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Disinterest in politics: A sign of both privilege and delusion

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By Tabia Princewill

TO a number of well-to-do Nigerians, it doesn’t matter who wins elections, who becomes senator, governor or president, because they believe they will always have access to contracts, businesses and opportunities and that they are above caring how this country is run. Unfortunately, neither the elite nor the middle classes seem to have learnt lessons from the recession or the consequences of free spending, little savings or real investments.

Nigerians voting in an election

Curiously, many young people, particularly those who are unemployed and without connections, also regularly profess their disinterest in politics. We act as though underdevelopment and bad governance are a fatality and keep failing to connect these two realities, in our actions, with poor leadership. Rather than attempt to understand what is really happening to our country, we prefer the half-truths and misinformation of social media parody.

Half-truths and misinformation

At the APC Ekiti rally last week,President Muhammadu Buhari stated the herdsmen and farmers conflict was being used by some politicians to blackmail his administration. Violence in Nigeria is never disconnected from politics: it is imperative the government prosecutes those responsible and that Nigerians of all socio-economic classes and ethnicities start to take a real interest in politics and analyze issues for themselves based on facts and not the pre-packaged narratives of those who’ve always decided this country’s future.

With elections coming, everyone with an ounce of notoriety has an opinion on politics (often self-interested and easily disproven). People with little credibility will attempt crowd-pleasing statements simply to endear themselves to the public, forgetting that when they had a chance to do what they currently feel is the obvious, they didn’t, all for their own selfish reasons. The proponents of restructuring, former presidents and vice-presidents, who today market themselves as saviours of Nigeria, have often been the architects of many current problems. Nigerians must prove they aren’t so easy to manipulate anymore by taking an interest in politics and policy.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently said he wants 40 per cent slots for women in politics, which at first glance sounds good. Except that, as with zoning, what we are fond of doing in this country, is choosing people for positions of responsibility simply because they are from a particular zone, religion, minority ethnic group, etc., and not because they have the talent or capacity to do the job properly.

Talented Nigerians in the private sector shy away from politics then complain about being governed by their inferiors, forgers, liars, cheats, touts, etc. Rather than getting to the root of our issues as a country, we would all rather swallow the empty commentary of national issues provided by some politicians.

“The health of our democracy can be judged by the participation of women. The low number of women at the National Assembly is unacceptable and makes a mockery of gender balance,” said former President Obasanjo, while presenting a paper: “Nigerian Democracy and the Journey So far: The Role of Women” at the 70th birthday of a former Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Josephine Anenih.

Because Nigerians are united in their disinterest in politics, the leading figures of our system are rarely honestly questioned; which is why, for example, there is no honest, truthful, universal understanding or appraisal of any public official’s tenure in Nigeria. Nor do we question how or why many get the appointments in the first place. For all the powerful women who’ve been women leader, Women Affairs Minister, etc., how much has the condition of the Nigerian woman really improved?

The same could be said for first ladies: what results have their pet projects really achieved and how much has been spent? Politics and political appointments have been reduced to personally profitable career moves, opportunities to hob-nob with world leaders and travel where service delivery counts for naught.

Participation in politics is mostly elitist and only accessible to people already connected to those in power which is why we keep recycling the same people who are often bereft of ideas. Those who do belong in the political arena rarely make it in, those who don’t belong are the first choice based on criteria which is used to erase merit and benefit only people already in the system.

Nigerians must pay attention and ask more questions rather than clap for every “common sense” statement. Former President Obasanjo was also quoted as saying “some institutions like the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and the Ministry of Justice are being directed to witch-hunt and pursue political opponents,” which is highly ironic because this same accusation was leveled against him.

Miscarriage of justice

The fact that the Nigerian elite and their crowds-for-hire who defend their impunity continuously confuse prosecution or investigation with “witch hunting” is telling. The power dynamic is such that the elite in this country truly neither understand nor believe in social justice and Nigerians’ disinterest in politics (beyond reading about scandals) allows politicians to continuously get away with the miscarriage of justice.

Therefore, one sees the most amazing things in Nigeria: unemployed young people protesting their favourite politicians’ so-called witch hunt by FIRS who are only demanding that rich men and women pay their fair share in taxes. If less than 300 people are responsible for 60% of bank loans which they regularly default on, isn’t that all the more reason why they should pay taxes? Why do some people receive so much from the system and give so little in return?

Our warped understanding of government makes it that we believe some people deserve the often quoted “dividends of democracy” more than others. Until Nigerians take an interest in politics beyond empty social media debates, the system will continue to serve a few at the expense of the many.

Ekiti decides

THE Presidency released a statement saying Kayode Fayemi’s victory in the just concluded Ekiti State governorship election is a referendum on President Buhari’s leadership. It appears so. After all, Fayemi was a minister in his government and the people of Ekiti whom President Buhari had asked to “grow beyond stomach infrastructure” could easily have responded with a strong signal of their own.

In fact, social media would have one believe the APC was clearly going to lose this election and shows yet again that one must be careful not to superimpose online perspectives with realities on ground. The hate speech, divisive politics and utterances of Governor Ayo Fayose and his cohorts were rejected, plain and simple. But what about the allegations of election rigging in 2014 and the reported audio tapes?

Illegally acquired properties

THE Presidency, through the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono Obla, said the list of 200 individuals who acquired property through corrupt means will soon be made public.

If the names are the same as the 300 or so who are responsible for 60 per cent of bank loans, according to AMCON, then Nigerians will truly be able to visualise the extent of the problem and why fighting corruption amounts to saving Nigeria from economic sabotage and terrorism.

A civil society organisation, the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, recently launched new software to track criminally acquired property in Nigeria. Mr. Obla, who also chairs the Special Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property, said the properties are connected to current and past leaders.

“Let them tell us where they got the money to build these massive properties. If they cannot explain, let them quietly return it to Nigerians,” he said. Is it clear now why President Buhari is the avowed enemy of so many politicians who see the tax-man, the EFCC and the entire justice system as their enemy?

To convince the naysayers, beyond naming and shaming, although that is necessary in a country such as ours where people are so brazen and so convinced of their own superiority, successful prosecutions are the only way to rescue Nigerians from those holding them hostage.

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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