Grimot Nane Zine

The Owners of Nigeria Technostructure (ONT)

In Nigeria there exists a non-market non-governmental extortionist technostructure that is nameless but for the purpose of convenience we shall call it the ONT (i.e. the Owners of Nigeria Technostructure). Analogous to the concept of the market technostructure propounded by John Kenneth Galbraith in which corporate bureaucrats had more power than shareholders and the focus of corporate activity was more on survival than profits, the ONT holds more power than market shareholders / leaders and government administrators, respectively or combined, and is focused on the survival of the nation’s economy to serve it interests rather than national prosperity. It is a fact that citizens of Nigeria are also shareholders (or stakeholders) in the economy.

The ONT is a deeply entrenched distributive coalition, a “gang of thieves”. It is constituted of the elite brass of army officers, public bureaucrats/politicians, businessmen and traditional rulers. However, it is the military that has the most significant relevance of power within the ONT. Then there are the super permanent secretaries (Super Perm Secs) empowered by turbulent political turnovers that created the information monopolies for civil servants over the administration successive military and successive governments because the civil service heads remained intact and ever powerful throughout the changes.

There have been precursor organisations to the ONT that have held significant power in Nigeria. They are popularly known as [demonymic] mafias e.g. the Kaduna mafia, the Langtang mafia etc. The Kaduna mafia stands out as the most prominent non-governmental organisation with significant influence on the political economy of Nigeria. It has produced some heads of state and many of cream of top-ranking public servants both military and civilian. Its members are described as “petit bourgeois” and “oligarchic” Northerners. Up to this day the Kaduna mafia appear to dominate the ONT. More recent mafias have emerged out of the old ones such as the Minna mafia.

By the 1980s the ascendancy of neoliberal policies in Western economies took power out of the hands of corporate bureaucrats (the technostructure) and put it in the hands of the shareholders then transformed corporations from survival institutions into profit maximising entities. By then the rentiers and bandits in Nigeria had garnered over a decade’s experience of dominance in the Nigerian economy but unlike in the West where the market technostructure was demolished by neoliberalism, the neoliberal policies introduced in Nigeria actually gave the roving bandits much greater scope for operation and corruption that exceeded their own expectations. This increase in scope actually has its foundations in the failed indigenisation policies of Gowon and his successors.

The aftermath of Lagos Plan of Action of 1980 which saw the early introduction of neoliberal policies into Africa created tensions between the rentiers / bandits on the one hand and market shareholders / leaders and public administrators on the other. The government as a monopsony to numerous markets in Nigeria had to start cutting spending and to demonstrate fiscal policy discipline as a condition of the Lagos Plan of Action talks regardless of the harsh socio-economic effects created. The rentiers soon realised that neoliberal policies of the future would shrink the easy but vast incomes from government contracts and from the nationalised corporations. The key problem of a coalition of roving bandits is how to survive by all or any means.

Whether the ONT was deliberately constructed or emerged inadvertently to self-serve the interests of roving bandits is unclear but the return of Nigeria to military rule after the 2ndRepublic and the introduction of structural adjustment policies under the watch of Generals Babangida and Abacha provided it with the right instruments and conditions for it to be an enduring dominant class of bandits in the polity and economy of the country. Historically, the new elite of African leaders found themselves in political environment that was structurally unstable in the post-independence period. Finding structural stability became a goal for the new elite but it could not be found in the ethnically and religiously diverse populations of Nigeria. This stability was to be found in its capitalistic tendencies. What keeps the ONT together as a unified coherent body though fragmented is no different from what keeps the Nigeria together as one nation though inherently unstable: oil wealth.

The main function of the ONT is to amass as much wealth and power as they can and control the government with that very wealth; this is the means by which they own Nigeria. One means of achieving such wealth accumulation is to get awarded the choicest big contracts from government on one hand and lucrative big contracts from the real market sector on the other. The public or private sector decisions to obtain big contracts are mainly secured through their proxies in office and by exerting major social pressures. The energy sector inclusive of electric power, oil and gas generates the most lucrative contracts.

The second function of the ONT is to secure privileged licenses for doing business including exclusive imports and exports rights and exclusive licenses of operation (e.g. Department of Petroleum Resources licenses). The third function of the ONT is the necessary and strategic personnel placement. The ONT needs to have “eyes and ears” in all sectors of government and markets especially the lucrative ones. All jobs that will ensure the acquisition of the contracts and licenses the ONT desire to serve its banditry interests are firmly dictated by the ONT. To achieve this job control situation the ONT ensures that they guarantee the security of the tenures heads of government whether military or democratic as well as the fortunes of major market shareholders and corporate leaders. Principals of the ONT control proxies and clients through the obligations of fealty, a quid pro quo patron-client understanding.

How the ONT’s scope was broadened and deepened by neoliberal policy deserves some explanation. Firstly, there was massive resistance, sometimes violent, from the public and the civil service against the privatisation of national assets by the Babangida government. General Babangida sought the counsel and support of the roving bandits because of their influence with the public as to which assets could be partially or fully privatised with the least resistance i.e. with their support.  It is well-known that Babangida was an “appeasement” or “settlement” president. The roving bandits clearly wanted the privatised assets for themselves and insisted on having the “low-cost high-return” assets for themselves; heads of government and major market players quickly adopted this tactic for themselves. Their next step was to discourage the privatisation of high-costs high-return industries till they were ready themselves to buy them often with the help of foreign investors.

Secondly, with the structural adjustment program taking hold in Nigeria the economy rapidly became a “cash economy” where credit was incredibly expensive with interest rates of between 30 and 45% if securable. It was the consequence of economic plundering of the state roving bandits of the past decade and half [the 1970s and 1980s] ensured that they had “physical cash” (readily available liquid cash or highly fungible assets) to buy national assets and to execute contracts with cash usually stashed away in foreign accounts. As cash became excessively more important for exerting influence on the governance of Nigeria [in the 1980s], the roving bandits rapidly became the masters of governance making and reviewing important decisions of the day as it suited their narrow interests. Thirdly, the political instability of the Babangida and Abacha years also enhanced and entrenched the scope of roving bandits for brokering and assuring treaties and agreements with the opposition and resistance in Nigeria to ensure some stability when the government’s public relations and repressive measures failed. In fact, the ONT became a third party government enforcer of sorts in Nigeria. Fourthly, the structural adjustment policies focused more financial institutions than any other type and the roving bandits quickly turned it into their playground manipulating exchange rates and other mechanisms as it suited their interests.

By the time of Abacha’s death in 1998, the ONT had become an independently well entrenched dominant political and economic entity in its own right even though apparently disorganised and factionalised. However, the factions are purely ethnic but not as deep-rooted as suggested. Abacha had vastly enriched the ONT and himself in preparation to transit from being statocratic to democratic president like Babangida did before him. General Abdul Salaam Abubakar who succeeded Abacha was no match for the demands and influence of the ONT. Abdul Salaam in less than one year awarded more contracts and privatised more public assets than his predecessors would have done in three or four years; this has been seen as the  ONT preparing for their control of democracy under uncertain terms.

The ONT had thought Babangida then later Abacha would become president and their position secure and guaranteed. But Abacha died unexpectedly at a time when the transition to democracy in 1999 was a clear certainty. This posed major uncertainties for the ONT; under military rule since 1970 and the brief democratic 2nd Republic (1979-83) military rule had ensured the object of their influence in government and markets was steep and narrow requiring the exertion of moderate energies in patronage and providing broad based support for military dictators in return. Under democratic rule the object of influence would be much wider and the ability to provide broad base support strongly contested. The only way to prepare for such uncertainties was to acquire as much cash as possible (from government coffers) so as afford more input levels required in the object of their influence and to buy off contestants. In the market sector shareholders and corporate leaders were also under pressure to award contracts and expand markets.

On Obasanjo’s return to power as a democratically elected president in 1999, he was strongly supported by old elements of the Kaduna mafia. And the band has played on. It is still playing on! Under the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo the ONT shed the participation of most civil servants particularly permanent secretaries. The day of the super perm sec was over as an important bandit. However, during this period the ONT expended to include a number of “faceless” businessmen and politicians. Roving banditry simply got grander a game for the “Biggest Boys”. The ONT scored a coup de grace in terms of a major gain in power during the eventually fatal illness of President Musa Yar’Adua. The ONT displayed a strong capability to take over decision making process of any government in Nigeria. What is reason is there to suggest that the ONT had not been in control all along.

In the case of President Goodluck Jonathan the apparent failure of the ONT to force him to bow to their wishes has had a highly subversive impact on his administration. Most of such issues are well publicised but remain anecdotal. Whether subversion by the ONT or sheer administrative incompetence are the causes of the failures that can be found in Jonathan’s government is yet to be determined but it will. However, the former is more likely. A president like private property is wholly owned by his or her owners in Nigeria. No wonder the ONT love neoliberal policy.

Grimot Nane

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