(By Eniola Bankole)
“It is an obvious fact that our problems as a people do not respect ethnic boundaries, it cuts across and the solution to them cannot therefore be found in ethnocentric politics which is myopic and retrogressive. Nigerians from Abia to Zamfara and from Lagos to Maiduguri crave nothing more than a nation where their hopes and that of their children can be crystallised, where they can dare to dream and the system supports them to achieve all of it. Nigerian politicians of this generation therefore, owe the citizens of this country a nation that works, one they can be proud to call their country and in which hard work is duly rewarded. Our political class owes us more than rhetoric about democracy. They owe us policies that can help us compete in the committee of nations. They owe us systems that work, visionary leadership, accountability and a judicious use of our common wealth.“
THERE are two great conundrums facing Nigeria’s political analysts; the first question is: How do we resolve the ethnic distrust that is the basis of ethnocentric politics in Nigeria? The second equally daunting question is how do we fast track the journey towards economic growth and national development thereby eradicating underdevelopment in every sphere of our national life?
These two questions have baffled every generation of Nigerians since independence and we cannot confidently face the future without resolving them. I believe the answer to these questions will require strong political will and commitment from the Nigerian people. The more I think about them the more I am convinced that both questions can be answered at the same time. The analogy that comes to mind is if we fix the ailment we will invariably eradicate the symptoms…i.e. if we fix our politics we can fix the rate of development in our country.
The root cause of ethnocentric politics in Nigeria can be traced to the mutual suspicion that existed even before the amalgamation of geographical divisions to form the country called Nigeria. This distrust which has existed for almost a century has been exploited time and again by politicians in order to score cheap political points and promote clannish sentiments for selfish political gains at the detriment of the nation. Given our current circumstances, it goes without saying that a solution is urgently required in order for the nation to move forward.
The solution we need is to develop a brand of politics called ‘The Politics of Issues’ and adopt it as a code of conduct in our polity. This approach to politics deemphasises our ethnic or tribal heritages but rather focuses on the issues and challenges that we endure daily and how our leaders can and must address them using the mandate they receive at the pools. This issue based politics will focus on eradicating our common enemies such as poverty, social mobility, and the provision of basic amenities such as health-care, electricity and education. These are the critical issues that affect every Nigerian irrespective of his political disposition, creed or tongue. The politics of issues calls us to focus on how we plan to shape the future, eradicate inefficient public service, develop effective healthcare systems, create new industries that will create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for millions of citizens, develop policies that will open up the markets, empower the judiciary and resolve some of our greatest ineptitudes e.g. ailing infrastructures and education amongst many others.
It is an obvious fact that our problems as a people do not respect ethnic boundaries, it cuts across and the solution to them cannot therefore be found in ethnocentric politics which is myopic and retrogressive. Nigerians from Abia to Zamfara and from Lagos to Maiduguri crave nothing more than a nation where their hopes and that of their children can be crystallised, where they can dare to dream and the system supports them to achieve all of it. Nigerian politicians of this generation therefore, owe the citizens of this country a nation that works, one they can be proud to call their country and in which hard work is duly rewarded. Our political class owes us more than rhetoric about democracy. They owe us policies that can help us compete in the committee of nations. They owe us systems that work, visionary leadership, accountability and a judicious use of our common wealth.
The future of politics and development in Nigeria is intertwined and much is expected of our political discourse if we intend to deliver the promise of a developed and thriving economy for Nigerian citizens, one that we hope to see among the league of top 20 developed nations by 2020. We have to cure the epidemic of recycling of mediocrity and develop a political class that is willing to truly serve the people and usher Nigeria into true greatness.
The politics of issues will in addition, seek to enlighten Nigerians about their rights and their expectations of the rule of law. It also seeks to encourage the communities to find a bottom-up approach of making the conversation about the eradication of corruption in public and private offices a national taboo and articulate active steps to militate against it.
As we approach another election cycle and these vices that have limited the development of Nigeria for over five decades begin to rear its head again around street corners, in the dailies, in the local markets, offices, churches/mosques, vendor stands, barber shops, beauty parlours and all those other places where national issues are dissected across the country, it’s time we stopped this menace and offer the public something better to discuss. We need to equip the common man with more than a “siddon-look” approach to his murmurings and complaints. There is a need to put a plan in place to demand principles and ideas that will ensure a future for us and our children from our political office holders. The soul of the nation is at stake and we cannot sit by the sidelines. We must engage in the political discourse about our future and demand that our politicians develop clear strategies and consistently implement them in order to ensure growth in the critical areas of our social life – Education, Health care, Judiciary, Security, Infrastructural development and the creation of opportunities for social mobility and so on.
This is the moment when we finally beat back the policies of fear and doubts, the policies that encourage us to tear down other ethnic groups instead of upholding the unity of this country. We can be the generation that will choose hope over fear and unity over division. By choosing to discuss issues rather than the sentiments that divide us, we will send a powerful message to the politicians who think their money and their influence speak louder than our voices. This message will be clear; they don’t own this nation — we do and we are here to take it back.
We will become a better nation if we focus more on the challenges we face and offer practical solutions on how we intend to tackle them than on the trivial issues that divide us.
The politics of issues is an initiative of Nigeria Dialogue, a hub for progressive young Nigerian intellectuals who intend to challenge systemic and institutional realities in Nigeria. The concept is about building up, positioning us as a nation that builds lasting legacies irrespective of differences or credit. The politics of issues ensures that electoral positions are filled based on meritocracy and not affiliations or the urge to return a favour or in response to god-fathers. It is politics that ensures that candidates are assessed and elected based on track record, principles, values and achievable visions of the nearest future.
Imbibing the principles of politics of issues helps us address and guard against our ailing democratic experiences as it helps us grow a vibrant and sustainable future and ensures that promises are delivered. These are the kind of ideas that should dominate our thoughts as we count down to the next general elections. Welcome to tomorrow.
• Eniola is a strategy consultant, Nigerian policy advocate and the initiator of Nigeria Dialogue, wrote from London.
“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.”