AWAY from the ravages of COVID-19 and the dispiriting news of multiple infections and rising deaths, the interview granted by Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to the Punch newspaper made an interesting reading. In the interview, Amaechi revealed a lot about himself, the nature of Nigerian politics, the vicissitudes of Nigerian politics and the landmines-filled terrain that politicians walked. Some takeaways of note for me and which have become the catchphrase on many lips since the interview was published, are the Minister’s damming review of the politics that got him fame, high political positions in the land and of course, humongous wealth that he stumbled into via politics. Aside these, however, two very instructive submissions of his must detain the reader of the interview. They are Amaechi’s candid disclosure on what drew him into politics and his intriguing conversations on political treachery.
“I didn’t join politics because I wanted to be a leader or because I wanted to solve Nigeria’s problems. I joined (politics) because of unemployment,” Amaechi had told his interviewers pointblank. If this shockingly brutal but forthright statement from the Minister was amazing to those who were encountering the former Rivers State governor’s atypical views for the first time, they would be shocked further if told that Amaechi, in that short sentence, had actually done a frank diagnosis of the ills of Nigerian politics, the burden Nigerians carry about their leaders and an unbiased reportage of why Nigeria has remained stagnant for decades. The truth is, you may have your quarrels with Amaechi’s politics but he is one politician you can say possesses a mind that is untrammeled by the convention of politics and the pretenses of “big men.”
At a conservative estimate, like Amaechi, not less than 95 per cent of Nigerian politicians join or joined politics, not to solve Nigeria’s or Nigerians’ problems. While a huger percentage of this decimal joined politics as an anchor to a means of livelihood, many others join for varied reasons that range from ego trip, the free money therein and its propensity to shoot them to the height of societal reckoning. You seldom can locate Nigeria, Nigerian welfare or the love of country as their anchor for joining politics. The Amaechi revelation constitutes the epistemological foundation of Nigerian politics, governance and government of today and is the knowledge that Nigerians needed to have to be able to come to terms with the mind-boggling bother on why Nigeria isn’t and can’t move forward under the grips of politicians. Recall a leaked comment he once allegedly made on President Muhammadu Buhari.
Rather than pillory Amaechi for this revelation, the minister deserves kudos for untying the ancient knot of our national stasis. Virtually all Nigerian politicians had, at one time or the other, been confronted with this tricky question. They either parried it, dissolved or re-contextualized it to achieve the aim of painting themselves in lofty canvass. Amaechi could have said that his late father, who he said contested as a Councilor, did so well for the people that he ventured into politics to continue his father’s developmental drive; he could have said that politics and service to the people constituted his pedigree. His statement that he didn’t join politics with the aim of bettering the lot of anyone was an explosive, unobtrusive but very symbolic mirror of an average Nigerian politician’s mind on politics and why the foundation of today’s politics in Nigeria is self and not country or nation.
You can argue that this Amaechi brand of politicians is novel and restricted mainly to the period from Second to post-Second Republic Nigerian politics and you will be right. Politicians of the First Republic, perhaps due to the agitative role they played in colonial Nigeria and the nationalistic nature of the era of post-independence, came into politics to play even better roles in the development of their land than the colonisers who bequeathed power to them. They wanted to leave imperishable legacies. It was as if they were in a stampede to outdo the legacies of the British overlords. This was propelled by the belief they had, having schooled alongside many of the British colonial officers, that the colonisers weren’t made of sterner stuffs than them. The experiment of the First Republic, especially the developmental strides recorded by the politicians in administration, some of which, sixty years after, even with their analogue technology, have not been bested, have actually proved that politicians of the period made their entries into politics to better the lots of their people.
From the Second Republic experience, however, the self successfully replaced the collective. The credo became, one for oneself and God for us all. Politicians began to build castles in the air, building fortresses from politics and seeking to make the proceeds a dynastic everlasting inheritance. With General Ibrahim Babangida came a total collapse of perception of country, nation or group. “Self” began to gain ascendancy. Babangida taught Nigerians the eternal values of cutting corners, subverting the state and enriching self and how a slot at the top was a passport to riches. Since then, things have fallen apart irretrievably and the centre of Nigerian politics, political morality and political values has not been able to hold.
The Nigerian electorate, the coterie of political followers who hover around politicians, and indeed, Nigerians as a whole, make the unpardonable mistake of assuming that politicians who join politics do so with them or their welfare in mind. Which is a total falsity. First is that, there is no Nigerian nation, as profoundly argued by federalist scholars who have over the decades submitted that, unlike the Welsh, Flemings, Kurds, Scots, Lakota and Hmong nations and nation-states like Albania, Croatia, Japan, Poland, France and Iran. To worsen it, there is no sense of country in the Nigerian. Nigerians merely see Nigeria as, to borrow from Immortal Obafemi Awolowo, a geographical expression that is incapable of provoking a feeling of togetherness in the people. There is no Nigeria that deserves her nationals’ patriotism or a common goal that deserves to be pursued. Nigeria, even as a geographical expression, has over the years become irresponsible and irresponsive to the yearnings of Nigerians. Unlike those days when Nigeria was both responsible and responsive, offering scholarships to Nigerian students who eventually occupied high political offices and who felt compelling moral needs to repay the good Nigeria did to them, Nigeria, since the advent of the Second Republic, has progressively regressed in the estimation of the Nigerian and everybody merely seeks the kingdom of their households.
Richard Joseph, Northwestern University’s Director of The Programme of African Studies, studying Nigerian politics of the Second Republic, propounded a theory he called prebendalism to describe what he called patron-client relationship of Nigerian politics or what he also described as neopatrimonialism. He laid all these out in his highly respected Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic, published in 1987. High sounding as the theories may sound, they explain how in Nigeria, we build political systems which ensured that elected political officials, as well as government workers, see government revenues as their right, which they share among their political supporters, co-religionists and ethnic group. Joseph explained this thus: a politician elected in his home base to represent it in Abuja would steal the money that belongs to a Nigeria he doesn’t owe any allegiance in Abuja and use the proceeds to benefit his people at home. In most instances when he is caught, the people often sing publicly or in conversations among themselves that same song locals sang for the petrel of Western Nigerian politics, Adegoke Adelabu, when he allegedly embezzled local government money, to wit “Continue to embezzle our money, Igunu masquerade owns the Tapa and the Tapa owns the Igunu.” Joseph argued that such politician cannot do same with local money because he sees it as his and he could see the locality in himself. Unfortunately, Joseph will today be downcast at how Nigerians have destroyed that thesis of his because they steal from even their local money as well.
I didn’t join politics because I wanted to be a leader or because I wanted to solve Nigeria’s problems. I joined because of unemployment, rather than be a shocking expository of the nature of Nigerian government and politics, is actually a correct reading of the situation that confronts Nigerians today. It is reason why Nigeria cannot progress and reason why there is a scamper by politicians to steal and liberate as much as they can from the Nigerian purse. Many of them get to positions by accident of appointments, rather than a concerted effort to make a difference in the polity. From President Muhammadu Buhari, one-time Head of State, who cried publicly when he failed in his attempts at becoming Nigeria’s No 1, to the lowest councilor and even political appointees, the Amaechi thesis applies to them. None is in those positions because they love Nigeria or Nigerians. They are there, a la Amaechi, either due to joblessness, crave for filthy lucre, the ego that the offices confer on them or in some queer sense, to even up scores against their political enemies.
One other submission Amaechi made that has become a subject of scrutiny is his disappointment at the familiar pattern of treachery that seems to be an umbilical-cord of Nigerian politics. In fact, he submitted that Nigerian politics was not something “one would want one’s child to go into because there are no rules” as “one can be easily destroyed” and this is because “it is a man-eat-man world.” Amaechi lamented the followership fatality he suffered in Rivers State as “young men, who God used one to help rise in politics are now turning against one… There is a lot of betrayal…One has to be a hard man to survive the betrayals in Nigerian politics. Imagine someone you used to sleep on the same bed with and have given both financial and political assistance to selling you out because of his ambition. One of them said he helped make me!”
Though he seemed to be speaking in parables, it is an open secret that the current Emperor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, whose tyrannical rule would make François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as Papa and Baby Doc of Haiti, envious with pride, was one of Amaechi’s referents above. This disappointment expressed by Amaechi is however laughable because it is public knowledge that he himself dealt his benefactor, former governor of Rivers, Peter Odili, same treacherous dagger while he was governor. Amaechi was Personal Assistant to Odili who the latter made Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Amaechi’s terms as governor should be one of the darkest periods in the life of Odili, a period Amaechi spent witch-hunting the former governor and seeking to neutralise him in the politics of Rivers. It is thus no wonder that Odili is today one of Emperor Wike’s besotting mentors, in his bid to neutralise Amaechi.
All in all, Nigerians must thank Amaechi for this frank commentary on Nigerian politics and politicians. The commentary is analogous to James Hadley Chase’s The Paw in The Bottle. It is the story of Julie, a young girl working in a West End café, home to the underworld and where thieves, pickpockets and all sorts converge. Julie is introduced to a robbery and asked to play the role of a maid in a wealthy household, tasked with finding the safe. Describing how hunters catch monkeys in Brazil, Julie is asked: “Have you ever heard how they catch monkeys in Brazil, Julie? . . . Let me tell you. They put a nut in a bottle, and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw its paw and the nut.”
We are the monkeys that politicians have mastered pretenses as weapon to deal with us overtime, with a make-believe that they are in office to benefit us. They use the electorate as ladder to climb to huge wealth, fame and enough heist to last generations. The sucker is the Nigerian who assumes that politicians love them or are in governmental or political offices to better their lots. Amaechi tells us that, all this while, we had been given a sucker punch by Nigerian politicians.
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