Onomuakpokpo: Babangida Aliyu and morals of politicians
WHEN in 1863 the first Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, told his country’s parliament that practical politics and theoretical politics are antithetical, he only expressed the contempt politicians have for their fellow citizens who are not engaged in politics as a career. Although politicians strive to conceal it because of its potential for outrage that might lead to loss of votes, it is a fact not hidden to the discerning that politicians like Bismarck consider other people as political dilettantes who are not endowed with the uncanny ability of identifying what is good for themselves and their nations. For them, those who are not politicians lack a firm grasp of the nuances of politics and they should therefore leave this realm for the politicians while minding their businesses as engineers, doctors or teachers.
Thus when politicians mount the rostrum to regale us with promises of how they would improve our lot through good policies and programmes, they know that they are only presenting to us a smokescreen. Behind this, is the quest to once again use us to attain their personal goals that are considerably in conflict with what would contribute to our wellbeing. Politicians are not oblivious to the truth that they are actuated by self-ambitions which negate the people’s and national goals. They know that they are not in government to serve anybody but themselves. Or, why do you think they deploy huge resources and kill, to get to office? Whenever they perceive that we think that they do all this in order to serve us, they are amused at our credulity – to believe that there is such a virtue as altruism in politics.
As hard as politicians try to conceal their real intentions, there are rare moments in which we are let into the inner recesses of their minds and are made to understand their real motivations. We encounter such a rare moment in the autobiography of former British Prime Minister John Major when he states clearly that “political life is stimulated by ambition.” In this part of the world, this ambition takes various forms. It could be to amass wealth. It could even be to settle personal scores.
It is not surprising therefore that the promises and activities of politicians have often elicited cynicism from some people. For instance, British writer Somerset Maughan who mocked the foibles of the politicians in the early twentieth century in his The Summing Up was puzzled by their lack of subtlety of intellect and liveliness of imagination needed to lead a nation
On Monday last week, Nigerians were given an opportunity to have an insight into the minds of their politicians. What provided this opportunity was the inauguration of the Niger State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial campaign committee. While inaugurating the committee, the state governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, declared that there is no morality in politics. In Aliyu’s reckoning, politics so reeks of corruption that nobody who is interested in morality should go near it. In fact, Aliyu expressly warned religious men who set store by morality to avoid politics. Unabashedly, he warned them: “ If you are talking of honesty or morals, go and become an imam or a pastor.” According to him, values and morals have plummeted and society has become so ungrateful to the politicians for their services. In this regard, Aliyu has a blueprint by which politicians should operate. They should operate by what he identified as “ the modern morality.” Aliyu was only saying that since society has lost its moral moorings, politicians are equally oblige to use the same template of low morality to win elections. In other words, to Aliyu, if winning elections would involve perverting the electoral process, or breaching the peace, they should go ahead. Yet, it is the same politicians who have won elections through these warped means who would swear and defend their elections as having been creditably won. It is the same politicians who would insist that they are not corrupt when it is clear that they have looted the commonwealth. Or, since there is no morality in politics what else would restrain public office holders from stealing?
But in his professing this brand of politics, the notion of transformational leadership was clearly lost on Aliyu. He forgot that because there are low values, morals, and indeed problems, that is why we choose men and women who would solve them. Sadly, Aliyu was not cognisant of the fact that as a leader, he should chart a fresh moral path for his society if the existing one is repellent and take the people to a higher level of existence. Rather than this, Aliyu wants to compound our moral crisis. His concept of politics would leave us worse than he met us. Yet, these are the leaders we expect to make genuine efforts to improve our lot. Is it still surprising that the nation is beset by all manner of problems that have not been solved over the years?
Aliyu and other politicians who share his perspective need to be told that politics has gone beyond the level he wants to keep us. Politics has moved from the antediluvian crass acquisitiveness of retrogressive politicians to a realm where much premium is placed on transformational leadership. Leaders are now expected to fix our multi-faceted challenges. There is an urgent need for our leaders to solve the problems of insecurity, failing educational sector, poor electricity and infrastructure that are stalking our existence. And of course, we do not expect people without a strong moral consciousness to be in this category of problem-solvers.
History is not bereft of transformational leaders. There have been people like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who have not seen themselves as grabbing power only for selfish purposes but as a means of transforming their nations and improving the lot of the people. As the nation is on the cusp of fresh elections, it is such people who should be held high as shining examples of politicians and leaders and not the likes of politicians whose era of duplicitous politics is fast ending.
• Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian