“For many the challenge is whether to join the bandwagon in the hope they can change things gradually from within or should they keep away until a system that better delivers emerges. My Counsel has always been that it is not an either or question.”
Pat Utomi (July, 2005)
The cliché “Human being is a political animal” cannot be truer if that being is a Nigerian. The Nigerian is a conglomeration of politics and the sweet gist that is concocted to go with such. On our buses, in our schools, in our places of works, over a bowl of Eba with banga soup and stock fish even pounded yam and egusi- the Nigerian will play to the gallery of politics any day, any time. I remember growing up and listening as my older uncles, aunts and parents recount the details of the politics and tales of the political giants that bestrode their times. Growing up in the military era, the politics I saw first hand were best referred to as “Militarisms”. Yes, those fabulous stories of how: how Buhari messed with suitcase containing dollars, how IBB planned the plane crash to kill the officers, how General Dongoyaro was going to be implicated, how Orkah single-handedly almost snuffed the day light out of IBB’s government until the ultimate enfant terrible Abacha knocked him out with a combination of brutish force and audacity; we all heard it and I wrote, propagated and evolved some along the way.
In any case, this gives you a picture of what politics in Nigeria looks like. It is a combination of phantom and reality; a mixed plate of facts and rumors. Politics in Nigeria is truly a game of “men”; Nigerian politics revolve around personalities that make or break the law at will – or at best put themselves and associates beyond the reach of the law. Those who it favors in the general population obviously don’t care as well; they are happy to break the law when it favors them. Certainly, it is in the political genes of Nigeria to spice up our politics with beer parlor talk, speculations and mimics. It is political past time for every Dick, Tom, and John Benson to turn to an overtime political strategist. I mean, I was shocked when I first came to the states and rode a bus and it was dull quiet. Don’t these people talk politics? What is wrong with America? Am I not in the home of democracy? What is the matter my people? Yes and it true, Nigerians are professional arm chair critics.
Oh, the favorite national past time. Even our women cannot escape the bug of politics. You must be a fool to think Nigerian women are apolitical. Go eat sh*t. Yes, I said it. In the kitchen, Nigerian women are coming up with special delicacies that bear the name of our ignoble past leaders. Efo IBB, Better Life Moi-Moi and even Ekuro Idiagbon are favorite delicacies of culinary generalissimos that dominate our family lives and occasions. Before you could say Jack Robinson, Nigerian women will craft you tales of IBB homosexual friends and the partners of Atiku. In fact, I enjoyed listening to politics from mum’s cradle than dad’s feet. Bet me, nothing pass better gist.
But if rumor mongering were the Achilles’ Heels of Nigerian politics, try participation. Oh yes, participation. Say you want to be politician and see people hiss at your idiotic postulations. “For what? You dis stupid man want to be in politics? You will be better off as an Agbero?” But it is the same people that will bombard you with CVs and resumes the moment luck shine on you and baba send for you to become a senior deputy assistant special adviser assistant – trust baba on those positions. You know what I mean? Nigerians, say politics is dirty but are there better actors than dirty people? See the characters that dominate our political space: IBB, OBJ, MKO etc. I was even thinking, may it is a requirement to have a three letter name to participate in Nigerian politics. In that measure, I was thinking of BMW (‘Busayo, Michael, Wumi) – NO! That sounds too European. It looks like I am dithering on OMO – Olubusayo Michael Olawumi. That sounds better! I am sure I have sure campaigners in Sabella and Barrister the Honorable Adujie.
Back to the matter at hand; the lack of participation or seemingly disinterest of Nigerians in participatory democracy is short of paradox considering the awe in which we hold politics and the animals that play on its stage. On Election Day, somehow we turn out against all odds and odious predictions, yet under our breadth with a split infinitive of “God knows if even if we were not to go to the election, the results are already determined!” But it is Nigeria. We love politics, but we don’t believe in it. We won’t participate, yet we hustle for the crumbs that fall of its tables. Does it get better than that? Wait – until you realize this is God’s own country.
At the center of the Nigerian political establishment is idol worshipping. By idols, I don’t mean graven image or some molten rock set between two mountains. I mean a walking mammal with blood flowing in his veins: deified yet not respected, ominously held yet dignified. How better will you describe our own dear politicians? In Nigerian politics, your bread and butter are your loyalists; and in our country they are not in short supply. Ask Adedibu or Uba- the power horses of Oyo and Anambra politics. The ability to attract disloyal loyalists that will turn their back on you the moment you step out of the world of the living is the ultimate test of a Nigerian politician. From Awo, to Abiola to Abacha and even now to OBJ, Nigerian history is replete with leaders that are led on by their so called boys; who is in charge baffles me. Is it the leaders or the boys? Remember the IBB boys? Now they are on parade gunning for another chance at your petrol dollars. Oh yeas, money!
Money is not the root of Nigerian evil. It is the love of a lot of cash that is the root of Nigerian politics. You want to win your local government chairmanship; you will be better position if your brother is a bank manager in one of the mushroom banks. With an outsized possibility that you can borrow a lot of depositor’s money and escape into thin air, combined with a brighter chance of flooring the opposition candidate- your townsman will do well to take chances on you. From unemployed graduates to rudimentary thug – Nigerian politicians always know what they are rooting for and their loyalists know better than just to show up on polling day. They are all in for the money!
How then do we fix our fixture with rumor, apathy, personality and money? The simple solution lies in political evolution. One cannot but smile when we read the freely unpaid journalist like yours sincerely, when we postulate the theories that will instantly transform our dear country to Gondwanaland in twenty seconds. As if politics were that static, then Nigeria will be Alice wonderland! But the gradual evolution of Nigerian politics will be at a sure fire price- the price of time. But as many
political theorists have propounded, time is not a scarce commodity in the life of a nation. It is the useful lives of the players on the stage of politics that cause the kinds of anxiety that greet the third term debate or the possibility of an IBB presidency or the ferocity of the gbege that recently broke out in Aso Rock. Ultimately, we are all but temporary players on this stage. When our time is up, we are most compelled to take a bow- whether in honor or in graceful shame.
At the end of the day, at a point in our political evolution – Nigeria must emerge from a politics dominated by personalities i.e. Awo, Zik, IBB, MKO, OBJ etc. And turn to programs. We will not overnight start voting for political ideologies- what must come first is programs that truly impact the life of the Nigerian people. So the calls for an ideological divide in my humble opinion along the lines of western democracy are not only premature but quite impossible. When rumors, money and idols abound the next best thing to talking about them all is to substitute them with life transforming programs that will ultimately kick up a winner. A Nigerian party that promises and is able to uproot armed robbery from our streets, provide good roads to lead us home, deter our policemen from collecting bribes, allow agriculture to flourish such as to drive down the price of foodstuffs and increase and guarantee a steady energy supply (both electricity and carbon fuels) to guarantee our economy keeps humming will ultimately have its name carved on the stone at the center plate of our politics. And oh yes, keep printing naira notes! Who shall take the bait?
“In the process of bringing out the best that is in man, and of enabling him to live a healthy and happy life, the agencies of Politics and Religion must work in close and harmonious co-operation. The eradication of ignorance, disease and want is a matter of the utmost concern to Politics”Pa Obafemi Awolowo (In a Lecture: Politics and Religion-1961)