By Olusegun Adeniyi
As a member of the Niger State Chapter of the Christian Corpers Fellowship in 1989/90, I was close to one sister who happened to be the prettiest in our set. Our friendship put me in a position to know that in the course of our service year, no fewer than five brothers ‘received’ for this sister (a Pentecostal euphemism which means God had directed them to woo her for marriage). Curiously, every one of these brothers had an interesting account of the way God ‘spoke’ to him about the sister. But it is doubtful the brothers were led by God; I believe that they admired the sister for her beauty, and lacking the courage of their conviction, they came in spiritual garb.
Incidentally, that is what most Nigerian politicians do when seeking public office. Rather than tell us they want to be President or Governor or Senator or House of Representatives/House of Assembly member because they like the job (or the money they know would accrue therefrom), they hoodwink us with lies about God leading them to seek such offices. Even when they have prepared the infrastructure of rigging (money, marabouts, arms) and are certain to run, they still tell us they are waiting for ‘God’s direction’. This time, we should tell such imposters they are nothing but a fraud!
Unfortunately, given that Nigeria is a very ‘religious’ country, we are going to hear a lot of these tales in the next couple of weeks as politicians strut the landscape. That explains why it is incumbent on us all to be wary of those who would play the religious card, those who would want to use the faith they profess as the launching pad for their ambition. Few are brazen in this direction and that is why we should be careful in that some can be rather subtle about it. But it still boils down to the same thing: anyone who would use the name of God to rationalise a personal ambition is not worthy of our votes.
In fact, I am always suspicious of people who use the name of God frequently within the political arena. While we desire that our public officials be religious, it is in the conduct of such a person that we prefer to know how much he/she believes in the God he/she professes. What we expect of our public officials is that they be fair and just to all, maximize our potentials and put our people to work.
However, I also need to state that while I do not believe that religion should influence the way we make our choices, this is not, and cannot even be assumed to be, an endorsement of any presidential or gubernatorial ticket that is insensitive to our diversity, including in religion. What I am saying in essence is that those who seek to be president/governor should be bold enough to say why they are seeking such offices rather than hide under the faith they profess…
The foregoing is taken from my October 2014 column in a series preceding the 2015 general election. It was a critique of the way politicians were using religion and the name of God to hoodwink the people in pursuit of their ambition. That was part of the tricks during the first 16 years of the current dispensation under the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While I am aware that a few politicians still play that game, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has devised a new method for deceiving the Nigerian electorate. Now, we have a situation in which poor farmers, palm wine tappers, hunters and market women are the ones ‘contributing money’ to purchase nomination forms for presidential aspirants whose children attend elite schools abroad.
Apparently miffed by these shameless antics that have become all-too-familiar, President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked Nigerians to avoid voting for certain presidential aspirants who claim that their nomination forms were purchased by youths. “Today, they are paying N40 million. Some of them (presidential aspirants) even said it is some youths who bought it for them. In fact, anybody who would come out to tell you such a lie, you shouldn’t vote for him,” charged Obasanjo. “Which youths gathered N40 million? If you want to buy the form, buy it and tell us. You don’t need to lie to us.”
Not only do I agree with President Obasanjo, what I find particularly disgraceful is the lack of originality in this deceit. Everybody is doing the same thing, acting the same script. They are not even creative in the way they lie. What that suggests is the absence of rigour in our politics. Once one politician does something, however silly, others begin to ‘copy and paste’. Meanwhile, that our politicians rely on such brazen dishonesty is due to the lack of accountability that defines public engagement, including campaign donations. In the United States, where we copied our presidential system, federal law requires that all candidates, political action committees (PACs) and political parties disclose contributions exceeding $200. That is less than N120,000, no matter the exchange rate we use. And such donations must include important details like names, addresses, occupations, and employer information, for public record. Here, some nebulous ‘committee of friends’ can donate billions of Naira without any disclosure of who they are or what they do for a living. But we know. Most often, these ‘donations’ are funds being round tripped from the public treasury.
More disturbing is that while our politicians are busy sponsoring idle youths to dramatise purchase of forms, spending precious hours in parliament debating whether Bobrisky should be wearing shirt or skirt, and suspending clerics for preaching what they don’t like, terrorists are gradually seizing control in our country. Having lost ‘the monopoly of violence’ to non-state actors, our country is becoming a funeral home. Dozens of citizens, including personnel of the military, police, and security agencies, are killed every day by criminals. On Monday, gunmen suspected to be members of a Boko Haram affiliate invaded a military base in Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State, killing many soldiers and injuring scores of others. That these criminals would take their battle to a military base where they also killed three locals, razed armoured vehicles, and went away with military weapons, is indicative of their growing capacity to overwhelm the Nigerian state.
In fact, the Birnin-Gwari Emirate People’s Union (BEPU) has confirmed that their traumatised communities now pay protection levies to these terrorists. “Millions of Naira are being paid to the bandits as a ransom for the freedom of kidnapped persons and taxes for access to farmlands and for freedom to live in various communities within the local government. There are hundreds of captives, including women and children, who have been in the den of the bandits for months and are yet to be released because their families could not afford to pay for their freedom,” according to the statement by BEPU.
That is Kaduna State where more than a hundred passengers seized from the train last week Monday are still in captivity. I have heard heart-breaking stories from families of the abducted victims. The situation is worse in Niger State where terrorists have practically hijacked power, killing, maiming, and raping at will. But rather than discuss these and other challenges, our politicians are busy stage-managing circus shows in the name of collecting nomination forms. Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, could not have been more apt than he did yesterday on the security challenge facing the nation. “If nothing drastic is done about the present situation in the country, a time will come when even the Presidential Villa and other government houses will be taken over by the terrorists. They are already closing in on us and we seem to be helpless,” Ortom told ARISE News Network.
I know those who would dismiss Ortom’s view as that of opposition. But he is merely echoing last April’s warning by Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State. Following the sacking of nearly 5,000 villagers from their ancestral homes in Shiroro and Munya local government areas of the state, Bello admitted that the terrorists were not only annexing territories, but they were also ‘confiscating’ the wives of villagers. He then said: “Sambisa is several kilometers from Abuja, but Kaure is just two hours’ drive from Abuja. So, nobody is safe anymore, not even those in Abuja.”
I believe that our sensibilities have been insulted enough by myopic politicians who cannot see the danger ahead. Whoever wants to run for president should just go and collect their form and spare us this nonsensical drama that borders on lack of accountability in our polity. Incidentally, this same issue of accountability was the central focus in the discussion at the Enough is Enough (EiE) 12th anniversary symposium ‘On Debates and Democracy’ in Abuja on Tuesday. With Janet Brown, the Executive Director of the United States Commission on Presidential Debates as keynote speaker (via zoom), other participants include Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, Arise News anchor, Ngozi Alaegbu, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Elections Debate Group, Edward Emessiri, AIT Director, Imoni Amarere, and a former Osun State governorship candidate, Mercy Tosin Ayodele. I was conscripted by the EiE Executive Director, ‘Yemi Adamolekun to moderate discussions hosted by television personality, Bolanle Olukanni.
While debates are increasingly seen as a benchmark of a healthy democracy and they help to promote accountability, Adamolekun contends that they have not been used effectively in Nigeria. “During a debate, a candidate’s statements, policy positions and campaign promises become public record that civic groups and the media should use to hold them accountable,” she argued but who do we blame when office seekers are never willing to submit to serious public interrogation? Why should they engage us when we are the ones ‘begging’ them to run for office and even ‘paying’ for their forms?
At a moment our country desperately needs leadership to tackle the myriad challenges that pile up daily, what this mendacity points to is that those who aspire to be president in 2023 are trapped in the past: All they see is the glamour of the office without the mounting responsibilities. It is cowards who hide behind lies because they’re not willing to face the ugly truth. True leaders will not use cheap tactics to seek power at a most challenging period in history. But that is assuming they inhabit the same universe as the rest of us.
Zamfara State not only lags on every index of development, but it is also in the vice grip of criminal gangs. Yet in Gusau yesterday, Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle distributed 260 expensive vehicles running into billions of Naira to traditional rulers in the state on the day he also commissioned the sprawling headquarters of the Council of Ulama.“It is in view of the high esteem with which my administration regards our traditional leaders and institutions that we decided to procure brand new cars, Cadillac 2019 Model, for 17 Emirs, 13 Senior District Heads and 230 District Heads across the State”, the Governor said at an elaborate ceremony in a clear case of misplaced priority that depicts what governance has been reduced to in Nigeria.
With such disposition, I am sure there are people who would argue that it is no big deal when presidential aspirants play games with the purchase of forms. But the connecting thread for the challenges we face today is an absence of trust in leadership at all levels and in all spheres. Yet, the actions that build trust are what is also required to build society. How can a leader build trust in an environment where citizens already know that even in things as mundane as picking up nomination forms, those who aspire to the number one office in the country are telling lies?
“Lying fosters a culture of dishonesty,” according to John Mearsheimer, a highly regarded professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of ‘Why Leaders Lie’. He added: “It is difficult for a country to function well if no one trusts their leader.”
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