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Reflections on Nigerian politicians (3)

By Douglas Anele

This is one of the root causes of politics-with-bitterness, largely responsible for the notion noted at the beginning of this discourse that politics in Nigeria is a dirty game. If politicians conduct themselves within constitutional bounds, political excitement is less likely to cause problems. But our politicians are yet to internalise self-restraint, democratic culture and patriotism that will dampen the urge to cause trouble by channelling political excitement to harmless or less destructive outlets.

Two interconnected politically important motives should be highlighted at this point, namely, fear and hate. These emotions are negative emotions; fear and hate most of the time lead to terrible behaviour in those that they dominate. Russell observes correctly that we tend to hate what we fear, and oftentimes we fear what we hate. From the findings of anthropologists, it is clear that primitive people both fear and hate what is unfamiliar to them. Even until now, a large percentage of people all over the world still fear and hate others who belong to a different tribe, country or race. The issue of race, homosexuality and religious fundamentalism that lead to destructive behaviours are ultimately traceable to fear and hate. In Nigeria, intertribal rivalry and suspicion motivated by fear and hate were the principal causes of political crisis, which culminated in the first military coup of January 15, 1966, the revenge coup by Northern elements in July 29 that same year, and the devastating civil war of 1967-1970.

It is not gainsaid that most active politicians in the country right now have not really learnt any useful lessons from the repercussions of politics of fear and hatred that almost caused the disintegration of Nigeria as a single political and economic unit. How, one may ask? Because they are still using the old and irresponsible tactics of whipping up ethnic sentiments and religious fanaticism to cause unnecessary division, fear and hatred among members of different ethnic nationalities and religions in the country. It is sad that some political outlaws still employ undesirable elements to maim, kill and destroy for the sake of power. I am convinced that the spate of kidnapping in several states across the federation, particularly in the south, as well as the hideous boko haram phenomenon are the unintended consequences of politics of fear and hate engaged in by some prominent politicians. Aside from that, exaggerated fear of probable economic ruin in future compels our politicians to steal public funds to an extent detrimental to their physical, mental and spiritual health. Nowadays, top politicians no longer steal millions. Rather, they prefer to embezzle hundreds of millions and billions, with the full knowledge that our compromised judicial system is impotent to stop them.

Hatred and fear are acidic emotions. They have a corrosive effect on the hater both mentally and physically. In acting out of fear triggered by hatred, the average politician tends to lose every sense of proportion in the pursuit of his political objectives. Although there is some pragmatic sense in Nicolo Machiavelli’s advise to the prince that it is better to be feared than to be loved, fear and hatred are antithetical to the evolution and sustenance of durable democratic culture.

The level of hatred in Nigerian politics is too high: it is responsible for our arrested political development. It incubates and nourishes the winner-takes-all syndrome that has caused a lot of havoc in the society. Hate makes politicians to sabotage the efforts of their rivals occupying public office. Another ugly repercussion of hatred in politics is the obdurate refusal to acknowledge the achievements of one’s political rivals. For instance, in my estimation, President Jonathan’s performance is slightly below average. That does not mean that in some areas his administration has not made some positive impact. It is good politics for his rivals in other parties to criticise him; it s bad politics for them to continuously lambast him from A to Z, without recognising those areas where has done something tangible. The same reasoning applies to every political office holder in the country.
In my opinion, any politician who uses fear and hatred to achieve political ends is immature and unfit to hold public office in any capacity. The reason is simple: fear and hatred divide, whereas politics at its best is for consensus building to determine the best way to govern society for the benefit of everyone. Therefore, the use of abusive language, language that promotes hate and fear is not part of responsible politics.

There are two major ways of coping with fear and, derivatively, of dealing with hatred of that which people fear. The first one is to minimise, if not completely eliminate external danger; the second is to cultivate stoic indifference to danger. Unless immediate action is required in a particular situation, the latter can be reinforced by shifting our thoughts away from the cause of fear. A little reflection would reveal that the conquest of fear by our politicians would have beneficial effects on Nigerian politics. Fear in itself is actually degrading; it easily becomes an obsession and, as we stated, earlier it leads to hatred of that which is feared. Cruelty is usually associated with fear. Hence, at this time in our history when an increasing number of Nigerians are fearful, it is not surprising that cruelty is increasing also. Our people need to feel protected and secure; it is one of the principal functions of government to provide security for the citizens, not only for VIPs in politics, business, the clergy, the armed forces and the police. Nigerians should learn to break those psychological barriers that make them see compatriots from other ethnic groups or religions as rivals and enemies, and ignore expired and expiring politicians whose stock-in-trade is to use ethnic and religious differences to sow the seeds of fear and hatred.

In our analysis thus far, it seems that we have overemphasised bad or negative emotions, or ethically neutral emotions. The fact is that such emotions are generally more powerful than good or altruistic motives. In that regard, inspite of my generally negative view of Nigerian politicians, there are a vanishingly small number among them who are really actuated by altruistic motives. Late Chief Sam Mbakwe, for example, could not have achieved what he did as governor of old Imo state if he was not interested in uplifting the wellbeing of ordinary citizens of the state. In fact, altruistic sentiments must have figured in his efforts to help people recover their abandoned property after the war. There is no doubt that any politician dominated by altruistic motives would work hard for his people.

Sympathy is also an important emotion, but I do not know if that word still exists in the dictionary of party stalwarts irrespective of party affiliation. Evidently, sympathy is connected to humanitarian activities. Humanitarianism is important in democracy, because a politician motivated by humane feelings cannot engage in violence and outright lawlessness just to gain power. And when he eventually gets it, delivering genuine dividends of democracy to the masses will be his priority.

To sum up: Nigerian politicians need to learn that politics is about people. It is not about crude materialism or self-indulgent exhibitionism. Although there is enough reason to be pessimistic about the 2015 elections, there is also good reason for hope. We should not despair, no matter how ominous things might seem now.



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