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By: Law Mefor
Published November 8th, 2010
The trouble with the Nigerian nation is the inept, machiavellian elite, not tribe or religion. Nigerian political elite are among the worst to be found in any clime, bereft of any progressive idea, and overly corrupt and hungry. They are leaders without the requisite knowledge or affective commitment - to use our trite expression - to moving the nation forward.

The leaders got here simply by being passionate disciples of Niccolo Machiavelli and dyed-in-the-wool adherents of his dangerous political thoughts. They have abandoned the only good aspect of his recommendations that says leaders should abhor corruption, to the extent that seeking an uncorrupt leader in our shores has since become a wild goose chase. For placing emphasis on power without morality, Nigerian leaders see politics and leadership as a legitimate continuation of war in other forms.

Our leaders erroneously make a distinction between public morality and private morality: they practice certain rules of morality - what could be called prudential maxims - which they observe limitedly in their private activities as individuals but do not bring to public life; such maxims as not stealing, keeping promises, not telling lies.  To them, prudential maxims, which serve as guides to action for the individual in his private activity, will be disastrous if they observe them in public life.

Squarely put, if a leader cannot assume that conventional moral standards can easily be reconciled with the attainment of public objectives, it then means   the leader should disregard such moral maxims that will undermine his hold on power.  Practicing this ardently, the Nigerian leader invariably learnt how not to be good.  Even Machiavelli who first advocated this iniquitous differential in morality in private and public life centuries ago,  did not mean the ruler should customarily disregard moral maxims all the time in public life.

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The real implication of this is that prudential maxims should either be adhered to or disregarded as dictated by the situation as interpreted by the leader and at his convenience. This, as seen in Nigeria, makes the State a mere property or extension of the leader. 

This approach to public good and public political health is  seen more clearly in Nigerian leaders’ attitude to government funds. Even the general public does not see the corrupt and thieving leader as the thief he is, but will lynch a petty thief for stealing just N10.

In Nigeria today, public fund is not really seen as anybody’s fund and those who have access to it are but conquerors of some wild beasts. The looters of public treasury in Nigeria now return to tumultuous welcome in their communities, become knighted by the churches, sitting in front pews and receiving titles from traditional rulers that suggest they went and they saw and they conquered – ‘veni, vini, vici.’ But the truth is: they (our so-called illustrious sons and daughters in public office) went, and they saw and they plundered!

Since the realm of public morality relates to our interaction with others and guides our conduct with other human beings both in public and private lives, accepting and practicing Machiavelli’s recommendations has often proved a monumental disaster as exemplified by the EFCC records. There is this conspiracy of the elite and how that conspiracy is actually produced by Machiavelli’s demonizing but lionizing thoughts that sought to exploit the basest instincts of Nigerians can further be explained.

Machiavelli was said to be a sort of person who will present a cup of poison to a ruler and ask him to always give his friends and enemies to drink from time to time.  This means so many things; for example, it draws a distinction between physical force on the one hand, and deceit, lies, brainwashing and propaganda on the other. It points to his preference of fraud over the use of physical force, suggesting that Machiavelli believed the use of fraud is usually more efficacious than the use of physical force. Nigerian leaders combine both effectively.

The Nigerian politician uses both fraud and physical force despite indiscriminate utilization of physical force being counterproductive.  In his book, Discourse, Machiavelli states that cunning and fraud are preferable to physical force. Indeed, what can be achieved by force can also be achieved by cunning. The leader, who understands this, uses cunning to make it less obvious to citizens that he has done something wrong. Machiavelli says a clever leader also employs economy of violence, using physical force only sparingly and in extraordinary circumstance, when it becomes the only means of achieving the ends. But he should eliminate all his enemies immediately he assumes power. No wonder political godsons soon turn against their godfathers in Nigeria, visiting so much violence on their benefactors to achieve elimination.

Although Machiavelli also says that the leader should be able to use force and fraud as occasion demands, he also should use generosity and acts of kindness to solidify the stability of his political system.  An act of kindness and benevolence will have more influence on the minds of men than violence and ferocity.  It provides a more solid base for the authority of rulership. No wonder the Nigerian politicians court philanthropy, even when they inwardly abhor it.

Plato and Aristotle who came long before Machiavelli believed and campaigned for leaders to change for the better. They wanted the political educator and leader to fashion things in order to bring out the best in followers. Machiavelli campaigned against these noble positions, insisting that rather than follow the pious prescriptions by Aristotle and Plato, a leader should focus on what men desire most, which he gave as power, glory and material wellbeing. He advises leaders to cash in on these weaknesses. The actions of Nigerian politicians have even improved on this deviation from the good as recommended. Machiavelli believes that since the demand will always by far outweigh supply, man’s urge for these things will not naturally allow much decency in the limited political space.

He therefore came up with the recklessly hypothesis: ‘The end justifies the means,’ basing it on the fact that the desire and struggle to get to scarce resources will always lead to conflict, emphasizing that scarcity creates conflict in all societies, and desires are greater than the faculty to acquire. The kernel of this argument is that to get more, we have to deprive others of their own, which leads up to cyclical conflict situation in the social and political arena. 

Following this line of thinking in response to tussle for power as a permanent moral dilemma, one can appreciate why the Nigerian politician can stop at nothing. Suspected political killings in Nigeria in the last decade marking the return to democracy in the country remain unprecedented. Chief Bola Ige of the ‘Sidon Look’ fame and then serving minister is an all-time example as his killers are yet to be apprehended, despite concerted efforts of people like Festus Keyamo and others.

Nigerian politicians, majority of them without a second business address, have gone to as far as shrines, to acquire and secure power. The villainous Okija Shrine, which has been orchestrated as power assurance cover for politicians in the East, has played up even in election tribunals and got judgments in its favour as a legitimate traditional arbitrator. The rising desperations and cases of ritual murders, believed to be so because of the trademark organ harvest on victims, is also mostly traced to the quest for political power.    

It is believed that Machiavelli’s main aim was just to show how men could attain power and material wealth and at the same time avoid the consequences resulting from the robbery they carried out to reach where they are. This again is true to fact about how and why the Nigerian politician sees getting to power as do-or-die and staying in power even more so.

Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Machiavelli believed that evil could never be eradicated from the world, saying it is part of the human predicament that we cannot divorce evil or violence from politics. The Platonian and Aristototalian position is that public action and leadership should aim at offering prescriptions for eradicating evil from public life and lifting man into his better self but Machiavelli wants to reinforce such base instincts that can only prove that man was born evil.

We should be concerned with how we ought to live and not focus on how we live. The actions of our leaders should make suggestions on how to improve Nigerians and not pander to our basest instincts of aggressive pursuit of power and wealth at the expense of nation and common good. But rather than work for change, our leaders are more concerned with crude methods of how to preserve and perpetuate themselves in power. Some relish names they earned in this manner such Evil Genius! In short, our leaders are not humane and do not care whether the citizens pick food from the dustbin or not. 

If we agree with Machiavelli that any means that leads to the achievement of our ends is legitimate, then, it is adieu to morality and normal society. It will inadvertently mean a return to Hobbesian state of nature where life is a condition of a general disposition to war of “every man against every man.” Strangely, this is where the Nigerian nation is entrenched and nobody seems to bother.

In Nigeria, force and fraud flourish and there is perpetual fear and strife.  Industry, trade, agriculture, arts and education in Nigeria are going into extinction.  Like in Hobbesian famous phrase, the life of an average Nigerian is now “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  The insecurity in the Nigerian state arises from the unmitigated drive by each individual for his own selfish life and end. Consequently, Nigerian people live in constant fear of violent death. Armed robbers now write letters to banks to keep enough money and specific denominations and on their announced days of visit come without fail.

Undesirable Machiavelli precepts that find comfortable place in today’s politics stretch damningly quite far despite being  17th century solutions being applied to 21st century Nigerian problems as the leaders do today, politically.

Machiavelli also goes against the popular maxim: in politics there is no permanent enemy and there is no permanent friend. In reality, Machiavelli implies, in politics, we have permanent enemies because the leader must capitalize on the fact that people are expected to be manipulated.  This is what gave birth to politics being a dirty game. What makes this really bad is that, to Machiavelli, politics means the whole life activities – politics in public life, the family, classroom, and everywhere. So, as a husband, you have to manipulate your wife and children.

Corruption is the direct opposite of virtue. It is corruption or virtue that moulds a state into a particular regime.  As the matter varies in quality so do political systems vary. Since corruption is lack of interest in public matters, nothing can explain why the Nigerian nation remains underdeveloped that such postulation. It is a fact that our leaders chose the path of corruption rather than virtue and the end is gross underdevelopment and life of strife and sorrow that Nigerians are condemned to.

This is the fundamental datum in explaining the constitutions of societies and why political systems vary, why some nations are developed and some are not. In fact, this is why Nigeria is underdeveloped.

To be specific, Nigeria is not developed because the funds meant for development have been wiped out by corruption. Even more loans are being sought abroad to mortgage the future more. Our nation is undemocratic because the political elite, without a second address, pursue power as merchandise and politics as a profession and source of livelihood and as such cannot afford to let go. This makes it a long, steeply climb for those seeking change in Nigeria, such as Transform Nigeria Movement and other human rights groups and change agents in Nigeria.


·        Law Mefor, Author and Journalist, is Ag. National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM); tel.: 234-803-787-2893;

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