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The order of things

By Obadiah Mailafia

SOMEONE recently circulated his thoughts about his personal philosophy of politics and the state of the nation in general. His name shall remain anonymous. His views are sadly typical of the cynical approach in which young people define the structure of our politics today. We quote him in full:

“Nigeria is a stupid nation to think about dying for; I don’t hide my own. I want the best for every citizen but my interests comes (sic) first. I am a PDP member but in governorship I worked against Benue PDP because APC promised me appointment and that’s life of interest. We all work for our pockets. ….Oshiomhole was better in NLC.  Labaran Maku was better as Unijos Students Union Government, SUG. Money closes our minds to rightful judgement. Professor Wole Soyinka says when you hear any man making noise he must either be hungry or (has) been cheated.”

This statement tragically typifies the unprecedented cynicism that has taken over our national consciousness. It is actually worse among the youths who grew up under the baneful culture of militarism and who know nothing better. Some of us saw people such as Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa when we were children. As a young man I met people such as Chief (Dr.) Akanu Ibiam, Chief Simeon Adebo, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and others. Whenever you encountered these personages nobody needed to tell you that you were face-to-face with greatness.

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Our youths of today do not know that there was once a country whose leaders were giants. When my godfather Chief Obafemi Awolowo died, the obituary column of the London Times newspaper described him as a statesman who could have successfully ruled any advanced Western democracy. Awolowo and his generation made their share of mistakes. They were by no means perfect people. But they were intellectual giants. Nobody in the current crop of politicians comes even remotely near them in stature. They wrote books. They articulated principles. They designed plans for Nigeria’s future greatness. In a word, they were statesmen and stateswomen.

To the young who entertain such jaundiced, Luciferian cynicism, I have only this to say: Politics did not begin with Nigeria. It began thousands of years ago among the great civilisations of the Nile and Indus Valleys. Akhenaten and Imhotep. The Egypt of the Pharaohs; Aristotle and Solon in Athenian Greece; Asoka the Wise and his counsellor Kautilya of Chandragupta India; the Pitts of England; Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln of the young American Republic; and from Nehru in India to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela of South Africa.

The great political philosophers from Ibn Sinna and Jalaluddin Rumi to John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau taught that man, in the state of nature, is a warlike beast in a lawless world in which the strong get what they want while the weak grant what they must. The state emerges as a social contract in which citizens agree to lay down their arms in favour of a Leviathan that guarantees protection while monopolising the use of legitimate force. Civil government exists to secure the common peace and to guarantee the welfare of the people. Politics is the struggle to decide who is best placed to determine who gets “what, where and when”.

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To be brutally honest, interests will always exist. The Florentine Prince Niccolo Machiavelli wisely observed that men are beasts. Nothing exposes that beastly nature than the low-intensity warfare that is camouflaged in the deceitful idiom of partisan politics. I saw a lot of it myself when I was the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress. I witnessed the backstabbing, the lying, hypocrisy, betrayal, open hatred – the prevarication and cupidity. For the sake of your health, you must never go into politics unless you have the thick skin to absorb the shock of betrayal and sheer diabolical wickedness.

But beastliness is one thing; the other side of the equation is that there are still good people in Nigeria. Thomas Aquinas spoke about the better angels of our human nature. It was not for nothing that he was known as “the Angelic Doctor”. There are men in politics who are truly citizens of heaven, to borrow the inimitable language of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regis and my patron saint.

Interests are not the ultimate objectives for the true statesman. Politicians will always look out for their own narrow selfish interests. Statesmen, on the other hand, look out for the long-term Common Good. The fact that we in Nigeria have been ruled by goonies doesn’t mean goonieism is the ultimate paradigm of political wisdom.

When the military ruled this country for more than 30 years they instituted a culture of cynicism that has become the hallmark of what people believe to be political sophistication. You lie to the people, govern with impunity and rob the national treasury dry. During the life of our young Third Republic, many of the military barons re-constituted themselves into king-makers. They are innately averse to courageous intellectuals that are committed to progressive politics. They prefer little yes-men. They have the money to call the ultimate shots. They prefer goonies like themselves not those who have what it takes to move this country forward.

The genocide going on in Zamfara is a metaphor for the evil times in which we live. For more than a year now defenceless peasants being killed in their thousands, with no one to protect them. Someone recently sent me a clip where hundreds were being forced to lie down and were being finished off in cold blood with guns and bayonets. Dying in shrieks, whimpers and sighs. Meanwhile the state governor announced his abdication from the role of chief security officer of the state. He now spends most of his time in Abuja while collecting his full emoluments, including the iniquitous security vote.

The journalist Kadaria Ahmed was in the news last week. Some of you would remember her as one of those prominent anchors during the presidential debates on national TV. She is not only a highly skilled journalist, she is a fearless and courageous public intellectual and activist. She described Governor Yari Abul-Aziz as “the most useless governor in Nigeria”. We may not agree with her language, but she spoke from the heart and she was expressing the moral outrage that any well-thinking citizen must feel about what is happening in Zamfara.

As it turns out, much of it has to do with conflict over gold and other precious gems that are said to be abundant in the state. Most of the miners are illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries. They are said to be working for retired military generals and Chinese reptiles that control the mining operations. Most of the proceeds are exported abroad. Of that illicit trading, nothing comes into the national treasury. The Federal Government recently halted all mining in Zamfara until further notice. I suggest we do not stop there. We should send the army to take over the mining sites. In Botswana anyone caught stealing diamonds is instantly executed. We should apply the same draconian law to this situation.

We should also borrow a leaf from Sudan. Several years ago when the government in Khartoum faced a severe balance of payments crisis the reserve bank opened a window for gold and precious stones. All the miners were licensed to mine and sell all their gold and precious gems to the central bank. The latter also guaranteed them a fair price. The gold was used to bolster the country’s foreign reserves, thereby strengthening the Sudanese pound and saving the country’s public finances.

Now is the time for true statesmen and women to stand up and be counted!

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