Nigerian politicians and the question of character ….Guardian
THE recent spate of defection by some Nigerian politicians from one party to another is a shameful phenomenon that graphically retells the odious rat race, ideological vacuity and mundane craving that typify Nigeria’s political life. Lacking in any form of public-spirited motive or any principled intention to develop the structure and content of partisan politics, this wave is nothing more than self-seeking, whimsical and disdainful political prostitution. To this end, it calls to question the capacity, moral integrity and character of those who are ruling or aspiring to rule this country.
While the cases of many sinecurists and position-seekers flirting around from one party to another in search of comfort zones are well known, erstwhile ‘progressives’ and supposed champions of the masses who are equally becoming turn-coats give cause for worry.
Since the last election, it is not as if a better formula to govern the country has been found. It is not as if a new set of policy framework for socio-economic development has been formulated; neither is it that a roadmap for industrialization has been drawn. It then beats the imagination what the attraction of defection from one party to the other is apart from power for its sake.
In the last 15 years, the quality of political leadership at all levels has remained generally low. Power, violence and money remain instruments of statecraft in the hands of the ruling party, while vanity or indiscernible ideas characterise the opposition. The result is the forfeiture of character as the system remains unable to build strong institutions. The fear of poverty, the unwillingness to develop indigenous capital, inferiority complex, acute selfishness and the imperviousness to a conference of reason have conspired to unleash mediocre persons on the polity. In the continuing sequence of this entropic trend, the political party has become a mere special purpose vehicle for some aggregation of political aspirants.
A few months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan in his usual, self-inculpating posture aptly expressed this degenerate quality and moral bankruptcy, when he stated that more than 50 per cent of those in politics had no business being there. In the same vein, a former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss once observed that judging by their proclivity for gluttonous accumulation of wealth, many politicians and aspirants were mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office.
All these raise the question: what is the character of the Nigerian political elite? What, in the thinking of the politicians, is the whole purpose of the political party?
Owing to the absence of any identifiable ideology within the Nigerian political party system, there is a dissonance between the idea of development of the political class and the aspirations of the people. Where Nigeria needs simple, basic amenities for survival, there is a deliberate dehumanization of the people through abuse of tax-payers’ money by the ruling elite. At a time when the nation’s political experience needs sound footing in democratic governance, the absence of internal democracy testifies to the lack of character in all the parties.
If this odious political state is not a reflection of the way Nigeria is, what is? Why wouldn’t the masses vote for mass mobilization movements in the mould of Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), or the National Conscience Party (NCP) of the late Lagos lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi to sack atrocious political parties?
Moreover, when the decadent society from which the political elite is recruited is considered, it boggles the mind what kind of model they would be for present and oncoming generations. Unlike in established traditions of excellence, where the succession management process considers the institutions that nurtured would-be politicians, the Nigerian situation is an all-comers affair of contractors, lawbreakers, political hangers-on and sundry jobbers, all lacking in the requisite knowledge for governance. The situation is so deplorable and so scary that senior citizens, who have had the best of this country and may not benefit from any transformation agenda, are now the ones seeking a revolution on behalf of the populace.
In the contemplation of some, the redemption of Nigeria’s state of spiraling decadence is so far-fetched and the possibility of a revolution so slim that Nigerians would have to take solace in the anticipation of a spiritual super force or divine direction. Whether Nigeria could even be extricated from the morass of degeneracy through this means is, of course, a matter of metaphysical conjecture.
But one reassuring perspective is that this rudderlessness and moral degeneracy has not always been the case. In earlier democratic encounters, politicians had always defected from one party to another; but such carpet-crossing had been based on profound ideological differences and working principles. Not a few have marveled at the exemplary character of Nigeria’s political fathers: the simplicity of Tafawa Balewa, the selflessness of Ahmadu Bello, the nationalism of Nnamdi Azikiwe and the enduring vision of Obafemi Awolowo, all of which tower above their personal foibles.
So, a good place to start Nigeria’s clean-up is for the nation’s school curriculum to take history and civic education seriously. Nigerians have to learn from the past; they have to learn the culture of civility, heroism, patriotism and other virtues that build successful nations. Today’s generation of moral orphans need to know and understand that the present obsession with inordinate materialism, the rabid pursuit of power for its sake and the abysmally low productivity in virtually all aspects of national life stand in contrast to the vision of the nation’s founding fathers.
Another way of morally fumigating the nation’s political space is to have good people as political aspirants. Yet, it would be simplistic to assume that some air-splitting ethical evaluation of would-be leaders can be carried out to ascertain who a good person is. The political space must however, be made safe for good people and genuine potential political leaders to vie for elective positions. To complement this, communities should inculcate the system of fielding decent people who are not ambitious but competent, and dissuade scavengers and incompetent persons.
Furthermore, there is need for a human capital development plan in order to entrench the inexorable symbiosis between the quality of universities and the intellectual capital of a country. Besides its contribution to global culture and civilization, what this wedding of town and gown would do is to re-introduce the value of scholarship to personal refinement and positive transformation of Nigeria’s immediate environment.
Judging by the frenetic struggle over political positions, it is clear that pecuniary incentives and other attractive appurtenances of office are the primary motivations of today’s ruling class, and not service. Thus, there is need for a constitutional means to reduce and de-emphasise the monetary rewards and scandalous perquisites for public office holders. This reduction of pecuniary rewards would attract people who are genuinely interested in public service, and dissuade political scavengers. This position is based on the conviction that the political space is not occupied only by redundant and money-hungry politicians as there are also many well meaning persons who are morally upright, politically sagacious, determined, and visionary enough to become change agents.
This is where the role of the media comes in. Apart from providing information that would enable people become free and self-governing, the media’s first loyalty to citizens demands that it sincerely highlights and celebrates courageous and self-sacrificing Nigerians who can transform the country, and at the same time bring to opprobrium fortune-seekers in government and party careerists who will routinely run the mill.
At the regulatory level, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be equipped through legislation to implement the INEC laws. In the same vein, political parties should professionally organize their structures of management in such a way that they are not brought to ridicule and abuse by crashers and opportunists. They should deliberately write and publicize their vision and mission statements as well as their manifestoes to ensure that the aspirations and personal philosophy of their members align with their objectives. Parties should ensure that members pay subscription fees regularly, while stiff rules should be put in place for the re-entry of defectors. To stem the corruption pervading the party system, the law should be enforced to peg contribution to a political party at a certain amount. This will not only remove the parties from the pocket of a few godfathers, it will help the process of mass inclusion and engender the culture of questioning.
As embarrassing as it is, the on-going carpet-crossing phenomenon is an opportunity for political parties to look inwards and re-invent themselves. As parties are now, all are in bad odour and those crossing from one party to the other are merely carrying the same stench around. This shame is made more painful because this is the time Nigeria needs men and women of character, oases of sanity in a desert of thoughtlessness.