Viewpoint

February 14, 2022

Games politicians play

Games politicians play

By Nick Dazang

For scholars who majored in International Relations or who took the course as an elective/minor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, John Spanier’s Games Nations Play: Analyzing International Politics and Joan Edelman Spero’s The Politics of International Economic Relations were compulsory reading.

The two insightful classics, authored by two distinguished scholars, were first published in 1972 and 1977 respectively. While Spanier took his PhD from the Ivy League Yale University, he was Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida from 1957-1996. His book is in its ninth edition.

Spero, who did her PhD at the well respected Columbia University, went on to become Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs under President Bill Clinton. Her seminal book is in its seventh edition. Both texts, Games Nations Play and The Politics Of International Economic Relations, were written against the background of the Cold War and the bi-polar rivalry in which the two superpowers, the United States of America and the defunct Soviet Union, were the predominant players on the world stage.

Though Spanier and Spero were Americans, their texts stood out for their professionalism, scholarship and lucidness. They explained the strategies, the institutions and the proxies which the superpowers consummately deployed. And they did so in a disinterested manner, devoid of propaganda and partisanship.

In a tribute to Spanier’s Games Nations Play, Goodreads described the book as: “A study of the shifting balance of power in the world today, and the domestic factors and varying perceptions of reality that influence policy decisions.” By virtue of the date established by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, some few years ago, namely that the presidential election shall henceforth take place on the third Saturday of February in an election year, it follows that the 2023 presidential election shall take place on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

As we wait for President Muhammadu Buhari, with bated breath, to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill which will enable INEC to issue the Timetable And Schedule of Activities for the conduct of the 2023 general elections and which will in turn spur the contest for power, one recalls with nostalgia John Spanier’s classic.

As is usual when elections are afoot, the political space becomes agog with excitement and colour. At the end of a tenure or election cycle, aspirants begin to showcase their bonafides and to demonstrate the stuff they are made of. Either they are consulting, awaiting the Election Management Body, EMB, to issue the Notice of Elections (which will presage party primaries, the emergence of candidates and officially kick start campaigns) or they are engaging spin doctors and public relations experts who will burnish their image and help sell them to the electorate.

In a sense, and to parody Spanier, our politicians play games as well. And they deploy all manner of stratagems, from the sublime to the ludicrous. As I write, not less than a dozen aspirants have indicated interest to contest the office of the president in 2023. What is clear, going by the list, is that it is the same old, jaded line.

It is the “Usual Suspects” (apologies to Bryan Singer) all over (no offence meant, please), prompting one to wonder what happened to the “Not too young to run” Act and the fact that the Electoral Amendment Bill now puts presidential nomination forms at a maximum of N10 million, far cheaper than the outrageous ”Expression of Interest” fees hitherto coaxed from aspirants by political parties.

If some of the gladiators are of the “old school” stock, most have elected to go by our well worn political play book. Either they are adopting the strategy of “hard sale” or aggression or they are deploying “soft sale” or being cautious. Among the aggressive types must be Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governor Dave Umahi and Senator Rochas Okorocha.

The three have taken the unprecedented step of announcing to the President their aspirations first before informing Nigerians who will determine their fates. Mr. Okorocha went beyond aggression by being quixotic.

ALSO READ: 2023: No power shift agreement in Delta politics since 1999 — Group

Rather than clear himself of charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, he chose to explain himself to the President, as if he (the President) were a court of competent jurisdiction. Among those who excel in soft sale must be the bashful and self-effacing Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and Governor John Fayemi Kayode of Ekiti State.

The two aspirants would rather prefer that they test the waters using proxies and a phalanx of “Support Groups”. Rather than come clean, they are coy, letting their surrogates to do the wooing, thereby leaving room for a tactical retreat should that become expedient. Apart from deploying the strategies of hard and soft sale, the aspirants have excelled in consultations.

Elder statesmen, led by the ever wily former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, are the hosts of these aspirants. Thus far, not less than four presidential aspirants have consulted with the former President. Chief Tinubu outdid the other aspirants by taking his consultations to far flung London.

To facilitate and enable the game politicians are playing, a plethora of spin doctors, support groups and fly-by-night consultants have mushroomed into the political space. Suddenly, the media – traditional and social – are awash with blandishments and articles extolling the virtues of presidential and governorship aspirants.

Aspirants are either dressed in the superlative garbs of miracle workers and super men or the borrowed dresses of prophets and seers. In the event you have not noticed, suddenly, the invectives that used to attend exchanges between our vibrant socio-cultural groups have ceased. In their place are civilised exchanges, visitations and show of good will.

The other day, the youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo was hosted by its equivalent in the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, in Kaduna. In what appears a historic handshake across the River Niger, Afenifere was reported as supporting the notion of an Igbo presidential candidate.

The other interesting issues politicians have canvassed, for self-serving and opportunistic reasons, of course, are those of zoning and age. While those who want, willy nilly, to hang on to power are quick to discountenance zoning, others who have not accessed power at the federal level are vociferous about it and they are holding tightly to it to make a case for power rotation.

A defender of the aged argued that the presidency was not some menial labour requiring physical exertion. And while we thought we had seen the back of godfatherism, it has reared its ugly head in Ekiti State. In that state, two contenders for the impending governorship election are reported to be anointed candidates of a former governor of the state and the incumbent.

Except President Buhari who has said he is not interested in who succeeds him, not a few governors are obsessed with their successors. While others are concerned that their legacies should be perpetuated, others are concerned about who will have their backs or “protect their interests”.

We also seem to have a throw back to the testy rivalry between the then National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, which hallmarked the Second Republic.

Vanguard News Nigeria