In the few years that I have had the privilege of public commentary, I have consistently tried to make three points about politics.
The first is that politicians, all over the world, are driven by interests. Most of the time, these interests are in the following order: self, party and people. In other words, things other than societal development and the emancipation of the people are tertiary in the minds of the average politician.
The second point I always tried to make is that most career politicians in Nigeria are the same, regardless of the political platform that they choose at one time or another. As we prepared for the 2015 elections, for example, I remember repeatedly admonishing Nigerians not to get carried away by the massive propaganda of the then newly formed All Progressive Congress because they were nothing different from their colleagues in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
I argued that the movement of some members of the PDP to the APC was neither out of love for God nor love for country. These people were motivated by their inability to accomplish some personal dreams in the PDP, they saw greener pastures on the other side and defected. To imagine that they were better people than any other politician was, therefore, naïve and unhelpful. I can only hope that events over the past seven years have shown that the difference between our politicians is not more than the one between six and half a dozen. More than 50 per cent of those people went back to the PDP in these intervening years, even as some of them have moved into other parties. Politicians would do anything that keeps them in reckoning and lights up their dreams.
The last point I always try to make is that if governance was ever going to become responsible and accountable in Nigeria, citizenship would have to become more active and critical. In putting this position forward, I remember the former French leader, Charles De Gaulle, when he said, “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians.”
My argument is that Nigerians cannot become so star-struck that what politicians do, or fail to do, goes unquestioned. People, intent on a better society, must be deliberate in understanding their country’s most urgent developmental needs, vote for those who can deliver the same, continue to evaluate the fidelity of elected leaders to their promises, keep the tabs on them and demand performance! Political leaders in advanced democracies are human, and as such, they have tendencies to be selfish, avaricious and even criminal. But they are cautious for two reasons—citizens are alert, and the rule of law is supreme.
Although people, blind to issues or taken by primordial sentiments, also exist in these countries, as we have here, the bulk of the population is focused on the needs of society and able to make informed decisions while choosing leaders.
Regardless, electoral decisions by this majority may turn out to be erroneous. When that happens, they prepare for the next election cycle and try again. Aspirants are, therefore, on their toes, ready to prove their qualifications and preparedness for office to the electorate at the party and national levels. But we still do not understand this in Nigeria. For some reason, Nigerians carry on like politics and are commercial ventures, rather than instruments of change.
Someone told me a story a couple of years back. Although I cannot vouch for the veracity of the story, it goes that the late strongman of Kwara politics, Dr Olusola Saraki, whose patronage politics was legendary, once received news of the disloyalty of one of his followers.
One day, while holding court in one of the halls in his sprawling compound in Ilorin, Kwara State capital, he called on the person who told on the other loyalist to repeat what he had said now that the accused was present. I learnt that the storyteller suddenly developed a stutter. When he failed to speak up, the veteran politician faced the person accused of disloyalty and said to him, “This man (pointing at the storyteller) came to tell me that you did X, Y and Z against my interest. I wanted him to repeat it now that you are here but, apparently, he can’t.”
I learnt that the accused man threw himself on the floor to thank Saraki for giving him the benefit of the doubt. The old man now turned to the informant, who was already lying prostrate and said, “So, where did the information come from?” The man, with tears in his eyes, confessed to having concocted the story. He felt that the other man was getting too much favour from their mentor and wanted to get rid of him. He didn’t see Saraki’s attempt to clarify the issue by bringing the two of them together coming. “I am sorry, Oloye. I did this just for survival, you know this is the only way we know to feed our families. I promise it won’t happen again!”
Politics in Nigeria is full of desperation and treachery. An ordinarily serious business, on which the lives of hundreds of millions of people and their generations depend, is treated like merchandise. Hence, we end up raising charlatans instead of leaders who would do good by the people and actualise the country’s potential.
From the rounds of primaries that Nigeria just witnessed, only one thing is clear: money drives our politics. Politicians already know what the trick will do, so they do not even bother to discuss their plans. They come with loads of money, throw their sense of entitlement at us, dish out the money and we deliver the tickets to them, no questions asked! Can we say, for instance, that the competent aspirants emerged from the primaries of the PDP and APC?
Now, it is possible to attribute Nigeria’s penchant to sacrificing their conscience for the mess of pottage that politicians present with arguments about the level of poverty in the country but does the money received by delegates at primaries and voters at elections put an end to poverty?
In his address at the party’s special convention on Tuesday, Senator Rochas Okorocha, a presidential aspirant on the platform of the APC, gave some food for thought. He, along with two or three other contestants, verified stories that a lot of money exchanged hands at the primaries. He then went ahead to allege that most of the money came from the That is something to think about. Even if the monies deployed to bribe voters were personal, the expenditure will be regarded as investments to be recouped post-election. In recouping, leaders then privatise state resources and push the people’s interests to the background. And of course, the cycle of poverty continues.
When the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015, one hoped for the entrenchment of higher political standards and a significant improvement in citizens’ standard of living. After seven years, but, things cannot be worse than they ever were. A situation in which several cabinet ministers paid the whopping N100 million fee prescribed by the APC tells how much of funds may have gone into this exercise. Yet, one hopes the next administration will prioritise people’s welfare and consider comprehensive reform of our electoral processes.
In the interim, the electorate must take Nigeria’s destiny country more seriously than it now does. Most of those who play politics in Nigeria see it as an avenue to enrich themselves and their generations rather than service. While poverty is an existential problem, it will become a transgenerational problem if our politics remain transactional. Citizens should therefore think about what they want for their children’s children before selling their souls to politicians. This politics of subsistence will take us nowhere.
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Contact: [email protected]