By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Nigerians are flamboyant, colourful and incomparable, in many ways, with other nationalities. Our ways and styles are different and unique. In governance, we are gifted with a set of politicians that practice quite differently from what is obtainable in other parts of the world. You would not expect anything different, because the society produces its leaders from among the people. So, it is safe to say these attributes of Nigerians have produced a political class that fits the society.
This piece is not a generalisation of the politicians, but an attempt at unlocking the makeup of an average Nigerian politician. In doing this, I do not discount the fact that some of them are above board, but the opinion here will apply to the majority of the political class. There is no doubt we will all agree that they are a special breed of individuals. There is no doubt about this. From Kano to Lagos, Port Harcourt to Sokoto, Ibadan to Maiduguri or Benin to Onitsha they seem to have the same mindset, same goals and aspirations.
By recent disclosures, we can say that the love most of them have it is for their pockets and not of the country. They put their desires before the interests of the nation. How else do you justify their huge monthly take home and allowances? They do not care if the economy collapses, as long as they get what they have voted for themselves.
There is one inborn quality that runs in the veins of these politicians – the art of deception. We cannot take this away from them, as this seems to be a characteristic that cuts across their divides. We have a nice way to cover up for them, so we do not refer to it as deception; we call it, in Nigeria street parlance, “Sweet Mouth”. There are different words for this in other languages, but the closest I can think of right now is “charisma”.
These politicians have endowed powers to sweet talk their audience into “living a reality”. People compare them to modern day pastors whose only qualification to large membership is their oratory power. It is not the deep scriptural knowledge, but how they can put the words together and bring the audience to a state of reality. In Nigeria, if you are a good “talker” you have two career paths – on the pulpit or the soapbox.
It does not matter in what language they speak – Yoruba, Efik, Igbo, Hausa or English, the politicians captivate with sweet talks and get people “carried away”. Give it to them; their ‘flowery’ command of language is commendable. They may lack knowledge of the subject matter; they most times manage to keep their followers under a spell. While the modern-day pastors have the bible to fall back on, the politicians barely refer to the constitution, which should be the basis of their “preaching”.
The nature of our politics gives the practitioners the freedom to paint an Eldorado to their followers. Every day we listen to them promising us the perfect society they have in their minds. They have beautifully crafted words to convey their big dreams to the electorates. We clap and scream in excitement, forgetting these are dreams in their heads, just presented with high sounding words.
Politicians lie. They lie in the most convincing manner that they, most times, believe their own lies. Surprisingly, we rarely call them out for their lies. A politician’s description of a perfect society is so graphic that we get taken on an imaginary journey of life in paradise.
They are marketers. The difference here is that while marketers “flog” physical products or services, politicians sell themselves. In the advanced democracies, for example, for politicians, the “sales pitches” are policies oriented. They have no option because opponents are most times canvassing based on reality and not on imaginations. So the western politicians have to push farther to support their claims, not just standing on the podium.
In Nigeria, the situation is different. Many of our politicians have no idea what governance is, talk less of the commitments to the posts they contested for. Rather, on top of their heads, they promise a better tomorrow. They make us believe that with them in the saddle of affairs a better future is guaranteed. Well, maybe they are right.
We can count on the fingers of our hands the number of career politicians in our history. They are the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and a few others. These lots joined politics because they had visions for their regions, nations and country. It is regrettable that nowadays it is not uncommon for men and women to “aspire” to be politicians.
Politics has become a retirement option for many people – company executives, soldiers and teachers. Politics is a means to wealth and comfort. For the unemployed, it is the fastest way to “catch up” with the Joneses who were lucky to have jobs on graduation. For these set of people, it can be a laborious journey to the top, they are always willing “pawns” in the hands of the “godfathers”.
Nigerian politicians do not sell hope. They sell fantasy and lies. Their campaigns are deceitful and full of false promises that they forget immediately they get elected into offices. The Nigerian politician promises an ideal society, but he cares not if he achieves this or not, after the elections. This is why our politicians only take interest in the electorate a few weeks to elections. This is when the masses are needed to get elected and this is when the politicians are sensible, caring and adaptable.
Do you not marvel at how so ordinary these politicians become in the run-up to elections? They present themselves as the “friends of the masses”, by doing what “common men” do, going where “ordinary men” go and “eat” what average Nigerians eat. We saw the worst of them in the run-up to the 2015 General Elections. Politicians “roasted” and sold plantains, corns and yams by the roadside. They ate roasted corns to the “admiration” of the masses while riding on open roof government 4x4s.
They are coming back again with their shenanigans, but the voting masses will not be fooled again. Not anymore. They are warming up for a “mega showdown” with these politicians in future elections. I see the future in tomorrow where the electorates will dictate the topics for campaigns for these politicians. A tomorrow when the electorate will determine the agenda of the elections, based on their needs and not on what the politicians think he can spin.
I am not unaware that economic situation often dictates our “acceptance” of these politicians. But this is hoping the electorates will be better placed to make the right choices.