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Reconstructing Abati’s Witchcraft Theory – By SAM KARGBO




Leadership, no doubt, constitutes a significant part of the trouble with Nigeria. I had observed, since 2014, that Nigeria’s constitutional framework provides for good governance – on paper. The country being a democratic state, the personnel of the organs of government are “elected” by the people and can be removed by the people – with the exception of the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary is ensured. Nigeria has about the most competent and vibrant judiciary in the Commonwealth of Nations. In spite of the often unjustified vilification of the judiciary, one is proud to note that our country’s judiciary ranks amongst the most competent, most hard working and, of course, the very best on the African continent. Having travelled – and having been exposed – to many jurisdictions on the continent, one can restate this position with no apology.

While the importance of good governance cannot be faulted or diminished in any way, the importance of good leadership cannot be over-emphasized. If, in my view, Nigeria had sustained qualitative leadership to drive governance, the country would have been more developed and would have been able to strengthen and deepen the bonds of unity among its constituent nationalities.  This view may seem somewhat sweeping; it may call for an apology to that insignificant number of leaders who have, in some way, exhibited appreciable degrees of the qualities of good leadership. For clarification, the focus here is on leadership at the level of the Central or Federal Government. Accordingly, I can repeat that if Nigeria had had good leadership at any time since Independence, the country would not have fought a civil war or had  Boko Haram; and hundreds of the country’s innocent children would not have been killed or kidnapped from their schools. The girls abducted in Chibok would have been sufficiently assured of good education and a safe environment to actualize their God-given talents. But for the habitually incompetent and inept leadership at the Centre, Nigeria’s education sector would have developed extensively enough to capture and retain the billions of foreign exchange lost to foreign countries over the years by parents and guardians seeking quality education for their children and wards. The poor leadership of the Federal Government is, evidently, responsible for Nigeria’s large contribution to India and Egypt’s robust health tourism, for instance.

I blame the country’s leadership for the public apathy and disconnect between the public and Government. The leadership is too concerned with the conversion of public wealth to personal wealth, expending too much energy and time in the promotion of self. The Nigerian leadership is too busy taking care of self to pay any attention to the promotion of the common good. As can be demonstrated presently, I have not been the only one pondering over the nation’s poor leadership.

Reuben Abati, former Special Adviser, Media and Publicity and official Spokesperson to President Goodluck Jonathan, in a recent article titled “The Spritual Side of Aso villa”, sold the view that: “There is some form of witchcraft at work in the country’s seat of government” that robs the country’s presidents of their sense of reasonable and productive judgments.

I agree with Abati that Nigeria is heaving under the heavy burden of poor leadership that has consistently demonstrated its inability to drive development and connect the country to the global superhighway of competitive economies. I also agree with him that there is a widely held opinion that lend credence to the view expressed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in his book, Democracy: The God That Failed, that: “The state is an institution run by gangs of murderers, plunderers, and thieves, surrounded by wheeling executioners, propagandists, sycophants, crooks, liars, clowns, charlatans, dupes and useful idiots, or that the state is an institution that dirties and taints everything it touches”, connecting with the fear that there is something inherently unexplainable about the country’s inept presidency and its typical counterproductive decisions.

I cannot but respect the satirical views expressed by Abati – a first-class dramatic scholar who rose to national prominence through incisive and poignant social and political commentaries – about the ‘Trouble with Aso Rock’, the seat of the nation’s Presidency. What I am, however, worried about is the fact that many people, including some of my friends and colleagues who read his article, took him very seriously, accepting the face value of his message. My concern is heightened by the fear that his narrative fits and feeds our reliance on the supernatural, instead of scientific and verifiable knowledge to solve our problems.

I must confess that I do not have finished thoughts or immovable opinion about the reason for the inability of the presidency to provide a foundation for the economic and social transformation of the country in spite of the fact that there are many open books from across the continents that Nigeria’s leadership can borrow a leaf from. But I prefer views and opinions that give practical explanations for the country’s poor leadership.

At its Inaugural Programme at Ota –from October 24 to November 1, 1988 –the Africa Leadership Forum made recommendations on how the African continent can face the Challenges of Leadership on development in Africa. One of its recommendations relevant to this discussion is the one on capacity building. According to the forum,

African development problems are as complex as they are multifaceted. Their resolution ultimately depends on the capacity of people to understand what is happening around them, both internally and externally. They must possess enhanced ability to be able to take appropriate steps and cope with a variety of problems surrounding them. At the higher levels of leadership, Africa must take a leaf out of the books of other nations. It must equip itself with the intellectual and scientific capacity and the knowledge base to formulate long-term strategies. It must upgrade considerably its ability to analyse economic and social issues correctly and to implement such policies with the necessary political vision. Unlike other parts of the world, Africa at present has no high-level think tank, no institute or a centre that engages in long-range studies, policy formulation and analysis.

It is in this spirit that I reject Abati’s witchcraft theory. According to the BBC, people believe in witchcraft… because they need a way to explain the unexplainable. When confronted with situations that could not be explained due to the lack of scientific and medical knowledge, people need a scapegoat to help the masses understand the seemingly unexplainable phenomenon. The easiest way to do that is to blame demonic powers.

I have, in explaining the connection and relationship between conspiracy theories and the indolent mind, stated:

To typical proponents or adherents of these theories, it is always the witch who kills babies, whilst the evil-doer kills or inflicts hardship on the elderly. In this environment, diseases do not kill human beings since God who made them only calls them to heaven at a ripe old age. Power is not fought or schemed for; it is given by God. Rich men and women are born rich since riches are not earned, but bestowed by God. Likewise, riches are never frittered or wasted but destroyed by the devil. Therefore, there exist two competing worlds in this clime: the world of God, the creator of the universe and His poor but spiritually protected people; and the world of the devil with its rich and wicked followers who indulge in all sorts of atrocities, including human sacrifice, to sustain their transient worldly possessions. Science is conspiracy in the world of the indolent-minded. Hard work, research, investigation and proofs are ideals or facades meant to cover truths. Unfortunately, this world of paranoia and of baseless thought is more populated than the world of reason.

Until we connect with the world of critical reasoning, we shall continue to be gullible pawns to fraudulent “men and women of God”, witchdoctors, Babalawos, cranks and pseudo-philosophers. Until we start demanding hard facts, public officials will continue to pontificate and feed us with rubbish or explain away why public duties are left undone. It is our indolent minds that provide justification for our poverty even when our public officials are so rich.

Abati’s witchcraft theory is a very convenient way of explaining away the failings of leadership. All of a sudden, gullible minds are beginning to feel for the country’s leadership and excuse it from blame for its pathetic handling of the resources and affairs of the state. I am certain that Abati is altruistic about the harms or near harms that befell the characters in his dramatic prose, but there is nothing in his narrative that is out of the ordinary for a bunch of people who are engaged in wheeling and dealing instead of concentrating on matters that benefit the people.

In conclusion, I call on all to discountenance his attempt to deflect critical scrutiny of the stewardship of past and present occupants of Aso Rock.