Monday, February 5, 2007

"What is Babaism?" by Ibiyinka Solarin

In this article, Ibiyinka Solarin, in a rather sophisticated manner, bemoans the methodology and eccentricities (for want of a better term), of the Nigerian President. Clever though it is, to what extent is this article a constructive critique of the outgoing President, if at all?

BABAISM is the Nigerian contribution to political thought and praxis in the 21st century. Babaism is not predicated on any highly formalised, carefully reasoned body of thought. Its essential core is captured in the title of the American sit-com, 'Father knows best.' It is also not based on an aggregate body of rules, processes, and procedures. It derives its practice from the whims and caprices of the Baba. It is totally unpredictable for that same reason.

Since there are no rules except the pronouncements of the Baba, to whom many are materially beholden, even adults older than the Baba grovel. One of the provincial captains of the Baba put it this way, 'in the system we practice here in (Babadom), the Baba is next to God... everything else is secondary, one has to know how to behave.'

It ought to be stated here, that it is NOT that there are no codified rules, it is just that Baba does not believe in any rule except the one he makes or the ones that suit him or his designs. The subjects of our imperial personage humour him, by suggesting that he had, in the past, had a professionally regimented life, for two decades to be precise. If that were the case, what does one make of those who lived this life for almost four decades? Baba considers codified rules, at best, a nuisance and inconvenience, to his uniquely divine wisdom. Baba is both impetuous and imperious, a la 'l' etat, c'est moi' .

Baba is likely to erupt in tantrums even in public, out of provocation, and many defer to him out of respect for his position as Baba. Such is the level of deficit in refinement. But, Baba considers himself, the elect of God, not realising that the deference is to THE position and NOT the person. Baba's situation is made worse because many unfortunately grovel at his feet, for lucre, patronage and favours because of the unique pyramidal structure of Babadom. This of course only fuels Baba's bloated self.

Baba is both petulant and knowing, given to fits of temper, such that the craven coterie of aides and hangers-on that surround him, deem it fit not to cross him or dare suggest an alternative point of view. Indeed they cross him at their peril. Baba knows all, even in matters in which he is patently untutored. Since Baba is of the mind that rules are not made for him, he is given to arbitrary and capricious pronouncement, since legality and constitutionalism seem to be beyond his ken. His subjects are often confounded and amused when out of evident embarrassment the Baba turns around, flailing, looking for rule-based decisions. Not that it matters, since Baba sees himself or his designs as not bound by rules.

To Baba, being right, and being self-righteous are the same thing. Naturally, he is given to preachments and sermons, such that his subjects are drowning in this sea of bombast periodically dished out by our personage. Baba has, in the face of damning dismal reality of his polity, created his own reality, sustained and reinforced by members of his amen corner. Baba's subjects are exhorted to disbelieve the dismal and deteriorating socio-economic realities of their lives, the want, the poverty, the personal and communal insecurities, the impassable road network, the erratic and often non-existing power supply, conditions unameliorated for eight years, in he face of unprecedented earnings. You might just wonder how Baba attained this dizzying height? Well, Baba himself provided that answer in commenting on one of his provincial prefects. He, (the provincial prefect), was a mistake.

Of course, out of politeness, more than anything else, no one will tell Baba that he himself is a mistake, a mistake that has been foisted on his country for upwards of three decades. Mercifully, the countdown is on for Baba; the clock is about to run out. Sooner or later, in the fullness of time, the polity will rid itself of the likes of Baba. And the dawn of a new era of a flourishing liberal democracy based on constitutional accountability, transparency, unerringly on the rule of law and not that of man will be born. May that era come soon for this traumatised Babadom. Amen.


Professor Solarin lives in Tyler, Texas, United States.


Bitchy said...

Guys, as you'll come to understand, this article, like all the other things we'll put up, doesn't necessarily mirror my opinion, or Misan's. So... feel free to say whatever you want about it oh! Xxxxx

Derin said...

".No one in Aso Rock today wakes up each day with genuine thoughts about the welfare of the citizenry.......Indeed, this house has collapsed. I do not envy the person who will take over from Obasanjo. The person will inherit an angry, hungry, impoverished and frustrated populace, wilfully plunged into unimaginable hardship by a regime that behaves as if it was contracted to visit untold punishment on Nigerians"

These are extracts from an article I read the other day....alot of criticism from all directions on Obasanjo, to be really honest I think he has achieved quite alot. From clearing the Paris club debt to restructuring the banking system he has repeatedly demonstrated strong leadership under different circumstances.( restructuring of the banking system was highly criticised all over the world) .Wht I gather from the article is that his strong leadership style is the problem.

For a country with so many problems we actually do need a strong leader. One of the first things he did was to retire many generals, a very smart move indeed in terms of sustaining democracy.He has taken a lot of bold steps many of which have had positive results. Rather than Nigerians encouraging positive steps they direct harsh criticism, which I believe past a certain point, would have negative effects on those who don’t need the added stress. E.g EFCC; someone has finally done something about corruption and they are criticising him for using it for his own personal political vendeta’s. Fair enough he might have used it as a weapon but the reason for its existence is to tackle corruption and the mere fact so many “untouchables” have fallen and are currently facing numerous EFCC cases is a good step and one I believe we need to encourage. Ribadu (chairman EFCC) recently won the award for “African man of the year”, this is the type of encouragement im talking about. Please do not assume that I am downplaying the importance of the media as a watchdog and criticism as a means of keeping leaders in check. State of the country, as we all know, is in a really bad shape , one which is not likely to change overnight. so whatever postive outcomes we gain from this democracy, especially in its infant stages, we need to embrace and encourage.

Anonymous said...

Babaism, though, is merely a specialization of a far more general problem that is rooted in our cultures. My mother called it gerontocracy, the system where greater age confers absolute power. Now, yes, the Baba has those older than him grovel, but that is because the system of "kabiyesi" (literally "ki a bi, ko si" - "for us to ask him, does not permit" - the genuflection to the Yoruba obas) confers the "greatest age" to the oba. The Yoruba participants in what have been sham politics in Nigeria for a long time interpret political office as chieftaincy and monarchy, and do not recognize the expertise of any other.

Interestingly, nearly every culture in Nigeria - and certainly all those with significant numbers of people and a hold on the public discourse - now employ such a system, even if they didn't originally. The traditional system of the Igbo was merit based, not genealogical, however it has accrued the attitudes of absolutism thanks to the erosion in the dignity of the common man and the traditional ruling institutions under the gross mismanagement of the military.

But that is the past. The future is a return to merit. A return to individual qualification and distinction. And it's happening today, starting in the private sector. You can inherit a business and an excellent starting position from your parent, but if you can't run the shop that fact quickly becomes apparent.

Tragic as Babaism and its many parallels are, their days are clearly numbered. Consider that even the current Baba (quick digression: why does everyone call Obasanjo that, anyway? he sure ain't my father!) has accepted the end of his tenure as an irreversible fact. This is a long way from the immediately preceding generations of babas.

Surprising, isn't it? The revolution is being televised after all...

Bitchy said...

You guys're on here already? I'm so psyched ! Yaaaay! Thank you so much! As the days roll on there'll be more and more people arriving, for you to debate with, so please do check back here to see what they say.

@ Derin - your opinion is exactly along the lines of a letter from a Nigerian Reuters correspondent, whose opinion I completely disagreed with, but which I was relunctantly forced to accept after I saw the long list of things "Baba" had done. We'll be putting up the letter next hopefully.

@ Seyi - Thank you!! WHEN did I recruit him as my "Baba"? I always wondered..

Lol xxxxx

Tokini said...

P.S. For the avoidance of confusion, just thought I ought to say, in case you hadn't worked it out, that I am "Bitchy". Hehe xxx

Misan said...

Welcome guys, I'm psyched that u've already set the ball rolling!
@ Derin, I certainly agree with you on the fact that Uncle Sege (yeah, when did he become our uncle too, random fact besides the point, but Ghanians refer to their president Koufor as "sexy eyes" so we can have a later debate over which is worse!) has acocmplished substantial progress in his tenure, but really, it HAS been 8 years, and maybe I'm just of that school of thought that fights against setting the bar low for our leaders, why should we expect light, roads, water, and good hospitals in this day and age?
Another thing I noticed from OBJ's usual laundry list accomplishments (debt relief, banks' recapitalization, NAFDAC, better foreign relations, etc) is that these milestones don't give the average Nigerian at the grassroots level more income, beter housing, light, water, etc...fine, he's got a GSM now, but still he has to contend with fuel scarcities on Christmas day, no light (sorry i keep harping on the light issue, but in Ghana, they have full power supply for 4 days straight and then every fifth day, they take light, from 6am to 6pm), etc.
So i'd say my dilemma is to demand more of our leaders, while still acknowledging their accomplishments (though that doesn't work for my governor, James Ibori of Delta State, and i dare anyone to give me a list of 2 things he's accomplished that he'd set out to 8yrs ago).

@ Seyi: You definitely hit the nail in the head with our traditional system of babaism (geruntocracy, right?). But I fear that it's so inbuilt that it will be ages before we can eradicate that in our politics. Business-wise, like you said, we're getting there slow and steadily, but Politics and's still who you know not what you know. I guess it depends on how full one views the cup, eh?

Sorry, I promise my posts will be more succint than this as I learn the tricks of the blogosphere :)

Nkemka said...

you know the thing. You can't teach an old man how to use his left hand when he's 60 years old!. Baba is a military man from time and he has the values and tenets instilled in him as a person. Remember he was one of the senior commanders at the time the British granted us independence. Therefore he was not used to taking orders from anyone. 40 years later, he is the President of Nigeria, even if he tried, it will be hard for him to even listen cuz all his life he is so used to giving out orders and not having people questioning him. Thats why we notice frequent changes in Senate Presidents, PDP Chairmans,aides, ministers. He needs people that are ready to take orders which is wrong. A good leader knows he does not know everything but hires people who know more than him.

Bitchy said...

Nkemka... you made it! Hooray!! Lol xxxx

Adeboye said...

I am more impressed by the quality of the comments, than I am by the article that generated them.
The comments give evidence of a view to the future, while the article is more of a skilled and sophisticated form of name-calling. I also appreciate that this was the avowed intention of the author.

Eme said...

Hey guys!
It's been very interesting reading all the comments so far.
Think Nkemka's good point about teaching old dogs new tricks highlights one of the things we really need, which is younger, newer faces in there with the same old players on the political scene.

Derin said...

@ Misan. Basic amenities and infastructure will eventually come. The western world in all thier glory did not achieve such a status overnight... they did it through an incredible amount of sacrifice, a concept which Nigerians refuse to grasp. The statistics are horrible and worse still is the reality of the situation back home, but we need to stop complaining about the past and focus more on the future. This is why forums like these are very important, rather than people raining curses on NEPA every time they take light, we research into… Why countries in the western world benefit from 24-7 electricity? What systems do they have in place and at what cost?...Why cant Nigeria adopt a succesfull power generating sytem (especially ‘in light’ of the positive economic effects) … etc Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step …and that step I believe we have taken.. I truly believe this is far bigger than any of us … and as Oluseyi noted...The revolution will be televised

Derin said...

@ misan -lol.. "sexy eyes"..are you serious?

@ Adeboye- "sophisticated name calling"..i like that description.. i was thinking the exact same thing..

Nkemka said...

@derin, speaking of the electricity issue, i agree with you that most times research is not done. For one, i know a state like Lagos is very dirty. There is also a way that dirt can be used to generate electricity.

Alternatively, all the gas that is being flared and polluting the air can be used to generate electricity. Gas grids can be created vertically across the country reaching all states which would make use of the gas being producued. Production of electricty can therefore be done on a state by state basis with surplus from states going into the national reserves. This is done in some other countries alternatively setting up little power stations for each region as opposed to having one large national powere holding company. Just wondering if the government has looked into it because they all seem more interested in pumping billions into existing plans which have broken down years ago...

olukayode said...

I dont think gerontocracy is the issue, rather sycophancy. There is too much power concentrated with central govt with very little effective checks and balances. The President and Governors are almost like paramount rulers in their own domains with massive powers of patronage which a class of individuals in society make a living (excellent one at that) from leaching off the state. For example the President pre-the current privatisation programme could appoint over a 1000 members of boards of various parastatals with their attendant corruption and contract inflation. This rent seeking is being diminished as these companies are sold off but there are still many appointments that can still be made and let us not even start on the oil and gas industry. To cut my diatribe short we need effective checks which the current national and state house of assemblies are not providing due to a significant number of our "honourables" being compromised or ready to be compromised for cash and favours. This happens in many democracies, using cash for honours in the UK and various US scandals but at least those caught out there can be held accountable by their constituents and face re-election problems, persecution or even recalls. We have to start hold our reps to account and this will ensure they are more stoic in their duties but first we have to know who they are, I dare anyone to tell me they now their house of rep member and senator off by heart?

Bitchy said...

@ Adeboye.. Yes it definitely was "sophisticated name-calling". We had hoped to introduce a much fairer article tomorrow with actual facts and figures, but there's been a slight.. ehem.. "technical glitch" :-)

@ Derin... I'm not so sure I agree with you on this point - "Basic amenities and infastructure will eventually come. The western world in all their glory did not achieve such a status overnight" - Are we to compare ourselves to medieval or Victorian England? We have a govt that receives far greater revenue from the nation's resources, than British prime ministers of a bygone era would have. The money is in our economy, and it is capable of producing the results. Its simply in the wrong hands.

@ Eme.. Ore mi, eku ishe

@ Nkemka.. it'd be interesting to learn more about these alternative methods of generating power. Do you by any chance have something you could email me? Or would you like to write something yourself? wink wink.. Lol!

@ Olukayode :-D Thank you gracing us with your presence honey. I definitely couldn't tell you who my rep/senator is. Hmm.. but most of us have the same one, so please find out and tell us. I'm going to look on google. There must surely be an accessible list of all current seat holders. Misan has great ideas on ways to get these individuals into the firing line so to speak. We know we can't shame them into action, but we can at least start by asking them what plans they have exactly.

Misan said...

Hehe, I guess that was an intro into one of our initial ideas that we'd hoped we could eventually implement through The Afro Beat. Having forums (villagesquare/townhouse-type meetings) where presidential/ gubernatorial/senate/LG chairman candidates would be called on to present/debate their visions/plans for their term in office. These forums would be held in various states and Local governments (similar ot how american politicians have to sweat their asses off to campaign and be heard) and would be broadcast so that everyone (at home and abroad) would know who the candidates are, what they stand for, and what they plan to do to effect change. In an ideal world, this would hold them accountable, but in the real world, it would at least help us educate ourselves and hopefully become active voting citizens instead on ones badgered into registering but having no intentions of voting. I don't think there's anything that can shame our leaders into acting, but at least it'll force aspirants to actually have answers/ mission statements, instead of referring us to manifestos that don't exist. I know Pat Utomi had a tour of the US campaigning and he has some policy videos on his website, but I don't know how many people on ground actualy know what he or other polticians stand for. I hear slogans of parties, but that's about it. I'll leave it here for now, but it's an idea that i think is doable (not before April though, unless some news agency would like to take up the idea and run with it) and aligns with our aims of educating ourselves on issues that affect us the most.

@ Derin, we don't even have to look to the west...GHANA!! (i'm sorry, i should explain my roomate is Ghanian, and the first time I went to Accra, I was stunned at how things work, that another African country, almost next door to us, could have achieved so much, even without the petrodollars, with the coups, and the economic setbacks)

Derin said...

@kemka...this supports what you were saying.

The vice President said he had advocated for the construction of smaller power stations that would serve smaller and specific parts of the country in the early days of the administration instead of spending so much on existing stations that had become comatose but his advise was rejected by the President.
According to him, "in 2000, I went to Mr. President. I said we have so many sources of power–– hydro and solar. We should have small kind of power stations. I gave him example of President Ramos of Philipines. When he came to power the whole of Philippines was in darkness. He brought light using this kind of measure. Today when you say Ramos in Phillipines, they will say power".
Atiku said rather than heed his advice, the President prefered to spend over $500 million in rehabilitating the power stations adding that all the huge funds spent have gone down the drain.

Tokini said...

Has Atiku ever really suggested anything that isn't intended to benefit his own pocket?

This is of course not to suggest that the quote you pasted is pure propaganda... Oops! Lol!

Regardless of the Atiku-OBJ dynamic though, we've learnt that alternative sources of power are (or could be) feasible and effective in Nigeria. Thanks Derin

Misan said...

One thing i've wondered for a while is why isn't there a system to support/encourage Nigerian students abroad(engineers, scientists, and techy-people as such) to come home and carry out their research projects at home. For example, PhD students working on a new garbage recycling technology apply for a grant to come to Nigeria (besides the travel advisory against us) and carry out their projects at home, set up a mini-plant which can then be scaled up, by a private firm or the govt. Same goes for alternative electrcity. Eme, your grandma in surulere has solar panels for her electricity, right? If it's possible to generate electricity from dirt, and the federal government is too busy to follow up that research, and private firms don't see the $$-making angle in it, then students who have to at least get a degree, should be encouraged to take up such research back home.

Eme said...

@Misan - Just to reply to your qu, my grandma does have solar panels. They're not a total solution - at least, not in their current incarnation - but they are certainly good enough to power most of the things in their house for several hours a day. Who knows what further R&D could produce?
And we certainly don't have a shortage of sunlight ;)

solu_e said...

hallo everyone, finally i can read these articles.
interesting comments bout obj. but i have to agree with misan eight yrs? one wonders where his interests lie when he does things like building libraries in his hometown (misan i've mentioned this to u) when the country's largest universities can only boast of extremely out dated books. if he must start from his own place why not equip the schools with the right facilities, employ qualified teachers and pay those teachers well? might seem unimportant but its little things like this that go a long way...
@derin/ tokini. i was going to add to what tokini said. the numerous resources-including people- we have today give us no reason to fall back on the sorry excuse that development takes centuries. if we can host trivial nonsense like (junior) world cup and miss world without batting an eyelash at the enormous costs, we should be able to transfer the same energy to repairing our good roads, providing electricity...
might i also add that nigeria was not always this sad? in the early sixties and even after the civil war (mid 70's to 80s i believe) nigeria was fairly developed; indeed there might have been a time when $1 was equivalent to one naira. one of our presidents/ heads-of-state said when we were hosting FESTAC77 "the problem is not the money but how to spend it". we had everything going for us. so the problem is not gaining development but REGAINING development.
eme's grandmother's solar panels (eme ur grandma is becoming a source of inspiration, lol) strengthen nkemka's suggestion that research shd be encouraged to provide alternative sources/ redistribution of energy. misan u mentioned a program that would encourage people to come back and get into such research programs. good idea but what would be the incentive? where would the materials to carry out this research come from? don't get me wrong i'm not beating down the idea. i'm saying we should be brainstorming on how to get people with influence and the proper connections involved in looking for sources of capital or whatever resources will be needed whether in nigeria or abroad. talking here all day is not going to the same time, we can't go very far in doing anything for our country without help from adults who much more experience and enlightenment. the realisation of any dream can only happen when people in different positions come together. even if a new president turns out to be better than obasanjo he cant tackle everything at once and there's no rule that says other citizens cant help in their own way. i think that is the problem in nigeria. as soon as sb is in charge, everyone else folds their arms and its everyman for himself while the person in charge is left to perform miracles.
we have to start from somewhere in our own way.
gosh didnt mean to make this so long so will stop. its good to see people are interested in our country.:)

Bitchy said...

Hey Soluzo... Glad to see you on here at last! ;-)

Couldn't agree more with what you said here - "as soon as sb is in charge, everyone else folds their arms and its everyman for himself while the person in charge is left to perform miracles."

There is currently no sense of team spirit whatsoever in Nigeria... That's one of the many things The Afro Beat is desperate to develop.

Misan said...

yay for team spirit. Welcome Solu!
It's so great to go back and re-read pp's comments and the new ideas added on. You're right about needing incentives...without incentives, no one will act. Question is also how to go about re0inforcing pp's trust in the accountability of the system. Currently, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to doing business in Nigeria, Baba can wake up tomorrow and decide he doesn't like you or your idea anymore and legislation is put in place to hinder your business. So, we really need to develop that sense of accountability in all sectors of society. One day at a time.

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