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A country in search of red lines

By Muyiwa Adetiba

Two very disturbing pictures flashed through the media a couple of weeks ago. They were connected to a personality.

They were connected to a purpose. The personality is Chief Olu Falae. The purpose was to solicit support from two former generals who also happen to be two former heads of state, for his fledging party which he wants to position as the Third Force; the alternative party to, in public perception, the failed and failing PDP and APC. Both the intent and the man behind it have me worried.

On a personal level, I had always thought Chief Falae, a technocrat in politics, to be a cut above the average politician in Nigeria.

He is a man with a sound pedigree and a sound intellect. Even when one didn’t always agree with him during the IMF days, one respected his reasoning and elocution; one admired his passion and knowledge. And when he veered into politics, he was close enough to some of the old Afenifere members like Pa Ajasin to have imbibed some of the qualities that stood those old men apart.

Qualities I felt he displayed when he ran for the country’s highest office. He ran reasonably clean campaigns that were largely issue based. He was also decent and dignified in the way he accepted defeat on both occasions. His two presidential aspirations were truncated by the two men he went to meet last week.

One, technically when Maradona changed the goal post and the rules of engagement in 1992; the other at the polls when Obasanjo won in 1999. Neither defeat was transparent nor reflective of the yearnings of the electorate. Yet he bore them well, distancing himself from financial appeasements that were later thrown his way.

Unlike many people, I was more disappointed by his latter day support for Jonathan given his background as an economist than by the money his party allegedly received from Jonathan. Parties, including APC, run on money. SDP could not have been an exception.

Chief Falae knows these two men well, and therein lies my worry. He has worked closely with them at the highest levels of governance. He knows only too well that the present trajectory of the country is down largely to these two men. We have consulted them on the way forward for too long. And for as long as we keep consulting them, or deeming them necessary to be consulted, we will not go very far as a nation.

Their interest is in the consolidation of the status quo. The nation’s interest is in the dismantling of the same. Both are diametrically opposed to each other. And any party, or third force, that has their imprimatur, will be an entrenchment of the same forces of darkness and retrogression that have held us down for so long. I hope I am not being too harsh but people need to know that we have had enough of these two Generals who claim to know the problems of this country and those who can solve them.

Those they have put forward in the past have not done their judgement any credit. So why should we continue to listen to them? Secondly, people need to know this time that we are not going to be hoodwinked by the name of a party. We are going to be more concerned with the personalities that populate the party and the patrons that dictate the tunes.

We are tired of old wine in new bottles. We have learnt the hard way that the hood does not make a monk. Nigerian politicians, like leopards, are simply incapable of changing their spots.

So if Falae thinks SDP, just by being SDP irrespective of who flocks into it, or who endorses it, will win our hearts, he is in for a shocker. But the bigger shocker is why an intelligent, articulate, and perceptive man with a progressive inclination will think an endorsement by Obasanjo and Babangida is still the way to go. I have heard him talk of the quantity—not the quality—of those planning to decamp to his party and I am saddened. Is the lure of political power so strong that he has to stoop for it? Is he so desperate to be the party at the centre that the bar has to be lowered beyond a certain red line? Or are there no red lines in Nigerian political landscape?

America, from where we borrowed our presidential system of democracy constantly talks about values, traditions and institutions. These, more than the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary are the bastions of their democracy.

American democracy is strewn with red lines many of which are intangible and unwritten. Many are felt rather than known and there is tension anytime they are crossed.  What are our red lines? Our values? Our culture? We seem to be a nation of ‘anything goes’ in our private and public lives. It is the absence of a red line that makes the Senate stand still because a member who has disdained and insulted another arm of government was apprehended.

To them, it is self-interest above public interest; above due process. In fact, it is the absence of a red line that makes a Dino Melaye in the Senate possible. It is the absence of a red line that makes NASS to do as it likes, unaccountable to no one.

One expects a public outrage at the shameful sex for marks scandal in OAU, Ife. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be any red line that the professor has crossed in the public mind. And so, in the absence of red lines, we seem to be sinking lower and lower into moral depravity.

I am all for new political entrants. Some say they need to earn their stripes first. Some say there has to be an entry level. I agree, but they don’t have to be political entry levels that require you to be a counsellor or in the State House of Assembly. These levels require godfathers and compromises that corrupt, often irretrievably. Many emerge as damaged goods for life. The candidates of tomorrow must have antecedents in public and private lives that can stand up to public scrutiny. That should be the entry level.

They should in addition, be willing to chart a moral compass for the country and espouse values using themselves as examples, of the future direction of the country. The party of tomorrow on the other hand, is not one which seeks approval from people who should be shunned rather than courted.

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