Having clarified the concepts of morality and politics, it is now time to look closely at the role of morality in Nigerian politics.
Keep in mind that only a historical approach backed by philosophical sensitivity to the unseverable unbilical cord between morality and politics can do justice to the topic of our discourse today. Less than a decade after Nigeria was created by Britain, nationalist movements which metamorphosed into political parties emerged.
For instance, in 1923, the Nigerian National Democratic Party was formed by a group of Nigerians led by Herbert Macaulay. The principal aim of the party was not outright independence but to ensure that more Nigerians played active roles in the day-to-day administration of the country.
The spirit of nationalism blossomed with the formation of the Zikist movement in 1946 and the emergence of the next generation of nationalists, most notable among who were Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
In terms of morality, one can characterise pre-independence politics in Nigeria as generally satisfactory.
Apart from the fact that the quest for political autarky inspired first and second generations of nationalists and motivated them to be committed to a common purpose, the most outstanding politicians of the period were not keen on primitive accumulation.
Therefore, there is an element of truth in the claim that before 1960 and shortly after, leading politicians were generally more interested in the attainment of political independence for the country and making a name for themselves than in accumulation of wealth at the expense of fellow compatriots.
Certainly, immoral conduct such as rigging of elections, ethnicity, nepotism, bribery and corruption existed among the political class at that time. For instance, Chief K. Balogun, legal adviser to the defunct National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), in his defence of the Aviation Minister accused of land deals in the First Republic, affirmed that financial transactions in land and landed property had become a “gainful pastime” for leading politicians.
Remember, Major Chukwuemeka Nzeogwu and his cohorts who launched the first military coup in January 15, 1966, alleged that serious immoral conduct by politicians was the principal reason why they struck.
However, the immorality Nzeogwu talked about did not prevent Nigerians from adoring prominent nationalists for their contributions to the attainment of independence. Nigerians looked up to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sir Francis Kanu Ibiam etc as exemplary politicians and political icons.
In fact, up till today, many Nigerians still consider them to be the most iconic politicians ever to emerge in the country.
The civil war and repeated military interventions in political leadership adversely affected the quality of politics and politicians in Nigeria. Indeed, military coups were disastrous for the political development of Nigeria, because they distorted the evolution of democratic values and consolidated pernicious unitarism, authoritarianism and the culture of impunity, arbitrariness and corruption in governance.
Thus, when civilian governance was restored in October 1, 1979, the negative impact of the war and twelve years of military dictatorship under Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) were evident.
And although some of the big masquerades in the political arena, such as Azikiwe, Awolowo and Aminu Kano were still active politically (all of whom contested and lost the 1979 presidential election under the platforms of the Nigeria Peoples Party, Unity of Nigeria and Peoples Redemption Party respectively), the spirit of politics was no longer what it used to be.
In addition to the problems of ethnicity and corruption, some of the relatively unknown politicians of the Second Republic introduced a crude form of Machiavellism into politics. Azikiwe and Awolowo were already aging then, which implies that they could not wield the same influence on the younger generation of politicians as they did in their heydays. Needless to say, the administration of Shehu Shagari was overthrown on the very last day of 1983 for virtually the same reasons on the basis of which Balewa’a government was sacked by Nzeogwu.
The military junta which emerged after the coup accused notable politicians of gargantuan corruption in all its ramifications, and many of them were thrown into prison.
That morality was low in the agenda of politicians during the Second Republic cannot be denied, judging from widespread electoral malpractices which characterised especially the 1983 elections and financial rascality by politicians nationwide.
However, Shagari, his deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Balarabe Musa and a few others were exonerated by the Special Military Tribunal of 1984. Now, if morality was low in the priority list of politicians between 1979 and 1983, it has virtually disappeared from the political radar since 1999 date.
In fact, never before in the political history of Nigeria has corruption and immorality been elevated to the holy grail of political activity by the so_called elected representatives of the people in both the executive and the legislature.
Hence, it is not surprising that the degree of immorality in politics witnessed during the administrations of Balewa and Shagari is child’s play compared to the situation after the mutation of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd.) into a civilian president eleven years ago. Politicians have perfected the art of rigging, thuggery and other forms of electoral malpractices, to the extent that winners emerge even in places where elections did not hold, and the number of votes recorded in some places is higher than the number of registered voters! In a few cases politicians who did not contest elections (Rotimi Amechi, for example) are declared winners.
Previously, politicians stole thousands or millions of naira, dollars and pounds sterling; these days they embezzle hundreds of millions and billions which they use to finance absurdly ostentatious lifestyles and buy expensive property both in Nigeria and overseas. Obasanjo established two anti_corruption agencies, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Yet, the tidal waves and eddies of immorality and corruption have been expanding ever since and are threatening to overwhelm even the judiciary, the “last hope of the common man,” because Obasanjo and his successors, for selfish reasons, are not serious about dealing with corrupt “big men” and “thick madams.”
Most of our politicians these days are immorality personified. Nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the abominations going on in the National Assembly and in the State Houses of Assembly as well. To be concluded.