POLITICS in Nigeria today, like the days of Babylon between the rich and the poor, has brought even more very glaring mixture of grandeur and squalor as represented by the huge wealth of the elected and the poverty of the supposed voters.
In the midst of this uneven comparison, between the elected and voters, the noisy sirens of politicians jostling to push the less privileged off the streets become more daring, provoking the anger of the people.
These daring acts by politicians heighten the grumblings of the masses (who cannot even vote the right candidates into power) over many issues. Among them, that the rule of law is weaker now than in the past; lack of infrastructure, inadequate electricity supply are more prevalent, just as corruption is still rife in the midst of lack of jobs and poor quality education that only promises a bleak future.
Measuring the potential advantage of democracy in the last 15 years among Nigerians can still be described as notoriously difficult, while the attitude of politicians to stem the tide is hardly reassuring.
Majority of our politicians see politics as a business and not service. More worrisome is that our politicians are good at setting ambitious targets before elections, but not good at meeting them. Today, our economy has been in danger of overheating – not with the many long periods of strike actions by professional bodies, while our level of borrowing is raising concern among economists.
Another area of concern of the people is that prospective leaders who would help to revive our economy and build on recent modest signs of growth are starved of opportunity to gain entry into the political arena. This is creating a rift between the political class and the people. Like in China, our politicians would rather have personal assistants plucked from obscurity, who often become very powerful and sometimes as largely corrupt as their bosses.
It is so bad at the moment in our political system that even lower ranking officers and personal assistants have them (PAs) in large numbers, all funded by government resources. This expectedly is to fuel the hierarchy.
Many well-meaning Nigerians are now of the view that our political terrain needs a change of political culture that will open the space for people with a sense of probity and modesty. They want a change in our political culture so that our politics would then develop beyond selfishness, greed, unnecessary arguments, senseless criticisms and greed for money. The nation, the people argue, needs leaders who will be open to wise counsel and that have a sense of national values. But not the present situation where ‘we the people’ are continuously bowing to the hoard of supporters and retinue of cronies of the politicians who must be catered for at all costs after elections.
This situation has led us to the use of consensus to resolve issues of candidates vying for nomination by political parties before elections. There is no doubt that it has been impossible for prospective candidates to acquire a party’s nomination ticket without a consensus. These consensus decisions are not without controversy. Incidentally, not everyone is speaking out against this because the process has helped to improve the lot of the people in some instances.
While the arguments in favour of consensus as a result of ineffectual politicians is strongly held by beneficiaries and their supporters, non-beneficiaries and their supporters oppose it on moral grounds. Others even feel it is in conflict with the principles of democracy. But is there anything unusual in consensus?
It is human nature that when faced with dilemmas, societies draw boundaries and carve out exceptions. In situations like this, such boundaries will raise individual opinions that differ or evolve for better or worse. However, in politics, politicians should be seen to reflect society, not just lead it.
Interestingly, for most people disenfranchised from the system, there is a clarion call for change of culture in our political leadership – nominating more of technocrats than core politicians to leadership positions.
The call for more technocrats in positions of leadership is based on the pace of change and development at the presidential level or in states, for example, where their governors are more of technocrats than politicians. Their performances seem to mock politicians for their parochialism in terms of dividends of democracy to the masses. Parochialism in our politics has imposed huge costs in terms of governance, effectiveness, creativity and even missed opportunities to excel before seeking re-election.
With the economic situation biting harder on the masses, many believe that what Nigeria needs now are leaders – a team of technocrats – who can guarantee food security, set genuine performance targets, ensure quality education, improved electricity supply, committed to the creation of jobs in order to reduce poverty appreciably and also cut electricity and petrol/diesel prices. Such team must also do more to drive up private sector investment to create job opportunities. The people are tired of politicians who come with mischievous grin during political campaigns, only to abandon the voters shortly after winning.
Politicians losing out of consensus in many instances stir up friends, supporters against the decisions while their foes protest in support of consensus. No doubt, the issue of consensus arouses strong emotions from both sides of the divide.
After 15 years of politicians paying their way through to rancorous nomination tickets and unwilling to step down in the midst of poor performance, many Nigerians are beginning to understand how consensus works. Some are buying into the use, as we experienced during the just concluded National Conference set up by President Goodluck Jonathan.
As we approach the coming general elections, can consensus usher in the right candidates where neither politicians nor political compromise have failed the system, sustained status quo or eliminated political competition?
David Ifode, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.