This year, another tumultuous period in the electoral cycle begins in earnest. Ambition, bravery, ego, wisdom and foolishness all locked in a battle for supremacy and attention. The cacophony of noise renting the putrid air, the foot soldiers pounding the streets, knocking on doors and twisting arms at the behest of the master.
This is complemented by promises of Jam and Jerusalem to the bewildered and jaded masses asked to choose for the umpteenth time, between a load of prodigious, but ultimately batty policy ideas, permutations, presentations and pontifications. This is not to talk of the naïve and the gullible whipped into a frenzy of highly seductive, but puerile promises built on a flimsy patriotic fervour and paternalism. The dramatis personae in all this are always self-assured and self-serving in equal measure. They are also often self-deluded, and supremely egoistical. Their ultimate goal is power – over us, the electorate.
Some of the central characters will already be familiar faces indeed. Many of them have been lurking around the alleys like dogs on occasions like this for years. First, they belonged to the losing party, then, they made a comeback as local government chairmen for the ruling party, then, they morphed into senators, then, governors, then, ministers, and now having again crossed carpet, seek a return to re-take their senatorial and governor seats; their birth right of course! Others will appear, out of the blue, like the 17th Century brigands, to smash and grab before proclaiming dominion over a hapless citizenry. Yet, there is a method in this collective madness. For some, the modus operandi is persuasion, sweat and the old fashioned hard graft. For others, it is chicanery, skulduggery and violence.
The madness is not essentially native to Nigeria, neither is it to Africa for that matter. When the former US President, Barack Obama, was running for office in 2008, the current US President, Donald Trump, was so incensed, so enraged and so filled with racial animus that he hired a coterie of private detectives and media hounds to dig for “dirt” on the then candidate Obama. Trump wanted to unearth anything that would discredit Obama to stop him from getting to the White House. He did that under the guise of ascertaining Obama’s correct place of birth, but in truth, it was a thinly veiled attack on his race as an African-American, who had the audacity to be running for President of the United States. Fast forward to 2016, the same Donald Trump, running for President of the United States, was so obsessed with winning that he was alleged to have colluded with Russia intelligence to undermine and damage his political opponent, Hilary Clinton, at the polls. He won the election, which the entire US intelligence community says was marred by Russian interference on a scale never seen before in the country. Trump’s administration is now under investigation, the conclusion of which could yet upend his Presidency.
Former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, knows what it is to be keen on presidential power. For all his vaulted ambition though, no one would accuse him of being as ruthless as President Donald Trump had been in his pursuit power. What we see, generally though, in our political system, is the level of crude, direct personal attack on body and soul for whoever is thought of as an opponent. “Political opponent” has no known roots in any indigenous African language. An “opponent” is an enemy that must be crushed, come what may. Earlier this year, when the Supreme Court in Kenya annulled the Presidential election and ordered a new one, President Uhuru Kenyatta lashed out at the judges, calling them “crooks”, who would be “fixed” after the election. The main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, promptly withdrew his candidacy, allowing Kenyatta to run unopposed. The threat on the judges was enough for Odinga to understand that the President meant business, which was to retain power at all costs. Africa is still the continent of no-one-else-but-me political rulers. Hat off to Paul Biya (Cameroon), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) etc.
As even Western democratic practise often symbolises, elections are times for big ideas, they are also times for washing one’s dirty linens in public. “We are right, they are wrong” is a mindset that is the hallmark of tribal politics everywhere; East, West, North and South. The only difference is we amplify this in our own politics to a degree that is decidedly crushing, and regularly deadly in our communities. As we reflect on this season of horse-trading, soul wrenching, community destroying, winner-takes-all chess game called democracy, let us reflect more on its essence. Politics in its classic sense, is all about who gets what, when and where. Nigeria is a country united only around one product, oil.
Without this “black gold” as it is euphemistically called, Nigeria as an entity would not exist. It is the one product every other layer of government in the country feeds on. It is the one product that brings joy as well as sorrow, tears and blood onto our streets and living rooms with alarming regularity. It accounts for recession in our economy as well as boom whenever we experience either. It is the one product that sadly renders our politics a do or die, totalitarian affair. A governor of an oil-rich state boastful of his fighting prowess on the streets during an election, once goaded visiting political opponents to his state to remember to sign their wills before entering the embattled state, as he was determined to meet fire with fire. How sad. How heartrending.
As I sign off this first piece of the year with a ting of melancholy in my belly, please bear in mind one enduring aphorism; as long as there is only one bone for three dogs, it is futile to expect peace in the kernel.
Happy New Year everyone!