OUTSIDE THE BOX BY ALEX OTTI
Two weeks ago, we started with a discussion of why it is important that we populate the political space with competent and skilled people rather than what it is today, where a lot of mediocrities and charlatans parade themselves as politicians, taking decisions on the lives of people who are more endowed than them. Today’s title should have been “I don’t do Politics Part II” but I remembered a two-volume interesting book I read several years ago which I will still recommend to interested readers today. The first volume is titled “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School” while the second volume is “What they still don’t teach you at Harvard Business School”. In these unconventionally titled books, Mark McComarck attempts to compliment what business schools taught by playing up the need to read and understand people as major requirements for the success of a street smart executive. He dwells on instincts, perception and preparations as sine qua non for effective negotiations and sales. He ends up with tips on how to run successful businesses. Following McComarck’s lead, we have titled today’s piece, “I Still Don’t Do Politics”.
To buttress the point I made about the unpreparedness and mediocrity of some of our politicians, an Indian, resident in California who says he reads this column regularly, while commending my last column sent me a link to a YouTube video of a member of our House of Representatives struggling to answer a question on the economy. That video is better watched than described. Our honourable member in responding to a question on the economy described it as shaking and blinking and about sinking but on top of water, whatever that means. In defending President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent trips, he explained that the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia was important because he needed to work on the Saudi government to increase oil prices since Nigeria was in his opinion, the largest oil producers. He concluded that he supports the president because he knows he is a “trust man”. You do not have to take my word for it. Go to YouTube and search “Hilarious video: Nigerian Economy is doing like this and like this”.
We seem to have consigned ourselves to a nation that does not believe in putting our best foot forward. I do not know of any serious football team that fields its third 11 or like in our case, those who lack football skills and expect to win. Of course, there are all sorts of reasons to justify why our best people show no interest in politics. I had a very interesting discussion with Comrade Peter Esele, a former President of TUC and PENGASSAN, smarting from the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries where he lost to Godwin Obaseki in Edo State. He had called to discuss the last piece and opined that the major problem is funding. Running elections is a very expensive venture and without state support, meaning the support of the incumbent, it is impossible for most people to participate successfully, he argued. While agreeing with him, I made the point that my advice goes first and foremost to those who are skilled and are able to fund the process but shy away for all sorts of reasons.
Rome was not built in a day and I strongly believe that if we have more competent people who show interest, it would be a question of time for the political space to be taken over by more qualified people. At the end of the discussion, Esele being convinced, sent me the following message which I have his permission to share: “I have equally made up my mind not to shy away. I am tired of agonising. We have to continue to knock on the door. Someday, somehow, it will open and we all walk into a new day where critical, strategic and forward thinking leaders will hold sway to usher in a durable peace and progress for this paradise named, Nigeria” I thank Esele for letting me dissuade him from getting despondent from his not too good an experience in the Edo governorship primaries.
The other issue that scares the living daylight out of a lot of people is violence. The truth is that this is premeditated. The logic is that the right people who should be in politics in the country are not necessarily like the “thugs and dogs” who parade themselves as politicians today. They therefore unleash maximum violence including assassination to keep decent people away. Some politicians have perfected the art of arming unemployed youths who would cause mayhem and coerce people into submission right from the beginning of the electoral process. The sad part is that once they have been armed, it becomes impossible to disarm them even after the job for which they were recruited have been delivered. Sometimes, when their services are no longer required, they turn the arms against the people and against their masters that armed them in the first place.
While I will never advocate violence, I am a strong advocate of self-defence, even though no one really has a monopoly of violence. I do not agree that there is any level of violence that should keep people who have capacity to make a positive difference in the lives of the citizenry, away from seeking positions to actualise that. Most importantly, depending on what and who you believe in, no one’s life is in the hands of any human being. As for me, with my very unshaken and unshakable belief in the power of the Almighty God, it is simply as recorded thus “no weapon fashioned against me shall prosper and any tongue that rises against me in judgement shall be condemned”.
The next issue is the matter of options. Because most of the competent people have options as their skills are required in virtually every area of the polity, they end up along the line of least resistance. A man who is doing well with his business or his profession doesn’t see the need to leave his comfort zone to an uncharted territory. They feel it is too much risk to take. At times, they tell you that you don’t need to change a winning team. My take is that this is all about selfishness as people concerned here do not spare a thought as to how putting their skills and intellect at the disposal of the larger society can change the lives of millions of people. Public service is about public good. There comes a time when a man should pause and ask himself a few questions. The wealth that you have accumulated, what do you want to do with it? How many people have gone to the great beyond with tonnes of money both local and foreign currency? What will you be remembered for when you are no more? Could you have been better remembered if you put your God-given intellect and skills to the service of a greater majority of the people? Sometimes when I look at what our forebears achieved before oil became the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, I begin to wonder how we got to where we are today. The federal government is struggling. Virtually all the states are unable to pay salaries. Infrastructural decay has been our lot even when oil was selling for over $100 per barrel. Our education sector is in a state of hopelessness save for private sector entrance.
The healthcare delivery sector has since gone on retirement. We are unable to refine the crude that we produce and have stupendously enriched a few people with our common patrimony in the name of subsidy. No one talks about research and development, much more innovation. We import virtually everything including toothpicks and pins. It is simply because we had outsourced leadership to the poorly endowed and poorly prepared while the rest of us have gone to bed. These less endowed people now use all sorts of tactics including the ones discussed above to not only perpetuate themselves in power, but also keep the better endowed people at bay. Other than intimidation, they use religion and ethnicity as a tool to hold people down. They are good at giving these a slant that serves their interest when the need arises. The near illiteracy of the majority of the electorate adds impetus to these narratives. I dare say that the refusal of the ruling class to properly fund education is one of the tools to ensure that the primordial narratives get sold to the electorate as a discerning mind knows that the hunger in the land today does not discriminate between the Christian in Onitsha and the Muslim in Kano. Neither does the Mallam in Sokoto buy dollars at a lower rate to import goods than the Diokpa in Asaba.
The next big tool in their kit is bribery. They deploy money to buy votes starting from the primaries to the general elections. Because the people have been so pauperized, both spiritually and materially, they want to live for today. It becomes unimportant that the money being distributed is their money. They forget that they can still take the money and vote their conscience like it has been done in some parts of the country. The distribution of money is sometimes preceded by false promises. This happens where the politicians feel the pressure to campaign. In other cases, they simply ignore everyone only to show up with money by or just before election day. No one asks them questions and they are not accountable to anyone, knowing that part of the money they have stolen would be deployed at the next season.
The purpose of this intervention is to encourage more people who are endowed and have what it takes to pull this country out of the woods to make the required sacrifice and show interest in how the country is governed. A few good people have since joined, but they are in the minority. Once we have many good people joining, the misfits that dominate the landscape will begin to fade away on their own. I state categorically, that there is not enough intimidation, there is not enough road blocks, there’s not enough challenges to keep good people away. After all, it was Edmund Burke that wrote that the only condition under which evil will triumph is for good people to do nothing. In the same vain, Albert Einstein remarked that the world will not be destroyed by people who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
And to those who have arrogated to themselves the toga of “politicians”, these include those who arrogantly rebuked me for intruding in their professional space, those who have no day job but refer to themselves as “seasoned politicians” and those who are now proposing to float a bill at the floor of the Senate to establish “Institute of Chartered Politicians” I will not contend with you here, but will only leave you with this saying “Politicians and diapers have one thing in common; they should be changed regularly, and for the same reason”.