By Tabia Princewill
“Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or in a politics of hope?” Barack Obama once asked. Every Nigerian must ask himself (or herself) that question. We have become a country which rejoices in its own failures, laughs at its mistakes and thoroughly enjoys tales of its own corruption and dishonour without stopping to question the relationship between such misdeeds and the current economic turmoil. We enjoy scandal but it never has any effect on our country’s progress. We’ve become detached viewers of a reality TV show, unconcerned, excited and confused.
The latest instalment in the Nigerian saga is the ongoing feud between the former chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin and the House’s principal officers, including the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara. Honourable Jibrin who was removed from his position as chairman of a “juicy” committee, released documents claiming the Speaker and others were involved in the budget padding episode.
He poses himself as a hero of democracy, a whistle-blower of sorts who is being punished for refusing to accept the padded budget, including its “wasteful” constituency projects of about N20 billion which allegedly went to the constituencies of the accused—in other words, he is confirming the futility of “constituency projects” and alleging funds for the development of legislators’ constituencies never reach ordinary Nigerians.
The House’s response to these claims serves as an example of the clear opposition between the politics of cynicism and the politics of hope and effective governance practised abroad. Comparing Nigerian standards of behaviour to the ethics in other climes is only unfair if you believe Nigerian men and women to be somehow inferior to their counterparts abroad and incapable of doing the right thing.
Cynicism is the preferred tool of the Nigerian politician. It is the scorn shown to any allegations of misconduct, the perfect trust in our public naiveté which ensures we will swallow whatever half-baked excuse is presented to us; it is the belief that any allegation of misconduct can be dismissed as slander.
Nigerians are never able to get to the bottom of issues (who does one trust when every side claims the other is a liar?) because the media reports political abuses of public trust as described by those who have a stake in the narrative, as opposed to conducting its own impartial investigation.
Knowing all of this, a politics of cynicism disparages well-founded criticism and substantiated enquiry: e.g. when journalists asked if governors who couldn’t pay workers’ salaries would—or should—fund a planned joint trip to Germany to find solutions to their states’ problems, Governor Okorocha apparently responded, “who (else) will pay for it? You?” Our inability to hold successive governments to account, despite being provided with ammunition, incessant allegations of corruption, shows we have an incomplete, impractical understanding about hope and democracy.
Hope is an expectation; it has to lead somewhere, except maybe in Nigeria. The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, said Mr Jibrin’s statements to the media “smeared the image” of the House which is unacceptable. There was no talk of disproving his allegations, only of punishing him for daring, it seems, to make them. Reputation now matters in Buhari’s Nigeria but the same rules must apply to all: There was no talk of punishing those members accused of sexual harassment and misconduct while on an official trip to the US. Enquiry only seems to apply to offences deemed minor in Nigeria. To allegations of corruption, denial suffices as proof of innocence.
The politics of cynicism is the belief that reshuffling committees and awarding “juicy” positions to those who previously opposed the Saraki/Dogara bid for power would suddenly resolve the real issues in the polity. The use of the term “juicy” itself acknowledges that a “juicy” committee is one where members of the House stand to make a lot of money. Every evil in Nigeria is acknowledged yet undealt with, spoken of with restraint, so as not to offend the powerful and their interests while the majority suffers in silence. We as a society are complicit of every unchallenged act of greed.
Now let us come to the politics of hope. It isn’t continuing to pay young people not to destroy pipelines, therefore teaching another generation that criminality is a lawful means of sustenance. It isn’t short-term views and strategy. We cannot continue to bribe people into silence, it never works for long as our own history has shown. Instead, the politics of hope, which was most recently displayed at the Democratic National Convention in the US, is one where people face up to challenges because they believe a country should never let its people down.
Making sure everyone gets a chance at justice, opportunity and fairness is the basis of the politics of hope. Tim Kaine, the Democrats pick for Vice-President in the coming election, was the governor of Virginia.
Yet as he says, he is not from Virginia, he settled there, worked hard, paid taxes and earned the respect of his community, hence his electoral successes. Joe Biden, the current Vice-President of the US, talking about his relationship with the President, said “the Obamas have become friends and family”. His speech showed a close relationship which enabled success in office. There was no talk of a conflict fraught partnership, unlike the Obasanjo-Atiku relationship, whose scandals and intrigues we relished, without stopping to think of the consequences.In America, politicians use their office to unite citizens and help them rise above their differences, in the national interest.
The politics of hope in America means people from low-income families can grow to do extraordinary things and not forget where they come from. Rather than betraying the interests of the poor who elected them,
American politicians fight those who try to block individual success based on ethnicity or religion, unlike in Nigeria, where we relish spoiling and preventing communal progress if it doesn’t suit narrow, selfish interests. The most fascinating thing about the politics of hope is the expectation that politicians walk the talk: politicians’ children go to school in the communities they represent. Tim Kaine’s father-in-law was a Republican governor who desegregated schools and sent his own daughter to school with African-Americans, in a time where that was taboo.
By believing they are different or better than us we sell ourselves short. We too can have a system built on equality, that’s the difference between politics of cynicism and hope.
News that the film village in Kano was stopped due to pressure from Islamic clerics describing it as immoral, is disappointing. Kano being the centre of film production in Northern Nigeria, the project made economic sense, it would have created employment and helped rebrand Kano and the North. But sectarian interests seem to cling to the image of backwardness, as keeping the North underdeveloped ensures easy electoral victory when the poor are not educated enough to know and defend their own interests. The President must stand up to those who are anti-people no matter their religion or ethnic group.
Lawyers and corruption
Femi Falana (SAN) advised lawyers not to make themselves enablers of corruption. He gave the example of a former governor who asked him to help launder funds abroad, stating Mr Falana’s reputation meant no one would question or think to investigate the transfer. It is admirable that he refused to offer up his reputation for sale. However, one must ask if he reported this former governor now that there is the political will to fight corruption.
Such stories are instructive but they must be backed with action. “Some of my colleagues thought I was stupid, but those who accepted the offer later found themselves in trouble, as they were arrested and humiliated. They were only lucky not to have been charged to court,” he said. But when will there be strong enough deterrents to stop these things from happening over and over again?