By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN,
“The question I ask myself is: Must you lie if you want to remain in politics?”
Deeply woven within the fabric of every human society is an interplay between politics, morality, and law. Regardless, the relationship between these three has never been seamless; much so that Niccolo Machiavelli famously noted that politics have no relation to morals.
Yet, every society is governed by a set of rules by which its members are expected to conduct their affairs and in reality, the rules that bind society are largely derived from the morals held by the said society. No wonder a famous scholar, Ravi Zacharias, stated that when we talk of politics, we moralise; and when we talk of morals, we politicise.
Morals have been defined by scholars as the principles concerning rights and wrongs or good and bad behaviour. Morals are principles for describing, evaluating the degree to which something is right or wrong. Morals have also been defined as the ultimate principles and criteria whereby social behaviour is judged and indicates conformity with recognized rules or correct conduct.
As a result, the importance of morals to virtually all aspects of human conduct and endeavour cannot be over-emphasized. Indeed, so strong is the issue of morals that in several cases, principles of morality have been transformed into legislation.
As everyone would agree that it is wrong to take human life without justification, it is, therefore, no surprise that the laws of all countries criminalise the wrongful taking of lives. However, due to differences in culture, what may be morally correct in one society may not be so in another society. This is easily recognisable when it is considered that the passage of laws to prohibit same-sex marriage and other homosexual conduct in Nigeria, Uganda and some other African countries has met with stiff opposition from countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom where such conduct have come to be accepted as normal.
Conversely, whilst many African men and even women find nothing objectionable in polygamy, the very thought of it is objectionable in many Western societies.
However, one area in which I feel that morals and morality should play an important role irrespective of culture, religion, social, or economic circumstances is in that of politics. Politics in all countries of the world offers a means of participation in the affairs of the country. Politicians participate in politics with a view to attaining and controlling political power.
The attainment of power should not, however, be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end of service to the populace. Politicians, therefore, are expected to exhibit strong morals which should guide them in the discharge of the duties of public office.
Where politicians exhibit traits which call into question their morality, they are in most cases called into account by the public. The late President Richard Nixon of the United States of America was impeached over allegations of involvement in what has become known as the Watergate Scandal.
In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton faced impeachment proceedings over allegations that he had lied under oath in relation to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
In the United Kingdom, a member of the cabinet was forced to resign his position over allegations which later turned out to be false that he had interfered with police investigations. Where morals and morality play a role, partisanship will have little effect on the ability or willingness of the politician to deliver on his electoral promises or hamper his ability to place the interest of the electorate above his or that of his party.
To be certain, politicians are expected to remain true and steadfast to the ideals and objectives of their parties. However, there are times when the greater good may dictate that politicians adopt a bipartisan approach when sticking stubbornly to the views of their parties would be unproductive or outrightly immoral.
During the tenure of President Donald Trump, an attempt to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act popularly known as Obamacare failed as some Republican members of the Senate, out of their conviction that repealing the Act without putting in place a viable alternative, would be counterproductive and hurtful to most Americans, broke ranks with their party and failed to vote for the repeal.
Close to two centuries before then, some members of the Democratic Party in the Senate broke ranks with their party to join their counterparts in the Republican Party in voting to pass the thirteenth Amendment to the American Constitution for the abolition of all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude.
Politics in the Nigerian political space: When one thinks of Machiavelli’s famous quote that politics have no relation to morals, Nigerian politicians tend to come to mind. They have, overtime, failed to match the level of public-spirited consciousness which appears to guide their counterparts in other parts of the world. In Nigeria, politicians see nothing wrong in making electoral promises which they know they cannot fulfill and even have no intention of fulfilling.
Even when they eventually attain political office, they continually engage in conducts which call into question the moral standards with which they conduct their affairs. Regrettably, it appears that Nigerians over the years have become used to the unscrupulous politician without any moral standard such that many have gotten away with conduct which in other climes would have brought about their political demise.
Even in cases where it has been absolutely necessary, Nigerian politicians have often failed to rise above petty partisanship. In confirmation of the attitude of the Nigerian politician to the issue of morals, the governor of a state in Nigeria was once reported to have made certain statements that attracted wide comments including several newspaper editorials on the place of morality in Nigerian politics.
He was reported to have stated as follows among others: “if you cannot lie, get out of politics. Anything you are involved in has its own rules. You are in politics to win, win first and let other things follow. Don’t be the one crying louder, lest you will be the one they will take to court. If you are talking of honesty or morals, go and become an imam or pastor. Politics cannot be the way it used to be. The challenges are more now, the variables have changed, the issues we are going to face in 2015 are different from the ones we faced in 1999 and we must bear this in mind….”
The question I ask myself is: Must you lie if you want to remain in politics? Yet again, politics must not be divorced from morality. According to the sage, Mahatma Gandhi, the seven social sins are politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.