“Empowerment” has a strange meaning in the Nigerian context; “the sharing of money by politicians to clients, supporters, the undecided and antagonists”. Empowerment is thus the use of state money to buy political support within the polity by many means such as rent offerings, sinecures, “pacifiers” and prebendalism. Empowerment can wear a ‘something-for-nothing’ shirt since it is often unearned or undeserved. From keen observation and credible sources, the “empowerment game” is one that President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the genuine criticisms levelled against him, has apparently refused to play both as military and democratic president. It is a powerful sign of moral uprightness. Yet, does refusing to play the empowerment game as old as independence not have costs? Can someone rule Nigeria in peace and harmony without empowerment?
Buhari may have given up the capacity to attract and select the right men / women of ability whom he can trust to do their jobs with competence, fairness, and honour. And to manage their ministries with the right expertise and without his supervision or interference. The seeming decadent legislators are not helping matters. However, it is apparent that the people Buhari selected as his ministers are individuals, he cannot trust much. He has to watch them with an extra pair of keen eyes. The business of government has stalled as a consequence. This government has not implemented or activated the proper channels by which money legitimately reaches the people; the budget is yet to be delivered, and no “empowerment” is flowing through the front or back doors of Aso Rock. Empowerment used to work a bit when the proper economic machinery failed.
General Yakubu Gowon understood what Gerald Celente, an international political economy trends analyst, often proves through his work “when money stops flowing in the streets, blood starts to flow in the streets [because the people have nothing left to lose]”. Such is a terrible situation. It is unclear if Buhari appreciates it. Why should he? But this is where Nigeria finds itself at the moment. Money is not flowing in the streets of Nigeria, not even as a trickle.
Salaries are yet to be paid regularly, credit facilities are much harder to access, jobs are not being created, inflation is having a good run, the black-market rates for foreign exchange are jumping acrobatically, no working budget to speak of, etc. The “Average Family”, the “Middle-Class Woman”, the “Common Man” and “[declasse] Elite Nigerians”, no longer see the flow of money in the paths they used to tread. As Gowon and Celente understood, violent ‘discontent’ (and its consequences) is the most natural reaction of citizens to money shortages in society. Hunger has no taboos.
Gowon started the “empowerment game” as an instrument to secure peace, law and order in a nation recovering from a cataclysmic civil war. It was the bequeath of shares in “indigenised corporations” for a few “New Nigerian Elite” who supported the “One Nigeria” doctrine, the explosion in creating jobs, and the introduction of heavily subsidised essential commodities into the market that the New Nigerian Elite profiteered from. People remember that era with great nostalgia and fondness because the game was all-inclusive. As Fela sang “Oil money dey flow for Lagos then”, money was flowing in the streets of urban Nigeria at the least.
General Ibrahim Babangida changed the rules of the “empowerment game” by enriching targeted groups / individuals of influence who could secure the support of “the rest” for him rather than focusing on satisfying the needs of the largest number of people possible like Gowon did. It is the “Babangida approach” that has endured. Every president from Gowon’s time on has played the empowerment game except for Buhari; this should be good news for Nigeria. Or is it?
If we give Buhari the benefit of the doubt, the question should arise. Are Nigerians ready to bear the cost of enforcing anticorruption, embrace prudent fiscal policies, and the sacrifices required? Not if money does not flow in the streets. One of the biggest syndromes that perpetuates corruption in Nigeria is that many people do not want to “miss” their turn to “chop.” They diligently wait for it. The current All Peoples Congress (APC) government’s bigwigs will not allow Buhari to deprive them of “chopping their own” especially after all they invested to win the elections.
Boko Haram attacks, Fulani herdsmen violence, many ethnic clashes, instances of political / election clashes. Increased violent crimes like robbery, kidnapping and machete assaults. Rumours of war, volatile ethnic tensions, and call for secession are all traceable to the stopping of the flow of money in the streets. It is hard at this stage to tell if the most deprived groups are the ones doing the most violence or if it is the groups that have recently seen the most drastic falls in the flows of cash. It would disturb most Nigerians to find out that the absence of cash is responsible for the violence they witness daily.
Positive propaganda which the Buhari government is very skilled at using usually works well on a full stomach and when money is flowing in the streets. Conversely, rumours and negative propaganda work very well on an empty stomach. This renders Buhari’s “blamocracy” towards the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) weak, diminishing, and unpersuasive. Buhari is known to hate news that goes against him. We shall see. People need “bread” in their pockets and on their tables. If Buhari’s blamocracy is to work well, he has to ascertain how much money is flowing to the people in the streets and how many calories they have in the stomachs by bedtime. Then provide a rational response.
Unfortunately, if money does not begin to flow in the streets, blood will not stop flowing in the streets. Another cataclysm on the way to Nigeria? To rule Nigeria without empowerment, Buhari has to sort out the economic machinery and the flow of money in the street first.