Of Partisanship and Political Participation

In my private and public spaces, I have been an advocate of political participation by those who so desire, as well as civic engagement by all levels of the population. The engagement and participation of young Nigerians in our political arena today is however not devoid of intrigues and disclaimers. Despite the picture of politics that our fathers have painted for us – that of a dirty game reserved for the ‘devils’ or to put it mildly, the “dregs of the society”, we all as a nation have to endure the outcome of the process, whatever it may be.

There are more than enough literatures, which have severally examined the failure of the best citizens in the society, including those loosely described as technocrats, to be a part of the political process or work for the government. We must strive however, to create a healthy balance between criticisms and our ability to put our best foot forward in ensuring that our best men and women are at the vanguard of the change we so earnestly desire.

If Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 1999 had been swayed or deterred by the negativity attached to the political terrain, he would not today walk in these shoes of highest honour as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

My observations over the years show that the collective amnesia that seems to rob our country of pragmatic thinking encourages an atmosphere for propaganda that is not backed by facts or careful unbiased research. More than often, young people at the fore front of leadership in Nigeria attempt to present themselves as non-partisan and by extension, saints who irrespective of their actions or inactions should be absolved of any culpability of the development challenges that have befallen us a nation. How did we get to this point where it has become the order of the day to hide ones political leanings and engagements just so as to look politically correct on paper?

I have no respect for Nigerians who I know are actively involved in politics one way or the other, yet claim to be non-partisan. They swing back and forth whilst unassuming and more ignorant citizens swallow their pretensions hook line and sinker.

The priority of any business enterprise or organisation, and its board of directors, is to make as large a profit as possible, financial or otherwise; it is not a welfare agency. Likewise political parties, politicians and their associates have a priority to win elections and retain positions of power and influence. Political parties are by no means charity organisations; they are primarily driven by the quest for power and control.  It is what they do with this power (if attained) that subsequently goes on to define who they truly are and what their agendas are without the glare of campaign lights.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an agenda – everyone including politicians, associates, interest groups, young people and even the voters have an agenda.  Even the so-called independents have one; they hold on their votes and swing it in any direction they please to influence the final outcome of elections. What is cynical however is the hypocritical attempt of some to take up the roles of saints as a form of smart play.

I grew up thumbing through my father’s library collection which included books covering pre independence and early Nigerian history. Quite at an early age, I had read through all of them and was debating Nigerian politics and history with my father. My interests have always centred on the particular roles any individual played in the history of Nigeria and the emergence of our democracy. By way of what we learnt in social studies classes, we all knew the historical landmarks and their outcome, but we were not taught about the specific actions of the many individuals involved in the process.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I find it funny when the likes of Femi Fani-Kayode and Akinloyes, attempt to rewrite history by painting their own fathers as saints. They remind me of efforts by the Belgians to rewrite history as regards the crimes against humanity committed by King Leopold II in the Congo.

When Reuben Abati wrote his piece titled ‘The Hypocrisy of Yesterday’s Men’ which made reference to political office holders in the last decade, asides the personal efforts to tarnish the names of his master’s political antagonists, I saw it as a piece to reckon with by examining it from another angle.

Take for example – President Olusegun Obasanjo whose third term bid and subsequent chess-like moves led to the installation of the late President Musa Yaradua as his successor, and resulted in one of the worst leadership fiascos that Nigeria has ever experienced. This same man who opposed the June 12 elections cannot be absolved of the 1979 mathematical redefinition of what two-thirds of 19 states meant; it was quite obvious that all efforts were geared towards installing Shehu Shagari as President. The similarities between the Shagari and Jonathan regimes are nothing but outright corruption – the Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye champagne and the abuse of export licenses back then is in tandem with the fuel subsidy crisis of this present regime. The only difference is that there would not be a military coup; this democracy must outlive our profligate politicians and their associates.

Since 1999, the pattern has been the same for most politicians, crossing from one side of the divide to the other. The political system to a large extent allows this and the citizens have not differed at the polls on matters such as this.

But my focus is now more on the younger generation and their political engagements. I cringe in dismay at the way we unapologetically exhibit memory loss on who did what in the last decade or even the last 3 years. Building up to the 2011 general elections, the Yaradua era was an eye opener for a lot of young people. From the protests to the general elections and up until the #OccupyNigeria episode, it is rather amazing that all these have happened in the span of 3 years but somehow they do not seem to carry an overriding influence in 2013. Are young Nigerians so forgiving or so forgetful, and in so short a time?

I recently came across the leadership series being written by Chude Jidenowo which threw me into fits of laughter.  The first picture it called to mind was that of Arthur Francis Nzeribe – the affluent Oguta politician and elite of his generation who got a scholarship from the Nigerian Ports Authority in 1958 to study Marine Engineering in England. By 1960, Nzeribe – the entrepreneur – sold life insurance in Britain and later moved to Ghana to work for Kwame Nkurumah. He soon after bought his first Rolls Royce. This was a man whose company reported an annual turnover of 70 million pounds by 1979. With a reputation of selling weapons to all warring sides across several African countries, he spent N12M to win a senatorial seat in 1983. Beyond this introduction of Francis Nzeribe, what struck me about him was his open support for Ibrahim Babangida through the ridiculous Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) in 1993 when the country was yearning for a democratic regime. Yet by the turn of the decade, the same Nzeribe would become a senator – the collective amnesia was firmly in place.

An article that caught my attention from Chude Jideonwo’s New Leadership Series was the article titled “What exactly happened to the Nuhu Ribadu we fell in love with?” I quote an excerpt from it:

“He was inviting myself and another of the persons gathered to work for that campaign – no doubt giddy in the excitement that young people would automatically root for the man. I said no to that offer as with other such offers; because I had no interest at the time in politics or public service. But even if I had been open to the possibility, I would still have said no. Because I immediately knew that Ribadu the Politician was a very, very bad idea.”

Reading this came as a surprise to me and I once again saw the same elements I have described earlier manifesting in another young person who is trying to be conservative with the truth in a bid to be seen as an independent.

I have so much respect for individuals who stand by their actions and openly declare their interests but not for those who try to rewrite history especially when it is plain to see to even the blind. I have no doubt that Ribadu reached out to various youth and youth groups to work alongside him on his presidential ambition. While I opted for Buhari, some of my very good friends and associates campaigned for Ribadu. There is no law in Nigeria that forbids us from openly supporting any presidential candidate and this amongst others, helped ensure that the friendship between my friends and I remained unbroken despite our supporting different candidates at the general elections.

That Chude Jideonwo claims he rejected the offer based on the fact that he had no interest at that time in politics or public service is far from the truth. It was about choices, and President Goodluck Jonathan was the choice.

He and his organisation were actively involved in the presidential campaigns of President Goodluck Jonathan. Coupled with some active young people, they facilitated the infamous Lagos Youth lunch with the President in 2011 where money was shared openly under the guise of transport fare.

The unsolved puzzle at that moment was: how did Chude Jideonwo of “The Future Project” who claimed to be non-partisan, not interested in politics when Ribadu’s friends came calling, active on the board of the Enough is Enough Coalition (A nonpartisan platform) and also part of the “What About Us?” campaign when the same President Jonathan failed to honour a youth debate pre-2011 general elections, turn out to be the facilitator of lunch with President Jonathan? Can it be like I presume that his individual paid services from the 2011 President Goodluck Jonathan campaigns facilitated his choice as one of the conveyors of the “youth lunch”?

If Mr Jidenowo regrets his association with the Goodluck Jonathan bid, then he must come clear about it as his leadership series does allude variously to indict the competence of his friend, Mr Jonathan.

In the Ribadu piece, Chude wrote: “Mr. Ribadu returned to Nigeria in February 2012 after a hiatus to do what he knows best – find criminal activity and expose it through the Petroleum Revenue Task Force (of which he is still chairman), despite the objections of fans and critics alike. This was a perfect fit for him and a match for his abilities; except for one crucial fact he shouldn’t have missed: he didn’t have a principal whose agenda was clear. Even more, he didn’t have the power to enforce.”

The principal referred to in the quote above is no one but President Goodluck Jonathan. Other articles in the leadership series contain subtle messages of lamentations of Jonathan’s leadership style that can only be fished out if one reads between the lines. Chude Jidenowo demonstrated a poor understanding of the Ribadu for president and the person of Ribadu in the piece which can easily be associated with political naivety.

The likes of Ohima Amaize, despite his new found love for PDP, are rather of a more concise personality who can be trusted to openly demonstrate where their leanings sway. They do not claim to be nonpartisan with the hope of being able to switch sides conveniently for the sake of political benefits.

I have never been a card carrying member of any political party but will continue to openly work with any political party I share interests with. We must not frown upon participation in the polity by any means; I am more interested in a Nigeria where we the citizens will reward politicians at the polls for their performance in office.

The opposition parties must not take for granted the desire of the people to vote the ruling party out of office. Should they tow the same line as the current ruling party by selecting candidates who are not able to take the interests of the citizens into account nor deliver, I will advocate for the youth to vote neither for the ruling party nor the opposition.

There are no men without a history but our ability to glean useful information from the decisions they have made provides some of the answers we seek.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

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