinka was to further popularize the word in his second (and last novel), A Season of Anomie (1973).
News streaming from various media outlets suggest that we may be indeed facing a season of anomie as things continue to get from bad to worse on the things we all value or are generally believed to be indicators of well-being: electricity generation dropped to 1400 megawatts from 5000 megawatts in December 2015 at a time the tariff was jacked up by 45%; figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the number of unemployed rose by518,000 to over 1.45 million in the first quarter of the year, pushing the unemployment rate to 12.1 per cent from 9.9 per cent in September 2015. Meanwhile Nigeria has lost its ‘crown’ as Africa’s largest producer of oil as its daily output fell to below 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2.2 million bpd. Angola which produces about 1.7 million bpd is now Africa’s largest oil producer. In 2014 and 2015, Nigeria was named the third fastest growing economy in the world by CNNMoney (with China and Qatar respectively taking the lead at 7.3 per cent and 7.1 per cent of GDP growth).In 2014, the country was included in the MINT emerging economies. MINT is a neologism referring to the economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey which were predicted by British economist Jim O’Neil, to be the next breakout economies in the world. O’Neil had in 2011 coined the acronym BRIC to refer to the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China as emerging economic powers. According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook for 2016 (as revised in April 2016), Côte d’Ivoire is now the fastest growing economy in Africa while Nigeria is not even among the first 15. At 2.3 per cent, our GDP growth rate is the poorest since the inception of democracy in the country in 1999 and we are just one more quarter of negative GDP growth away from being officially declared as being in recession. In virtually every other social and economic indicator we are in the negative territory. Prices of virtually everything have gone to the mountain tops at a time governments routinely are unable to pay workers their salaries. The country is far more polarized today than it was last year.
How do we explain the above? We all wear binoculars through which we filter the maze of realities that daily hit us. Depending on the shade of your binoculars, in this season of anomie, it is either that the Buhari regime has squandered its goodwill and led us to a blind alley or that the present hardship is merely redemptive suffering, a necessary penance before we can start enjoying the dividends of change. In the latter explanation, if rage is becoming pervasive in the land, it is only because corruption is fighting back as the Buhari regime ratchets up its brand of fighting corruption.
Precisely because of my belief that truth is relative (meaning that what people earnestly believe is the truth for them), my ideological inclination has always been towards reaching out to people who differ from us or even carry out actions we regard as heinous. Johanna (‘Hanna’) Arendt, the German-American political theorist explained this nicely in his classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Arendt tells us that the great evils in history were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their actions and therefore participated in them on the grounds that those heinous actions were normal. This is the so-called doctrine of ‘normalising the unthinkable’ or routinization of evil. This means that rather than dismissing people who act funnily or heinously as criminals, it may pay more to try to understand their rationalizations for their ‘heinous’ actions, and from there construct ways of engaging them. In this instance one may want to know whether members of Boko Haram accept that they are terrorists. Do members of the Niger Delta Avengers believe its members are common criminals or that no one has wronged them and therefore they have nothing to avenge? Do those agitating for Biafra truly believe that they are doing it for money or self-promotion? What justifications do herdsmen have to insist on their rights to enter into other people’s farms to graze their cattle while others who forcefully enter into others’ private property could be accused and even charged to court for trespassing?
Posing questions like the above in a bid to solve intractable conflicts is not pacifism. It is soft power at work – understanding why people behave the way they do and utilizing that knowledge to get them to see the world from your perspective. It is much more effective both as a conflict resolution strategy and also as a means of getting people to help you accomplish a desired outcome. Raw power alone as a strategy for pacifying ‘troublesome’ populations has since become passé. We only need to look at the Western powers’ interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria to understand the limits of raw power in achieving desired outcomes
In this season of anomie, macho grand-standings are erroneously called voices of ‘change’, while cautionary voices are denounced with such epithets as being ‘Jonathanian’ or resisting change. It is the old strategy of those who appropriate change to enthrone their perverse version of dictatorship. We found these in McCarthyism in the USA in the 1950s and in both Communist Russia and China where those who called for honest conversations were labelled counter- revolutionaries.
The truth is that in this season of anomie – more than at any time in our history- we need honest horizontal conversations on how to get the country out of the valleys and put it on a path of sustainable growth and development.
As the hardship bites harder – whether it is interpreted as redemptive suffering or evidence that we are being led to a cul de sac – the polarizations are deepening, sometimes with frightening reverberations. Take the story that Jonathan has gone on exile to Côte d’Ivoire allegedly because he got reports that the EFCC was planning to arrest him on corruption charges. Though the former President was reported to have denied that he had sought asylum anywhere, there are those who believe that arresting the former President would send a powerful message that no one is above the law and that incumbents of power positions must be prepared to answer for their deeds in office. Others would ask which of the former Presidents or Heads of State have been so humiliated in our history and how such an arrest would impact on the politics of identity and possible aggravation of militancy in the Niger Delta. Yet others (including my humble self) would worry on how such an arrest could resolve the tension between sending signals to political officeholders and deepening our democracy? Will those who lose elections in future be willing to accept defeat if he is arrested or humiliated or will our politics become more anarchic as incumbents fear the consequences of losing to the opposition? How will the international community react to the events such an arrest could trigger?
Certainly there are those baying for the blood of their supposed oppressors and class enemies and any policy that shames the mighty will always be hailed by such people. I do not mean that anyone is above the law. But what is right may not always be politically expedient in our type of clime. When some forces were pushing for Professor Jega to be removed as Chairman of INEC in the run-up to the 2015 election on spurious allegations that he had become compromised or for the Jonathan government to use Buhari’s certificate controversy to disqualify him from contesting the election, some cautionary voices (including my humble self) opposed such moves for their possible unintended effects.
If the story of possible arrest of Jonathan is kite flying, then the government should carefully mull its possible unintended consequences.
Since great leaders emerge in periods of crisis, the challenge for the Buhari regime is to find creative ways of connecting with the various contending social forces and their grievances. We need to transform the rage and anomie in the land into opportunities for conversations.

Email: pcjadibe@yahoo.com
Twitter: @JideoforAdibe.

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