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Reflections on Nigerian politicians (1)

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By Douglas Anele

In Nigeria, it is customary for people to say that politics is a “dirty game.” That negative assessment stems from the fact that since the country began experimenting with modern forms of civilian governance, most key players in the political arena have tended to sacrifice the nobler forms of politicking on the altar of primitive egoism, crude Machiavellism and bulimic materialism. Therefore, description of politics as a dirty game in this country underscores the fact that a typical Nigerian politician is willing and prepared to do virtually anything possible either to win an election or get a lucrative appointment in government.

Of course, the most morally reprehensible manifestation of this irrational and immature attitude to politics is recourse to violence and murder by desperate politicians ignorant of the fundamental principles of responsible leadership. If one is genuinely interested in leadership for the common good or is motivated by a burning desire to serve, crude Machiavellism in which the end justifies the means is completely out of the equation.

A genuine political leader cannot use violence, force, coercion or any illicit and immoral strategy to acquire power. As Aristotle perceptively remarked, politics is for the noblest of men (and women). The foregoing provides a robust background for assessing the nature of politics and politicking in Nigeria, especially since the end of the Biafran war; it also serves as a useful tool for diagnosing the ideological leukaemia in the evolution of political parties after series of handover of power to civilians by different military dictatorships from 1979 onwards.

Now, inspite of their weaknesses and political misjudgements, the icons of Nigerian politics, notably, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, worked hard to establish political parties grounded on certain ideological principles that served as a rallying point and paradigm for the formulation and evaluation of public policy and programmes, and their implementation.

Thus, whereas Dr. Azikiwe tried to establish and consolidate the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) on nationalist and neo-welfarist foundation, Chief Awolowo, using the Action Group as a political platform, embarked on an educational and economic engineering programmes in Western Region anchored on his version of social democracy. That is as it should be, for the two most influential politicians Nigeria has produced were excellent political philosophers in their own right, each with cognate cognitive intelligence and experience to lead at the highest level. Unfortunately, with the passage of time the intellectual and moral quality of politicians that emerged afterwards declined dramatically, an ugly trend that worsened during the political gerrymandering of the Babangida era.

It is not easy to identify with complete exactitude reasons why later generations of Nigerian politicians have not matched, let alone surpass, the level of selflessness and commitment to service by Dr. Azikiwe’s generation of politicians. Having said that, it is evident that the general decay in societal values nationwide must be taken into account in any serious analysis of the issue under consideration.

Now, ethical values or morality constitutes the foundation stone on which a peaceful, progressive, and harmonious society rests, a society in which leaders, on a continuous and sustainable basis, creatively harness both the human and material resources of the community for the wellbeing of its members. It follows that in any society where the political class is underperforming, as is the case in Nigeria, one should consider the kind of values prevalent in that community. It is unrealistic to expect majority of politicians to behave in a manner completely different from the dominant moral atmosphere in a society, especially in the absence of paradigmatic individuals with charisma and gravitas to set the moral tone for other members of the community to emulate.

In this connection, although it is important to reconstruct the constitutional architectonic on which Nigeria is currently built, I believe that there is an urgent need for the emergence of iconic and exemplary individuals who can raise the consciousness of Nigerians, including politicians, to the necessity of making a paradigm-shift in their attitude to the geopolitical entity called Nigeria.

The reason is that, no matter how well designed a constitution might be, if the operators of that very document are actuated by what I call agbata ekee mentality or self-indulgent materialism, its provisions will either be distorted or totally ignored to achieve narrow selfish purposes by politicians. Most times, commentators on the problem of politics in Nigeria concentrate on economic, religious, ethnic and demographic determinants of political behaviour, and pay scant attention to the psychological aspect of the matter. By so doing, they neglect a key factor that plays a vital role in shaping the political destiny of the country. Thus, while we acknowledge the importance of factors other than the psychological in politics, it is equally necessary to inquire about the desires or impulses that actuate a typical Nigerian politician in order to understand why he thinks and acts the way he does in the political chess game.

Like every human being, primary and secondary desires motivate every Nigerian politician. In the first group are desires for the necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing, and health care. Most human beings would go to extraordinary lengths to secure these things. But unlike other animals who are satisfied once the primary desires are met, a human being does not remain contented after eating a good meal or building a fine house, etc. On the contrary, his secondary desires, which are insatiable, keep him continually restless.

According to Bertrand Russell, in Human Society in Ethics and Politics, there are at least four politically important desires that keep people in a state of continuous activity. The first one is acquisitiveness, the impulse or wish to possess as much as possible all the material goods, or the title to such goods. There is no doubt that acquisitiveness is a dominant characteristic of Nigerian politicians, which has beclouded their sense of reasoning. If the politician is from a financially challenged humble background, his first thought while joining a political party is, “How can I use politics to escape the gravitational pull of poverty?” Assuming that he finally succeeds and becomes a legislator, governor or president, his primary concern would be how to exploit the new position to acquire as much as he could. If the politician in question is from a wealthy home, his primary preoccupation is to expand his family wealth astronomically in the shortest possible time.

There is no patina of doubt that acquisitiveness among Nigerian politicians has done incalculable harm to the quest for sustainable national development. Our politicians are so engrossed in the morbid quest for primitive accumulation that they have become increasingly pachydermatous to the worsening existential condition of the “common man.” Probably, acquisitiveness is the by-product of fear combined with the desire for necessities.

Every human being is acquisitive to some extent, given that everyone has needs and wants that ought to be satisfied. Nevertheless, in the pathological case that characterise Nigerian politicians, it has gone beyond reasonable limits and transformed into an unhealthy psychological condition and lifestyle detrimental to everyone, including the politicians themselves. The acquisitive politician does not understand that acquisitiveness is a slippery slope without limits: however much he may acquire, he will always wish to acquire more. Contentment through acquisitiveness is a pipe dream that can never be actualised. To be continued.

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