• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Politics: Mindset and Nigerian reality (1)

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 It is very common in Nigeria to hear the phrase ‘this is politics’. Often, to a politician it means this is my prerogative. In other words, ‘it is my jurisdiction and I set the rule’ seems to be the message. The ‘rule’ could be anything conventional or unconventional, written or unwritten, civil or uncivil, persuasive or forceful, legal or illegal, etc. Non-politicians, referring to non-partisan individuals (card-carrying party members, especially those seeking elective or appointive government positions), can only be observers, have to accept being at the receiving end and must take as given every action of the politician.

To a non-partisan individual, depending on the bias of the person, it could just be a statement about why things are bad or why citizens can’t get their wishes. ‘It is hopeless, don’t just bother yourself’, may as well be the statement being made. In the circumstance, the politician is projected to represent everything bad and corrupt. His/her actions are equated with our ‘godforsaken’ wasteful conduct that manifests in mismanagement and theft of public resources. In our psyche, we, as citizens of Nigeria, have come to accept this as a statement of ‘fact’.

In so many ways, this represents the sharp mindset that characterises our politics on account of which our politicians and other citizens remain perpetually divided. And since the politicians produce leaders in government, it also represents why our governments at all levels, in most cases, are alienated from the citizens. Yet, we continue to express the dogma that our democracy is ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’.

If politics, as we are taught, is about being able to influence decisions that affect people and society, the phrase ‘this is politics’ is subversive in the Nigerian context. The challenge therefore is: how do we change our mindset? This should mean: how can we get citizens to reject this interpretation of politics? Can we develop the needed confidence to be able to engage our politicians to create a new reality whereby politics is about conventional, written, civil, consensual and legal order? Is it possible to have a situation where our politicians come to citizens with all humility and ask the question ‘what do you want?’ as a basis for their actions? In any event, who is a politician in the first place? How different is the politician from the citizens?

These questions can be endless. Sometimes, it is waste of time asking some of these questions, especially if at the end we don’t attempt to provide practical answers – yes, PRACTICAL ANSWERS! To the extent that we attempt to provide answers that do not factor our individual actions, especially as citizens, to that extent, they are NOT PRACTICAL. We need answers that should take their bearing from our smallest actions as citizens largely because the politician is one of us and could be any of us.

In fact, we need to take our bearing from the reality that any of us can be the politician and the politician can be any of us. This is not academic assertion, it is a reality. Many of today`s politicians were at some point very ordinary citizens. Some of our politicians in 1999, for instance, are today ordinary citizens. By 2015, some ordinary citizens will join politics and win elections. At the same time, some of today’s politicians will be pushed out of partisan reckoning on account of not winning elections or not being re-appointed.

The new post-2015 politicians may include some of us that are very critical of today`s politicians. Given such situation, our new entrants, no matter their resentment against the bad coloration of politics, will operate based on the notion that politics is about exercising prerogatives or having a jurisdiction which will mean anything conventional or unconventional, written or unwritten, civil or uncivil, persuasive or forceful, legal or illegal, etc. Irrespective of the individual actors, therefore, politics will be associated with corruption and wasteful management of public resources.

This reality demands that we do something urgently to change the character of our politics. How can we change the character of our politics? Most of the times we attempt to answer this question by exclusively focusing on the politician. To a large extent, important as the politician is, our roles and responsibilities as citizens are very critical. We cannot change the character of politics without some minimum citizens’ interventions, actions, engagements and initiatives.

What cannot be disputed is that citizens’ vote, however defined, is the basis of legitimacy for leadership in this country today. What are we doing to take advantage of our roles as citizens to bring about change in Nigeria? This is not a theoretical question, it is practical. It is not exclusive, but includes every one of us. 2015 is only about 2 years away. Very soon, politicians will start parading themselves as saints, righteous individuals and saviours requesting for citizens’ votes. If past experience is anything to go by, the process will be driven largely by money-politics. In which case, the elections may have been concluded long before the 2015 votes. The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) on account of its control over the federal government and most state governments would have an advantage and would have strong potential to emerge victorious in 2015.

This is one factor that should challenge our opposition parties to think beyond the ordinary and come up with new approaches to political organisation and mobilisation. Fortunately, as it is today, our leading opposition parties, namely, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Rochas Okorocha-led faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have accepted the need to merge as basis for strengthening their electoral prospects in 2015. These parties have all set up merger negotiation teams and in an unprecedented manner have since February 6 announced agreement to merge under a new party All Progressives Congress (APC). The Joint Inter Party Merger Committee has been working to meet other conditions for the merger as provided under section 84 of the Electoral Act.

The truth is that most Nigerians, including the PDP, never expected the merger negotiation to get this far. In fact, the expectation was that the usual personality conflict around the issue of candidature would stalemate the process and result in possible miscarriage of the merger just as happened in 2010 and 2011, not to talk of the First and Second Republic experiences. There were of course initial signs of disagreement when around the last week of January, Buhari, while inaugurating the CPC merger committee, announced that the CPC priority is merger with ACN, which suggested an exclusion of ANPP. There was a lot of apprehension that Buhari’s directive to the CPC merger committee may create some unhealthy dynamics that may present the merger negotiations as narrow and perhaps self-serving. That being the case, it may make the merger and the new party less popular. 

 

SALIHU MOH. LUKMAN

Lukman writes from Abuja.

 

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