Growing Trivialisation of Nigerian politics

(By Emmanuel Onwubiko)

How can the members of the civil society fully grasp their roles as the real owners of the Nigerian sovereignty who ought to watch the activities of politicians to ensure that the nation is not ruined through corrupt practices? If a majority of the people living in Lagos State alone has developed this gluttonous tendency as to have spent a whopping N1 billion on social and highly unproductive ventures, how then will the growing trivialisation of Nigerian politics not exacerbate? It raises hope that the state governor not known for frivolities has assembled his taxmen to dispatch to run after those throwing lavish parties.

TWO international callers, one from the United States of America and the second from the United Kingdom, who have had sufficient patience to follow the advocacy activities of the human rights platform that I currently work for – Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) – put several calls across to me not long ago to express opinions on the state of the Nigerian nation.

These callers, one an American Caucasian and the second, a Nigerian-born but British naturalised scholar, expressed consternation that Nigeria is speedily sliding towards the precipice of anarchy because of what they analysed as the overwhelming dominance of the political public space by characters they consider as social misfits and persons with doubtful credentials who are only in public life for what they can maximise and appropriate from the public treasury.

I tried all I could to convince them that their observations may not be an accurate representation of the reality on ground in Nigeria. I used examples of some good Nigerians who are in office not necessarily for self -enrichment but for positive contributions to the enthronement of democracy and respect for the rule of law which could go a long way in transforming Nigeria’s international image.

I went as far as listing out some names of serving great minds just as I reminded them that these statesmen and iconic women are not in the category of the never-do-wells that they probably had in mind dominating our political space. But the callers stuck to their guns and went to the extent of saying that it may take a revolution to change Nigeria for the better.

My American caller, a lady in her mid-30s appeared more informed about the political development in most parts of the country than most of us who live in Nigeria. She has been a frequent visitor to Nigeria.

She took me on a guided tour, painting pictures of political scenarios in the South Eastern states in the last four years. Her conclusion was that democracy had not actually improved the living conditions of the majority of the citizenry. She referred to what may be termed non-observance of the rule of law and disrespect for constitutionalism. There was also the issue of what she called weak civil society, the combined effect of which, she said, contributed to the unprecedented corruption in the states in reference. She singled out Abia as a case study where, according to her, the current Administration has elevated bad governance and deception to an art.

She believes that the governor had spent more time in the United States than he has done in Umuahia, the grossly underdeveloped rural capital of Abia State. Each foreign trip he embarked upon was marked with fanfare.

With the agricultural and industrial potentials of the state, Aba, she believes, stands in a unique position to become the Japan of modern day Nigeria if the enabling environment is created, with the provisioning of roads, electricity, security and other essential services. She would like to see financial institutions such as the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Agency (SMEDAN), the Nigeria Industrial Bank (Bank of Industry) and commercial banks, compelled by the Federal Government to provide liberal credit facilities to the thousands of talented shoe makers in Aba, Abia State. Recently, the garrulous Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was the guest of the Abia State governor who organised a public lecture on youth empowerment. Sadly, however, because of the suffocating state of affairs in the state, the ordinary traders in Aba and Umuahia were not allowed to ask him probing questions on pressing issue of banks not helping thousands of local investors in Abia State.

Gladys Fitzgerald (names unreal), my American caller also commented on local government administration, drawing attention to the unsavory practice of governors in most states in the country – filling the councils with their appointees as sole administrators in contravention of the constitutional provision. Section 7 states that the system of government in local councils must be democratic. She used Anambra State as a case study. There the state governor, Mr. Peter Obi, was not inclined to conduct or supervise free and fair local council elections in seven and half years that he has ruled the state governor. What an irony that the same governor who is a beneficiary of elections would not conduct one. It would be recalled that he won the election and it took the courts of competent jurisdiction to restore his victory which was stolen by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controlled in Anambra State by pockets of rich political god fathers.

The caller from the United Kingdom who, ironically, is also woman spoke about the bad shape of politics in the northern states. She blamed the political elite for failing to implement programmes designed to reduce the high rate of poverty in those states. Using Jigawa State as an example, she said that the governor’s son was taking his daughter out recently for medical attention which was a pointer to, and an indictment of, the governor for failure to provide, at home, same facilities he was seeking in Cairo which would have made the trip by the daughter unnecessary. My British caller, incidentally, was born in Kaduna State, of Nigerian parents. He later naturalised as a British citizen.

My conclusion is that because of seeming trivialisation by our leaders it would take a collective action of all lovers of Nigeria to effect a change in our political space now dominated dangerously by characters not suited to elective public offices. They are mostly people whose past was overlooked before they emerged on the political scene. As the old saying goes, it is too late to teach an old fox a new trick. In the same vein it is too late in the day to expect that in view of weak and compromised enforcement of anti-corruption a clean and repentant person would emerge to run or administer the resources of the public with transparency and accountability.

In Nigerian politics of today, the good, the bad and the ugly are engaged in a fierce battle of their lives to control the organs of governance and in most cases it is the bad people who usually emerge ‘victorious’ in a political race that is heavily polluted with money and influence peddling.

One place politics has been noticeably dragged down is in the election into the national and state assemblies. For instance, the Bauchi State House of Assembly recently suspended the lone female member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly just for opposing the transfer of the local government secretariat of Tafawa Balewa local government area council from where it has always been based on ethnic and religious sentiments. She simply got chased out literarily for speaking out in a political assembly whereby the elected legislators are expected to express their opinion without let or hindrance.

I drew my conclusion upon reading the recorded document and minutes of the plenary session of the Bauchi House of Assembly. The minutes contained dozens of grammatical errors which showed me that we indeed have a long way to go to ensure that only square pegs are put in square holes and to ensure that politics in our land is dominated by some of the best minds in the mold of philosopher kings, in the likeness of ancient philosophers – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

To further prove how half-baked most of our public functionaries are, there was a time that a certain governor on the platform of the PDP was quoted to have regarded the installation of telecom mastheads by a private company as part of his Imo State government ‘democratic dividends’ and achievements made by his government with the several billions that accrued to the state coffers from the Federation Account and the internally generated revenue. In much of the South East states such as Abia and Ebonyi states, government fronts are used to place generous media commercials to congratulate the state governors for drilling boreholes, which cost less than five per cent of the total amount used to place the commercial advertisements.

Whether in the South or in the North where many governors at the slightest excuse junket around the globe with public funds, in a situation their people wallow in poverty, the populace are too busy chasing bread and butter to ask probing questions, to ask that political office holders give proper account of how the people’s money is spent. In Lagos State, the citizens are preoccupied socialising to ask questions. Recently, a study showed that last year alone, the populace spent N1 billion to stage a series of social get-together.

How can the members of the civil society fully grasp their roles as the real owners of the Nigerian sovereignty who ought to watch the activities of politicians to ensure that the nation is not ruined through corrupt practices? If a majority of the people living in Lagos State alone has developed this gluttonous tendency as to have spent a whopping N1 billion on social and highly unproductive ventures, how then will the growing trivialisation of Nigerian politics not exacerbate? It raises hope that the state governor not known for frivolities has assembled his taxmen to dispatch to run after those throwing lavish parties.

Sadly, what makes the trivialisation of Nigerian politics much more dangerous is the ignoble roles played by religious leaders. Recently, a certain pastor acquired a choice private jet even when about 70 per cent of his members are impoverished, and to make matters worse, the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was the Chief Guest of honour at the unveiling ceremony of this exotic private jet. At the last count, over five pastors own private jets.

In Niger State, the state governor was shown in some media not too long ago celebrating his birthday in a grand style! His state is one; pupils in rural primary schools receive lessons under trees or sit on the debris of derelict school buildings and instruction given by their impoverished teachers.

Anambra State is warming up to hold another governorship elections and the majority of those running for office are money bags among them is one facing prosecution accused of participating in the monumental heist of petroleum subsidy running to nearly N1 trillion. Our fate is indeed in our own hands. Nigerians, wake up and stop this bad phenomenon of growing trivialization of Nigerian politics.

 • Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria and blogs.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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