By Simon Kolawole
IF you want to get Nigerians excited to the highest level, start a discussion on politics. Whip up sentimental discussions on our political divides and see adrenalin in action. Our collective ecstasy is best stimulated by political intrigues. We were created for rallies, defections, impeachments, permutations, all-night plotting and scheming. That is when you see Nigerians — both the leaders and the misled — at their best. The excitement is out of this world. Newspapers sell more copies and news websites get more hits and page views. You will never see the same excitement when the issues at stake are about healthcare, education or power.
Last month, angry Benue youths blocked the state governor, Chief Samuel Ortom, from attending an APC meeting. They asked him to leave the party. How many governors have been blocked by angry citizens over unpaid salaries, bad roads and maternal mortality? Never mind. Did you see the massive crowd that turned out to welcome Senator Aliyu Wamakko to Sokoto to downplay Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s defection to PDP? I can assure you that 5 per cent of that crowd will not turn up if a rally was called to protest against unemployment and insecurity. Maybe Joseph de Maistre, the French philosopher, was right: every nation gets the government it deserves.
In 2013, when the Nigerian Political Billionaires Club, better known by its street name of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), went to war over the famous “16 is greater than 19” game show, I wrote an article, “Fellow Nigerians, It is All Politics” (THISDAY, June 2, 2013). In that article, I pointed out that while the overfed and over-pampered Nigerian politicians were busy fighting ahead of the 2015 elections, the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was busy unveiling plans to build three world-class hospitals and 40 new clinics to promote “medical tourism”. He set out to build hospitals comparable to any medical facility anywhere in the world.
Al Maktoum said he would also build five-star hotels next door to these facilities for the relatives of patients who come for treatment and surgery. The objective was to add another dimension to the Dubai story – trade, travel, real estate and now medical tourism. Fellow Nigerians, may I with all pleasure inform you that Dubai has finished building the hospitals. That is vision. That is leadership. Visionary leadership. That is what develops a country. It has nothing to do with tribe or tongue; it has nothing to do with oil or gas; it has nothing to do with 1963 constitution or restructuring. It has everything to do with competent and patriotic leadership. There is no substitute.
And you know what? Nigerians, particularly the political billionaires, are now shamelessly trooping to Dubai for medical treatment and surgery. We were fighting over governors’ forum when these projects started in 2013. They were built from the scratch. And you know what? LUTH, UCH, UNTH, ABUTH and all the THs in Nigeria, I bet you, are not better today than they were in 2013 when the politicians were fighting over NGF chairmanship. Their disagreement, I did say then, was not about building world-class hospitals and world-class schools. It was not about fixing our roads. It was not about making Nigeria a land of trade and tourism. It was not about turning Nigeria to an exporter of mobile phones, like South Korea, or dairy products, like the Netherlands.
Expectedly, I got my regular dose of abuse from some readers who were mad with me for not pitching my tent with one of the feuding factions. I was accused of sitting on the fence and trying to be politically correct. The fad in Nigeria is that you must belong to a camp in the political football that these guys are playing with our lives. That is the rule. They said I should have taken a stand in favour of either Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, then governor of Rivers state who won the NGF chairmanship election, or Da Jonah Jang, allegedly propped up by President Goodluck Jonathan to neutralise Amaechi — who had been viciously attacking the president after a very public falling out.
A mere case of class misunderstanding among the political oppressors of Nigerians was framed as a fight between democracy and dictatorship — or a struggle between the good guys and the bad guys. You know the drill: the progressive politicians versus the regressive politicians. My opinion then was that this fight was not about how Nigeria was going to be a great nation — and the Nigerian people were not going to be the ultimate beneficiaries of the tussle. We were mere pawns being tossed back and forth by the politicians. It was all politics. But as usual, Nigerians were sucked into the excitement. People get the kind of leaders they deserve, apparently.
As the season of politicking is sucking us in yet again, and a lot of heat is being generated in the polity, I want to seize this opportunity to remind Nigerians that these politicians are toying with our lives again. Nothing has changed. APC, as expected, is playing politics the same way PDP played it for 16 years — using state institutions to intimidate and emasculate their opponents. In my last article, I highlighted how the police, DSS and EFCC were used by PDP governments for political purposes. As the 2019 elections draw close, APC is aping PDP badly and brazenly. My view, again, is that if the PDP guys that are at the receiving end today regain power in 2019, they will do the same thing.
I do not suggest that politicians should not politick. It’s like saying fish should not swim. But to what end? Swimming just for the sake of swimming? Why is there so much passion for politicking and little zeal for development? On the other hand, I am not suggesting that Nigerians should not be interested in these political intrigues. We are political animals, all said and done. But should that be the ultimate source of our enthusiasm? Should that be what we live for every so often? It is very painful that Nigerians cannot just see through these politicians. If we were wise enough, we should be pelting these pot-bellied politicians with rotten eggs rather than siding with any of them.
It seems Nigeria is clearly not ready to practise democracy the way it is done in civilised societies, neither are Nigerians themselves really interested in the principles of democracy. We have turned politics to an end in itself, rather than politics being a means to an end. Everything starts and ends with politics. We have allowed the politicians to pull the wool over our eyes. Yet, all these intrigues, counter-intrigues, scheming, plotting and politicking — by both APC and PDP — are about holding on to power or regaining it. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. I have never seen any difference between APC and PDP; and my glasses are very genuine, even if I have to say that myself.
There is a demand-and-supply aspect to the national mindset on politics. We derive cheap entertainment from politicking. Our leaders, to meet our entertainment needs, place politicking above development. They take the easy way out by supplying us entertainment in abundance. It is the forces of demand and supply at play. We are madly in love with the intrigues and the drama. It helps our leaders a lot. It takes the pressure off them. They orchestrate political divisions to get us excited. We get excited. The most important issues take the back seat. We are just too happy to be entertained. We deserve all the drama we are getting.
What then? Since our politicians can’t seem to get politics right, maybe we should start distracting them by focusing their attention on the basic needs of the people — education, healthcare, security, infrastructure and such like. Let us discuss these issues with the same level of energy, the same intensity of enthusiasm, the same passion that we deploy whenever we are discussing defections and elections and impeachments and PDP and APC. Let us troop out to campaign for greater security of life and property the same way we troop out for political rallies organised by these guys. Let the media prioritise coverage of development issues the same way they cover political intrigues.
Sorry if I have disappointed you by not analysing how the 2019 presidential election will go. You were probably expecting me to analyse how the defections will shape the elections. I have been doing election analyses since like forever. But who election analysis ‘epp? As I write this, 19 hapless Nigerians have died of cholera in Kano state in the last two weeks — but, sorry, 2019 electioneering is our priority. Go to the general hospitals, either federal or state: most of them are still as they have ever been before and after elections. No bed space, no drugs, nauseating nurses, disdainful doctors, and torn window nets. I worry more about infections more than defections. Priorities.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
I’m not one to gloat over anyone’s misfortune, but I find it very hard to overlook the sudden change in fortune for Mr. Lawal Daura, the former director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS). He was fired, arrested, detained, quizzed and later placed under house arrest. His international passport was seized. He could not have imagined this just a week ago. I hope those who are misusing and abusing power today see how things can change so quickly. It appears people never learn from history or they just don’t care. They behave as if they own the world but all power belongs to God. Where are those who terrorised us with power yesterday? Karma.
One of the most shocking defections in our political history must be that of Senator Godswill Akpabio, former governor Akwa Ibom. He was a PDP member for 19 years, was chairman of PDP governors’ forum and was Senate minority leader. No wonder it shook the polity like an earthquake. His defection to APC has been described as an insurance policy (the EFCC had been after him since 2015) — although ex-governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame who defected to APC did not escape justice. Akpabio’s defection should not be treated as an abomination. “Politics of convenience” has been a defining feature of Nigerian politics forever. I have not seen any strange thing yet. Typical.
Am I the only one who thinks the Buhari administration is doing too much to boost the profile of Senate President Bukola Saraki? He has been turned to the main issue since he outsmarted Aso Rock in the senate presidency race in 2015. They should have accepted defeat, cut their losses and moved on. But whenever the government has gone after Saraki, he has managed to wriggle out. His stock, it appears, keeps rising. The APC leadership talks so much about Saraki these days it is becoming an obsession. Inadvertently, they are making Saraki look like the victim. This is winning him a lot of sympathy. As the APC/Saraki entertainment continues this week, I predict a close race. Stalemate.
This is not the kind of news you’d normally thirst for. Patrick Okumu-Ringa, a Ugandan politician, does not like to lose, especially when he has invested so much in the people for decades. After losing a recent parliamentary by-election, Okumu-Ringa angrily dismantled all the boreholes he had built in the constituency, accusing the voters of being ungrateful to him. The boreholes had been supplying water free-of-charge to the people for the past 20 years, but that did not mean anything to them as they still refused to vote for Okumu-Ringa in the Nebbi municipality parliamentary poll. This is the first time I am hearing of refundable boreholes. Hilarious.
Simon Kolawole is the founder and CEO of TheCable. He tweets @simonkolawole.
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