There is this generally negative perception of politics, politicians, and the political process held by non-politicians in Nigeria and across the world. It is not complimentary. If anything it is unsavoury and indeed condemnatory. Such uncomplimentary expressions or terms as politrickcians, politricks, ‘the-more-you-look-the-less-you-see-people, ‘talking from sides of the mouth’ (that is double talk people), and liars are routinely used to describe politicians. When a man says things that people believe he cannot achieve people around would mutter: ‘Don’t mind him; he is a politician.’ In churches, we say of some pastors: ‘That one is more interested in politics than helping souls.’ Pastors and Imams are advised not to stay too close to politicians because they are a bad influence generally.
There was one religious leader, my big egregious and urbane friend, who stayed in bed with the political class till that government left the corridors of power in an election that sent the country reeling. His private jet was allegedly even used to do government’s business by carrying money for arms to South Africa and was impounded and everyone – government people, church people and family – was embarrassed by the fiasco. ‘If you allow politics to enter church, church go scatter,’ we are often told. We deride pastors who sometimes see what amounts to ‘political visions’ and make ‘political prophecies’ that would endear them to the hearts of powerful politicians. Yet, we all need politics and politicians for the state or country to make progress, for the quality of life to improve and for government to make an impact on lives. If those whom we entrust with public office are tricksters and we do not really respect them, how do we expect change to take place and power supply to improve and roads constructed for the benefit of all? A conundrum, this!
But it is not only in the public space that we contest for positions. In the smallest units of society, that is, the family, once a decision that will favour a group is taken, we notice different people promoting lies or twisting stories to suit their perspective. In the universities, secondary schools, churches and mosques politics has strained relationships and have caused life-long splits between persons or parishes or territories. It has sometimes led to strange deaths or mysterious occurrences. Politics has to do with the struggle for who gets what resources, how and when. It often involves national or state resources, material or otherwise. And because high stakes are involved the human instinct to devour or conquer takes full possession of the faculty.
In politics anything and everything is possible. Evil can become good. Truth could become a lie and a lie could become truth. Two plus two could be five; or six or ten as the persons involved want it to be. I once heard a politician say that with the ‘proper arrangement even Satan can see God! The very idea of Satan paying a courtesy call on God! To discuss what, pray? It implies that some underhand things have happened, like bribing the angels at heaven’s gate or God’s throne to arrange a meeting. That is why my essay today is titled ‘This thing (Beast) called Politics!’ Is politics a beast? In other words is beast a synonym for politics as used in Lord of the Flies by William Golding? May be, I think. Beast within the context of this essay refers to the bestial element in man which surfaces in the art or process of politicking. Deception and lie telling. Trickery. Betrayal. Literal or metaphorical killing (assassination).
A potential voter would lie to you and swear that he is going to vote or has voted for you and collect some money for voting for you. A supposed friend would campaign against you and end up in your house for dinner, drink some wine and curse all those who ate your food but did not vote for you. A highly-placed person in the scheme of things would swear neutrality and go ahead to promote false narratives about you and do unimaginable things behind you. In politics, lie telling is second nature. A man may claim to have achieved things he never was party to or claim to be the initiator of everything good in your life or claim to have made you what you are as your godfather!
It is in ethnic politics that the bestial nature of man climbs to the highest peak and man descends into the pit of extreme foolishness. Our people say that in ethnic politics, the people would rather vote in a goat from their ‘hometown’ than vote in a wise professor from the next community or the other family. The only credential of that candidate is that he comes from a family or a clan that is favoured. The first casualty therefore in politics that is governed by ethnic or racial bias is competence or merit. In 1979 the nation picked a visionless primary school teacher to lead Nigeria and rejected a cerebral pragmatist whose vision could have transformed Nigeria forever. That was ethnic politics. The antecedents of the sage did not wash with voters. The powers-that-be simply wanted to stop him; they succeeded. Those who ought to know, know that it was not the sage that lost the election. It was the country that lost out in that savage contest. Sadly, we have been cursed with terrible leadership since that foolish decision.
Yet ethnicity has come to stay in national politics. Sad. It is now a way of life; which is unfortunate. The rest of the life span of the Nigerian state will be spent negotiating its way out of ethnic politics and the savagery of primordial and irrational decisions. In a federal republic like ours power rotation is mandatory for some balancing and a sense of belonging. Yet each part of the federation must put forward the best men and women for public offices. For, certainly in all ethnic groups there are sound and competent hands that could make a difference in the life of the nation. No nation which always puts forward its worst specimen of humanity for public office can move out of underdevelopment. Any hope for Nigeria?