How to Become a Beautiful Political Bride in Low Trust Societies

by Jideofor Adibe

In a very remarkable book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995), the American political scientist Professor Francis Fukuyama, divided societies into high trust and low trust categories. In high trust societies members readily trust their compatriots and assume that they will ‘follow the rules’ – whether formalised in a contract or not. While in high trust societies a person is trusted until the person proves otherwise, in low trust societies, members deeply distrust one another, and you have to go the extra mile to win and sustain people’s trust.

Though Fukuyama’s categories are at best ideal types, it is obvious that in low trust societies such as ours, individuals and groups that possess that rare quality of keeping to their promises will become ‘beautiful brides’. In this sense, going out of one’s way to win people’s trust becomes a smart, long-term investment. Once one is unable to resist the temptation to repudiate an agreement for short-term gains, one makes a dishonourable contribution towards consolidating the mistrust in the society. As Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher would put it in such a situation: “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

Much has been written about the domination of the country’s politics by the North but without concomitant attention paid to how this is facilitated by their perception as people who keep their words. Even outside politics, it is not uncommon to hear people from the South say that ‘if an Alhaji from the North gives you his word, he is likely to keep it.’ Contrast this perception for instance with the politics of extreme distrust among many politicians from ethnic groups in the South and it becomes easier to understand why the North has remained the ‘beautiful bride’ of Nigerian politics. It is time we began to pose the question of why many nationalities from the South seem incapable of working together.

There are several implications of the above for the current discussion about whether President Goodluck Jonathan should contest the 2011 presidential elections:

One, both the supporters and critics of the PDP’s zoning arrangement often deploy the politics of language to disguise their real motives in their stances. For instance it is suspected that some critics of the PDP zoning arrangement are trying to blackmail others into repudiating an arrangement their zone has benefited from simply because they have ‘taken their turn’ and now shudder at the prospect of having to wait for a long time to take another shot at the presidency. Similarly many of the proponents of zoning mask their hurt feelings for being ‘outsmarted’ or taken for a ‘mugu’. The cumulative impact of this is the deepening of the distrust that already permeates the society. As distrust is deepened, the nation building process becomes even more complicated.

Two, critics who say that the PDP zoning arrangement is unconstitutional tend to forget the difference between the spirit (intent) of a Constitution and its letter. The 1979 Nigerian Constitution recognises the need to reflect the federal character in political appointments as a way of allaying fears of marginalisation by any constituent part. The decision by a political party to zone or rotate power among different geographical blocs is therefore in consonance with the spirit of the Constitution on ensuring a sense of belonging to all the federating units. It could in fact be argued that zoning, which was first explicitly practised by the defunct NPN, has proved more potent in allaying the fears of ethnic minorities than state creation (the fears provided the basis for agitations for state creation in the First Republic) because while each state creation exercise created new minorities and therefore triggered demands for new states, zoning successfully ended WAZOBIA politics (the dominance of the country’s politics by the three major ethnic groups – Hausa, Igbos and Yorubas). Besides, what we call zoning is not significantly different from the increasing recognition in the USA that political appointments should reflect the ‘changing demographics’ of the country. Similarly, in the UK, there are discussions that ‘positive discrimination’ aimed at boosting the chances of people who are likely to be disadvantaged in an unfettered competition for jobs such as women and ethnic minorities should be taken a step further into the political process.

Three, critics of zoning have questioned whether it really matters who governs a country, provided the right sets of people are doing so. This line of reasoning underestimates the force of nationalism and the psychological impact of a feeling of belonging in nation building. If it really does not matter who rules, why did an overwhelming majority of African Americans and Africans turn out to support Barrack Obama during the last Presidential election in the US? What was the point of the whole anti-colonial struggles, and the Nigerianisation and Northernisation policies they spawned? Why do we all feel a sense of elation when our national football side does us proud? Those advocating the abrogation of the PDP’s zoning that has worked relatively well for the party are in essence calling for a return to the era of WAZOBIA politics.

Four, those who know Jonathan well say he is truly a gentle and unassuming man. If he decides to run in 2011, he will be putting his honour on the line and giving the cabal around Yaradua, who held the country to the jugular for months, an opportunity to re-invent themselves. They can easily rationalise their actions by claiming to have discovered that Jonathan was a closet power hawk and therefore had to do what they thought was necessary to protect the ‘national interest’. If Jonathan shuns the temptation to run in 2011, it will boost not only his personal standing as a man of honour but arguably that of the entire Niger Delta. If he decides to run, all the actions he has taken so far, including the forced resignation of Ogbulafor and a resurgent EFCC being sent after known Yaradua supporters, will be seen as witch-hunting geared at neutralising those who will stand between him and his ambition.

Five, Jonathan will become much more respected as a statesman if he chooses not to run than if he runs and wins. Nigeria is such a complex country that most of the leaders come out of office diminished in stature. With just one year to go, making it clear he will not run in 2011 will spare his regime intense scrutiny and distraction while guaranteeing him the status of a global statesman once out of office. Much of Obasanjo’s stature as an international statesman in fact stemmed from his singular act of voluntarily handing over power to elected civilians in 1979.

Six, if Jonathan decides to contest and the cream of the Northern politicians flocks into another political party, many of the ethnic nationalities will have to weigh who they will trust more ‘to carry them along’: Jonathan who has already betrayed a trust or the North, who, rightly or wrongly, are believed to be good in keeping their words? If our political history is anything to go by, especially on the issue of trust, the North will once again be the beautiful bride, even among groups that ‘despise’ them ‘for behaving as if ruling the country is their birthright’. More worrying will be the fate that awaits Jonathan if he contests and loses. With witch-hunting as part of our inglorious political culture, we will likely be treated to revelations of the litany of sins he committed while in office, quite a number of them of course contrived.

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1 comment

john May 25, 2010 - 9:34 am

very well argued


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