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Election as war

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[FILE PHOTO] INEC chairman Prof Mahmoud Yakubu


How else can we characterise electioneering in our country if it is not war with arsenal trained unsparingly at the opponents? No longer are we thrilled with banters and humour. There are no laughters. The humour of old which would have you filled up and upifted you would want to hit the high heavens is not anywhere served. The gladiators and their promoters and their crowd are all stone-faced. They reel off hard words. It is all about stone-throwing and blame game. There are no short stories; there are no proverbs. When you yearn for these, you ask yourself: Where is Abraham Adesanya? Where is Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (alias MKO) of the bird and stone fame? Where is Solomon Lar or Aiyekoto Bisi Onabanjo?

I wrote not too long ago about my encounter with the politicians of old. The occasion was not a campaign rally, but a gathering of remarkable politicians who gathered for the launch of Biola Babatope’s book, Detainee’s Wife. Onabanjo pinched by Chief Bola Ige said he already had a copy of the book free, but would buy another copy for his “wife who is not a detainee’s wife but a prisoner’s wife!” Solomon Lar spoke of the day condemned men seized control at Kirikiri Maximum Prison. They locked up everywhere and directed affairs. He went on to say at Kirikiri there was Ministry of Finance, and there was Ministry of Mines and Power. The Ministry of Finance was where businessmen were detained and the Ministry of Mines and Power was where politicians were detained. Cornelius Adebayo: “I have not come to make a speech, I am more of a senator than a governor.” LKJ (Jakande) accused Bola Ige of assuming the powers of the Chief of General Staff by breaching his fundamental human rights. It was when Bola Ige invited him to step forward to launch the book. The Chief of General Staff, General Tunde Idiagbon was the one who signed their detention papers.

The kind of philosophical underpinnings I expect from the speeches of our political leaders are akin to great speeches Mikhail Gorbachev made and was published in The European issue of 10 June, 1993, and the Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address on 27 January 1994. They spoke about the decline of human values.

First, Gorbachev: “The second half of the 20th century has brought about an unprecedented enhancement of human needs—which are being met on an unprecedented scale.“The development of production techniques has made material benefits and services, that used to be available only to privileged groups, accessible to broad masses of the people.

“That, however, is only a part of the overall picture. Even today, a large part, and perhaps most, of the inhabitants of our planet have no access to these benefits. Millions of people are still under-nourished, lack housing or succumb to diseases.“There are regions where people literally live on rubbish dumps, constantly searching for something eatable and items that can still be used. What constitutes ‘rubbish’ for those living in the industrialized countries is the means of survival of others.

“We are standing at the threshold of irreversible climate change. The situation is being aggravated by massive deforestation; deserts expand and much land is drying out; the rivers, seas and oceans are being polluted. The protective ozone layer is thinner than ever before. Only a half of urban population breathe clean air, and only a half of those living in rural areas have access to safe water.

“An on-going re-evaluation of values is basic to the evolution of civilization. In its early history, mankind treated nature with reverence. People were afraid of nature, regarding it as something superior and unfathomable: they worshipped nature as a kind of deity. Harming nature was a deadly sin.

“Later, as man accumulated knowledge and practical skills, he began to see himself as superior to nature, setting himself the goal of conquering it and subordinating it to his own interests. Soon it became apparent that the arrogance of technical knowledge scars nature with wounds that will not heal. Forgetting that man is just a part of nature and that mankind’s destiny is inextricably linked with the living habitat has caused an avalanche of disasters. To borrow the phrase of the great Spinoza, we should base our activities on ‘the law of nature.’ People must learn to feel that they are all a single crew of spaceship Earth. The symbol may seem trite but I feel that our thinking has not yet adjusted to this idea. ‘Watch nature and follow the road it points to’, said Jean Jacques Rousseau. That is the principle that we intend to follow, mindful of the fact that we are an integral part of nature; that we have a common destiny and that our future is inextricably linked with the future of the living habitat that surrounds us.”

And Bill Clinton: “The American people have got to want to change from within if we’re going to bring back work and family and community. We cannot renew our country when, within a decade, more than half of the children will be born into families where there has been no marriage. We cannot renew this country when 13-year old boys get semi-automatic weapons to shoot nine-year-olds for kicks.

“We cannot renew our country until we realise that governments don’t raise children, parents do. Parents who know their children’s teachers and turn off the television and help with homework and teach their kids right from wrong—those kinds of parents can make all the difference. And I’m telling you we have got to stop pointing our fingers at these kids who have no future but reach out our hands to them. Our country needs it. They deserve it.

“And so, I say to you tonight, let’s give our children a future. Let us take away their guns and give them books. “When the earth shook and fires raged in California; when I saw the Mississippi deluge the farmlands of the Midwest in a 500-year flood; when the country’s bitterest cold swept from North Dakota to Newport News, it seemed as though the world itself was coming apart at the seams. But the American people, they just came together. They rose to the occasion, neighbour helping neighbour, strangers risking life and limb to save total strangers—showing the better angels of our nature.

“Let us not reserve the better angels only for natural disasters, leaving our deepest and most profound problems to petty political fighting. Let us instead be true to our spirit, facing facts, coming together, bringing hope, and moving forward.”These are the sort of profound thoughts and high-minded pronouncements our political leaders have not cultivated. Have they not heard about Martin Luther King Jnr.’s “I have a dream…”? I say this not because I am unmindful of the nature of hustings even in the developed world, that the language of campaign is different, that it permits of some molecule of madness. One cannot forget the indecorous language of Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton during their presidential debate. Yet their campaign speeches carry content.

Barak Obama narrated his experience in his book, The Audacity of Hope—Thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream. He said: “…there is the fact that the practice of modern politics itself seems to be value free. Politics (and political commentary) not only allows but often rewards behavior that we would normally think of as scandalous: fabricating stories, distorting the obvious meaning of what other people say, insulting or generally questioning their motives, poking through their personal affairs in search of damaging information.’

He goes on to say that a politician may as a matter of personal integrity insist on telling the truth but that whether he believes in his position matters less than he looks like he believes. “From what I’ve observed,” Obama says, “there are countless politicians who have crossed these hurdles and kept their integrity intact, men and women who raise campaign contributions without being corrupted, garner support without being held captive by special interests, and manage the media without losing their sense of self.”

In the end he found that the longer one is in politics the easier it is to muster courage and feel a sense of liberation from realising that no matter what you do someone would be angry at you and there would be political attacks, “judgment may be taken as cowardice and courage as calculation.” He says he finds comfort in the fact that “the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and I am answerable to mainly the steady gaze of my own conscience.”

What I am getting at is that in some other climes there is a relentless drive for enrapturing content on improved values and public good, an unremitted sense of service and love of man, and nature. These are what build a nation. Obama says in the book: “I value good manners, for example. Every time I meet a kid who speaks clearly and looks me in the eye, who says, ‘yes, sir’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and ‘excuse me,’ I feel more hopeful about the country…. The same goes for competence. Nothing brightens my day more than dealing with somebody, anybody, who takes pride in his work or goes the extra mile—an accountant, a plumber, a three-star general, the person on the other end of the phone who actually seems to want to solve a problem.”

It cannot be just war, war, war, mudslinging and combativeness. Our campaign rallies cannot monotonously be all about looters, and little about programmes. I mean robust pronouncements. In what way does the nation gain from lack of restraint on the soap box? A complex economic problem can be laced with humour and social message simplified with proverbs. As Senator Cornelius Adebayo wrote in the Foreword to A Compendium of Immortal Words of Pa Abraham Adesanya by Journalist/ Politician Sola Lawal: “…Proverb is the ultimate vehicle for perfect communication.” An English proverb reminds me, “Greatness maketh not goodness, but goodness all greatness.” And Abraham Adesanya would say: “Agba ti ko ke’hun soro, yio ke’tan sa’re.” An elder that would not clear his throat and speak out against evil must get his legs fit to flee when consequences of evil come engulfing. MKO: “A bird does not alert the other that a stone is coming. Eiye ko kin so fun eiye pe oko mbo!” It was with words of wisdom our erstwhile leaders– the Anthony Enahoro’s generation– dispersed their listeners from their rallies. With profound thoughts from the leaders, all must go away without the fear of limbs or jaws being broken.

It is amazing Buhari is not taking advantage of the formidable team of lawyers he has in his cabinet; he continues to blunder in areas of law. The Federal High Court in 2025 ruled out the involvement of soldiers in our elections. The court pronouncement was at the instance of APC at the time, against the stance of Jonathan. In the cabinet are Prof. Osinbajo, Malami, Tunde Fashola, Udoma Udo Udoma all SANs; Lai Mohammed and Rotimi Amaechi. The governor of Bauchi close by is also a SAN. PMB’s attention ought to have been drawn to this!!


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Mahmoud Yakubu
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