Reflections on Nigerian politicians (2)

on   /   in Sunday Perspectives 12:10 am   /   Comments

By Douglas Anele

Rivalry is another strong motive in politics. It involves competition between at least two individuals or groups. In moderation, rivalry is good because it tends to foster healthy competition. However, if it becomes pathological, as in when an individual considers winning elections at all cost an end in itself, then many negative things are bound to happen. For example, there is some reason to believe that unhealthy rivalry between Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo was exploited by the Northern Peoples Congress, led by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, to make political inroads in Western Nigeria, which eventually caused breakdown of law and order in the region in the early sixties.

Exaggerated competitiveness is also the root cause of current problems in the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yet, PDP is not alone: those celebrating the harvesting of expiring politicians from the party by All Progressive Congress (APC), seem to forget that petty rivalries among leaders of the defunct political parties that constitute APC, especially Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), made the latter impotent as opposition parties to PDP.

Moreover, even now, as the general elections next year approaches, bitter rivalries in APC will weaken the electability of its candidates considerably. Malignant rivalry in politics is dangerous: some politicians would do everything in their power to win pyrrhic victories over their political enemies rather than engage in the politics of give-and-take, which is important for sustaining democracy. That is why well-meaning politicians should avoid unnecessary competition for elective posts, and apply caution in their political activities.

One of the most potent psychological catalysts of corruption in Nigeria is vanity. Vanity is a feeling of pride about one’s appearance, abilities or possessions. Like all psychological determinants of behaviour, it exists in graduated series, from low self-esteem to extreme vaingloriousness. One of the main problems of vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on.

For example, in the case of politician who crave publicity, the more they is talked about, the more they will wish to be talked about. Such politicians enjoy media spotlight, and tend to exaggerate whatever cause, no matter how misguided it might be, for which they purport to be fighting. This weakness is very glaring in the House of Representatives particularly when there is allegation of corruption against members or other government functionaries necessitating a probe by the House, and in the current political shenanigans and playing to the gallery in Rivers State governed by Rotimi Amaechi.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the spectrum of human life, from childhood to old age. Vanity propels Nigerian politicians at different levels to steal as much public funds as possible to outdo one another in primitive accumulation. Hence, until politicians learn to put their vanity in check, corruption will continue expanding in a manner detrimental to the collective wellbeing of our people.

We now come to the motive which is stronger than all the ones we have discussed already – the love of power. There is a strong emotional nexus between vanity and love of power, but they are not identical. As Russell observes, vanity needs glory for its satisfaction. However, it is often easy to get glory without power. In Nigeria, millions of adoring fans glorify entertainers and popular sportsmen and sportswomen. But a constable can arrest any of them if he or she commits an offence.

Power, like vanity, is insatiable. The only way to satisfy it completely is by omnipotence, which is impossible. Furthermore, because energetic people are prone to love power, its causal efficacy exceeds the frequency of its manifestation. That is why it is one of the strongest motives in the lives of prominent politicians.

Experience has shown that love of power tends to increase with experience of power. If we ignore the case of military dictators in Nigeria who were motivated in the first instance by love for power, the phenomenon is chiefly responsible for the do-or-die attitude to politics adopted by most Nigerian politicians. Indeed, the major political disturbances that have occurred in the country since independence are traceable to megalomania.

To cite an obvious example, the political travails that ultimately led to the civil war in 1967 were due mainly to obsession with political power by key political actors of the time. As long as politics remains one of the quickest means to self-enrichment, unscrupulous and energetic politicians will relentlessly use immoral means to acquire power. Besides, the psychology of power is such that prominent politicians have a tendency to want to exercise power in a manner detrimental to the “common man”.

Oftentimes people with power over others like to show it by making the latter do what they would rather not do or stop them from doing what they would want to do. In that case, a politician actuated by love of power is more likely to inflict pain than to permit pleasure to ordinary people. In my opinion, Nigerian politicians seem to enjoy inflicting pain on compatriots because they love power and enjoy misusing it. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Nigerians collectively seem to lack the willpower and courage to stand up for their rights.

Clearly, the frequency with which the average Nigerian politician amasses wealth and periodically gives out handout to his or her constituents is shameful. It shows the level of disrespect for ordinary citizens love of power engenders in politicians. Our politicians regularly exploit the crushing poverty and gullibility of people to feed their craving for power. In such situation, the concept of servant-leaders has no place at all.

Nonetheless, love of power is not always bad. For instance, a genuine political reformer may have just as strong a love of power as a dictator. Now, whether a particular politician will be led by this motive to good or bad actions depends on the social condition and the politician’s capacities. There are examples of political activists who courageously challenged incompetent political office holders, but failed to deliver when appointed or elected into public office. Therefore, Nigerians should be careful in idolising so-called human rights campaigners, loquacious union leaders and popular personalities who regularly use highfalutin language in the media to criticise government.

Considering that love of power is inevitable, democracy has a big advantage over other forms of government – there are inherent checks and balances to curb the tendency to abuse power. Unfortunately, in immature democracies like Nigeria, power-hungry politicians willing to sacrifice the collective interests of the commonwealth to ingratiate themselves, leading to unnecessary disruptions and distractions in governance, regularly trample upon constitutional restraints on power.

Like other human beings, politicians like excitement. The degree of excitement in politics was high when Azikiwe, Awolowo, Bello, K.O Mbadiwe, M.K.O. Abiola, Sam Mbakwe, Aminu Kano and other political key players were active in the First and Second Republics. Right now, there is excitement because of the comic push-me-I-push-you between PDP and APC.

Talented orators generate excitement during political rallies, especially if they know how to ignite the enthusiasm of the crowd through emotional sloganeering. Political scientists often neglect the role craving for excitement plays in determining political behaviour. I think that is a mistake, because several of its forms are politically destructive. The excitement of mobs lynching a petty thief is the same as that which a rabblerousing politician generates in his followers while attacking political rivals during electioneering campaigns.


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