The Paradox Of Nigerian Politics

The idea for this piece developed on a Saturday evening, while drinking with the boys at Inno Atueyi’s New Haven Restaurant along Old Kent Road, London. It was one of those days that any excuse to escape from the house would suffice; I needed to ‘cool down tension’ as my friend Emma Okocha would say.

The opportunity presented itself when my cousin Ifeanyi, freshly back from Nigeria suggested an evening out to fill me in on what’s happening in Nigeria. Since my mechanic has now decided not to finish work on my car, indirectly saving me a bundle on petrol, I took the Bus 53 and we met up at Elephant & Castle. Our first stop was at Presidential Suya on Old Kent Road, the atmosphere didn’t seem good as the usual gang hadn’t yet arrived.

We left our ‘call cards’ and contributed our quota to the overflowing men’s urinary system. I could only manage a bottle of Star beer while Ifeanyi downed 3 bottles of small stout; we took the waiters advice and helped the alcohol along with their ‘famous’ presidential suya.And so we trawled on by foot to New Haven restaurant.

The evening was still young when we arrived, the ambience was not exactly like 805 which is a few metres away, but you could sense that the night was going to be interesting.

We settled in, and ordered. Ifeanyi decided to step it up a gear, and his big stout (odeku) arrived promptly. I remained faithful to Star, just as the chief brewer (Festus Odimegwu) had remained faithful to OBJ on the 3rd term issue. My choice was borne more out of a desire to support NBL brands, although I’m yet to receive any dividends from a 2003 investment, made on the advice of a fraudulent stockbroker (Mr Umoru of Viva securities) who had since lost his trading license and gone to jail. However, I remain steadfast in the hope that my investment will still come good for me, eventually.

And then the ‘conversations’ started. Nigerian bars are not any different from traditional British bars; shouting is more like what goes on in the bars rather than conversations but who cares?

We ‘dealt’ on a range of social, economic and political matters. It was a free-for-all and anybody could butt in at any time, the atmosphere was indeed a mirror into the mind of the Nigerian. Several conspiracy theories were postulated, there were boasts of private phone numbers of the high and mighty stored in people’s cell phones, and threats of placing direct calls to them to either confirm or debunk stories flying around at the bar, to the hearing of all concerned.

It would be hard to fathom if it was indeed the human mind or alcohol that was generating some of these theories and discussions. I tried to maintain what clear head I could by ‘nursing’ my bottle. Looking around, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself and my new found friends, lost in a bar in London, debating and arguing over matters in Nigeria of which we had no control over. Intelligent and endowed Nigerians scattered away from the home land, driven away by politics but still consumed by it even on a Saturday evening in a foreign land. Could this be the scenario playing out in other Nigerian bars across the globe, I wondered.

The Anambra issue almost drew blood, maybe because most of the people at the bar were Anambrarians. Chris Ubah was vilified, cursed and abused many times over. He is the much talked about Anambra nemesis. We all seem to have bought into this one track mind, emotive in our reasoning, every blame must go to the other side, we have absolved ourselves of any wrong doing or complicity. But what produces the Chris Ubahs?

Nigerian politics has never pretended to be played on ideals and principles, meaning that the ‘right’ candidates never ever win. They may not have the money to take them all the way, and may also not be ready to ‘play the game’. Conservative estimates of contesting and possibly winning a state gubernatorial elections in Nigeria is currently around N1 billion. How many regular Joes can afford that?

As a result the Chris Ubahs have a terrain ready-made for them to thrive; they are business people and see politics as business investments. In the real world, who ever invests in an enterprise hopes to reap, not minding that I’m yet to reap my NBL investment. This sadly is reality, impassioned and non-emotive reasoning.

How can people participate and accept gifts and cash payments from politicians during electioneering campaigns, and at the same time expect the politicians not to loot government treasury to recoup their investments? If you dine with the devil, you should also be ready for any eventual diarrhoeas.

Does Nigeria have any laws concerning the limit of contribution party members can make? Is it being enforced? Who is responsible for the enforcement and how is it being done? What about the political parties that accept funding from individuals and companies, do they ever refuse questionable funds? What is the guide here concerning such issues? Proscription? Bans? Etc.

Emeka (not his real name) seemed to be the most vocal person on the night; he did raise some interesting points. He reminded us of Robin Cook and how he resigned his appointment in Tony Blair’s government over the government’s decision to invade Iraq. He wondered why none of OBJ’s reform champions that Nigerians celebrate didn’t deem it necessary to speak out against the 3rd term issue, or even resign on principles and moral grounds as the debate consumed Nigeria before the National Assembly threw the bill out.

Could that be a question of Nigerians not wanting to get out of the comfort zone? And not wishing to offend the boss even when our conscience tells us otherwise. Why is every one of them feigning ignorance now, as if they are all not accessories to the fact?

This is indeed the paradox of politics in Nigeria. It is the self first before the interests of the citizens and country.

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