Various schools of thoughts indicated that cultural transformation among people in most societies has been more aggressive, and more apparent than the dynamic events in the political arena. It is to be noted that, the philosophy and agendas of politicians, and their financiers have not changed, but politicians have evolved to be more powerful, greedier, more desperate, extremely illusive and insensitive to the plight of the people they govern.
In the ancient days, trade by barter was the first ever means of socio/economic interaction through which goods and services were exchanged. Not too long ago, the Nigeria socio/economic terrain began to change for more modern ideas. Foreign ideas crawled its way into our day to day lives; creating array of opportunities in all sectors, for all and sundry. On one part, there comes the emergence of a unique political class (military rulers and civilian politicians); as the reforms gingerly ushered in robust economy growth. The era of Kingsway, Bata and Leventis in retail sector in Nigeria cannot be forgotten.
Agricultural sector was accorded its share of prominence and attention by all the regional governments. Respectability, responsibility, accountability and discipline were integral part of our customer relation services at both private and public enterprises. There was confidence and trust in the profession of Police. Our electricity generating and distributing institution’s popularity was at all-time high. Travel visas were not needed to go to London, and the very few Nigerians in American universities enjoyed federal government scholarships. There exists the spirit of communal cohabitation, where neighbors were greeted as family members. Kids in the neighborhood come together at Christmas and Easter periods, throwing knock-outs till late in the night.
Growing up in the 70s and early 80s, I saw Nigerians opened their doors to strangers as brothers and sisters, and neighbors accorded warm greetings with open harms. Love and affection were deep in our culture, while stress and financial desperation were the list of our concerns. It was easy for individuals to approach private car owners and solicit for free rides on the federal highways without fear or distrust. Student’s curriculum included social interaction without prejudice. Vacation periods were like Christmas in schools. Student cried and hugged each other for the period they will be away from each other. For those that experienced broaden life, students of all grades accepted free travel rides right from their school gates to their respective destinations, and they were guaranteed safe trips. Most neighborhoods were safe for children and hardworking parents, as everybody watched out for the community’s interest. People with nefarious activities were treated with disdain, and often cascaded into the dungeon of disgrace.
The strained political structure of this country began its downward spiral in the first republic, when the politicians began a pile of toxic waste in form of thuggery and hooliganism in the ship wrecks, tattered over the countries delicate fragile fraternal geopolitical structure. The new breed of rogue politicians exploited the goodness and kindness of Nigerians, and ran the country like ‘moolue bus’. They consolidated their grip on the power and resources of the country, and introduced a scare tactics to force a compromise on our integrity. They ensured divisions in our calm communities, crushed our humanity and forced the progressives to take refuge outside the country. They succeeded in weakening our rich cultures, and introduced assassins and bribery as alternatives. The good citizens were clogged with stiffen conditions, left with the option to either join them or continue to wallop in poverty.
The disconnect between the political class and the populace began to show its real ugly face after the 1983 elections, where elections were openly rigged and people of no substance closed in as political appointees. The god-fathers turned their residencies to mecca, where indecency became the norm. Actions classified as abomination in our old culture were now glamourized and embraced by the handicapped progressives. Survival of the fittest became the order of the day; putting a different face to our respected culture. The hard working mentality began to give in, and everybody yearned for attention seeking politicians, in the sake of having a piece of the national cake. The institution of love and passion that have worked so well among friends and families for years are now gone.
The 33 years of military rule, excluding the short lived 2nd republic had emboldened the politicians and their god-fathers, and weakened the progressives and the populace. The second spell of democracy in Nigeria had the progressives and masses unprepared for the brutal force of the day-light-robbery and social rape the politicians are now bludgeoning on Nigerians. The people keep their faith in religion; fasting and praying, and hoping a messiah will be born.
Time has come for people to wake up and be realistic of today’s challenges. Nigeria politicians are some sets of opportunistic people, who lack grace, elegance and class. They are little people with no conscience and leadership qualities. Whether Nigerians like it or not; a day of reckoning is not far away. The oil money currently feeling the little gaps is under treat from innovations and ideas. Many European countries are working really hard on finding biofuel products in order to reduce their oil consumption. Brazil and a host of other countries have successfully build cars that can survive on sugar cane and corn products. Tesla – an electric car company in America is revolutionizing the car industry – expect Honda, Toyota and a host of other car manufacturers to follow suit.
The question calls for the reason why Nigerians continue for follow the visionless and clueless political class. It is easy for a politician to secure a front row seat in Nigerian churches, and receive special recognition than for a God-fearing visionary to find a place in the House of Representatives.
Political class and their agendas will never change. The challenge is whether the progressives have the will and courage to come out of their caves and balance the equation. Nigerians are resiliently smart, and very resourceful. They have excelled under various contingency conditions, inside and outside the country.
The people have a role to play, come together and revolutionize the landscape, focusing on constructive changes and staying away from disruptive agendas. We have the ability to drive aggressive reforms without being violent. We can be political activists and not political militants. We can agree and disagree for a just course. We have the option to speak in one progressive voice, dismantle the tall walls we have around us that have impeded progress for long, and tune down our selfish rhetoric. There are values in our traditions, and we can revert back to the rich culture we had in the 1970s. Getting to this dream land should not require the expertise of a rocket scientist; we just need to appoint and anoint visionary people, full of energy and willing to serve the country and not special interests.
‘E go better’ is not a progressive slogan. Like-minded people have had to come together in good faith to move mountains. Nigerians spent their precious time procrastinating on impossibilities, and ignore the idea of finding solutions. I have heard people chanting the missing pieces; lack of leaders, curse on Nigeria, lack of institutions, demons and so on, but no one has for once identified the Power of the People. The people should be giving and taking away mandates.
A couple of years ago, people of Lancashire, and a small city in the North West of England approached politicians and private investors for assistance on fiber broadband services. After so many failed efforts, a group of people decided to DIY (Do It Yourself), knowing that sitting around moaning and gnashing their teeth are not viable options. Every member of the community chipped in financially and through manual efforts. Today, their achievement is a model for other neighboring communities around Lancashire. Also, the people of Wallingford, a town in New Heaven County, Connecticut, with a population of fewer than 50,000 decided to put their fate in their hands when they chose to provide their citizens services like electricity and water, winning a popular fight against a political lobby group who have supported the interest of the big corporation. Now there are more than 20 cities in the state of Connecticut that have followed suit.
As long as oil money is out there, the politicians will continue to strength their base. The time has come for the emancipation of grass root politics. There is no way around it. It takes one community to set the pace, and changes will begin in earnest. The model is simple, but the commitment must be steadfast. We have to bring back the culture of love, trust and selfless agendas. We should be active in local politics through our respective demographics; landlord associations, religious associations, workers associations, community associations, student associations, online informative groups, professional associations and so on. These efforts become our major cushion to begin to influence the local politics – familiarizing ourselves with the office of the local government, establishing channels of communication with traditional rulers (where applicable), engage state representatives and local politicians, and ensure they have the awareness of association’s existence.
Great things happen, and are sustained not by accident but through a thoughtful and well planned strategy. Some leaders are made and some are born. We owe ourselves, our children and children unborn the fight for a life of equal opportunity for all. Enough of all the insinuations and doubts, and let the change begin. It takes a man and a woman to have a baby, but it takes a whole community to raise the baby.
Akintokunbo A Adejumo (Nigeria)
By Femi Fabiyi & Akintokunbo A. Adejumo | Ibadan, Nigeria | Jan. 23, 2014 – Democracy promotes the same sets of value no matter where it is practiced. Simple definition implies that government is made up of people, and should serve the people. In order to enjoy the fruits (or as we call it in Nigeria, the dividends) of democracy, all its various components i.e. people and its legal frame work of operation (constitution) will have to work hand in hand. We also want to emphasize that greed, fraud and corruption, and democracy are members of the same family.
One critical factor that undermines democracy is lack of knowledge and accountability on the part of the people. Look at it from this angle; your close associate of more than 20 years is fortunate to secure a political position, and on resumption at his duty post, he was privileged to oversee projects on designated assignments, in hundreds of millions in naira value. This new position cum money becomes power, which attracts unscrupulous gangs, sometimes referred to as lobbyists. They often approach him with the intent to conjure him into a spending scheme that benefits them both. Challenging as that may be, you and I are probably the last man on the politician’s radar. If he does remember us, all we are going to get is the crumbs.
Now let us approach the same scenario from another perspective, you and the same associate live in an organized community where you are both committed to its development process. All residents ensure the roads in and out of your community are maintained, everyone contributes to cleaning, laws and orders (per the community standard) are maintained, residents invest heavily in security to protect lives and property, private schools meet certain standards before they are allowed to operate, and a host of other social activities are promoted (not anything fancy). Are you telling me, your associate, as a politician (for those following US politics, House Speaker recently lashed out at some of their conservative financial backers because the shutdown strategy they employed towards the end of 2013 against Obama care, did not sit well with the general public, and both democrats and republicans quickly joined hands and agreed to a long term budget deal for 2014/2015 periods) will forget about the trade mark of that community when he/she has the opportunity to influence the life of the people living in his/her constituency?
Because the community has a pre-existing foundation for reforms, the residents, I am sure will task him with a laundry list of projects as he departs to take up his new assignment. Even if he has a stone-heart, he will cherish to see his name written in gold plate as a sign of his accomplishment for that community. Don’t forget, he also recognizes the consequence of doing nothing (No chance for 2nd term). The caveat here is that, the community speaks in one progressive voice (has nothing to do with wealth) and will not mind to chastise their own when he/she is wrong. When people know there are consequences for their actions, they tend to behave rationally.
Nigeria politicians are on top of their greedy and selfish games because the populace choose the role of “sit-down-dey-look”, and become errand boys to the political class. Instead of Nigerians priding themselves with the courage to partake in the rebuilding process through constituency politics, we are conferring martyrdom to the lowly, heartless money bags. From time immemorial, Republican, Democrat and Independent parties are not just political jargons; they are real identity of constituency politics in the USA. Similarly, British people define their social and economic beliefs through their political affiliations. There are the Liberals, the socially democratic people (Labour) and those that indulge in the philosophy of conservatism (Conservative).
So much drama is unfolding in Nigerian political arena today, and the big players seem to care less about the people or the identity of the people they are governing. Otherwise, how best can anyone define the power play or the movement of a political class from PDP to APC? There is no ideological agenda behind this façade. The PDP and the federal government have failed us, and the gang of APC is going to fail us. We need to demonstrate our determination to want to participate in the running of the government, at least at the local level by clearly defining our political identities through our respective demographics; religious affiliation, community members association, members of parents/teachers association, social networking groups, professional groups, old students associations, university alumni, and so on. This is one critical step towards the institutionalization of constituency politics. A demographic-based constituency may not have the same power as the big power brokers, but they will have immense influence to some extent, in the appointments of their representatives at the local and state levels, and that is the starting point for the constructive changes we are all yearning for.
In many of my political discuss, I often balance the blame of the state of Nigeria on both the politicians and the populace. And, I often use state governments that have publicly demonstrated good intentions as my baseline metric. Kwara and Oyo State governments are recognized for their efforts on infrastructure developments; and Lagos, Enugu and Delta states have taken decisive stands in fighting insecurity. These are initiatives that may have come with zero contribution from constituency politics. Now, imagine what the results will look like with extra pressure from cabinet members that represent your demographics. Whatever improvement these state governments need to make, we owe them our undiluted support through our representatives to achieve these goals. The onus is on us to have our representatives in the cabinets of these state governments in fighting vices like corruption.
Nigerians need to start a nation rebuilding at community level. It should be a flow process (community-local-state-federal) where all levels of government are carefully made to account for their responsibilities. It is difficult to completely demonize the politicians, if we, the people do not recognize the role we need to play in the governance process. Our roles are very critical, where people’s core identities are defined in their representatives, through a well-structured political agenda, that carefully articulate the need of the people. Recently a Chinese politician recommended solutions to addressing the 4 evils bedeviling Nigeria, and he made example of how China overcame the same predicament. According to him, “China was able to evolve a strong system of governance with the aid of the CPC which he stressed has been promoting discipline among members, while deriving its strength from the grassroots. Ping said China never joked with the idea of constant reforms, noting that Nigeria too can imbibe the tradition of fashioning out home grown reforms to change its governing system through democracy.” (Mr Ai Ping, the Vice Minister, International Department of CPC Central Committee, disclosed this to the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, during the latter’s visit to the Foreign Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing, China).
I wonder when we as a people will begin to reflect on how we have individually contributed to this mess the country is in. Some of the professional unions in Nigeria have turn activism into militancy. Fight for a just cause has become destructive efforts: We all witness what ASUU did to the universities. Ministry of Health is so rotten that strikes are called with no human face. NNPC workers have lost all required professional ethics, that they are unable to balance their books. The airport services lack decent decorum, and passengers are treated with so much levity. Experience at the port authority will stiffen life out of you, and you will hate to ever do business in that country again. Bank workers will compromise your identity for their selfish gains. Family and friends will make fun of you in the face of life challenges. We have grown to be extremely insensitive and inhuman to our brothers and sisters. We need to assume some sense of responsibilities and fairness in promoting a progressive, prosperous and ethical society, and we mean at community level where we honour commitments, show respect and discipline, express trust and share real love, and stop the hypocrisies and corruption that have eaten deep into the fabric of our society.
Community development, education and enlightenment are very critical in fighting corruption in Nigeria. At this point, can any of us go to our neighbourhood and engage other residents with initiatives that will benefit our communities? Of course not, because the effort will probably yield little or no response. If we are unable to define and outline our priorities at the lowest level of human politics, what do you expect of the local government chairman, not to talk of a senator or Governor? It’s time to start thinking outside the box and begin to look inward. We have to show that human face, and think more about giving than what you can receive. We should task our different professional and social affiliations to helping one another. We should be involved in volunteer programs, share knowledge, give gifts of life (I met a lady who helped a family friend carry pregnancy. Another lady gave her sister egg for embryo fertilization), organize and show up at community meetings, discuss political and social issues at community meetings, persuade your professional and social affiliations to donate blood, and be sensitive to others pains and challenges.
Here is a take away; we love the standard of living in the western world, right? There should be recognition of the prices people pay for the good neighbourhood roads, constant and regular electricity supply, competent policing, regular water supply, access to public library, easy access to local and community schools, access to medical services and the provision of other social services.
These amenities are made available as a result of individual and communal based sacrifices; in terms of taxes, volunteer programs and respect for human lives, dignifying lifestyle among the people, self-discipline, trust, and high sense of community ownership. Nigerians need to ensure that politicians “Senators and other representatives” are given mandates to go to the higher political body and lobby for the growth and development of their communities (and not wait for the Greek gifts we are used to receiving from them) to complement the formation of a communal goal, focusing at decent and affordable lifestyle. Let us put our guts to task, and do a little soul-searching.
Let us attempt at reaching out to local residents in our respective areas, and ask them to contribute to the construction of community gutter, help in clearing waste, volunteer to repair and maintain secondary roads, commit financial investment to secure life and property, and let me know how many will respond positively. In the same token, tell them you want to “yi eyin oku pada” (do a party to celebrate the anniversary of a relative who died 10 years ago), and everybody will have the time and money to buy “aso ebi”. That mentality has to change. We need to value life more and set our priorities in the right direction. In retrospect, we will have the courage and confidence to use politics as means to serve the people and not the other way round. People should amass enough power through the electoral process (votes) to determine when to give or take away mandates.
In December 2012, after the killings at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, Obama decided to introduce gun control legislation in the USA. Even though the bill was very popular in North East (NY, NJ, Mass, CT etc.), the Mid-West felt that the bill is a dent on their identity, and one state, Colorado fought back by immediately recalling two of their state senators (that is what is referred to as politics of constituency).
In most democratic formation, the primary tasks of representatives are to initiate bills that become law of the land. Apparently, bills in form of farm bill, immigration bill, education bill, gun control, workers compensation, regulation and deregulation of business sectors, and other social and economic related bills on Capitol Hill are based on pressures from either the big corporation (power brokers) or are driven by some specific constituency interest.
The authors of this article are in no way suggesting that Nigeria politics should simulate what is practiced in USA, UK or China. The narrative is about the structure of political institution in general, and how democracy can benefit Nigerians today and tomorrow. Politics under any type of structure is driven by two main caucuses; the politics of power brokers and the politics of constituencies. For a very long time, Nigerian politics has been dominated by the power brokers, while the constituency politics has been sitting in the burner. It is time we all wake up from our slumber and assume the responsibilities of taking part in Nigerian politics through our constituencies, so that our children will have the opportunity we never had. It is not too late to reform the landscape, and level the playing field for equal opportunities to all. We need to understand that, if we choose not to use our constituency votes to influence the local politics, the power brokers will fill in the blanks and the story will never change.]]>