The monetisation of politics and the end of civic culture

ANCIENT Athenian Greece is widely considered the mother of all democracies. It was a land of rugged individualists and highly energetic peoples. Ancient Athens was also the citadel of Greek civilisation; a land of poets, philosophers and warriors. The Athenians valued knowledge more than anything else. They had such great philosophers and mathematicians such as Thales, Anaximander, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Their most famous law-giver was the constitutionalist Solon.

There were only two classes of human beings among the ancient Athenians: citizens and slaves. A slave was considered a chattel property of his owner and had no rights and privileges appertaining to citizens. The latter was any adult male free-born who had the right to sit with the elders in the agora where decisions were deliberated and acted upon for the good of the community. Citizenship was defined according to privileges as well as duties. The citizen could vote and be voted for; an equal before all others. It was the duty of the citizen to protect other citizens and to defend the state and its institutions. He could be called upon to go to war, engage in public works and perform other such duties as deemed necessary for the common good of the polis or political community. Citizenship was the great equaliser. You could be a general, political leader, an affluent merchant or even a great philosopher; you were a citizen first and foremost – all equal before the law.

The concept of citizenship underpins the notion of civic culture in modern political theory. Civic culture embraces a set of attitudes and mindset whereby citizens are not only aware of their rights and duties but are also actively involved in the political affairs of the nation. Active citizen participation and awareness is central to the flourishing of democracy. A political system where citizens withdraw from active engagement in the decision-making process is ultimately a society where democracy ends and tyranny begins.

The idea of civic culture is as old as Aristotle. In Western political theory it has been popularised by thinkers such as Machiavelli, Baron de Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Max Weber, Samuel Huntington and Robert Putnam.  The French political philosopher Montesquieu observed that “the spirit of the laws” is what gives active meaning to the order of things — “the habits of the heart” — that make citizens participate actively in the institutions that give meaning to civil government.

American scholars Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba were among the leading pioneers within the paradigm of what became known as “political development.” They devoted an entire tome to the analysis of civic culture as an essential element in the consolidation of political stability in democracies old and new.

One of the greatest dangers to the survival of contemporary democracies, in my humble opinion, is the rampant use of money to buy citizens’ votes in a manner that undermines the free-flow of ideas and open debate which gives meaning to the spirit of democracy. By the monetisation of politics we are referring to use of money in the political party and electoral process. I acknowledge that one needs money to do politics these days – humungous amounts of it. But I never imagined that money will take over as the sole arbiter and determinant of political value. America remains the world’s greatest democracy. But it is a country in which politics requires billions of dollars. But there are rules limiting how much each individual can contribute to a political party. This is to ensure that no single individual can buy off a political party and ensure that he single-handedly calls the shots to the detriment of internal party democracy.

The Ekiti gubernatorial elections last July gave a new, ominous meaning, to the monetisation of politics in our fledgling democracy. In the 2014 elections that brought Ayo Fayose to power on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the concept of “stomach infrastructure” was introduced into our lexicon of political discourse. My friend, Kayode Fayemi, a soft-spoken and wellcultured politician, was disgraced out of office by the more street-wise Ayo Fayose. While the one was delivering highfalutin disquisitions on human development, the other sent party agents to quietly distribute cooked food and bags of rice to the wretched of the earth. Stomach infrastructure was inevitably triumphant. This time around, in 2018, Fayemi left nothing to chance. There were reports of a large war chest. Also, the entirety of the security and military apparatus of federal might descended on the relatively small and peaceful state of Ekiti. Fayose and the PDP stood no chance whatsoever.

The September governorship elections in the western state of Osun were even more appalling. Osun State under Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has been one of the most badly run states in the country; a disgrace to the sophisticated Yoruba people and to the memory of the revered Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Public sector workers went without salaries for years. The state incurred a staggering N143 billion debt. The man, I understand, is a wonderful dancer; a socialite who loves his music. But his governance record has been a disaster. What is worse? He has been the arrow-head of a new form of religious politics that is alien to the ethos of the Yoruba. Despite his abysmal follies, Aregbesola was feted as a national poster-boy of the APC. We are told that shortly before the elections, the Federal Government, under the disgraced finance minister Kemi Adeosun allegedly disbursed the sum of N18 billion to Osun. This was supposedly part of the backlog of outstanding Paris debt repayment funds that were “owed” the state and presumably outside Osun’s regular statutory allocations.

Humongous amounts of money apparently changed hands in the Osun election, where so much was at stake for the ruling APC.

The recently concluded PDP primaries in Port Harcourt added yet another dimension to the syndrome of money politics. According to observers, as much as $5,000 was being paid across-the-board to the more than 3,000 delegates that descended upon that green city. According to one reporter, “as early as Saturday morning, some of the delegates said they already had up to $9,000 each while they said they were still expecting more.” It is inevitable that those who spend fortunes to buy the electorate will take the first steps to recover their losses the first time they assume office.

It is the Nigerian people and democracy that would be the worse for it. We must, therefore, take urgent steps to pass new legislation limiting the use of money in our electoral process. It is the only way by which we can salvage our democracy from rule by plutocrats.

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