One thing I have always felt uncomfortable about is the belief and normative practice, anywhere in the world, that infers that, as a younger person, you have to be meek and docile with the older person to be considered respectful, obedient and responsible. I cannot quite understand a norm where it is okay for the older person to tell the younger person hurt words, yet it is not okay for the younger person to as little as frown to show that he feels hurt. I resent a norm that encourages the younger person to stay mute even in the face of grave psychological and emotional injustice and injury inflicted on him by an older person. Before anyone starts calling me names and pronouncing me an ‘over-globalized’, ‘over-civilized’ and ‘over-Westernized’ Nigerian youth who has been indoctrinated with Western ideas to the detriment of his pride in, and respect for his cultural values, let us consider the example of an inflated balloon dropped on a cluster of thorns. As soon as the balloon comes in contact with the thorns, it goes p-o-o-o-m, isn’t it? So, my opinion about any form of dissent by the younger person against any form of conduct by the older person, which does not go down well with him, is built around a cause-and-effect theory. You smack a younger person, he feels the pain and then belts out, right. The older person accuses the younger person wrongly, the younger person feels this is not right, and naturally, feels compelled to prove his innocence. And if this is not easy for him to do verbally under the circumstances, natural instinct propels him to wear a scowl, a frown or whatever to try to make it known that everything is not all right after all. I can go on and on. This is called being realistic and feisty and not insubordination or moral laxity if you ask me. It also looks like a simple if-fire-then-smoke scenario to me.
I tried to apply this rationale in puncturing some of the comments made by President Olusegun Obasanjo on the night of Sunday, May 20, whilst he was answering questions from three members of the Press during the valedictory edition of his monthly ‘Mr. President Explains’. For the uninitiated, “Mr. President Explains” is the once-a-month interactive programme that runs on the network belt of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, where the president tackles questions on national issues from a select group of pressmen.
I started watching the programme midway, so I do not really have a hang of all that the president said during the entire course of the programme. Earlier on, he had expressed his desire to pursue the amendment of the Nigeria constitution to include a proviso that would make it possible for a presidential candidate to run on a ticket alone without a running mate. By his explanation, the candidate, could, after his victory, nominate, for ratification by the National Assembly, any individual of his choice for the post of vice-president. This did not come as surprise to me because, as laughable as the idea is, it is a reflection of his relationship with his deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, over the last two years or so as well as his opinion about where the place of his deputy should be.
However, his pronouncements on one particular occasion that night really got me thinking. In his reaction to the concern raised over some of his recent comments on national issues as it affects the relationship between the legislative and the executive arms of government during his time as Nigeria’s president, the president expressed his revulsion at the attitude of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, members in the National Assembly towards the executive arm which he (the president) heads. According to Mr. President, he cannot understand why, of all the members of the House of Assembly, members of his own political party, the PDP would for any reason antagonize him on any of his decisions.
I understand that my knowledge of political theories is hopelessly poor, so I cannot even attempt rationalizing my opinion on this from the perspective of any political theorist or what have you. Which is where I have tried to apply my opinion about the younger person and the older person in our society. I don’t need to be a Karl Marx or an Engels or even a Hegel to know that every elected officer in public service should first and above all else, be accountable 100% to the people rather than any political group or ideology. On the basis of this, Mr. Obasanjo got it all wrong in hinting that PDP members of the National Assembly are supposed to be loyal to him and the party in all circumstance, laudable or condemnable. Is Mr. President trying to tell the Nigerian people that his party or any other party is bigger and more important than the project called Nigeria? Perhaps he is trying to impress it on us all that ‘thou shall not bite off the finger that fed thee’. In order words, just because a particular party is the platform upon which an individual lawmaker got elected to the legislature he must always protect the vain impulses of a few people to the detriment of millions of other people. It is like saying, “ look, boy, I pay your bills and as such you are not entitled to object to whatever I do or say, even when it means mortgaging your interest and those of others to me”. This is mischievous and patronizing to do to anybody.
The loyalty of members to their political party is an important issue, but the fact that a political party provides the platform for a politician to get elected into office is just a way of fulfilling one of the primary functions of that party. It is the people who ultimately determine who gets into what offices, and this is what is paramount in the final analysis. Therefore, if any politician finds any reason to, and subsequently finds the decency, candour and courage to match his reason to voice his disagreement with his party, especially on national issues (“I pledge to Nigeria my country, to be faithful, loyal and honest”, isn’t it?), then kudos to democracy and that politician. This happens everywhere democracy is practiced around the world, and the political parties and the whole system are the stronger for it. Some of the most vocal proponents of the idea to impeach President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky saga in the US were the Democratic members at the Congress. And the Congress, the Democratic Party and the United States of America became the stronger for it. Currently, some of the more prominent critics of President Bush, particularly about the war in Iraq, are members of his Republican Party at the Congress and elsewhere. Ours cannot, as matter of decency, accountability and reality, be an exception.
Sadly, over the last couple of years, particularly since the feud between the president and his deputy started gathering momentum to the scale of a cold war, I have been galled to notice members of the PDP put their party before Nigeria. This, they have demonstrated not only by their blatant efforts in looting state treasury (which most Nigerian politicians, irrespective of party affiliation, are guilty of) but in their flagrant disregard of protocol at occasions. It would be common to hear one of them address a gathering by first acknowledging the president, then the “chairman of our great party” before acknowledging the vice-president or any other personality that should have been acknowledged before the “chairman of our great party”. The truth is that, irrespective of the degree of bastardization we have subjected our country to, the country and its constitution will always be greater than any group or individual, however highly placed they may be. We must, therefore, learn to acknowledge this fact if we are truly committed to making this country work.