By Babatunde Jose
“The drums of war are easy to beat, but their rhythms are difficult to dance. Starting wars or political upheavals comes with the slightest provocation, but ending them becomes inelastic, almost unending with painful footages of the wrecks of war. I have been involved and its ripples are tellingly unpalatable, with gory details of destruction and carnage.” –IBB
The presence of a ruling class and the distinction between a ruling and a ruled class are universal and ‘constant facts’ of all societies. The ruling class ‘performs all political functions, monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings whereas the second … is directed. Alexander Hamilton noted that ‘all communities divide themselves into the few and the many’.
The ruling class’ dominance derives first and foremost from society itself, since it is thanks to their possession of ‘social forces’ (i.e. sources of social power) that members of the ruling class obtain the material, intellectual and even moral superiority to rule; thus, changes in these social forces will affect the political class and its composition. The power of the ruling class rests also on the advantages that every organized minority enjoys over a disorganized majority; this is akin to the colonial situation as defined by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. Robert Michels developed this argument into his renowned ‘iron law of oligarchy’, stressing ‘the immanent oligarchical tendencies in every kind of human organization which strives for the attainment of definite ends’. The inevitability of elites represents an axiom for subsequent theoretical development; it is a constant that shapes societies despite different historical and geographical settings.
Elites are present within pluralist democracies since even these societies cannot work without a governmental machine and a political class. It is therefore, axiomatic to note that in democracies governments can be of or for the people, but not realistically by the people; ‘for it is quite impossible for the government of a society to be in the hands of any but a few’. In this sense, we can safely question the myth surrounding the democratic model, the ‘democratic and historical fallacy’ that governments are run by the governed.
However, when the excesses of the ruling elite gets too overbearing on the masses, there is a critical mass that things gets to a point of no return and the system explodes in a revolt against the paganism of the elite, their shenanigan, unbridled peccadilloes and brigandage. It is when the society get to this stage that we witness an uprising and we are nearing that stage; if not there already. Not a revolution, but an uprising, which comes as a spontaneous and unstructured, unorganized and uncoordinated reaction to bottled up injustice. It is usually uncoordinated as it does not have an epicentre nor leaders. Its leaders are spontaneous and it erupts at various places and it spreads via words of mouth and these days via the social media. Hence, an innocuous incident such as a car ramming into passers-by at a bus stop in Mushin Olosa could develop into a social fracas that would lead to the masses stoning passing vehicles and later to the burning of cars and then, the maiming and killing of perceived enemies. Any one driving past in a good car automatically draws the ire of the masses, the stories would then spread via the ubiquitous WhatsApp to Idumota, and viola, mayhem is unleashed on innocent people. The uprising spreads to Agege and before you know what’s going on, Kano, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri and Ibadan have joined the fray. The country which is traditionally under policed will be unable to cope and then the army would be brought out. Unfortunately, the killing of protesters by the army would add fuel to the inferno and the country would be set on fire. By the close of day, NO ONE would be able to say what caused the uprising. If care is not taken a set of emergency leaders would emerge articulating demands for the government to go, unfortunate political leaders would by then have been beheaded and their heads on spikes like that of Akaluka. The turmoil would be spontaneous and at the end of the day, the army would take over the reign of affairs. The lesson here is that’ let no one conjecture that the military can never take over the government. They can and it would be a very big shame as all the democratic evolution of the past 18 years would have come to naught. Let those who have ears listen now!
The rascality and excesses; immoderations, decadences, debaucheries and intemperance of the political elite is beginning to give cause for serious concern. The masses are starting to get restless. They are not only hungry, but angry. There is too much poverty in the land: Poverty in the midst of plenty, scarcity in the mist of waste and profligacy. Ostentation, brazen flamboyance, and grandiosity have become the order of the day; even in these days of recession and depression: The poor masses are not oblivious to our monuments of profligacy in the name of weddings, burial parties and birthday bashes: “Poverty is the same, irrespective religion, ethnicity” – Osinbajo. We have said it before, we should say it again; the hungry poor will soon have nothing to eat, and woe betides the unfortunate elite they lay their hands on when the fight starts: That’s when they become food for the hungry poor.
The antics of the elite in whipping up religious and ethnic animosities coupled with the hiring of foot soldiers from among the poor, will not augur well for the security of this nation. Intra-elite competition is one of the most important factors explaining massive waves of social and political instability, which periodically afflict complex, state-level societies. Jack Goldstone tested it empirically by analysing the structural precursors of the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and seventeenth century’s crises in Turkey and China. Other researchers extended Goldstone’s theory and tested it in such different societies as Ancient Rome, Egypt, and Mesopotamia; medieval England, France, and China; the European revolutions of 1848 and the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917; and the Arab Spring uprisings. All the findings indicate conclusively that the stability of modern democratic societies is also undermined by excessive competition among the elites. Why is intra-elite competition such an important driver of instability?
Elites are a small proportion of the population (on the order of 1 percent) who concentrate social power in their hands; they include (but are not limited to) elected politicians, top civil service bureaucrats, and the owners and managers of corporate entities; in Nigeria, that translates to about 1.8 million people, which is gross exaggeration of their number. As individual elites retire, they are replaced from the pool of elite aspirants. There are always more elite aspirants than positions for them to occupy. Intra-elite competition is the process that sorts aspirants into successful elites and aspirants whose ambition to enter the elite ranks is frustrated. Competition among the elites occurs on multiple levels. From local government council to state assembly to gubernatorial and then the federal level; jostling for board memberships and all. They employ several methods and tactics to further their positions. However, the most odious strategy they employ in this clime are ethnicity or plain tribalism and religion. However, these have their dangers, which we all know too well. Bob said ‘every day the bucket goes to the well, one day the bottom will drop out’; and then the fight will start. Analysis of past societies indicates that, if intra-elite competition is allowed to escalate, it will increasingly take more violent forms. A typical outcome of this process is a massive outbreak of political violence or uprising, often ending in a state collapse, a revolution, or a civil war (or all of the above). May God save us from our elite; Amen.
Show us the straight way. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray. (Quran 1:6-7)
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend