• Monday, May 27, 2024
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Why Nigeria must learn to remember things and hold on to grudges

Why Nigeria must learn to remember things and hold on to grudges

A few weeks ago, while on the set of an episode of “Patitos Gang,” a discussion topic was introduced: “2023 Igbo presidency – to be or not to be?” On the “to be” side was political firebrand Ifechi Ugwu who insisted that it was in the interest of national unity to maintain the rotational power sharing principle. On the “not to be” side were Eugene Uzor and Cheta Nwanze whose argument was that the current political system would only end up producing a Rochas Okorocha or an Orji Uzor Kalu over more qualified Igbo candidates with less baggage.

While I did not deem it appropriate to offer an opinion on the matter, the thought did strike me – why would the likes of Okorocha and Kalu be considered as electable frontline candidates in that scenario while your Soludos and Moghalus would not? What is it about the Nigerian political psyche that refuses to assign obsolescence to political actors where it would be assigned elsewhere?

Remember the past – so it stays in the past

Mentally, I went through a list of prominent politicians from OECD countries who have held powerful offices and are still alive without being actively involved in frontline national politics. Former British prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are still alive and kicking. Former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande are still about. Former US presidents George Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are very much alive. None of the afore-mentioned people is planning a run for electoral office or setting themselves up as a ‘godfather’, or even particularly present in the public eye anymore.

Their time has passed and they know it. More importantly, the people know it. People in those countries do not labour under the unfortunate idea that having held high political office at one point somehow qualifies or mandates one to do so again. The people and the media do not make constant reference to these people as though they are somehow granted lifelong relevance simply for having won an election before. The political culture there is to document everything that happens in the political space in real time so that afterward, there is no post-mortem beatification of leaders who are either past their sell-by date or were simply ineffective or unpopular.

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Here on the other hand, decades after the ‘Class of 66’ should have been retired permanently from all facets of Nigeria’s public space, we not only find one of said men in Aso Rock, but we have also developed a bad habit of putting people on a lifetime pedestal – just because they once held political office. What achievement or legacy did the likes of Okorocha or Uzor-Kalu leave behind to put them into the conversation about a potential run for presidency? To the best of my knowledge, their entire legitimacy simply stems from the fact of their being “prominent.” Apparently that is now a qualification to become president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – just be “prominent.”

I believe that if Nigeria were to develop a political consciousness that centres on keeping records and maintaining historicity, a large number of the people who are still in and around political power would simply not be there. To this end, I believe that Nigeria’s political culture needs to build a habit of recording and maintaining grudges against individuals and political formations. This is not an outlandish suggestion by any means. In fact it is this ability to hold a deep-seated grudge that constitutes a large part of the partisan political divide in the OECD. You do not see Liberals “decamp” to join the Conservatives or vice-versa, because by and large, they genuinely do not like each other and they have far-reaching historical precedent for their mutual antipathy. I would argue in fact, that this ability to hold a political grudge over an extended period of time is a large contributor to the development of an ideology – the magic sauce that most Nigerian political formations lack.

Grudges would have prevented Buhari’s emergence

The other thing about learning to hold a grudge reliably and consistently is that it prevents your Buharis and Babangidas from returning to haunt you in the future. Just like the apparently amnesiac political culture makes it such that the Okorochas and Uzor-Kalus are being mentioned in serious conversations about the presidency despite all the clear baggage they come with, it was that same cultural amnesia that led to the emergence of a thoroughly discredited and erstwhile disliked person as president in 2015 and 2019.

One of the key messages of 2015 was that Muhammadu Buhari was a “reformed democrat,” whatever that means. Nigerians were repeatedly told to ignore the evidence of history and their own lived experience to make a 3-time coup plotter the CEO of a $500 billion economy. The man whose signature economic policy in his prior iteration involved sending horse whip-wielding soldiers to flog traders into selling at government-approved prices was suddenly presented as an iPad-wielding funky granddad wearing a bowtie and playing with his grandson. Against their better judgement, Nigerians made the decision to put their grudges against Buhari Mark I aside and vote for Buhari Mark II.

The outcome is clear for all to see now. Buhari Mark II is only different from his prior iteration in the sense that it is still possible to write this article thanks to the 16 years of democratic reforms and opening of civil spaces that came before him. That hasn’t stopped him from going after media freedom with a zeal only matched by his eagerness to once again subsume the Nigerian economy into the state and parcel it out to his cronies and loyal subjects as the emperor he fancies himself to be. Nigerians put the lessons of history and their own personal dissatisfactions aside to vote for their own predator, and now said predator is doing the only things he knows how to do.

By the time he is done, my fervent hope is that Nigerians will finally learn to put their grudges front and centre of their political decisions. If the Sinn fein still regularly wins Northern Irish seats in the British Parliament because of what amounts to grudges over an armed conflict that ended decades ago, it is no outlandish postulation to suggest that Nigerians should also learn to structure their political decisions around their historical grudges.

That way, maybe we can all stop being the proverbial slugs who vote salt.