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Politics and morality in Nigeria: A Critical Analysis (1)

By Douglass Anele
Having discussed in previous essays some pertinent issues arising from recent conflicting judgments of different courts with respect to corruption charges and electoral fraud preferred against some prominent Nigerians, I think it is appropriate to investigate the role of morality (if any) in Nigerian politics.

Doing so is very appropriate at this time, considering the disturbing increase in judicial nullification of election results, epitomised in last Tuesday’s decision of the Appeal Court in Benin to render null and void the election of Emmanuel Uduaghan as the governor of Delta State.

Keep in mind also the negative turnaround in the legal battles of former governor of the state and Uduaghan’s cousin, James Ibori, in Dubai and London. Ibori’s case is particularly interesting, because he has been discharged and acquitted of all corruption charges by courts in Nigeria.

Now, since the Ibori money laundering and corruption saga is not the main thrust of our analysis today but is merely a prolegomenon for the theme of politics and morality, we shall not go into details concerning it.

Nevertheless, it must be remarked that given what transpired in a London court last week where Ibori’s wife, Nkoyo Theresa, admitted that she and her husband were convicted of theft in England more than a decade ago, the Nigerian judges who acquitted the former Delta State helmsman of theft and corruption charges and the officials who prosecuted his cases should be biting their nails in regret over what has happened.

One can say that Ibori and his wife are getting their just deserts; but it is a shame that it needed a foreign court and skilled forensic expatriate prosecution counsel to ensure that Ibori and his cohorts do not go scot free. It will take another essay to ascertain why our standard in everything, except in negativity, is far below accepted global standards and best practices.

But a window into the intractable problem can be opened by looking into the role of morality in Nigerian politics. Oftentimes people complain about the degraded crudely Machiavellian kind of politics dominant in our country. Indeed, there is increasing tendency by morally decent and public spirited individuals to avoid active participation in politics.

Such people argue that politics, especially in Nigeria, is a “dirty” game and that only those with the guts and grit to commit atrocities can succeed in it. To be candid, the way politics is played out here by prominent politicians is sickening.

The do-or-die philosophy behind the inordinate desire to win at all costs discourages most well-meaning Nigerians from politics. And on many occasions, even those who were really interested in public service initially, when they manage to win elections, eventually abandon morality and jump into the bandwagon of kleptomania. Remember, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with politics in Nigeria.

All the complaints and misgivings about it are replicated in other countries – problems of rigging, bribery and corruption, political violence and assassination, etc. The peculiarity of our situation is that whereas in serious countries such as India, Brazil and even Ghana, politicians who eventually succeed do all in their power to serve the people, their Nigerian counterparts indulge in unprecedented  egoism and primitive accumulation.

Thus, our problem is not the negativity usually associated with politics; it is not about the presidential system we are operating at the moment (although there are several things that make the system inappropriate for the current low level of our socio_economic and political development).

The fundamental problem is the dominant attitude of our politicians to politics and public office, and their misunderstanding of what political leadership is about. Considering their propensity for naira-and-kobo or owambe politics, it can easily be inferred that they are in politics to get their share of the “national cake.”

Nothing illustrates this conclusion better than the news that since the return to civilian rule in 1999 the federal legislature has spent approximately N532 billion to make 532 laws, making the laws one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, set of legislation in the world.

There is no scintilla of doubt that the federal “lawmakers” have been abusing their privileges by stealing from the country.

However, among the “legislators,” both past and present, there are wealthy experienced professionals and activists who ought to insist on what is right and just given Nigeria’s lingering economic problems and the expanding eddies of poverty in the land, rather than maintain conspiratorial silence because they benefitted and are still benefitting, as the case may be, from the skewed system.

Possibly because a significant percentage of political office holders in the country got their positions through electoral malpractices, including cash_and_carry judicial manipulations, they conduct themselves as if the electorate do not matter, as if they owe their positions to the godfathers only who ensured that they were rigged into office, with disastrous consequences for the country as a whole.

That is why we need to critically appraise the role morality or ethics has played, and should play, in Nigerian politics, especially now that we are approaching another election year. But before we begin the appraisal, it is important to clarify the concepts of morality and politics so that the reader would have a clear understanding of the core issues at stake.

To begin with morality, it is evident to every reasonable adult that there are certain actions, conducts and behaviours which are considered good or right and others that are adjudged bad or wrong. When such evaluations are made, they are described as moral judgments. Therefore, morality is the system of norms arrived at on the basis of the discriminating power of humans to assign different values to behaviours of all kinds. To be continued.


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