Let’s Settle With The Most Powerful Political Office In The Land, Brother!

Since 1970 when the civil war ended, Nigerian politicians have continued to give a seemingly hapless electorate every reason and every opportunity to express dismay and sadness over the abysmal failure their beloved country appears to have become at every stage in its democratic evolution.

Honestly, I think it has become imperative to address some of the salubrious aberrations that contributed to the mess most Nigerians inadvertently find themselves in today. In so doing, I will restrain myself from apportioning blames because at the end of the day, it is only the people's vision and their will that count.

In other words, a people will always have the type of government they deserve. I have said it before in the Sun newspaper that if Nigerians fail in their experiment to attain a respectable nationhood status, they can only blame themselves, not anyone else, for their contemptible inability to put their acts together to create a prosperous, egalitarian and just society.

In many ways, the political culture of Nigeria since independence made the country a paradox. While it can be acknowledged that past Nigerian governments actually made considerable efforts to alleviate poverty in the country, it is obvious that despite those efforts the scourge of general poverty has continued to ravage the greater number of the populace. Indeed, poverty among the vast majority of Nigerians has remained steadily on the rise since the country attained independence some 53 years ago. In 1960, the population of Nigerians who were poor was about 15%. This went up to 28% by 1980. By 1985, it stood at 46%. It dropped to 43% in 1992.

By 1996 it catapulted to 66% and currently stands at a whopping 92%. This rise in mass poverty rate grossly underscores Nigeria's much touted petroleum wealth because indices show that the more money Nigeria makes as a country, the more the greater number of its citizens gets poorer. In other words, the richer the country is, the poorer the citizens.

Nigeria's inability to rise above the poverty level defined by the United Nations despite its much touted oil wealth has been principally traced to its chronic official corruption. Funds voted annually to address certain needs of the citizens are often diverted into private bank accounts by state officials in charge of projects. The funds are hardly channelled to the intended projects. In the eight years between 1999 and 2007, for instance, a whopping sum of $US10 billion was voted for the improvement of electricity supply.

The bulk of that money was not used for the purpose it was allocated. Nor was that an isolated case. In recent times, the Nigerian government has had to contend with the oil subsidy scam, the pension fund fraud, inflation of contracts and payment of ghost workers among other glaring corrupt practices of public office holders.

The situation on the ground at the moment is that while a handful of contractors and public officers have become stupendously mega-rich, the vast majority of the citizens are disconnected from the economic flow. The stinking richness of a few corrupt citizens has invariably forced the vast majority of Nigerians to suffer excruciating poverty.

The fact that Nigerian politicians seem to have recently developed in-house fighting within their parties is not helping matters either. To that extent, we just can't keep quiet in the face of all that is happening. We must ask why Nigerians have been unable all these years to elect credible leaders who have the interest of the masses at heart. Why are elected Nigerian political leaders so selfish and greedy? Why have they not been able to use the country's vast resources to raise the standard of living of the ordinary Nigerian who walks the streets of the cities and towns? Why must the vast majority of Nigerians remain poor in the midst of the great wealth their country parades globally?

I would like to submit the contention that the main problem the Nigerian electorate, and by inference the Nigerian population, faces today, the reason for voters' inability to secure creditable political leaderships, from the community level, through the local council and state levels to the federal level, hinges on two words – “use” and “abuse”. The question that Nigerian voters have to address today, the crucial question that can give them the quality of leadership they deserve in 2015 is: “to what extent have we applied any of these two words to our voting power, our franchise?”

The argument is that if Nigerian voters use, rather than abuse, their voting POWER, they will produce a credible political class. A credible political class will address the issue of the nation's mass poverty in the midst of plenty as a matter of political expediency. Nigerians have a duty to correctly read the handwriting on the wall of their country's democratic evolution.

The writing sends an urgent message. It shows that if there is going to be socio-political stability in the country, there is a dire need to bring the middle class back into the system. It is not only desirable. It has become imperative. The question is: how do they achieve this in the face of the current political culture?

A cursory appraisal of the prevailing political culture shows that political parties arrive at the wards during campaign with huge envelopes stuffed with millions of naira. The ward executives are offered these huge sums. They are requested to share the money out to prospective voters. In that case, some get a few millions, some a few thousands, some a few hundreds and some, nothing at all. But all are expected to cast their votes, and they do. In such a way they mortgage the future of their children and grandchildren for a pot of porridge. That is known as “politics of stomach loyalty” and it is, in essence, an abuse of their voting power. And, because they vote that way, they get what they bargained for at the end of the day.

The politicians get into public offices and their first assignment is to recoup the money they claim to have spent during their campaign. No one knows exactly how much. But whatever it is, the masses sooner or later discover that they have become prey to greedy politicians who are bent on seizing their “opportunity” to milk the national coffers dry with practically little or nothing to show for their years in public office.

This has somehow become the pattern over the years. Nigerian politicians convince themselves that communities at the ward level will always accept money to vote. And they are largely proved right by the way ward executives direct their ward members to vote. Politicians capitalize on this understanding. As a result, selfish, greedy and incompetent administrators find themselves in public offices. Later the voters begin to cry foul.

But, I tell you, brother: Nigerian voters can change this psyche of their political class if they elect the right executives into the ward offices – credible men and women, tried and tested, and widely known within their communities to be incorruptible. That is the pattern communities in some of the advanced democracies like Britain and the United States of America adopt. Nigerians have to set it up and follow it up, if they sincerely want to get credible and trusted leaders into their political arena. They have to understand that in a democratic dispensation, the office of the chairman of the ward is the most powerful political office in the entire political arena. It is the closest to the grassroots.

Nigerian voters must be educated by INEC to know this much. Once that is settled, voters must make it a point of duty to themselves and to their generations yet unborn to elect ward executives who are head and shoulders above corruption. Once elected, ward executives must effectively hold series of meetings with the grassroots voters in their community.

Together, they must map out their community's strategy for meeting with those parties that seek their mandate for public offices. They must prioritize their community's needs and discuss these fully with their political clients. The ward executives must send the message crystal clear to the parties concerned that these, and those, are the needs of their community. And collectively the ward must only vote for the party that agrees with its demands, the party that can deliver on its agreed electoral promises.

In all this, the ward executives must transparently prove to their community that the welfare of families is paramount in the political agenda. But their efforts alone cannot put things right. The media should also play a more relevant role in checkmating the political class by putting the interest of the voting masses in the forefront where it belongs. Over the years, many things went wrong with the Nigerian society which the media failed to expose to scorching light.

In the face of massive official corruption, the criminal neglect of the fundamental needs of the voting masses, many in Nigeria clamoured for a Nigerian Spring, the same way the Arab Spring metamorphosed. Unfortunately, given the mindset of the typical Nigerian, the concept of a Nigerian Spring did, and continues to, remain a dream – a dream that can never materialise.

If Nigerians must come to terms with all the issues that tend to encourage selfish, greedy leaderships in the country – all the hypocritical “you-chop-I-chop” proclivity that has turned their country into a paradox – there is just one focus, one way to look towards. Nigerians must fight back to resuscitate the country's ailing middle class society. But let them not assume that it is going to be an easy walk-over. It is going to be quite tasking because there are forces out there that must be wrestled down – forces that advocate for a two-class social system for Nigerians – a system that predicates on the very rich families on the one hand, and the very poor families on the other hand.

These forces are anchored in the sensibilities of the so-called ruling families who argue that if the masses are economically marginalized so that they don't have money to possibly buy arms, but have food to eat, they cannot rise up against the ruling families. In such a way, they believe, peace in the land can be guaranteed. They claim that this is a better socio-political arrangement than the republican mental attitude of some other Nigerians which creates a situation where everyone is equal before the law.

Glaringly, this prescription has failed to work. Instead, the attempt to impose it on the masses has continued to encourage crime in Nigerian society, first in the South and more recently, in the North. It is now obvious that these forces and counter-forces cannot continue to be ignored. Of particular significance are recent attempts on the lives of some of the country's respected public figures. In many ways, these attempts are an eye-opener.

The ability of some of the counter-forces to network worldwide to raise money and arms to prosecute their nefarious mission to bring Nigeria on its knees points to the direction that the old idea some “ruling families” have continued to uphold must change or be swept away by the torrent of contemporary floods.

If that must not happen, the answer to stability in Nigeria is to resuscitate the middle class. That, in fact, should be the ultimate aim of every ward and most voters. Nigerian voters must recognise that the office of the ward chairman and not the office of the Governor or the President is the most powerful political office in the land.

They must make good use of their franchise to vote in the credible leaders they know very well, their own sons and daughters, as ward executives and vote for political parties in accordance with the directives of their ward executives. The politicians will never again find it funny to take them for a ride if they vote this way. A word, we say, is enough for the wise. Yes. A people must always get the type of leadership they deserve. That is the truth, my brother.

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo