Our Politics Needs a Rebirth

31 Jul 2013

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Two weeks ago, I made the point that development has seemingly never been on the agenda of Nigerian politics. The point I was making was that our politics appears to be defined by one singular objective – capturing political power and the resources that come with it. It would appear that our hopes and aspirations as Nigerians are of little or no consequence, because we have not as yet successfully negotiated a proper social contract with those we supposedly elect to represent us.

The Nigerian variant of party politics has a strong selfish retrogressive flavour to it. Impunity, lawlessness and mediocrity are the predominant feature in our case; almost as it were our own grundnorm. In the long run, these can only lead to the perpetuation of poverty and national underachievement on every front.

If you were in any doubt about our type of politics, the recent mayhem in the Rivers State House of Assembly provides a good case study. I was fascinated by the events that took place especially the sheer ferocity of the violence that YouTube obliged us. The image of a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly wielding a mace and clobbering a fellow member on the head will remain forever etched in my mind. It became a seminal definition of our crude and self-serving politics.

The violence was so repugnant that YouTube warned viewers about the violent nature of the video they were about to watch. Next was the comical video showing five members of the House of Assembly supposedly impeaching the Speaker of a 32member Assembly. These two events, despite their crudity, provided a useful insight into the thinking that underpins our politics.

First, that political power and its privileges must be preserved at all costs even at the risk of clobbering another man to death in the full glare of the public and in the hallowed chambers of lawmaking at that! Second is that no institution is sacrosanct when it comes to subversion of the rule of law and norms of decency in the pursuit of political power.

In these circumstances, the urgent question our politics presents is this: who articulates the vision of a shared future that can inspire all Nigerians to work hard for? Who assures us that certain shared ideals will be upheld in all circumstances? President Jonathan’s vision is the Transformation Agenda. Before this it was the 7-Point Agenda of the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua. In Obasanjo’s era it was NEEDS.

Going further back, I cannot recall if General Abdulsalam had any clear-cut vision during his brief tenure after Abacha’s death. Abacha himself had the Vision 2010. Before him Babangida gave us the Structural Adjustment Programme. Buhari introduced War Against Indiscipline (WAI) after the profligate Shagari era. Lest we forget, Shehu Shagari’s vision was the Green Revolution.
In the last 28 years, therefore, we have had various visions and policies regarding Nigeria’s future. Yet nothing fundamentally changed. In the same period, China lifted itself out of poverty to become the 2nd largest economy in the world. The last 14 years of democracy have been no different in terms of the proliferation of visions and policies.

First it was NEEDS and then Yar’Adua’s 7-Point agenda which sought to dismantle the policy imperatives of Obasanjo’s NEEDS. Incidentally, Yar Adua was Obasanjo’s anointed successor elected on the same party platform. Now, consider that despite these great lofty visions and policy statements, adult unemployment stands at 44.6% in 2013.

Clearly something is wrong if we cannot align lofty visions and policies to commensurate improvements in the human condition.
As a nation, we cannot afford to continue along this path where our politics is perceived as a narcissistic self-absorbed exercise divorced from the hard economic realities faced by the vast majority of the Nigerian populace struggling with poverty and unemployment. To do so would not just be irresponsible, it would ultimately be suicidal.

Thankfully, in the Niger Delta, the guns are silent and the creeks are safe. But for how long? What happens next after Boko Haram is contained? Will a worse menace take its place?

In the Niger Delta, poverty and unemployment provided a pipeline of ready recruits to militancy. In the North, poverty and unemployment likewise presented Islamic extremists with a rich recruiting pool. If unemployment does not decrease or worse still, if unemployment continues to grow, will we not have fresh recruits for new variants of the Niger Delta militancy? In the North, would these conditions not lend themselves to a proliferation of Islamic extremists who want to spread terror?

Our politics clearly needs a rebirth. We have hitherto addressed our backwardness from a technical point of view requiring the adoption of appropriate technical measures other previously backward nations adopted to overcome poverty and unemployment.
Singapore, for example, has become a mantra amongst our technocrats. However, as many of these same technocrats who have served in successive governments would tell us where the political will is lacking the best policy proposals simply gather dust or are soon forgotten? Ask those who were involved in articulating Vision 20:20, one of the best technocrat-driven attempts at national blueprint.

Clearly, therefore, our problems are not simply technical but also adaptive in nature. Our problems are also adaptive because the solution requires our politicians to change their underlying motivation. Though this in itself is a tall order, we have no choice because of the stark realities of the Nigeria condition.

With 2015 elections less than two years away, we do not have much choice but to change. It would be foolhardy to expect that Nigerians who have displayed a seemingly inexhaustible capacity for endurance in the face of hardship would continue as before. The danger with a people who seem to have perfected this art of endurance is that you don’t know when they would snap with irreversible consequences in tow. In Tunisia they snapped. In Egypt they snapped. We must choose to learn from history.

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