Heart of Arts

Nigerian Politics and its Money-Induced Exclusionary Outlook, By Toyin Falola

Toyin Falola

(This is the first report on the interview of May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide, reported in several newspapers. For the transcript, see YouTube https://youtube.com/watch?v=VJP3CfnlC28; Facebook https://fb.watch/daf9NQxuml/)

Politics has existed in every aspect of society from the beginning of human history because every social setting deserves a measure of communal structures that allow the best of ideas to be used to regulate human affairs so that the excesses of the powerful would not undermine the powerless’ right to live. As a result, different societies designed different systems of administration and association, which they believed would ultimately carry around the ideas of human relationships that they collectively share and begin to infuse these ideas into the philosophy, language, culture, and the epistemologies that belonged to them. Of course, in these categories are people who have studied the uniqueness of each political system and have identified their characters and their points of convergence and divergence. Based on the above, we can therefore begin to imagine the foundational structures of every society and why some of them find eternal difficulty in shortchanging their political systems.

Over the years, some civilizations have integrated other people’s political philosophy as signs that humans need to evolve according to the dictate of the world around them; otherwise, they would continue to recede in an infernal circle of administrative illiteracy. This is why you would hardly find any civilization that does not have a remarkable or credible history of political administration etched into the philosophy they hold tenaciously about their understanding of human relationships. In essence, any and every political philosophy is only interested in how we maintain human relationships, and their perception creates about money is also reflected when observed critically. The political philosophy of democracy, for example, is concerned about the human freedom to the extent that it gives unrestricted rights to everyone while regulating this freedom through culturally complex legal frameworks that can sometimes complicate ensuing human relationships, especially in a place where people have different perspectives.

I say this because of my awareness of the existing pre-colonial African relations that promoted correction and were unconcerned with punitive measures in the face of hostile pressures between aggressive groups. In essence, warring or conflicting groups would be invited to voice their grievances, and elders would mediate to settle imagined or real disputes among them so that the chain of the human relationship would not be broken because of the infractions of some warring members. They maintained their togetherness because they valued their communal spirit and intended to preserve the camaraderie involved.

But how is this related to the political discourse in the current engagement? As a historian, we have to consider things from the lens of history to appreciate the dynamics of current or contemporary issues and understand the crucibles of the African problems in the last 500 years. Notably, the philosophy of democracy has complicated administrative issues in Africa because the moment the African leaders are aware that it is subject to manipulations, they have continued to use the power at their disposal to construct a democratic culture that betrays obvious conventions of human freedom. Yet, if you ask anyone in the corridor of power in Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana, Sierra Leone to Ethiopia, Kenya to Uganda, among others, they would justifiably tell you that they are practising democracy. And would you, as a matter of logic, fault their stand? Doesn’t democracy revel in having institutions like the judiciary system, electoral administrative system, voting system, right to vote and be voted for, right of association and dissociation, all of which are rooted in Nigeria’s democracy? But when it is reconsidered analytically, do you really have a justice system in a place where an individual can use their office to convert public funds with impunity and without consequences? Can anyone be voted for in the Nigerian democracy without having humongous money to throw around? Does the country not have a justice system, yet innocent youths are killed on the orders of a faceless leader, and the country did not burn?

Now, this is the context where the current debate fits in. Nigerian leaders have hijacked, kidnapped, and successfully held the country’s politics by the jugular, taking their victim (the Nigerian political space) away from the people, predictably without ‘democratic’ consequences. Unless we are deceiving the uninformed, no one with great and revolutionary ideas would ever (my ever is subject to time when drastic steps are taken) lead the country because the ones with the ideas do not have the financial oxygen and will be frustrated to edges until their ideas are successfully evaporated, and those who have financial muscle see the position as a capitalist venture where they are meant to create commercial relationships with Nigerians, and treat them as commodities rather than resources that need to be protected, refined and preserved.

Using the political term, the country can be said to belong to more than the 200 million population that are domiciled there as citizens. In the real sense, it belongs to the corrosive minority group that creates a relationship with the country based on what they are milking away from it. If money is believed to be a very big factor in Nigerian politics, and there are statistical evidence that the hapless majority in the country grapple with financial hardship, it is a matter of logic to understand that they are like tenants without any claim of ownership to the country.

To be fair to the people who gave their opinions in the recent Toyin Falola Interview series, people’s financial vulnerability is the fundamental reason for the commodification of Nigeria politics, but as intellectuals, we owe our society the social responsibility of historicizing the financial plague for which the people of the country are now known. Anywhere in the world, Nigerians are seen to maintain an admirable work ethic and demonstrate an unequalled resilience to get results in their engagements. This is not different from what obtains in the country itself.

It is a common experience to come across individuals who daily work their energy off to earn a living. In fact, it can be argued that Nigerians believe in hard work because they understand the integrity associated with earning your income and not loafing around. And different philosophical sayings strengthen this position. This means there is a very wide gap between Nigerians being seen as poor and their actual work worth. In other words, the fact that Nigerians are considered financially vulnerable does not complement the reality that they are people who work hard in all the places they are in the world. This opens a gap in our general understanding of Nigerians, and two things become immediately revealing. First, the condition of Nigeria’s poverty is a deliberate political construction, and second, they are intentionally frustrated so that they can be manipulated.

Spending money is not all that makes the Nigerian political community the epidemic that it is today. It is only the agency by which other more corrosive and devastating issues are unleashed. The commodification of politics in the country has attracted competition among two camps where each divide concentrates greater wealth to sponsor their different ambitions. In essence, the expended money becomes another interesting discourse because the awareness of competition imposes a kind of attitude that gives room for endless provocations and hostilities as long as it would enhance the achievement of power as desired by each group. At this level, we would consider the money spent to recruit mindlessly brutal hands that can help foment troubles and create scenes during electoral periods so that they would muscle their way to ensure victory for their sponsors. And this is another turning point in the colouration of Nigeria’s democracy, a turning point, though not in a desirable direction. Unemployed youths make themselves available during this period to initiate aggressive efforts to compel people to follow their financial sponsors. We do not mean that they would be imposing on the electorates; rather, they would become useful in scuttling the process if they feel it would result in unfavourable outcomes.

Therefore, the political philosophy is endangered because post-election times always experience very difficult social situations and interrelationships as the disgruntled mercenaries disbanded after their involvements would resort to violent means of getting money, which would, by that time, constitute fear and despair in the hearts of the people. Evidently, the citizens are at the end of the whole process. Apparently, they bear the brunt of the activities of the political merchandisers who retire to their looting arena after they have won the elections through questionable means. In some other situations, however, those who are outmuscled in spending money during the process would sometimes invest in disrupting the peace of the society to gain emotional sympathy from the helpless masses in preparation for future political engagements.

Practically, Nigerian politicians work more on their re-election from their first day in the office than they actually invest in profitable projects, distributive representation, or important innovation that can effectively transform the people and increase the financial values of every individual. This has become critical to their retention of power and the repeating of the endless circle of misrule, misrepresentation, and misappropriation of public funds or the public confidence reposed in them. How can we talk about the numerous cases of insurgencies in the country without examining the political contingencies that warranted them? How can we talk about banditry without first contextualizing the political process that necessitated its emergence? Can we truly dissociate terrorism and secessionist agitations from the marauding influence of capitalist politics that is run in Nigeria? These issues continue to expose the weakness and the susceptibility of democracy to Nigeria’s manipulations, which invariably make it difficult for us to conclude that what they have in the country can honestly bring about desired changes to their national interests. The centralization of money in the country’s political process has done the damage of reducing the values of things and shortchanging critical human importance to leadership and governance with a mere price tag.

To this extent, even the academic community, which is hitherto believed to be immune to the intimidating pressure of value commodification, has become victims of the same problem. Due to the excessive concentration on money, human values have been eroded in the highest form known to humans, and the ensuing relationship that comes from that has been poisoned by the activities of these culprits, making it more problematic for the country to attain its deserved heights. The bigger picture is the 2023 national elections that would see to the choosing of another candidate who would pilot the country’s affairs for the next four years. Whether the candidate comes to the stage with impressive socioeconomic and sociopolitical milestones would not be central because the security situations in the country do not logically support the assumption that they can magically turn things around. This scientific premonition is valid to the extent that fundamental changes and differences can only be attained when the atmosphere shows peace and supports the transformational improvement expected in a place and at a time.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian political elites have come to invest again heavily in the project through their familiar spending, or they are creating an atmosphere where it is impossible to emerge as the President of the country without dragging oneself into the murky water of financial extravaganza. It will continue to be known that when the situation gets to this, the prospect that the country would ever take the positive route of true democracy becomes slim and unrealistic. The problem of heavy financial manipulation is evinced by the two popular parties that peg around their ticket price for the presidency in monies that genuine public servants cannot accumulate in their lifetime.

As already implied, such a government is already kidnapped technically by the political class, which, of course, wants to expand as far as possible the gap, class, and position between them and the helpless masses who are in a socioeconomic class incapacitated by the financial crises evident for the people in their category. In essence, the man who works in the university and shares knowledge made through research, thereby encouraging creative thinking, will be shelved out from the ring of power not because he or she is deficient in the act and art of making interventionary policies but because they have no financial oxygen to sustain their existence when political schematics elevate the politics to the level where he cannot breathe. As a result, the 2023 elections will constitute no difference, and the various divisive factors would also be unleashed at the appropriate time to determine the direction of the power politics that the elites would play. This would be inevitable for reasons associated with the perfection the country’s politicians have achieved when it is time to activate the sentiments they use to protect their interests. People would still be divided by their religious identity, ethnic affiliation, and geopolitical history so that the most diabolical candidate would win the game.

All these are careful and then useful instructional materials that consistently remind us of the fragility of Nigeria’s inter-ethnic and inter-religious relationships because a political system that is erected on these fractured shads would continue to give unequal pains to the ones at the top of it. And to be honest, everyone in the country, be it the elites or the helpless, the ones with the power or the disempowered, leaders or the led, all have something in common, and that is the severity of pains they feel when the stopgap structures erected to win election spend its elastic lifespan. Some people have to puncture their conscience or maybe make it incapable of feeling to live with the reality of destruction, the inevitability of melancholy, and crass demonstration of moral degeneration to cope with the problems they have facilitated or are complicit in its making.

For example, no senator would deny the ubiquity of violence perpetrated by the idle youths employed perennially for political provincialism in their senatorial districts or those abandoned to fate after trying everything within their power to bring victory to their principals. No governor would categorically tell you in their conscience that they can relax in their state without worrying that in the next minutes, their street could be ransacked and ransomed by individuals whose future have been earlier on exchanged for a pot or few plates of porridge. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s information space is always overtaken with news of morbid violence and hostile events so much that unless you record the actions on electronic sites and gadgets, you will lose traction of humanitarian atrocities that people commit daily. In fact, part of the sociology of the Nigerian political game is that irrespective of the outrageous things and actions associated with an individual, a group of people or society, they will always be supplanted or maybe exonerated by more numbing events that will supplant the critical (negative) impact that the previous ones have.

Some scholars or public opinion shapers have summarized this situation by saying that ‘Nigerians have a very short memory,’ a condition that makes it easy to attack their sensibilities and get sympathy from them if other events overcome or suppress the ones committed, irrespective of the gravity. If this is not the condition, candidates of these political parties would have been involved in discussing issue-based ideas where contributions of each would have considerably determined what and how public reception of them would be. For example, there was the horrible killing of an innocent student, Miss Deborah Samuel, in Sokoto just a few weeks ago, and the country moved on with familiar indifference, even though it would be supplanted by another jungle justice that saw the killing of David, a Sound Engineer who was embroiled in a minor verbal exchange with the ‘bike man’ conveying him to an agreed destination. The Nigerian citizenry protested behind their keyboards, discouraged the incident and demonstrated their annoyance towards everybody and nobody in particular, on the internet and not in physical reality.

However, because the Nigerian politicians are professionals in their jobs, they deflected the responsibility and suffered the experience with their silence, as if uninformed about these events. In serious countries that take the business of development very committedly, such an experience would not only demand specific responses from the leaders irrespective of their political parties or their ideological convictions and divides, but they would also hold them accountable for the actions and inactions that they showed as a response to the events because even when the immediate relationship between incidences such as this may not come readily handy to the people, it, however, contributes to the issues that relate to secessionist agitations, ethnic suspicion, and political pogroms in the country.

If the country’s political class has proven to be emotionally impenetrable to see events like this and close their eyes, the right conclusion is that they should give way to the masses, or empathetic Nigerians, who are bold enough to address such crass issues that have the potential to end a heterogeneous country’s relationship, so that they can prescribe different and effective solutions to these raging issues. However, such is financially impossible because of the available realities deliberately constructed by the class who kidnapped power and took it far away from the masses.

To become a Nigerian politician is to be seen as a business-conscious individual who invests in the political process to get some kickbacks when they win. Even when they do not win, they tend to negotiate their ways by banking on their recognition to win contracts that would not be executed, to be allocated some funds that would not be justified, or to get awarded slots with no bearing on their calling. In essence, Nigerian politicians can be anything but not poor. They can be elected out of office but not out of access to the commonwealth, where they are usually active and represented at all times. Nigerian politics has been heavily induced by money and has led to the displacement of the masses and their exclusion in issues that affect or concern their existence.

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