Credibility and inconsistent political statements: The negative hallmark of Nigerian politics

THERE is no gainsaying the fact that truthfulness, consistency, and fidelity are some of the most important virtues in a man. The Bible, in James 1:8, describes a double-minded man as being unstable in all his ways. Similarly, a popular scholar and philosopher in the Roman Empire, Marcus Tullius Cicero, once noted that “nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”

Political ideology in developed countries is polarized by differing beliefs systems, opinions and mindsets, and politicians rise or fall by their divergent principles. Morality and decorum are principal tenets which political office holders or appointees hold sway. On Nov. 17, 1973, then President of the United States addressed a news conference regarding the Watergate scandal in the course of which he told lies and ended with the famous lines, “I’m not a crook.” However with those lies, the beleaguered commander-in-chief painted himself into a corner from which resignation offered his only escape less than a year later, on Aug. 9, 1974.

However, in Nigeria, the political landscape is marred by a total disregard of the qualities which not only makes for a decorous political scenery, but which ought to be the primal characteristics of a man. Politicians, perhaps caught in the spur of the moment, make unguarded statements which, not so long thereafter, they recant in the same manner which they uttered them in the first place. Nigerian politicians have overtime failed to match the level of public-spirited consciousness which appears to guide their counterparts in other parts of the world. In Nigeria, politicians see nothing wrong in making public assertions which they know they cannot fulfill and even have no intention of fulfilling. Such is the case when, Nigerian politicians after publicly asserting their commitment to one political party turn around to defect to an opposing political party they had also openly condemned.

In confirmation of the attitude of the Nigerian politician to the basic tenets of truthfulness, consistency, and fidelity, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the former Governor of Niger State, was reported to have stated as follows amongst others: “if you cannot lie, get out of politics. Anything you are involved in has its own rules. You are in politics to win, win first and let other things follow. Don’t be the one crying louder, lest you will be the one they will take to court. If you are talking of honesty or morals, go and become an imam or pastor. Politics cannot be the way it used to be. The challenges are more now, the variables have changed, the issues we are going to face in 2015 are different from the ones we faced in 1999 and we must bear this in mind….”

In a similar vein, the current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, during his tenure as Governor of Rivers State, in a televised interview described President Goodluck Jonathan as a good man but stated that if one wants to be good, he should remain in church and that governance is a different matter entirely. This lends credence to the fact that the salient virtues of morality, truthfulness and consistency have continued to be eroded and relegated to a position of irrelevance in the Nigerian political landscape. As there is a near-total absence of political ideology in Nigeria, membership of a political party is not borne by a systematic and time-hallowed belief system inherent in the party, but out a selfish desire to attain political relevance at all times.

This, perhaps, accounts for the unbridled, indiscriminate political defections which has become the mainstay of politicians in Nigeria. Each election period features widespread political exodus, formation of new partnerships, even amongst the perceived worst political enemies, leaving their respective supporters in bewilderment. As evidenced by the gale of ongoing defections and realignments in the political scene, it is glaring that in the Nigerian political space, fundamental principles, scruples and ideology have all been jettisoned for greed, self-interest, and opportunism. Usually, a political defector in Nigeria does so, not as a reflection of any ideological leaning, but because he/she feels discontent with the former political party to which he/she belongs. It does not even matter whether he currently holds a political office, as long as his defection will ensure his continued political relevance.

 

The Nigerian law on inconsistency

The Nigerian law is not silent on inconsistent statements made by witnesses in a trial. The courts have held that where a witness makes a statement or asserts a position which is contrary to the one earlier made, such is to be treated as unreliable for the purpose of establishing a state of affairs. In Egboghonome v. State (1993) 7 NWLR (Pt. 306) 383, the Supreme Court held that: “The inconsistency rule, that is, the rule that where a witness makes an extra-judicial statement which is inconsistent with his testimony at the trial, such testimony is to be treated as unreliable while the statement is not regarded as evidence on which the court can act, was developed in the interest of justice, and formulated for the resolution of conflict between the later evidence and previous statement of a witness, be he for the prosecution, or for the defence, to ensure that the evidence received is credible. But it was not formulated for the resolution of inconsistency in the evidence of an accused person and his extra-judicial confession.”

Though the above decision was delivered in a criminal trial, and indeed, the concept of inconsistency is of criminal law jurisprudence, if the decision of the Supreme Court were to be applied to politicians who assert inconsistent, opposing positions for the selfish reason of attaining a political pedestal, such politicians have no higher moral standing than accused persons standing trial in a court. By virtue of their position, politicians are expected to exhibit strong morals which should guide them in the discharge of the duties of public office. As such, their conduct and actions should be devoid of traits which call into question their morality.

The sad reality is that what obtains in Nigeria’s political landscape is better described as vulture politics and more aptly, as political prostitution being bereft of morality and decorum. Yet, politics must not be divorced from morality and the need to embrace fidelity. According to the sage, Mahatma Gandhi, the 7 social sins are: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. It requires no ethereal knowledge to realise that of these social sins, politics without principles is the bane of Nigerian politics. It is high time our politicians are held to the highest standard of morals, consistency and fidelity just as obtains in other parts of the world.

AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D (Lond.), D.Litt

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