What kind of verdict will history pass on the present political class in Nigeria, especially about its conduct of the pre-2023 general election affairs? Like in previous dispensations, I doubt if the group is fully aware of its foibles and excesses enough to even bother about posterity.“All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and their entrances/ And one man in his time plays many parts/ His acts being seven ages…,”William Shakespeare wrote that long ago in his play, As You Like It. The actions that take placeon this planet are usually carried out by people who are often unmindful of the consequences of their speeches, deeds and inactions.
What makes the Nigerian situation unique is, each set of politicians that enters the scene appears to do so with its own peculiar trademarks and discomfiture. You could hinge that on the stakes that keep going higher or the individual ambitions of the players or even the overall changing dynamics of the country. Everywhere in the world, money does play critical roles in political processes. Here, we have witnessed its uses and abuses over time and in different forms. We have seen how materials and men have been mobilised legitimately or illegally to achieve advantages over opponents. We have watched helplessly many cases of the commoditisation of people’s will and conscience. But nothing in our political past, in my opinion, comes close to the kind of enthronement of mammon being wantonly staged at the moment.
All you need to be convinced that full commercialisation of Nigerian politics is underway is to simply take another look at the amounts fixed by the two leading political parties for the various elective offices. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC): President, 100 million naira; Governorship, 50 million naira; Senate, 20 million naira; House of Representatives, 10 million naira and House of Assembly, two million naira. The main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP): President, 40 million naira; Governorship, 21 million naira; Senate, 3.5 million naira; House of Representatives, 2.5 million naira and House of Assembly, 1.5 million naira. In a flash, both parties have become richer by tens of billions of naira via a scheme that is both unprecedented and daring in its design and execution.And more cash is still rolling in. With the primaries only about two weeks ahead, the drama surrounding the sale of these nomination and expression of interest forms further erodes whatever is left of the integrity of the exercise.
We are now faced with a bazaar, literally.Those who describe these transactions as obscene have cogent reasons. With the generality of the people succumbing to the intimidating forces of hyper-inflation, massive unemployment, stripped education, stark insecurity, biting hunger and penetrating penury, displaying such wealth whose sources are difficult to explain in many instances can connote, at best, insensitivity and, at worst, pure wickedness. Knowing that all these moves are geared towards acquiring power over the people and their common resources also aggravates the psychological pain therein.
Nigerians have been so dealt with by their previous experiences that they cannot afford to jump into believing that all these aspirants are in the races for the good of the country. Among the prospectors are very few who are sure of clinching their parties’ tickets, some who are jostling for relevance that can earn them positions and influence in the coming government, and many others who are fronting for the heavyweights. The shock of the uninitiated public that initially greeted the parties’ announcements of the grades of fees quickly gave way to subdued anger as tens of millions of naira started appearing on the horizon with ease from all sorts of persons and groups. Truly, the parties’ hierarchies had done their homework.
Two practices have refused to leave my consciousness in relation to this frenzy: Laundering and gambling.Even with the incumbency edge, only the APC can explain the record-breaking attraction to its presidential primaries. Ordinarily, large and diverse participation should be good news in any democratic space but the calibre of prospective candidates and their antics do not inspire confidence and hope in the system. The other day, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), AbdulrasheedBawa, assured everyone that his organisation would work closely with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to verify the origins of these funds. While not doubting the intentions of the EFCC, the level of scepticism and cynicism especially towards current and past political office holders in this nation today would require visible, practical measures to assuage. Mere promises are now as good as dead.
Gambling, according to Britannica, is“the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.” Broadly, many people participate in one type of speculation or the other. Most investments come under this category. The stock market where venture capital is traded and insurance where corporate and personal risks are spread present good examples.
What makes the ongoing deals at the party secretariats troubling, however, is that the business (democracy), by its noble doctrines, ought not to be a vehicle for private acquisition of public resources. Any activity that casts shadows on that truism should, therefore, be condemned.Failure to do so would inadvertently open yet another shameful chapter in our already fouled political atmosphere. Can we, as a people, afford to leave more room for the self-centred juggling of probabilities, possibilities and favourable orunfavourable outcomes to the detriment of a desperately needed national rebirth?
More from Britannica: “About the late 18th Century, there began a gradual, albeit irregular, shift in the official attitude toward gambling, from considering it a sin to considering it a vice and a human weakness and, finally, to seeing it as a mostly harmless and even entertaining activity.…The swelling number of gamblers in the 20th century highlighted the personal and social problem of pathological gambling, in which individuals are unable to control or limit their gambling. During the 1980s and ’90s, pathological gambling was recognized by medical authorities in several countries as a cognitive disorder…” Sounds like a metamorphosis of evil.Expecting the government and her agencies to detect and purge this growing illness would be tantamount to believing that a mad person can suddenly cure and clothe himself.
Should we then hope that the politicians who are struggling to “serve” the people at all cost are not pushing the country to the precipice? Or wish that this is not a manifestation of conspiracy of the political elite? Casinos and lotteries can bring fortunes to the lucky.They can also ruin persons, families and institutions, in the same vein. Sadly, at the moment,the Nigerian populace appear to lack the capacity to withstand this rampaging lot and initiate real change.Notwithstanding this sad reality, they deserve genuine leaders who are mindful of true legacies, nota band of pampered pirates or boisterous buccaneers.
Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board