Orubebeism And The Dramatics Of ‘Beneclientelism’ By Segun Ayobolu

Orubebeism and the dramatics of ‘beneclientelism’

In his trenchant yet characteristically brilliant critique of Professor Richard Joseph’s concept of prebendalism to explain the monumental corruption that ruined Nigeria’s second republic (1979-1983) and continues to hobble our country’s potentials, Professor EhieduIweriebor comes down heavily on what he describes as ‘Africanology’ – ‘the study of Africa for the domination of Africa’. According to the City University of New York based radical historian “In the first place, prebendalism is a concept derived from the sale and purchase of offices in feudal Europe. It is, therefore, an historically alien concept and its application to African politics is an intellectual imposition…Secondly, there is nothing uniquely African or Nigerian about the competition for and use of political office for the advancement of personal and reference group- ethnic, business or military- interests. This is a practice which occurs in capitalist societies in general and especially in the United States”.

Several other radical African scholars – Claude Ake, Okuwudiba Nnoli, Bala Usman, Bade Onimode etc – have also criticised what apparently appears as objective, scientific scholarship that in reality only insidiously and perniciously pursues the cause of western imperialism. Intellectual dependency and slavishness is obviously a key root of Africa’s persistent inferiority complex and underdevelopment. These thoughts roamed through my mind during the week as I read and re-read a most interesting paper recently delivered by Dr Dapo Thomas of the Department of History and International Relations, Lagos State University (LASU) on the last general elections.

The paper was delivered at a national conference on the 2015 general elections recently organised by The Electoral Institute, the intellectual arm of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by the erudite political scientist, Professor Abubakar Momoh. Other eminent scholars who delivered papers at the conference include Professors Adele Jinadu, Harry Garuba, Eghosa Osaghae, Victor Adetula, Abolade Adeniji, Siyan Oyeweso, Adeoye Akinsanya and Nuhu Yakub among others. I hope the Institute will adequately publicise these papers to encourage rigorous public discourse and thus enrich and strengthen the country’s electoral process as well as democratic practice.

Of course, the antics and childish theatrics of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral agent, Elder Godsday Orubebe, during the collation of the results of the 2015 presidential election is still fresh in our memories. For many, the incident was no more than the height of irresponsible tragi-comedy. Dr Thomas, who is a doctoral product of the renowned political scientist, Professor Adigun Agbaje, one of the 12 eminent aspirants for the Vice Chancellorship of the University of Ibadan, chose to undertake an intellectual dissection of a phenomenon I describe as ‘Orubebeism’. Sensing that his candidate was losing the electoral contest, the childish elder seized the microphone at the collation centre, threw tantrums, rained abuses and allegations against the inscrutable and unruffled INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. He held up the process for approximately 30 minutes during which the nation was on tenterhooks.

Dr Thomas’s paper is titled ‘Electoral Process and The Dramatics of Beneclientilism: A Conceptual Analysis of Orubebe’s Grandstanding and Jega’s Stricture’. One would have thought that Thomas would undertake his analysis within the well-known framework of clientelism or patron client relations routinely used to explain African politics. Thus, Orubebe was no more than a client pursuing and protecting the interest of his ‘patron’, then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. According to Dr Thomas, “Professor Joseph contends that clientelism is a situation whereby an individual seeks the support and protection of an oga or a “godfather” while trying to acquire the basic social and material goods – loans, scholarships, licenses, plots of urban land, employment, promotion and the main resource of the patron in meeting these requests is quite literally a piece of the state”.

Dr Thomas considers the traditional patron-client notion as too personalised and restricted. It is in reality a more structured and expansive relationship and he thus prefers the concept of benefactor to patron. Thus he coins the term ‘beneclientelism’ to better capture the thesis he seeks to adumbrate. The relationship between Orubebe and Jonathan transcended both men even though they shared common geo-ethnic origins. Orubebe was certainly not acting alone in trying to subvert the electoral process. The service chiefs, for instance, had earlier tried to boost the floundering electoral fortune of their benefactor by forcing a six-week postponement of the polls. Again, the traditional usage of patron-client relations suggests that the client is entirely dependent on the patron. The patron dispenses all the benefits and exercises limitless power over the client.

Beneclientilism in Dr Thomas’s usage, however, indicates that the client plays a more powerful and influential role in the process than is normally assumed. In his words “Though President Goodluck Jonathan never saw the election as a do or die affair, his aides and party associates saw it differently. To them it was a matter of life and death. He was seen by most of his political aides and associates as their benefactor on whom their political and economic survival was placed…These associates known as clients are more desperate than even their benefactor”. This position is certainly vindicated by Dr Jonathan’s confession after he lost the election that he had been held hostage in office. It was a case of the benefactor being captive to the clients.

But then, the concept of beneclientilism also raises its own problems. The INEC Chairman, Professor Jega, was an appointee of President Jonathan. Why did he not see himself and behave as a client interested in skewing the process to ensure the continuation in office of his benefactor irrespective of the will of the people? Was the success of the 2015 election, which saw an incumbent president defeated for the first time in the country’s history, a triumph of structures and processes or simply a function of the moral integrity of the INEC leadership? If an individual of less moral fibre than Jega assumes the office, will we be back to the days of electoral impunity? In celebrating the outcome of the last election, are we overlooking the more critical task of institutionalizing electoral integrity irrespective of the personality of the occupant of the office of INEC Chairman at any point in time?

Contrary to the widespread commendation of Jega’s handling of Orubebe’s attempt to abort the electoral process, Dr Thomas finds the INEC Chairman’s response too sentimental, personalised and patronising. As Jega remonstrated with Orubebe at the time “Mr Orubebe, you are a former Minister of the Federal Republic; you are a statesman in your own right, and you must be careful about what you say and about the allegations or accusations that you make. And certainly you must be careful about your public conduct”. According to Dr Thomas, “This in a sense was more of a personal and emotive appeal to Orubebe not to desecrate the elite institution which they both represent. It was simply an ego-massaging vituperation that evoked more of social identification than political morality”.

Dr Thomas appears too harsh in his assessment of Jega’s response to Orubebe. If the INEC Chairman had reacted in accordance with the full powers of his office, could he have trusted the security agencies to cooperate with him? Couldn’t he have in fact fallen into what may have been a clever ploy to cause chaos and render the entire process inconclusive? Yet, I understand the point Thomas is making. If Orebebe had rejected Professor Jega’s moral suasion, what would have happened? If such an occurrence repeats itself in future, how should it be best handled procedurally and legally rather than sentimentally and through moral sermonising which may prove ineffectual? What can be done to ensure in future that the electoral umpire is able to exercise the necessary control over the security agencies without which it cannot effectively undertake its task of conducting free, fair and credible elections as well as ensuring that the results are respected by all?

Now that it is in power, the APC has a moral obligation as part of its promised change agenda to strengthen the electoral process by enhancing the autonomy of INEC and other institutions of state to insulate them from partisan influences. On a lighter note, I also believe that the monumental role of the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, during her husband’s tenure particularly as the wife of an ethnic minority president deserves intellectual attention. I suggest a tentative study titled “Ebullient First Ladyism As An Antidote to Geo-ethnic Majority Parapoism”!


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