Reflections On British Politics

I have been following with studied interest, since my arrival to the UK just six years ago, the beauty and attributes of the British brand of democracy and I’ve never stopped to wonder on the failures of very simple systems in Nigeria and other African countries. Our brand of democracy is nothing to write home about. Our politicians are not serious neither are their followers. The basic universal principles embedded in democracy, as laudable as they are, are pitiably lacking in Africa. To be candid, the idea that democracy is foreign to Africa, is laughable and ludicrous. It is foreign to all countries of the world. What happened was that over the years, and we all know this anyway, Europe and America had evolved democracies that had come to suit their culture and history. However, the basic universal principles engrained in democratic practices are the same.

I live in London and have worked as a part-time electoral canvasser and a poll clerk for one of the London councils. Electoral canvassing simply has to do with visiting some clearly marked out residential houses to establish the number of eligible voters in each house hold. The councils then update their voters registers, using the collated field work. It is a statutory annual ritual of all councils to bring their voters register up to date whether elections are coming or not. On the other hand, as a poll clerk, I work at a polling station with a presiding or returning officer during any election and, my duty involves identifying voters on the register and issuing them ballot papers. The average ever courteous English voter simply collects, marks the ballot paper in the privacy of the polling booth, drops it into the ballot box and goes away. Before the voter leaves, we extend the usual English courtesy: “Thank you and goodbye“. While election is going on, the police is seen moving around and visiting polling stations to make sure that no group or voter constitutes a public nuisance.

Although, Britain is still a class society with the state pretending to be mediating between social classes and other interest groups, there is no doubt that politics have really come of age. The concrete political structures and institutions on the ground are jealously guided and their studied effects are stunning, especially to an average Nigerian. Besides, the urge in me to always sociological inquire is always at work.

The electoral service in the UK is just like any other services in a local government. Surprisingly, it is not given any special attention. With the type of checks and balances in the system, no politician is in a position to manipulate it. There is a procedure that is strictly followed like robots, the deviation from which, could arouse suspicion and create a negative stasis.To be a politician in the UK, you must know your onion, should be above board, have a good track record of honesty and should be of impeccable character. Politics is not an all comers affair. An ex-convict has no stake in British politics. To go for any elective post, your past has to be checked from cradle to adulthood and any doubts on your person would be exposed by the press and subjected to critical public debate. As a politician, you must be virtuous and morally upright; dedicated to your political calling; be polite, accountable, none aggressive and tolerant. You should be good at throwing banters and smiles at people.

Interestingly too, the British society is a litigious one. Every citizen is a potential litigant waiting for any opportunity to sue whoever and whatever. If the branch of a tree falls on you while walking along a street, and perhaps it dislocates a part of your body, you can ‘sue’ the tree by suing the council whose duty it were to tend to the trees in that council. This shows the extent of citizen’s rights and obligations in the UK.

The rule of law is supreme and the people’s fundamental rights are respected. The law and the justice system are structured to take care of all irrespective of sex, race, religion and other primordial oddities. However, with the obscuring class nature and class relations, one cannot rule out the possibility of salient “negotiation of justice.”

Granted that this may be possible, what is self-evident for all classes to see is the execution of justice and the rule of law, without let or hindrance. The police and the judiciary operate independently. They are NOT under the control and influence of any political party in power. It is at this point that as a Nigerian, I am flabbergasted by the harmonious working of the principle of the unity of SEPARATION OF POWERS that has become elusive in our “thorough-going macho society” called Nigeria.

The police here work based on evidence before them and not on hearsay. Citizens try hard to obey the laws by keeping to themselves thus the absent of community relationships. It is a suspicious society. People are suspicious of one another because no one knows who is an agent of the state security apparatus. Nobody knows who is a spy master or fraudster just waiting in the wings. Everyone treads carefully, even in relationships with the opposite sex. There are a lot of “kiss and Tell” experts eager to destroy people’s marriages on the pages of newspapers. So, the average British politician knows the law, obeys and knows the consequences of breaking them.

Whilst in an elected office or any office, you dare not, with your itchy fingers, steal public money. You will end up in jail and, as far as the police have gathered their evidence and lawyers have done their bits, to jail you must go. And, that is a criminal record, perhaps never to be erased against your name. The question of knowing the commissioner of police, Prime minister, traditional ruler or any high ranking official to intervene on your behalf, as is always the case in our strange Nigeria, does not arise. In fact here in the UK, anyone who dares to intervene could be promptly arrested for obstructing the course of justice. No citizen is above the law and the law is no respecter of class.

A typical example, among others, was the celebrated case of Sir Jeffrey Archer. He was a member of the House of Lords {equivalent of Nigeria’s supreme court}, a multimillionaire and a writer with about 33 reputable novels to his credit amongst which were the highly rated SONS OF FORTUNE, HONOUR AMONG THIEVES, KANE AND ABEL, and SHALL WE TELL THE PRESIDENT. In his 1987 celebrated libel case against the DAILY STAR, he won and was compensated. It was after about 12 years, that it was discovered he lied by using ‘a fake diary’ to win that case.* The case was reopened in court on the 13 May 2001 and ended on the 19 of July 2001. He was found guilty for cheating, lying and perjury and sentenced to four years imprisonment. His fortune could not save him neither were his connections. Even the death of his mum, LOLA, while the trial was going on, did not affect proceedings of the court. There were no adjournments. Now, of what relevance is this to Nigeria’s evolving democracy? Can we contrast this very simple application of the letters of the law to what obtains in our tragic-comic Nigeria?

Britain is a multicultural country that is growing from strength to strength and striving towards perfection. Their politicians are men and women of letters simply living out their philosophy of life. The country is their god and the football stadium is their church. While we {Nigerians} are attending church services on Sundays, praying for ourselves and Nigeria, most English people are trekking to the stadium to watch matches.

Their wealth circulates within the economy. They have an unpolluted love for their motherland which manifested quite tremendously during the debate over the Iraq war. The late Robin Cook, former leader, House of Commons, resigned on principles from his plum position over the war. He maintained that he will not back the war without the UN support and, when BUSH and BLAIR decided to execute their mindset, he honourably resigned. That is integrity!

Besides, the beauty of democracy in this clime is the ability to comprehend and act when public confidence in you, as an office holder, has dwindled due to your act of omission or commission. Ms Estelle Morris, {a former Education Secretary under Tony Blair, or Minister as it’s called in Nigeria} resigned, not over the war, but over the A-level fiasco of 2002 that messed up the results of about 2000 students. She could not take the daily public flak and, with intense pressure from the media over the scandal, she threw in the towel. Steven Byers, {a former Secretary for transport under Tony Blair} resigned because the public could no longer tolerate his numerous spin and lies in that department. He says one thing only for the people to discover that he meant something else. He was not a man of integrity. Contrastingly, in Nigeria, they don’t resign, they sit tight, flex their muscles, become diabolical and unleash terror and whirlwind on their perceived enemies.

Any Nigerian who was in the UK during the pre-Iraq war saga, would have witnessed the beauty of democratic debate, the level of political tolerance and maturity, intense dramatic lobbying and banter inextricably woven and displayed by the politicians. It was sweet politics at its best. When the debate got to a particular level, I witnessed a variant of what the late anthropologist and Sociologist, Professor Mike Onwuejeogwu termed “permitted disrespect” or “institutionalised rudeness.” These were polished insults and innuendoes thrown at one another at tolerable level.

Put in a sharper perspective, brain and not brawn was displayed. Virtually every citizen expressed opinion on that war without having to impress anyone. None was intimidated, harassed or assassinated for holding contrary views. The point here for Nigerians to note is the role of debates, respect, and tolerance of opposing views in the promotion of democratic values. Political debates in Nigeria are beclouded by fear, bullying tactics, intimidation, assassinations, fistfights and I-know-it-all syndrome. Here, you may have your way but most citizens must have their say.

Again, in the UK, Politics is not a do or die affair. It is like a game, win or loose, life has to go on. Politicians have been groomed to accepting electoral challenges, defeats, and victory with magnanimity. Elections are played on level fields and politicians play by the rules because the electoral system is free and fair and is seen by all and sundry to be so. Winners shake hands with losers and they wine and dine together with clear conscience. There is no fear of someone spiking your drink or food through what we call in Nigerian’s dubious parlance-“remote control.” WAKE UP NIGERIA! WAKE UP FOR GOD’S SAKE, FROM YOUR POLITICAL SLUMBER! By now, our blame culture on slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism and all the other “isms” ought to have drawn to a close.

In all of these however, the role of the British press cannot be overemphasized. The politicians never undermine them, otherwise, it would be to their peril. The press is the eye of the people. It follows up leads and stories to their logical conclusions and some times, set the agenda for political and public discourse. It keeps vigil on all government departments; stalks the politicians and keeps them on tenterhooks. Politicians neither seek to court nor distance themselves from the press because, they need the press just as they are sceptical of who is watching over their shoulders. Editors can afford to pay good money to any citizen who can get good negative scoops on any office holder that will help to boost sales of their newspapers. In Nigeria, it is the reverse, citizens pay newspaper houses to publish scoops.

However, despite its glaring imperfections, the British press is to a large extent, objective, impartial and uncompromising. The position of the BBC on the Iraq war was commendable. The organ could not be bought over by Blair’s need to join the war {read former Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke’s book titled: INSIDE STORY}. Despite the veil reference to government in the charter guiding the BBC, the organization operates freely as an independent organ. Attempts by any government in power to hijack this function is often resisted. Contrastingly, in Nigeria what we see and hear on the NTA is “ the president says and the president did not say”. NTA is a complete mouth piece of any government in power. No serious opposing views and germane political debates are aired. Just a one-way traffic and yet it is sustained by public money.

The Nigerian political class is yet to transform into a robust political entity. It is a class that is not wary of itself and whose members are conscious of the fact that what binds them together is the competitive looting of public treasury and the bickering on the modus of sharing. Each wants to out-loot the other in infamy thus their abysmal performance whilst in office. This is why Karl Marx will call such a class “a class of low class ness.” A conscious and mature political class, like the British political class, seeks hungrily to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of its people.

Some arguments have it that we should wait for more years to reach the promise land; that our democracy is still young and that the British system had also gone through the mills. I do not subscribe to this thesis: for one, it gives the unserious political minds, the licence to keep looting. Why wait when we can jump-start now? Like I have always argued, all that is required is the will power to stand out and do what is right and make the qualitative difference. How can we reach our promise land when politicians belong to one cult or the other and their children have followed in their parents’ foot-steps, reigning havoc on our university campuses? Look at the Okija shrine episode and the attempts to intellectualise it by some people using the caveman’s logic. For the sake of scientific objectivity, what is a politician going there to do? Are we now living in the sixth century?

The unfortunate development is that these cultic members have cornered the Nigerian state. They are in every sector and it has become their “manifest destiny” to continue to ruin the country. Their members meet at night, at shrouded places, go into covenant with the devil, share political offices among themselves before any sham elections and, decide by fiat who to kill and who should live. They survive by escalating evils and wickedness on their motherland. The pain of the masses is their joy. Thus says Reuben Abati, in his article titled: Confessions Of A Serial Killer, in the GUARDIAN of 13 March 2005, “…here is a cult member,” referring to Emmanuel Okojie, “ who says people in top government belongs to cult, and that they will not help anybody? Are there further doubts about why governments do not help us? Is the resolve not to help anybody part of the code of the Nigerian mafia? If this is the true profile of the Nigerian government, then may the Lord help us! { italics mine}.

Any Nigerian passionate about that country, should please look for this article and read it. I did not read the interview by Emmanuel Okojie but its analysis by Reuben was mind-boggling. That confession simply exposed the ‘Da Vinci Code’ of the average cult group in Nigeria. The average Nigerian politician’s mindset is simple: You must belong to enjoy with us or stay out and rot. This is intolerance and lack of respect for people‘s right to choice. No group has a right to impose a world view on a people nor discriminate on that basis. I am really pissed off! Haba! I rest my case!

*Reference: www bbc co uk archer trial

Written by
Ephraim Adinlofu
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1 comment
  • I wish the politicians will read and learn. Most of them visit Europe and America and they see how these things work but could not even implement half of what they had seen. It is really a shame.