By Douglas Anele
At this point, it is time to revert to the title of this essay which claims that it is futile to shame the shameless. Ever since the emergence of party politics in Nigeria by the second decade of the twentieth century, different sets of politicians have manifested varied degrees of shamelessness and debased version of Machiavellian approach to politics in the quest for political power.
However, in spite of their shortcomings leading politicians of the immediate post-independence period played politics with considerable gumption and commitment to the interests of their people. That is why till today a sizeable number of people from the former eastern region still remember Dr. Michael Okpara with nostalgia, whereas the average Yoruba person considers Chief Awolowo to be the greatest politician to emerge from the descendants of Oduduwa.
In the north the legacies of Sir Ahmadu Bello and Mallam Aminu Kano remain a source of inspiration for politicians there and beyond. Unfortunately, since the end of the Biafran war in 1970 the moral quality and leadership quotient of Nigerian politicians have dropped considerably such that certificate forgers, detestable scoundrels, fraudsters, people of questionable character and dubious antecedents – in short, undesirable elements of the worst kind who have no business whatsoever in politics – have taken centre stage at all levels of political leadership in the country.
The presidency of Alhaji Alhaji Shehu Shagari was in some aspects a clone of the premiership of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. To begin with, just as the agent of British colonisation, Sir James Robertson, manipulated the 1959 elections so that Balewa his bosom friend whose subservient attitude to Britain made him a suitable tool for surreptitious British control of ‘independent’ Nigeria would become Prime Minister, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in concert with military agents of the caliphate ensured that Shagari, a school teacher, defeated better qualified candidates for the presidency two decades later, namely, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Furthermore, the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) led by Dr. Azikiwe entered into a shaky power-sharing accord with Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN), with NPN as the senior partner just as the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was in relation to Azikiwe’s the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) shortly after independence.
That Azikiwe and Awolowo repeated in 1979 precisely the same mistake they made in the First Republic by not coming together to form a counterweight to the hegemonist political calculus of the dominant faction of the northern power block is a striking instantiation of the claim that history often repeats itself. The claim has been made repeatedly that Shagari, like Balewa, was a humble upright man, which might probably be true.
But it is clear that efficient leadership of a fractious complex country such as Nigeria requires much more than uprightness and humility anchored on devotion to Islam. It requires knowledge, wisdom, discipline, and unequivocal commitment to merit and excellence rooted in the determination to follow through good policies and stamp out corruption.
In my view, both Balewa and Shagari in their previous positions did not manifest the qualities listed a moment ago to the degree required from anyone that should occupy the highest political office based on merit.
That said, although the dramatic fall in oil prices had a serious negative impact on Nigeria’s economy when Shagari was President, corruption amongst top members of the political elite epitomised in the rice importation scandal involving the then minister of transport, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, aggravated the situation.
Alhaji Sabo Barkin Zuwo’s comedic attitude to governance was quixotic, whereas Chief Arthur Nzeribe unabashedly claimed during his electioneering campaigns that willingness to spend large sums of money is the ultimate determinant of who wins what in Nigerian politics. By the time the Second Republic was abruptly terminated, politicians were already losing the capacity to feel shame no matter the gravity of their immoral conduct.
Of course, the military adventurers that seized power especially in 1975, 1983, 1985 and 1993 under the guise of fighting corruption, improving security and rebuilding the economy lied to gullible Nigerians.
With the benefit of hindsight, one can determine that their primary objective was to take power by force in order to enrich themselves and their families and cronies. Equally important for the ringleaders of the coups is to entrench northern (or Fulani caliphate) stranglehold on political power at the federal level with the concomitant control of the impressive economic resources in southern Nigeria.
Prominent senior military officers and politicians from the south have been naïve and foolish because despite their educational superiority they failed as a group to understand that their northern counterparts are committed to northern control of political power, which largely explains why Northern military heads of state from Gen. Yakubu Gowon to late Gen. Sani Abacha politically calibrated and ruled Nigeria in such a way that the north would remain the dominant political power block both under military and civilian dispensations.
Accordingly, by the time civilian rule was reinstated on May 29, 1999, the template of northern domination designed by the British immediately before independence and perfected by a succession of northern military heads of state aided and abetted by acolytes from the south was in full effect. The most despicable of shameless politicians are the Igbo who repeatedly connive with northerners to marginalise their own people.
Judged by relevant objective standards, in 1999 Dr. Alex Ekwueme was better qualified for the presidency than Chief Obasanjo who was just released from prison almost penniless and obviously traumatised by the experience. Yet, according to reports Igbo politicians in the PDP working for Obasanjo as the favourite of the dominant northern ruling military-civilian establishment, betrayed Ekwueme at the Jos convention.
During the sixteen years PDP was in power, the shamelessness of politicians reached an alarming level. Aside from the usual problem of corruption and legalised looting of funds through outrageous allowances and pensions for certain categories of political offices, politician canonised the ugly habit of decamping from one party to another the moment they lose their party primaries for elective positions or are schemed out of lucrative positions.
This is partly because all the parties are ideologically barren: their manifestoes are mere pieces of paper to fulfil requirements for registration purposes without solid philosophical base. Again, for shameless Nigerian politicians politics is a dirty game in which the person who out-rigs you out-politics you. Commitment to moral principles or ideology means nothing to them.
With time, Nigerians began to associate politicians with lying, deception, betrayal, kleptomania and megalomania. Under PDP Nigeria made some progress economically, politically, and also in the improvement of elections especially with the introduction of smart card readers.
Also worthy of mention are Institutions for handling certain aspects of our national life such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) among others.
Even, the level of corruption went down a little bit in 2014 from 148 to 136 according to Transparency International (TI). Unfortunately, the modest gains were not consolidated as a result of indiscipline and financial rascality by politicians.
To be continued