Despite the gloom that has virtually settled on our country – heightened insecurity, recession, hunger, poverty and the stifling of the right of our youths to give voice to our frustrations – it should still be possible for us to appreciate the political wisdom of our politicians dispensed now and then. And laugh. Or smirk. When a politician endorses what we know to be true, he turns it into political pragmatism.
Here is one good instance. A couple of weeks ago, the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, offered this gem to all politicians dancing on the periphery as members of some mushroom parties: move to the centre of our national politics, for which, read APC, if you do not wish to starve. I was, you guessed it, intrigued by the sanity and the pragmatism of the advice because it is, actually, an old political more resurrected for the benefit of this ignorant generation of politicians.
It seems to me that David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, appeared to have heeded his advice; or he too saw the light and found the way. He promptly dumped his party, PDP, and sauntered to the centre with the members of the state legislature. There was a lot of rejoicing in APC and a loud gnashing of teeth in PDP. PDP lost; APC gained. It is the settled way of Nigerian politicians. In case you have not noticed, only our politicians exercise the full constitutional rights of free movement and free association.
You do not need a prophet to re-assure you that Umahi will never starve again although I did not think he ever faced the dark prospects of biting hunger as a prelude to starvation. His state is home to Abakaliki yams and rice. He and his family feed at the expense of the state. It is true that everyone in the state eats three meals – square or oblong – a day. Do not take my word for it.
I can understand Umahi’s pragmatic wisdom worthy of emulation by all politicians who find themselves to be big fishes in small ponds. There is not always enough water for the big fishes in such ponds. A big fish in a big pond is more like it. We are talking of the man’s political future here. He has looked into that future and seen that given the fluidity of our national politics, no Nigerian politician has a secure future. The train has a bad habit of leaving some former passengers stranded by the road side and thus forgotten. In any case, having attained the highest political office in his state, it is wise and proper for him to seek new political challenges at the centre where, to put a fine point to it, it all happens. Now at the centre, he wears a new toga as an important figure in our national politics. The senate of the Federal Republic has become the progressive step up the political ladder for all former state governors. There they gather and there they oil their continued political relevance and put integrity to shame.
In any case, something really irked Umahi that, in addition to not wishing to starve, made him make his move to the centre. PDP wanted him to be insulting President Buhari. He was not, you can be sure, brought up to insult his leaders; at least not the president of a country of 200 million people with the largest economy in Africa. He also told his Arise Tv interviewer that “…some of the (PDP governors) speak rubbish in the day and in the night they’re caps in hand and they start going up and down. I don’t like that.” Sure, no man who can boast of the president being “my boss, father and boss” would associate himself with such bad behaviour.
We are witnessing a sickening replay of our national politics; the politics once rightly described by former President Goodluck Jonathan as “stomach infrastructure.” The stomach matters; political ideology be damned. This, as you know, has a long, if disgusting history dating back to our independence some 60 good years ago. Constant political alignments and re-alignments ensure that our political parties are merely temporary gathering of those who wish to be anointed the movers and shakers of our great nation at election times only. Old codgers like yours sincerely would remember the shenanigans and the political re-engineering that made the NPC truck first with NCNC and later with Akintola’s breakaway faction of AG; AG then found accommodation with NCNC.
In the second republic, the national chairman of the ruling NPN, Chief Adisa Akinloye, mocked members of the progressive parties and told them, in case they had not noticed, that they did not need to look closely before seeing that all NPN members spotted coveted rosy cheeks; and the members of the progressive parties had hollow checks – evidence of poor feeding, obviously. The members of the ruling party were living the good life, washing down their pounded yam and eba with egusi soup with choice wines and custom made champagnes.
His taunt worked. Soon, the ranks of the progressive parties were decimated as their leaders and members joined the good times rolling along. By the time of the 1983 general elections, the first after the khaki politicians left the stage for the agbada and baban riga politicians, all the other five political parties, each of which controlled at least two states from October 1, 1979, had been badly wounded. Their ranks had been severely depleted by those of their members who could not resist the temptation to join the good life and the champagne parties. NPN virtually swallowed the progressive parties, all of which lost the states the controlled from the inception of that republic. The centre had held the sway. It still does.
In 1999, we had five registered political parties. PDP was the dominant party and it ruled the roost at the centre where our national politics matters most. It soon swallowed up the other parties and by the time we went to the 2003 general elections, only AD and NPP controlled drastically reduced number of states. But in 2015, the new political kid on the block, APC, became the new attraction. Without shame, the leading lights in the PDP that had ruled the country for some 16 years, abandoned it for APC. The fortunes of the once biggest in Africa instantly dipped and it lost the presidential election and a substantial number of the states. The big umbrella under which millions gathered to be anointed as leading or bit part political players or to escape the long arms of EFCC, offered no attraction to anyone any more. The party was on its own.
In 2019, the party began the essential process of recovery. But now, it faces an existential threat if the news that more and more of its governors and members would dump it for APC is to be believed. I have gone down my cluttered memory lane to make two points about the pragmatic wisdom of our politicians. One, stomach infrastructure as a guiding political ideology is detriment to the political health of our nation. No one would be naïve enough to discount the damage it has done to our political stability all these years.
Politics is not just a game of chance or opportunities; it is the time-honoured means made for public service. As long as our politics is defined by the need of the individual to escape starvation, so long will our political parties do less than commit to public service and the development of the nation. We do not know what our political parties stand for. Take that back. We know, of course, that they stand for something – stomach infrastructure.
Two, it should be possible for us to grow two major political parties able to compete for our support at the polls. That would be good for our political health because we need two strong parties, not one strong party, so we can have the choice promised by political pluralism. I think it would be naïve to expect the parties to have ideologies. Since the virtual collapse of communism, ideologies matter less than grabbing power. The world has moved beyond the one-party system. It would do our country, its politics and politicians no good to give some life to the dodo.
The framers of the 1979 constitution partially tried to chain the to-ing and fro-ing among the politicians by providing that legislators who defected to other parties must forfeit their elective offices. The politicians ensured that this was obeyed entirely in the breach. Stomach infrastructure rules. Nigeria loses the fundamentals of party politics and the role political parties play in changing and developing nations.
Having said all that, let me say this: let no politician allow himself to starve. They must all move to the centre where the food is abundant and no one goes hungry. The rosy cheeks trump hollow cheeks any day. A nation that feeds its political leaders is a caring nation, a nation worth dying for by those who feed well at its expense.