By Tabia Princewill
‘MANAGE it”. Across Nigeria, no matter the industry, the job description, the function or status of the speaker, one is sure to hear those two words at one time or the other. Part plea, part menace, either directly spoken or implied, everyone from customers to constituents has been told in one way or another to “manage” a sub-standard service or offering.
In Nigeria, suffering is rarely met with complaints but greeted instead with mild mannered acceptance. Suffering is in fact a badge of honour and rather than coming together to tackle the root causes of either pain or acute discomfort, many of us prefer to trade horror stories. The acceptance of mediocrity is rampant even amongst the elite who confuse the ability to simply pay for a new product (instead, for example, of challenging the initial service provider or seller of whatever subpar merchandise) with the idea that they have transcended Nigeria’s difficulties.
We are a nation of “wait and see what happens” (which enables the eternal replication of the status quo), wetin concern you and “you’re not the first person this has happened to”. These common phrases discourage everyday people from either taking a stand on any matter or from feeling they have the power to do anything about it. Nowhere are such thoughts and ideas more dangerous than in the political space where the victors of electoral contests transmit their unexceptional contributions with disastrous consequences for the rest of society.
In more developed democracies, one rarely finds lifelong aspirants, that is, people who’ve contested general elections more than once, lost, then returned again and again to seek yet another party’s ticket. Our democracy is simply a means to an end for such politicians, it is only the vehicle of their aspirations, it is neither a guiding principle nor a thought process which they seek to apply to procure benefits for the majority.
Every election cycle creates more and more candidates, more and more parties to the point where the cost of organisation of primaries, elections and any political event becomes difficult to bear due to the sheer number of aspirants. Tragically, the exploding number of contestants doesn’t mean a higher number of ordinary people are becoming more involved in politics or attempting to contest. It simply means that the system keeps replicating itself by bringing in more and more people loyal to the principles of its chaotic nature and dysfunction, therefore refusing the development of fresh ideas. Virtually every election cycle brings about the same names over and over again.
We rarely interrogate manifestos or demand to know the exact ways or strategies which aspirants will use to actualise their so-called dreams for Nigeria. We forget just how much the idea of a perpetual political aspiration runs counter to the democratic principle of giving others a chance to prove themselves or to show what they can do. In other climes, contests are based on ideas, so the assumption is that if one couldn’t convince voters the first time then one probably won’t be able to do so a second, third, fourth, fifth etc. time around.
In Nigeria, political calculations are “different” to say the least and the choice is often between the average and the abysmal due to our own unwillingness to play an active role in politics. One often hears “leave politics to politicians” as if it were a badge of honour to be apolitical rather than the exact reason why nothing ever seems to change in Nigeria.
Many of today’s aspirants, Sule Lamido, David Mark, Atiku Abubakar, etc. are categorised by many Nigerians as belonging to the same generation. From allegations of the roles they allegedly played in the annulment of the election Bashorun M.K.O Abiola who is now officially recognised to have won, Nigerians need to remember history and understand that people who have been in power, and had a chance to effect many of the changes and policies they now champion because they are out of office, won’t necessarily or suddenly implement them.
The people who are the cornerstone of our oppressive system of generalised poverty and inequality, the same people who refuse to reform it because they don’t want to lose any perks, such as the salaries and bonuses in the National Assembly, are hardly the people one should expect real change from. We would rather believe those accused of corruption are being witch hunted because we cannot otherwise cope with the reality of what it means to have highly placed individuals allegedly directly involved in keeping Nigerians poor and desperate. We can’t cope and so we would rather lie to ourselves.
Yet, we must find a way to cope and to get out. In horror movies, there are always warning signs telling the protagonists to get out, to leave the haunted house yet they choose to ignore them.
Cultivation of mediocrity
We are in a hostage situation but the weapon used to keep us docile is our own acceptance and cultivation of mediocrity. In the next few years, unless something is done, 90% of the Senate will be comprised of former governors being paid twice: once by their home state through outrageously large pensions and again through salaries, cars and other “gifts” received through the National Assembly.
Yet, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, besides stating it is his zone’s “turn” to produce a President has said nothing of this (and why should he seeing as Nigerians haven’t asked the question). The average person’s salary continues to stagnate, we are facing a crisis in education that threatens our democracy (which is responsible for insecurity and other social ills) but some Nigerians consider voting for people causing problems with their left hand while claiming to fix them with their right hand. Even the rich are poor in Nigeria: we are grateful to receive the barest minimum. Our “it could be worse” mindset renders us incapable of recognising where the danger truly lies.
THE former minister of finance resigned recently (a rarity in Nigeria) after allegations surfaced that her NYSC exemption certificate was fake.
I’d like to encourage Nigerians not to be content with dealing with the symptoms of a problem while ignoring its root cause. Nigeria’s bureaucratic opacity and complexity means that simple tasks such as renewing a driver’s licence (or obtaining any document) is an uphill task often necessitating the intervention of a middle man.
This is the root of corruption in most government agencies. Information is neither available nor accessible without an “inside man” who may or may not be honest or willing to do things properly.
This is not a defense of Mrs. Adeosun but simply pushing us towards intellectual honesty: how many people actually sat a driver’s test before getting their licence? What is good for the goose is also good for the gander: those celebrating Mrs Adeosun’s resignation should be honest enough to also query why a senator should become so adamant that he would neither be impeached nor resign.
Or are ethics only expected of APC members because they professed to be the party of “change”?
Peoples Democratic Party
THERE are rumours that a number of presidential aspirants are plotting to receive automatic return tickets to the Senate should their presidential aspirations fail.
Why is the possibility of retiring from politics so alien to Nigerians? It is usually difficult to simultaneously run for President and retain one’s seat in another office. Running for President is a huge responsibility which we take too lightly in this country.
If Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, etc. could retire after their failed presidential bids then why do we allow some people to endlessly cling to power here, especially those with no policies or social activism to show for their time in office? Senator Clinton was responsible for pushing health care reforms. Al Gore is best known for environmental activism. How many senators’ landmark legislations can you name? Why does our system endlessly promote unproductive elements to national prominence?
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.