There are a few truisms about the political space in Nigeria. One is that it is predominantly occupied by, to put it politely…people who cannot do anything else. They had nothing to do before they got in, contributed nothing to their communities (no, procreation does not count) and will have absolutely no idea what to do when/if they have to leave. The second is that it is absolutely/hands down the most financially lucrative venture to indulge in. The rewards are astronomical and relatively risk free… for those going in to uphold the status quo. The third is that to be highly successful in the political space, a person must murder the ability to be honest; swallow dignity and unashamedly embrace the most nauseating form of sycophancy – the proudly made in Nigeria strain.
As a result of the first three truisms, the fourth truism is that the type of person who should inhabit the political space –who cares and is skilled enough to actually make a difference in moving Nigeria in the right direction – is reluctant and even scared of participating.2015 is already clearly in play and as some begin to deliberate about candidates and consider options about how to start tugging a reluctant political class and its machinery towards better governance, it is necessary to analyse the group captured by the fourth truism. As a few members of the professional class and civil society struggle with themselves about their responsibilities as citizens or their desires to enter into the political space, it is important to understand what makes our ‘dream candidates’ wary or afraid of attempting to actively participate in a space defined by Nigerian political truisms.
Apart from the obvious obstacles to participating such as the violence, the occultism and the compromise deals there are other less obvious reasons why people stay out of the political space.
The possibility of damaging their reputation is a deterrent to many. The reality and perception of corruption within government is so pervasive that some are reluctant to accept political appointments for fear of being seen as just taking the opportunity to dip into the oil pool. The belief that government is not a place for people of honour and integrity is so strong that some, including foreigners, automatically ‘rethink’ what they believe they know about a person once news filters out linking certain names with elective or appointive positions. This is unfair but not entirely unfounded. It is unfair because there is no doubt that public officials will lead slightly different lives from the rest of the public, not because they are above the public but their duties are such that they should be excused from certain routine activities. As late Václav Havel– activist turned President of Czechoslovakia put it – it is not the best use of his time as president to still have to make his own airline bookings when an assistant can be employed at the state’s expense to enable him focus on more important issues. The burden of making decisions which affect millions is a heavy one and the less routine things certain officials have to contend with, the better.
“There are few things scarier to than having to question what we think we know about ourselves. When people considered ‘one of us’, previously concerned about government transparency and accountability start sounding exactly like Ministers of Information– unable to see any perspective outside the frames of their political parties or principals; this creates doubt. Will we be able to stay true to the values we think define us – will we be able to resist the stare from cold raw cash? Some would rather not know.”
However in Nigeria government officials take undue advantage of their positions to pile on privileges which are unjust and in complete discord with the services they provide the public. For instance, there are government agencies in Nigeria where the commissioners are paid a leave allowance of N10 million per annum in addition to other benefits. It is these types of unconscionable perks which make people believe any participation in government cannot be justified by people of conscience. And this is without the pit falls and traps the more politically savvy lay out for those who come from the ‘outside’.
There is also the fear of metamorphosis. This is a difficult one to explain because clearly as far as the eye can see entering into the political space in Nigeria comes with an obvious transformation into a world of fantastic privileges and untold access to money and opportunities; where roads and people part miraculously before Nigerian political disciples to provide the space required for mutated egos and the billowing escape of balance and perspective. It is character metamorphosis that worries the people captured by the fourth truism. There are few things scarier to than having to question what we think we know about ourselves. When people considered ‘one of us’, previously concerned about government transparency and accountability start sounding exactly like Ministers of Information– unable to see any perspective outside the frames of their political parties or principals; this creates doubt. Will we be able to stay true to the values we think define us – will we be able to resist the stare from cold raw cash? Some would rather not know.
This trepidation is legitimate and although there are mitigating possibilities to checkmate the fears and guard against strengthening the truisms – the ultimate choice to participate in the Nigerian political space in order to bring the type of change required is a lonely and sacrificial one. There are a few public and private examples which brighten our political landscape and this is where we should focus for inspiration. Little else other than active participation will change the political landscape in Nigeria and if the people with the most to offer stay away because of the heat, the output from the kitchen will continue to disappoint and destroy. The words of Thomas Sankara, one of the few philosopher revolutionaries Africa has delivered are particularly poignant as the Nigerians from the elite/middle class and civil society labour with their responsibilities, roles and strategies for dragging Nigeria away from his current self-destructive
course. “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the
courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.”