By Olukayode Oyeleye
Politicians are not experts but rather a bunch of hopefuls and tacticians who don’t necessarily make good leaders. They can be sometimes unstable and hard to trust. That is why most politicians don’t necessarily make good leaders. Given the opportunity to lead, however, some prove their mettle with some distinctive leadership attributes. Those masquerading as career politicians have proved to be just the same all over the world, with one common badge of dishonour, that is crass opportunism. What virtue do you find in someone who says an object is white at dusk but turns around to say the same object is black at dawn, even when no alteration was made to its colour? “Ah, that is politics,’ they say jocularly, dismissing their foibles, idiosyncrasies, barefaced obfuscation and habitual deception. I personally fear that politicians will ultimately put liberal democracy at risk and will provide the right opportunities for dictatorship to take over in many parts of the world. It has started recently, even in advanced countries, giving Communist dictators the plausible arguments to justify their ascendancy, by saying too much money and time is being wasted on democracy.
I have keenly followed the career path of some politicians in Nigeria and outside in the wider world. One thing is common to those career politicians: they can do anything to get anything. Not so.much that they are optimists or possibility thinkers, but they are a callous and unscrupulous lot who don’t give deep thought to damages done by them in the course of their pursuits, which — for the most part — are purely selfish. One addicted to heroism in the US is currently under investigation for misleading her country in an attempt to run down a non-career politician opponent that outmanoeuvred her in a presidential election, thus denying her of a “lifetime ambition” to be the first female president. You don’t have to be a fan of her opponent in that election before agreeing that something went patently wrong in the allegations, despite the flurry of media hype against him. Now, things are unfolding. In that same country, the son of a sitting president has been under investigation for allegations of conflict of interest involving his father who happens to be a “career politician.”
The non-career politicians don’t have problem in letting go of things. They are less dubious, and less brutal even if they have a measure of duplicity. They are also less harmful since they can easily put aside differences to allow the system to keep running smoothly. Nigerians, carried away by the misplaced euphoria and false hope of a CHANGE mostly failed to see or even appreciate the virtue of letting go of power in 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, thus avoiding bloodletting and premeditated carnage that would have followed his insistence on staying put in office. To this end, I adjudge GEJ as a non-career politician. Those harping on corruption to justify Jonathan’s electoral loss are sounding absolutist, as that does not exist in any political space, anywhere. There is probably a room for comparison. Another non-career politician was Nelson M. Mandela, a man who was contented to serve as one-term president, and even rejected calls for a second term by his supporters, despite a lifetime of suffering for his people, with over a quarter of a century of his life spent in solitary confinement. Both GEJ and Mandela have become global icons of some sorts. But this remains so for GEJ as long as he keeps to previous behaviours that made him so in the first instance.
Career politicians don’t let go of power. They have magnetic attraction to power, inordinate list for it and use it most brutally. Although they sound people-centred when campaigning for votes in democratic elections, they are actually self-centered. They pledge to do what they know they cannot do, and turn around to explain away their failures, which are customary. They find it difficult to take stand on consequential issues for fear of impact on their political career even if lives are at stake. They are given to equivocation. They act like prostitutes, prevaricating easily on sensitive issues of serious consequences. You heard them during the recent killing and roasting of Deborah in Sokoto to the extent that one frontline politician had to delete two social media posts so as not offend those in support of the extrajudicial killing of the young lady. Another one preferred to keep mute and said nothing. The politicians don’t unite divided people. Rather, they exploit divisions among united people to great personal advantage.
The division between the north and south and between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria has been made more prominent by politicians. In their feigned love for their captive followers, some use campaign mantra that fan hatred and intolerance towards whoever dared to be different from them. It is true that all politics are ultimately local. But politics that thrives on retrogression is such a bad politics. An example is the case of official introduction of Sharia into the codes of governance in Zamfara State in 2001. Twenty-one years on, the state is now easily about the most economically backward in Nigeria. No thanks to Nigerian politicians today. By their ingenuity, the northern politicians are more committed to regional allegiance than to national allegiance. The polarising impact is now becoming palpable. Thanks to poiliticians who prefer to use superficial and base sentiments to lead their followers by the nose rather than articulating ennobling manifestoes.
Politicians, by their very nature, tendencies and practice, are not wealth creators. Some may be able to hire innovative wealth creators who do the job for which they receive accolades. They consume wealth and enrich themselves in the process. You don’t have to look far: they are here as legislators, assemblymen, presidents, vice presidents, governors, ambassadors and ministerial appointees. With nothing invested, they reap fortunes. Or, how could an aspirant to the presidential office have easily mobilised N100 million effortlessly within weeks? Surely, that is not all that such an aspirant has in his account as savings. This calls their integrity to question. And now, how does a governor from a southwestern state hope to justify his integrity when obsessed with presidential ambition while the state is one of the least developed in the region? I am not aware of any fundraising through private contributions by his party supporters. Rather, these aspirants actually have to spoon-feed their supporters. So, where does the money come from? From the governors personal income? Certainly not!
That brings the Wike question into reckoning. As the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike could not have financed his campaign from private fund, just like Rotimi Amaechi could not have supported the presidential ambition of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 from private donations. That Wike was unable to figure out that his chances of emerging às PDP presidential candidate were so slim is rather intriguing. Wike who had earlier boasted of financing the PDP was never challenged on his open admission of taking public money to fund a political party, probably because of the immunity he currently enjoys. Those who should or could have done that at the Federal level are no different and have no plan of distinguishing between public money and party money. Like feudalists, what belongs to the public belongs to the feudal lord.
It was clear that Wike, despite being a state governor for seven years in addition to his previous service in lower capacities in previous governments, still remains a political toddler, yet unable to have a firm grip on the frail pillar of Nigerian politics. By his recent utterances and actions he has shown that he has a poor understanding of Nigerian geopolitics. Like him, those who ignore the obvious or are willfully oblivious of it turn round to be haunted by the consequence. Femi Gbajabiamila reportedly helped Aminu Tambuwal to emerge as Speaker of the House of Representatives. When the payback time came, Tambuwal, who was already a state governor, allegedly preferred to work with those that thwarted the aspirations of Gbajabiamila in 2015. Now Wike the politician thought nothing of this but supported Tambuwal subsequently. The politically naive Wike only just came out at the weekend, tweeting and lamenting about being betrayed by Tambuwal, as if Tambuwal did the unusual.
Here is the same regionally inclined Tambuwal that wanted to become Nigerian president in 2019 and also made attempt again in this just concluded PDP primary. His inclination has become more.amplified in his decision during the primary. It has also exposed the deep fissures and trust deficit between political actors across regions, particularly those of northern extraction toward those from other regions. But, for Wike to come screaming betrayal portrays him as a politician with very shallow understanding of the geo-political landscape of Nigeria. Is anyone learning anything from Wike’s mistakes? Those southern optimists with federal brains and national hearts should learn from Tambuwal with federal brain and northern regional heart.
Dr. Oyeleye is a senior journalist and policy analyst