The country that refuses to grow up
Is it a storm? Is it a gale? Is it a tsunami?
It is defection, the latest virus in the sclerotic arteries of our national politics. This poison is the only lucrative political business in town today. People are defecting from APC to PDP and from PDP to APC. It beats common sense but then you would do well to remember that common sense is not exactly a marketable product in the realm of politics, here and indeed, else where.
Some of us are scratching our heads, wondering about this latest, and not to put a fine spin on it, ugly development in our national politics. The politicians do not believe that they owe us an explanation for what they are doing. But we cannot pretend not to know what is pushing them out of one party into another. It is meet and proper that in search of the why question, we raise questions that seem to beg reason. One of which is, in whose interest?
On the face of it, the answer is right there staring at you. In their own interests, of course. It is all about personal interests, the defining philosophy of all politics in all countries and climes. Politics is about power. Power is always a personal possession to be used rightly or wrongly. It is always exercised entirely in the service of personal interests. Why do you think our presidents and governors go to such great lengths to commission water or road or school projects paid for from our common purse in elaborate public ceremonies? The plaques tell you where their idea of where public interest meets their personal history.
Let us not joke about this. We are in trouble. The defections confront us with some fundamental and complex problems in the lingering complicated problems of our national politics and development. It is tempting to suggest that this being a game by the politicians, the rest of us can enjoy it, amused by their sickening antics. It would be a mistake, the same mistake that makes us put charlatans with no discernible mental, moral or intellectual preparedness, in power; the same mistake that gives our politicians the right to act in defiance of our laws and the constitution. Someone said that politics is too serious a business to be left entirely to the politicians. I believe that. If the rest of us, for whatever reasons, are indifferent to the defections, we would empower the politicians to do worse by continuing to toy with our present, our future and the future of our country. If you realise that that future would be the world of our children and grand children, then it should jolt you out your apparent complacency to take greater interest in the drummers and the dancers of the absurd.
This latest poison in the politics of self sans national interests, cannot but leave fissures, wounds and pains and deepen our fault lines in its wake. One good reason why we must show some concern about the defections. I know that given their history of compromises, the politicians might muddle through and kindly make us sigh in relief. But wounds take time to heal. Fissures are bad in a country such as ours with exploitable fault lines.
It may be argued, and it is hereby argued, that in truth what is happening cannot be called defections, whatever liberties we might take with the English language. The defectors from APC to PDP were defectors from PDP four years ago. The defectors from PDP into APC were closet APC, watching how the wind of political opportunities would blow in an APC second term in office. In either case, it is the return of either the prodigal sons or the exploitation of opportunities by opportunists made possible by those who have left one party for another.
It is convenient to blame the politicians. After all, they are the actors, major and minor, in this our latest political drama of the absurd. I have sought an answer to one troubling question: why is our national politics in ferment? It led me to other equally troubling questions: Are our politicians greedier for power than politicians else where on the African continent? Why are we unable to build strong political parties peopled by politicians motivated by some service to themselves and greater service to the country?
As I turned these questions over and over in my head, I came to this non-scientific explanation for what is happening to our country and us: Nigeria is the country that refuses to grow up. As everyone knows, it is a country with great potentials over laid with cruel ironies: a sprawling and extensive arable land that invites agriculture and food production without too much sweat; yet it imports almost all its food needs; a land filled with liquid and solid mineral resources but lives with the discomfort of the resource curse; a land of immense and enviable human resources with its 198 million people; yet it holds the candle to smaller and less human and natural resource endowed African countries.
Because our country refuses to grow up.
Sometimes I wonder if the other African countries are laughing at us. The late President Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, visited Nigeria sometime in the Second Republic. In a conversation with President Shehu Shagari, the Libyan strong man told our president that some African counties were big for nothing. Our politicians should give a thought to that. Are they striving to build a country that is big for something or must Nigeria continue to sway in the wind, groping for that magic formula that would propel it to where it should be?
In an incisive lecture he delivered at the colloquium marking Ray Ekpu’s 70th birthday this week, Chidi Amuta, author and an engaging newspaper columnist, tackled the difficult question we have all been wrestling with all these years – in good and bad times, under agbada and khaki rule: the leadership question, a complex and even complicated question at the best of times.
What is of interest to me here is that in his informed and indisputable view, Nigeria is not one of the success stories in Africa today. It has yielded place to two small African countries, Rwanda and Botswana. Each has become a shining example of what a focused and determined leader can do for his country. The stories of both countries are impressive by all human standards. Rwanda rose steadily from the ashes of its horrendous genocide trauma and forged ahead, lifting one million of its own people out of poverty in only one decade.
Botswana, a small landlocked country, has shown that the resource curse is neither inevitable nor incurable. It is the leader, not the resource. That country is the most stable democracy on the continent today. Its successive leaders, such as Festus Mogaye, have proved time and again that honesty and decency remain the propelling forces in good governance. The Botswana currency is the strongest on the continent. And what is more, its corruption index is the lowest in Africa. Yet, they do not have EFCC.
There you have it. My thesis bears repeating. Nigeria refuses to grow up. While our politicians, consumed entirely by the greed for power and playing gods, occupy themselves with grabbing power, other African politicians pre-occupy themselves with how best to lift their people from the brutish state of nature in the 21st century. While our politicians make it impossible for us to have stable political parties able, my favourite phrase, to drive our national development, other African politicians recognise and duly respect the political party as something more critical to human development than the tool for capturing and retaining power. Defections cannot but frustrate what little gains we have made in our quest for democracy and good governance. Let me put it prophetically: a country that refuses to grow up must pay the price for being Peter Pan.
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