It may sound naïve, especially for a person who is obviously a partisan, but my concern and alarm have little to do with who won or lost in the National Assembly leadership elections palaver. Easy as this can be lost on the gladiators, we could be collectively sabotaging the poor ordinary people of Nigeria desperate for change. Could this elite which has consistently failed to find its mission and do for its people what their old classmates in schools in the United States and the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the West, have done for their people in Asia and Latin America, unwittingly miss this window built on a change mantra, and betray another generation? It was with this spirit of wondering how easily we chase power, unmindful of purpose that I exclaimed on seeing the political bloodletting in the National Assembly leadership selection. My reaction was, Oh my God, not again! With the process and outcome clearly signalling disunity, lack of discipline and weak goal-setting, and severe goal displacement, the least impact would be challenged implementation of what the people voted for.
Oh no! It’s not happening again. Not again in my life time! But it was happening. The sense of déjà vu was not just troubling, and evidently palpable, it had a puzzling force that left you feeling and wondering how this is possible; the way you feel when a 747 or an A380 is tossed around by mere wind in clear air turbulence. The vote for change had run into turbulence at the inauguration of the National Assembly. It was not about who won or who the battle was against. It was about a public brawl and the change agenda.
It was about the ordinary people who had persevered so much in the face of underperforming and uncaring governments beholden to special interests and so seemingly unable, or unwilling, to go where less endowed rivals in other parts of the world have gone, and dramatically improved the lot of the people. To drive a change agenda for which the people voted in April, legislative common purpose was a clear imperative. To go to legislative inauguration without party discipline and with a fractious mode and the old ways, of, money and personality politics in top flight, was to betray the voters of this country, and that is what June 9 means to me. Hope has again been annulled and for the third time in my life a costly battle for change has again been hijacked. As 1993 and 1999, so seems to have gone 2015, if the people do not fight back.
I was lamenting these things when someone called my attention to an advertised full page opinion by some concerned APC members in the Daily Trust Newspaper of June 9. That advert was so reminiscent of the kinds of advertisements published in 1993/94 by the Concerned Professionals that I did exactly the same thing I did in 1993.
In that year, many of us had canvassed a change agenda. The Social Democratic Party and its torch- bearer, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, had come to symbolise that change. Two days after that historic vote, I journeyed to the US to attend a convention. It was at that convention that a Ugandan delegate came up to me, very angry, saying: “You Nigerians, you Nigerians, whenever Africa is set for progress, you drag us back.” I was not sure what he was talking about, but that was how I learnt of the annulment of the June 12 election. I immediately packed my stuff and went up to my room and began writing an OPED piece that would appear under the title, “We Must Say Never Again.” That piece resulted in the founding of the Concerned Professionals. That body acquitted itself well in the struggle against military rule. It was a principle-based struggle. They may have sent policemen to beat us up as we protested and sent assassins after a few like myself but the principle was not lost on them.
When Sani Abacha passed and they withdrew under pressure, we erred in thinking our work was done. The politics of the last 16 years that followed left Nigerians so exasperated that they jumped on the Change mantra. So uplifted were they with the outcome that they assumed their world would change dramatically come May 29. Such was the expectations that analysts worried the expectations were unrealistic and bordered on expecting miracles.
Then comes June 9. For days before the votes for the National Assembly leaders, I kept saying that for me, it was not about a particular candidate but about a process that shows party discipline and national consensus around an agenda for change. If the process gets fractured, I had warned what will happen will include a return to the old ways of vote buying in which goals of the common good are traded off in the old goal displacement ways, for money and self-interest. Then there is the loss of speed on consensus critical for change legislation. My song was clearly a borrowed verse from the US President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed: It is better for all to be inside the house pissing out, than for some to be outside the house pissing in.
It is easy to see it as a simple political game if you miss the cost of these simple games for why Nigeria is poor and our society is marked by much disharmony. You may then analyse the New PDP vs other groups in the All Progressives Congress, or checking certain power blocs. Even many of the actors who presume to be acting in self-interest have embraced a narcissism that has blinded them to their own long term self-interest, as they embrace short term personal gain. Because of this the “only business in town”, politics, manages to do continuous damage to the real sector businesses which give life to a majority of the people. But to the short sighted, it does not matter, this is politics. So, my view was, sort these things out, whether in smoke filled rooms, or in a sanctuary of truth and love for the suffering poor of this endowed society. The signalling from a public brawl that will bruise egos and carve cleavages into the polity and etch animosities into the relationships even in intra-party affairs may create momentary victories but they have a sad way of amounting to pyrrhic victories and delaying the reclaiming of the promise of Nigeria.
With mountain high challenges in the economy, trailed by an unemployment time bomb, security problems that go beyond the Boko Haram and kidnappings, and electricity and petroleum sectors, in much need for reforms, even as corruption, failing education and health care make us a tribe of refugees around the planet, now was not the time for politics as usual.
I have tired of worrying about raw political power, quest for possessions and quick inclination to predation (The 3Ps) muzzling Purpose, to prevent progress, in Nigeria. June 9 brought it home again. There could be merit in the pocket wars and persons that were the target of breaching the consensus for change on that day, but the consequence will no doubt be progress deferred. The big losers, the people, the small mechanic who needs electric power for a job to earn the next meal, the farmer who remains in subsistence because poor infrastructure locks him out while public officials live like Lords off a wobbly state, to the truth and prescription the citizen typically go away forlorn for they swallow the lies of politics as usual. The only solution for me is people power. The people must say to a political class riding roughshod on their well-being: Enough is enough. People power must come to save the people recovering from the euphoria of a promise of change that seems deferred again.
What was the purpose of the vote for change? The purpose is an elite that for one generation failed a people and denied them the progress they deserve and desire, should change their way and bring progress to the greatest number of people. The patience had worn thin. Now, it is the people who must now take back their country anyway they see fit. They cannot watch as Singapore escapes Third World status, South Korea becomes one of the most knowledge-driven high income societies on earth and Brazil goes from potential to a top 10 economy in the world. These countries found a patriotic elite at some point that sacrificed for progress. Since Nigeria has been repeatedly denied such by its elite, the people may have no choice but to rise up and save themselves. There were enough blame for June 9 to go around, from the APC hierarchy whose complicit role was put forward in the advert I referred to in the Daily Trust by some concerned APC members, to the PDP leadership whose business, no doubt, is to make the party in government uncomfortable but which must know that in decent societies a government must be allowed to settle in and not for legislators to collaborate with those across the Isle in ways that can be disruptive. Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin again.
- Utomi, a political economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership