From People To Programs And Then Ideas

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” Epictectus

Nations are like children. They are born and they do die; they have a life cycle. Great empires have been built and greater ones have fallen. The point of a life cycle in fact mirrors the obvious staged development of the political class of a nation. Realistically, when a nation is born she is an infant. Politically immature, she is bound to misstep in one or more ways. She will mess up: not sophisticated politically to handle a fright or not as cohesive enough as to withstand a nuclear strike, nations gradually cut their teeth in the task of nation building. The ultimate aim of course is to secure a better and more secure future for the next generation.

In the case of politics and the political class it is natural for personalities to be central to the birth and initial development of a nation. Strong leaders are usually effective organizers of men that can rally people around a common cause. America had George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Andrew Jackson etc. These men shaped America, and clashed as well. This led to a series of crisis and exposed the under belly of the new nation: it led to a civil war and even an impeachment. It led from one political crisis to another. In short, in the long run strong leaders suffer from the law of diminishing returns and if care is not taken will start have debilitating effect on the existence of the state.

For this and many other reasons, America grew up. In the last 1800s the politics of personality ceased and was replaced with a politics of programs. You can hardly name one or two great presidents from this era except of course Theodore Roosevelt and his cousin that came on late in the 1900s. What happened was a transition to politics of industrializing America. The JP Morgans, Andrew Carnegies, D. Rockefellers of Standard Oil fame etc. all great financiers of the steel mills, oil and gas industry and railways that propelled America from an agrarian based economy to an industrial giant. These men were hardly seekers of political offices and were indeed targets of the politicians in later years. But those later years were a different era. Hundred years later, after programs from the great conservation of Theodore to the New Deal of his distant cousin FDR and his successor Truman’s welfare programs to Eisenhower’s programs that constructed the highways that facilitated an unprecedented period of wealth and growth then entered a new kind of politics: the politics of ideas.

The hall mark of this kind of politics was a new generation. Young and savvy JFK won’t live in a prosperous but segregated America and he launched ideas including the carrot and stick tactics with the Soviets, going to the moon, as well as Civil rights legislation that was later resolved in the term of his successor the great Lyndon B. Johnson. Till this day, while the presidency is still held by mortals, America like other democracy still thrives on the ideas and philosophies of her political gladiators. Even though the leanings of her political party have changed in the hundred plus years of ideological politics: it is still widely divided between the pro-business conservatives and pro-people liberals; of course the majority independent votes sways the elective office to either side, but the hallmark of the nation’s political maturity is found along the lines of her development first from a nation of politics of people to those of programs and then of ideas.

It thus imperative that Nigeria takes the step America took about 200 years ago and starts pursuing the politics of program. We can then enter a glorious era of evaluating a politician on the thought and rigor he/she puts into his or her platform for elections. The creativity, practicability and viability of their programs needs to be probed without allowing the personality including the ethnicity, political affiliation, association etc. to be the deciding joker. In fact using America as an example, otherwise social cast outs after the American civil war were embraced as new day politicians in the solidly democratic and divisive South. Even though the era ushered in a dark period of racism and discrimination in the south it was also an era of tremendous growth and prosperity from East to the rush to the west even to the stumping grounds of the mid-western factories upon which the new society was built. In Nigeria, can we sincerely look beyond people?

Can we focus on the programs? It is true that anyone can simply promise to build bridge over the desert or to no where, but it is left for us to use our gumption to realize that such ideas are utterly preposterous. If someone proposes to give us electric car, we should instead say our priority is constant electricity. If building libraries in every school filled with hardcover books is the priority, it is left to us to request internet access for all our children instead so that they can leap frog into the information age and cover lost grounds quickly. If a leader wants to build universities we must demand that our primary and secondary schools systems be fixed first because prioritization is the best virtue of effective leadership. If we are offered free health system, we must demand that we pay for good quality instead and provide such services at subsidized rates to the disabled, elderly, children and poor. There is no doubt in my mind that in the life of a nation, the transition from politics of people to that of programs usually marks the highpoint of industrial development and economic progress: India and China comes to mind. From the years of the Nehrus and Gandhis as well as Chairman Mao, both nations now have non-nameplate leaders albeit most interest in their technological, industrial and as such economic progress; it took an effort to steer great nations in this general direction, and that effort requires the input of every citizen.

We must demand that our government prioritize our needs instead of engaging in another eight years of rigmarole like the last spell. We must demand from our gladiators programs that will be secure a sturdy foundation for our nation. Programs that will ensure that we can have credible elections to produce credible leadership; we must demand programs that will reform our local government system and restore the good old days of order, cleanliness and healthy locales. Programs that will anchor economic programs based on job and wealth creation not on voodoo statistics from foreign financial institutions. Programs that will not see the fight against corruption but as an end in itself but one that will tackle bribe taking by police men and other members of the paramilitary force, as well as political corruption either by friends or foes. That is the leadership Nigeria deserves and we must get in 2007 if we want to move to the next level.

Of course, the obvious question is: can we trust the promises of our politicians? But we cannot even afford to make this judgment call if we are utterly dismissive of peoples before we hear their programs. In this case, generalizations will work against our cause. It is easy to disparage any presidential contestant; truth is every candidate will have his/her strengths and weaknesses but is their programs and the thoughts that go into it that will separate the wheat from the chaff or the other way round of course depending on which side of the coin you look from. It is also left to us to hold these leaders to the programs that got them elected to office right from the local to the state and federal levels. Each and every one of the akowes in America and Britain must demand streetlights, prompt garbage picking, clean curbs, functional local library, visible street signs and labels, flowing water tap as well as a clean and healthy market and motor park from our local government chairmen. We only get an opportunity to demand every four years, and squandering this per

iod to personality cult worship will be an utter waste of resources and energy.

Last Line:

Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.  Arnold Tonybee


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