Politics, Power and Government

by E. Terfa Ula-Lisa Esq

In the classical definition, politics is not about the politician but the people. The politician gains his or her legitimacy from the people and not the other way round. There is no class of persons born as politicians although we have had families who have naturally sought to pass on political influence as a family heirloom. As in all ventures, proximity and continuous exposure can influence a person to develop certain proclivities, hone certain skills to understand the nuances of group politics. To say someone is born with the skill and manners of a politician is however, not a compliment.

Nevertheless, if politics is about selfless public service, then it is a very noble venture. Of course, every Nigerian politician would swear that his or her intentions are and have always been noble. The true test of nobility is in the generosity of the offeror. One that is noble very often would get a unanimous verdict of history, the naysayers notwithstanding. A Bum in a designer suit remains a Bum even when he smells like the cologne industry from Paris. It is no different for politicians. It does not take long for the people to gauge their leaders and pretenders to legitimate power. Nigerians especially are good judges of character. Our national slang tells the story in few words. “Amebo”, “Barawo”, “NFA”, “Wayo”, “Ashawo”, “Ole”, or the new one “Maradona” are some of the very catchy but meaningful buzzwords the people use to describe their politicians.


The charade currently running as a Republican Democracy remains nothing but a bazaar with the votes thrown to the highest bidders. While there have been very few families in Nigeria independently wealthy, all the so called politicians have been and still are opportunists jostling for the advantage of government patronage in big business. All the hue and cry of “Arewa marginalization” is nothing but a cry over spilt milk of a deal gone sour. The insistence on the zoning of the presidency to the North is a fight by cliques to get back access to the honey pot for their selfish personal agendas and not for the development of any catchment area they have never given minute thought to develop.

Nigeria like many Emerging Democracies is still in the era of “Crony Capitalism” where the resources of the State are still held and controlled by cliques and the power advantage distributed within the closed system. Traditionally, the system is called an “Oligarchy”, but the trend is that these little cliques try to mask their intentions by holding elections that are usually heavily rigged or the votes bought en-mass from the poor uneducated and often ill-informed electorate who are always starving and so very malleable. The concept of power in politics is nebulous but you can feel it if you have been there. Power gives you access to the goods. When others are queuing at the door being harassed by the police orderly, you are saluted and waived in (remember the case of 53 suitcases?). When the Governor is too busy to see anyone, your business card brings him rushing to the waiting room. Power gets that multi-million Naira contract for cousin Sani who is a drunk and needs help to maintain his decadent lifestyle.

Power Play

Power, like an aphrodisiac, is intoxicating and addictive. Once you have had a taste of it, it becomes difficult for the ordinary person to let go. At the peak of the June 12th Struggle someone made a poignant metaphor that IBB was like a bull in a china shop that had to be eased out carefully. Any discerning adult at that time knew that IBB did not give up the position he had usurped and so viciously consolidated for the love of Nigeria but because he was compelled by the groundswell of opposition from a cross section of the Nigerian populace and the International community. To say otherwise would be to rewrite history. IBB, disgraced out of office by popular opposition to his wiry manipulations, to save face, intoned that he was “stepping aside”. The discerning knew he would try to make a come back. We have not been disappointed.

Often commentators with ulterior motives pretending to play devils advocate, posit that IBB alone cannot be held responsible for June 12 because the decision-making was done in a collegial setting in the PRC. These persons would hope that we have forgotten that IBB, single-handedly fired his ostensible second in command and at one time held all the reigns of power when he also sent packing the PRC and for about a week or two no one in this nation of 120 million souls was sure who was in or who was out of the corridors of power, except IBB. With that kind of power comes full responsibility.

Real and Perceived Power

In a home, sometimes you find that the husband is the titular head while the wife is the real decision maker; she has the power. In the same way in the Boardroom, the boss might not after-all be the boss on account of a weakness or a prior defeat; there might be some other person in the boardroom that calls the shots (for instance because the person has the unions in his pocket, or because she has “bottom-power”-sad but often happens). All leaders who have influence, for good or ill are often studied, their deeds and misdeeds dissected by scholars, politicians and analysts. Till date Americans are still writing new books of the Nixon, Kennedy and Lincoln Presidency to mention a few. It stands to reason that when we analyze the Nigerian State, we spend tones of ink warning the people of this self-styled “evil genius” of Nigerian power matrix. Max Gbenite, who we here concede has the right to defend the indefensible, said of IBB.

The man does not and has never claimed to be an angel or a saint. All he wants to do is to be an instrument of change. Change and economic reform are synonymous, and the momentum must be maintained for the sustainability and the economic prosperity of indestructible Nigeria. Babangida is a thoroughbred revolutionalist (sic) and quintessential Nigerian, and his nigerianess is unquestionable. This man’s approach to issues is determined by the quality of books found in his library.”
Read Max Gbanite, The Man is Still Standing as accessed on 7/29/04 at www.gamji.com

If Max Gbanite speaks for IBB; from the above, we need to study the books IBB reads or misreads; and secondly the persons who on authority write, advice, or speak for IBB to find out why Nigerian leaders have consistently failed their country. Recall that in the Nigerian political power matrix, we have had the various heads of state, rotating Ministers and “Super Perm Secs”. Then in the wings we have the real power brokers, the determiners of who wears the crown; the Caliphate, the Musical Chairs Generals and the mythic “Kaduna Mafia”. Any one who has been any where near the corridors of power in Nigeria would confirm that there are persons who happen to have access to all the governments of the day (and this is not on account of their accomplishments or management savvy). Some of these persons get into a room wearing plain slippers and caftan and you can feel the oxygen sucked out of the room. That is Power.

Gowon and IBB for instance are geographically from the middle-belt but that is where the similarity ends. IBB did not rule at the behest or on behalf of the middle belt or he would have been called to order if not out rightly punished for the harm he did to the region while in government. This is because the middle belt has certain values intrinsic therein. Gowon, could be forgiven for his naivety, he was young and unsophisticated in the ways of power and did not have total control. Murtala Mohammed knew what he wanted to do with power and set about trying to implement it until he was assassinated as a result of power play. Obasanjo, in his first coming did not want to rock the boat so he quickly handed over power; which gave him Brownie points with the International Community.

Again, OBJ in the first term of his second coming held power at the behest of others, not the southwest. My point is that Power in Nigerian politics has never belonged to the people. Not even during the June 12 Struggle. This is because the sponsors of both final contestants in the election of 1993 were not the grassroots people; and definitely, the interest of the contestants did not initially coincide with that of the majority of the electorate. The only point of convergence was the fact that Nigerians were tired of the scheming dictatorship of IBB and wanted a change by all means and a free and fair election had brought out a winner in MKO who should have been sworn in as president. MKO was not sworn in because the power brokers discovered that his agenda post-election was separate and distinct from theirs (much like the Ngige-Uba Saga played at the national level).


Government exists for the protection of the rights liberties and sovereignty of its citizens, the creation of an enabling environment for prosperity and the control and distribution of state resources. If that is our working definition of government, Nigerian politicians are only interested in the latter; the control (distribution, pillaging, looting) of state resources. All of the politicians’ engineering is geared towards perfecting this goal and the ancillary goal of masking this self-serving intention with platitudes, rhetoric and bare-faced lies.

IBB unfortunately is the face given to the maverick Nigerian politician. He is representative of all that is wrong with Nigeria. This is justly so because he was and still remains a dominating force in Nigerian politics. We write to oppose him and educate the people because we have studied his ways, his utterances, his evasiveness, his seeming cunning, his manipulation, his laws, his acts and have concluded; rightly, or wrongly that at this time, we do not think such a character be allowed to rule democratic Nigeria. That is also the verdict of the so-called ‘Babangida bashers and traducers’. If you took poll of articles on IBB, you would find that there are more that are for us than those against us on this subject. So the enlightened Nigerians who have access to the internet (i.e. those who can read and write – sometimes between the lines too) with the exception of the few, do not want IBB ever to step near the seat of government in Nigeria again. It is our duty, our civic responsibility to not only educate the people but to take steps to shut down the campaign of the manipulators of public opinion who want the public to forget the deeds of IBB and blindly follow him.

Of Professionals in Government

Professionals have always left their respective fields to serve Nigeria. Some have done so for selfish gain. Some have been disappointed and frustrated because they in good conscience advised power-drunk retards that had seized the reigns of government. Some were manipulated because they meant well but had no enabling environment to function. A Finance Minister for instance, may advise on how to structure the economy to prosperity, if the President is not sincere or with the same vision, he may manipulate such advice to feather his nest and those of his cronies. A Health Minister may passionately apply himself serving a dictator who does not care about the good health of the poor but needs the credibility the Minister brings to the table to posture to the outside world. That is the bane of many a frustrated technocrat in Nigeria. Regarding the law however, the Attorneys-Generals that drafted ungodly laws to oppress the people in these regimes must step forward to tell us publicly or in their memoirs what they did to explain to these half-educated retards legal standards and why they did not resign when their advice was not heeded. Self accountability accepts responsibility for one’s actions. And that is sourly lacking in today’s politicians.

Then there is the argument that politicians ruled or want to rule Nigeria again for the love of country. If that is true that they all mean so well, we suggest a better way; that they declare their assets and donate the same to the public coffers. Those rented crowds who want IBB, the person they perceive to be the best manager of the commonweal, to be president should first prove their selfless love of country by convincing us they have no personal benefit in the event of an IBB government. It is okay for IBB to be likeable to his admirers, even the devil took away a third of the angelic hosts and he still deceives the majority of mankind. IBB is not qualified to be my president because he lacks vision, his past antecedents do not recommend him to high office; he lacks integrity and forthrightness; he is not straight-forward. He is too clever by half. He has dribbled too often just to show off and has scored an own goal. Let us move on, not looking unto the inglorious past for redemption.

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