Students of political science would refer to fascism as Right Wing political system, characterised by strong governmental control of business and industry under national dictatorship. Historically, Germany and Italy in the 1930s and 40s practiced fascism in a raw variation, whose result culminated in the alliance of world powers to defeat Germany and the Axis Powers in the 2nd World War.
A principal aim of fascism as a political practice is the establishment of a strong control of the activities of individuals, groups and corporate organizations and institutions in a country. It goes along with militarism under a dictator, or the use of a country’s security and intelligence agencies to set up an awesome administration in a purportedly democratic system of governance. What is known as “Gestapo” was a secret police used by the Nazi regime in Germany for the purpose of keeping watch or surveillance on activities of individuals, groups and organizations. There were also hired agents who served as private eyes and ears of government.
Another feature of an emergence of fascism is the role of some powerful interest groups, commonly known as “cabal”, who bring serious pressures on an existing government, to serve the agenda or implement some policy in favour of the interest group. In the case of Germany under Adolf Hitler, the powerful interest groups united under the umbrella of the National Socialist Party, some of whose members were money-bags, retired top military and security officers and generals.
Thus, money, influence peddling, intimidation and other antics of power become handy tools of installing a fascist political regime even in an existing democracy. The aspect of high-handedness takes the form of law enforcement agencies going against groups and unions planning or going into peaceful protests, in demand for some change or rights. Even when groups of people who express genuine concerns about events in the society ask for police permit to make a protest, such legitimate means are often blocked or suppressed. Fascism goes with suppression.
There is usually the fear that legitimate and peaceful protests could be taken over by some ill-disposed groups of miscreants and consequently result in serious security problem. Political parties in control of power can become jittery wherever there is any attempt to call attention to legitimate grievances of the masses. For example, persistent scarcity of fuel which can be a precursor of possible increase in the price of petroleum products can result in protests, with the police ready to prevent them from taking place.
Variations in application of Fascism in a Democracy
There can hardly be a full-scale fascism in the modern times, but a number of factors can result in its tactical use even in a democracy. Developing countries sometimes use the services of consultants known in technical terms as spin-doctors, whose roles involve fixing up difficult situations confronting a government. Many of such spin doctors are drawn from serving and retired security and intelligence experts, especially those loyal to the political party in power. Like Machiavelli, establishment’s spin doctors map out strategies fit for definite situations, but also warn about possible consequences that could fallow, and what to do next.
When late President Umaru Yar’ Adua was hospitalized outside Nigeria, a number of intrigues played out, especially with regards to succession. When a similar situation arose during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, there were definite utterances, actions and maneuvers which pointed towards features associated with fascism in a clever variation. In a situation where there are rules of engagement in a democracy there can be no situation that constitutional provisions would not cover or take care of.
Injection of fascist strategy can take the form of ensuring that “never again can what happened in the case of Yar’Adua happen again!..” It was obvious that desperate spin doctors were at work and, where fascism meets obstructions, legality can be thrown to the winds! Since fascism is one aspect of the game of power, those who use it, as a specific situation would demand, can always follow up their actions by other paraphernalia of power. Intimidation is a handy tool.
Professor Wole Soyinka would remind us that power is “the horse on which fanaticism and fascism ride to fulfillment”. To grab or retain power, it is obvious that treachery and deceit can be ready instruments for the purpose. Therefore, fascist strategy can be applied when convenient for the purpose of holding on to power even in a democratic system of government. Since human beings have the tendency to avoid costs, pains and penalties, an ultimate goal in the application of fascist strategy is to create fear of possible reprisals. This can be formidable!
In a democracy characterized by high stakes and huge monetary investments, fascism is a ready tool of political control. Even though several political parties may exist, for the ruling and dominant party, fascist strategies can be used for purposes of defection and consolidation. In a situation where, in the words of Dr Samuel Uche, “you are the vilest offender in one party and cross over to a certain party, you become a saint over night”, it is fascism at work.
The operational mechanism of fascism lies mainly in the application of the paraphernalia of power to force compliance to the whims of the holders of a power. In order to enforce such compliance, intolerance and high-handedness can become ready instruments, where other measures fail. Ranging from party disciplinary measures, to sponsored harassment by security agencies or some miscreants, persons trying to oppose or challenge those who hold power can suffer some reprisals if they remain recalcitrant.
In developing countries, a common variation in the practice of fascism is the creation of a cryptocracy. A cryptocracy may be understood to mean a secret government within an existing government, whose members are drawn from the inner circle of a cabal or controllers of the person officially in power. Such arrangement usually comes into existence when there are internal suspicious, conflicts or power tussles within the party in power.
There can also be factions even among members of the cryptocracy, especially when loyalty to the principal power-holder becomes a family affair. In such cases, religion or ethnicity plays a game of mobilizing support and loyalty, in such a way that old friends begin to part ways. Unfortunately there are politicians who are experts in playing the religions or ethic trump card to bend the rules of a democracy, with a combination of fascist strategies. The stake of loyalty via the means of religion and ethnicity becomes high where politics is tied to the means of wealth accumulation.
Fascism can also be a state of mind or the peculiar temperament and life-style of an individual leader in a democracy. In this case we find that there are individuals who are dictatorial and tyrannical in nature, even to the extent that their wives remain miserable and unhappy. When such persons get to power in a democratic system, they go into offices with that peculiar life style. It would happen that they are usually surrounded by persons of similar temperament, whereby those who disagree with such leadership style would be miserable in the party, or defect to another party. There would also be frequent squabbles.
Another operational mechanism of fascism is when big multi-national conglomerates such as foreign oil and gas companies become partners’ with governments. Through the mechanism of staff employments and promotions, location of headquarters and other strategies, rewards and penalties can be applied as means of expressing the fascist temperament. From the award of contracts to scholarship benefits, multinational companies operating in Nigeria can promote or maneuver a number of things in ways similar to what a fascist regime can do. The experiences of the Ogoni people can serve as an example. Let it be noted here that top management cadre of multi-national companies are occupied by experts in various power and security issues.
Role of the military in fostering fascist temperament.
Fascist temperament or life-style was facilitated in Nigeria via the military during the period of its intervention in the nations’ politics. The military is associated with authoritarianism and high-handedness; and what happened in the years after the civil war would most likely influence and infect the psyche and temperament of Nigerians, especially the young generations. Just as “the young shall grow”, so also would the influences imbibed by youths grow as they get old. Many of the politicians today were participants in military activities of youths during the era of military intervention in Nigerian politics.
Political development goes with increasing awareness of the populace, especially with a wider expansion of access to higher education. Political development would involve a continuing programme of sensitization of the citizens in various areas of attitudinal change to foster appropriate awareness fit for a democracy. But gross abuses and institutional imbalances that needed to be addressed were left to continue, which made the masses lukewarm towards politics. Survival of democracy demands the institution of social justice and the elimination of vestiges of military authoritarianism.
Therefore, what had evolved in Nigeria after the era of military intervention in politics is a combination of fascism and democracy which should have borne a proper name of diarchy.
Despite the possibility of human rights abuses and curtailments, people, individually and collectively, need some external stimulus and impetus to force them to fulfill their responsibilities and duties. Not to apply such measures, when necessary, would be to foster evil and indulgence. Nigeria as a developing nation is still held back by some deficiencies which would require some fascist strategies to remedy. They include lethargy and indolence.
Dr. Bright Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.