By Douglass Anele
Before the 1979 general elections in Nigeria, Ibrahim Waziri and some of his supporters and friends launched a political party called Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP).
The fundamental credo or political philosophy of the party was “politics without bitterness.” The rationale behind that attractive slogan is derived from the lessons that should have been learnt from the chequered political experience of the country since independence in 1960 which was punctuated at different times by senseless political violence, culminating in the Biafran War of 1967-1970.
Recounting those ugly encounters here will clog our discourse with unnecessary details. Suffice it to say, however, that violence in the defunct Western Region, the military coup and counter-coup of January 15 and July 29, 1966, and the pogroms in the North against the Igbo shortly before the civil war had always cast an ominous shadow on the country’s political evolution. Of course, the history of political violence in Nigeria is not restricted to the pre-civil war period.
All the elections conducted thus far since the war ended had been marred by violence. Politically-motivated violence include deliberate physical assault on voters and election officials by hired thugs, assassination of political opponents and, lately, kidnapping of potential rivals or members of their families and loved ones. It appears to us that an overwhelming majority of Nigerian politicians have not learnt useful lessons from history about the ultimate futility of using violence to achieve political power.
Our conclusion is corroborated by the fact that, as the date for commencement of the 2011 elections approaches, there is a disturbing increase in the number of politicians either kidnapped or brutally murdered. Penultimate week, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party in Borno State, Modu Fannami Gubio, his younger brother, Goni Mustapha Sheriff, and four others were killed in Maiduguri.
Near my village, Ishi-Owerri in Imo State, the wife of Ikemba Ugochukwu Nzekwe, member representing Nkwerre State Constituency in Imo State House of Assembly, was kidnapped by unknown persons, an action widely believed to have been politically- motivated.
Although, according to reports, the victim has been released after some ransom was paid, one can imagine the emotional trauma Ugochukwu and members of his family, in-laws, relations and friends went through during the period Mrs. Nzekwe was in the unwanted custody of strangers.
These and other politically-motivated violent acts demonstrate that Nigeria is still at the infantile or primitive stage in political development characterised by the Hobbesian state of nature. Several reasons can be advanced why people resort to violence to achieve their political objectives. First and foremost, there are people with flawed personalities which predispose them to wickedness, no matter their position or career. Second, in Nigeria politics is conceived as a lucrative business.
Our politicians operate on the basis of political capitalism: they see involvement in politics just the way a hard core capitalist looks at his investment in stocks. The ultimate motivation in both instances is financial gain – and the more profitable the better.
Because of the bloated remuneration packages attached to political offices and the avenues such offices open up for patronages of all sorts, our politicians approach politics with a crude Machiavellian spirit, doing whatever they think is necessary to achieve their political ambitions.
As a corollary, there is a widespread misconception that politics is a “dirty game” fit only for hustlers, misanthropes with the crudity and grit to perpetrate evil in order to win at all costs. The sit-tight mentality of politicians is also a factor in politics-with-bitterness. Virtually every president, governor, local government chairman etc. that had emerged till date wanted tenure elongation or a second term in office – it is widely believed that former President Olusegun Obasanjo schemed for a third term.
The reason behind the provision for tenure extension in the 1999 Constitution is for continuity, such that an incumbent President etc. can have more time to execute his or her programmes and policies. But the problem is that, most politicians who sought (and got) tenure elongation did not deserve it because they performed woefully in their first tenure – and they knew it. Thus, to remain in power even against the wishes of the electorate, they employed violence against their rivals to intimidate or, in more extreme cases, liquidate them outright.
We believe that one of the most effective ways of reducing drastically the phenomenon of politics-with-bitterness in Nigeria is to make political office less lucrative.
Once the money factor is downplayed such that people of moderate means can join politics without worrying so much about the prohibitive cost of vying for elective positions or getting entrapped in the vicious grip of wicked godfathers, and access to huge easy money (like the one federal legislators are currently enjoying) is blocked, the ferocity with which the game of politics is played will reduce. In addition, Nigerians must begin to play a more active part in politics.
It is simply not enough to complain and complain about the “dirtiness of politics” in the country: we should begin to get more involved in the political life of the society. This implies that we must learn to vote for the best candidates for different elective positions – best in terms of character and proven track record of performance in their chosen careers. Nigerians, if they are serious about ending political violence and politics-with-bitterness, must consistently reject at the polls candidates of questionable character and evil disposition. Our people should reject candidates fielded by political parties with a proclivity for violence.
To illustrate, if a political party is dominated by a nest of killers, then voters should vote for good candidates from other parties. Civil society groups have to play a leading role in educating voters on how to make enlightened choices to avoid mistakes of the past which have retarded our political development.
To be continued.