Sunday, August 4, 2002

Rev Fr Stan Chu Ilo
St Peter-In-Chains Cathedral,
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Forwarded by DAVID A. IHENACHO

Redefining the politics of 2003

igeria is in a period of political gestation, which is the sign of a nation on the road of renewal. This birth pang may lead to the emergence of a nation more at home with herself, and better prepared to take the long and painful path of national recovery and growth. Many Nigerians are watching and praying for a positive outcome of the forthcoming elections, which are already creating a lot of tension and uncertainty. This is because the failure to make a transition from a military-woven democracy to a civilian democratic model in the next election may presage another season of political crisis with devastating consequences for the nation. History has shown that the failure to conduct successful elections in the past often led to implosion in our national life and offered excuse for military intervention. The 2003 elections promise to be the true test of the resilience of our newfound democracy and the maturity of our present day politicians.

There are three basic issues in the forthcoming elections: the issue of the common good of Nigeria, the so-called national question which boils down to the structural redesigning of our polity and finally the often neglected moral imperative of leadership which is at the core of the recurrent problem of political ineptitude that has dogged the path of the political class in our country. These are issues to which Nigerians should place their minds in deciding the politicians who should be entrusted with our collective destiny in the next elections. These issues are by far more important than the misplaced discourse on the propriety or otherwise of a second term for the present leadership both at the federal and national levels. One of the greatest drawbacks of our politics is the absence of any ideological positioning which should have given life to political discourse and action, coloured political participation, shaped the political culture of the people and watered the ground for real politics. This ideological poverty makes it difficult for one to properly assess the changing complexion of our politics today. The emerging new political groups and the carpet-crossing politicians appear not to have anything new to offer the people of this country. What is of paramount importance to these politicians now is how to strategise in order to get power and not so much the evolution of new ideas to reinvent Nigeria. The arguments are still the timeworn tales of marginalisation or failure of the government to meet the yearnings and aspirations of our people, without any well-articulated, legitimate and feasible alternative routes.

The movement from politics of sentiment to politics of issues is a paradigm shift which most Third world countries find hard to make; it is also the main reason for the state failure which also is the symptom of the failure to grapple with the issue of national identity or the lack of it. The understanding of the intricate connection between the demands of justice founded on the common good and the desire for positive and focused leadership should not be lost to us as a people simply because we have often played dirty politics along the line in the past republics. Obviously, it is becoming a common refrain in the country and a settled political behaviour among us that our politics should begin with and end with the settlement of interests even when it conflicts with the national interest. However, a more important problem is the definition of what constitutes our national interest. This is a real problem because most often the hazy cobweb of selfish glorification of personal interests and gains by successive leaders, make it impossible for the good of the nation to emerge in their mode of thinking and acting. It is in this context that we must draw the fine point of distinction between what is our common good and what constitutes the parochial interests of few individuals and groups. Most important of all, is the distinction between the often-confused interest of the political class and the wider and more important good of the nation. There is the urgent need to raise once again the question of our common good and the ways and means of preserving, protecting and promoting it in our country. For example, the nagging issue of resource control is one that many tribal lords in the country are fighting for as a new national credo, but do the ordinary people of the land see it as relating to their good and will they eventually receive a leap in their life if the resources were controlled by the various regions? I doubt this possibility given the history of the entrenched tradition of the political class to corner the resources of the state for themselves and their reference groups.

The question of the common good should be a common thread, which should run through the gamut of political discourse in the forthcoming electioneering campaigns and should be determinative of the quality and calibre of persons that should be allowed to preside over our affairs in future. What is it that will promote the happiness and well being of Nigerians? How can we develop every section of the country and bridge the gap between the rural and urban dwellers? How can we manage the differences in religion and ethnicity without suppressing the minority, whose unique but diverse cultural heritages form a yarn in the fine tapestry of the rich identity of our nation. How can the rich human and material resources of this country be harnessed for the good of all? How can we stop the scandalous unjust condition that makes the lines of contact between the very poor and the very rich run in constant parallel in the same country? What steps must be taken to stop the flight of capital from our land through corruption and shortsighted governmental policies? What should be done to bring back to the country Nigeria's brightest talents in various fields of human endeavours who are scattered all over the world developing other countries, because the environment at home is adverse for the growth of the human potentials? All these are questions, which are at the heart of the common good of our country. It is the party or the politician who provides realistic answers to these questions and other concerns of the nation who should be considered for leadership positions in the country.

The common good is at the heart of the existence and sustenance of every society. The common good represents the highest aspiration of a people for well-being and survival. It colours the national identity and it gives form to actions and initiatives of individuals and groups; it is the propelling shaft around which decisions at the executive level and laws at the legislative level must revolve. The common good has to do with those commonly held values and goals that promote the quality of life of all the members of society. It represents the sum of all those economic, political and social conditions that enhance the quality of life of all the members of society. It must include a blueprint for the promotion of the highest good of the highest number. This is the basis for the existence of society. Each individual left on his or her own cannot attain the destined end of happiness and self-fulfilment. The social thinkers who reflected on the political concept of social contract argued that left alone man is the worst of animals, but when integrated into society where there is law and order, there is the mutual reinforcement of mutually shared values and the harmonisation of individual talents and qualities for the enrichment of the common weal. The duty of the government is to promote these shared values and to redistribute the goods and services, which is the wellspring of individual contributions in such a way that no member of society is disempowered or marginalized. The fact that each member of society makes a contribution to the common good is a basis for distributive justice which makes it possible for each to receive what is due to him or her, and which demands that every member of society ought to work to promote the common good.

In the present dispensation, there has been steps taken to address the needs of the citizens, but all those steps appear to be ineffectual because of lack of political will to make the needed sacrifices on the part of the present leadership and the failure of the parties to create an enabling environment for the flourishing of an enlightened followership. The task of making Nigeria a better place demands the courage of national heroism and when one looks at the big players in the political field and the views they parade, one fears that we may need to wait a little longer for those men and women of character who might be the leading light of a renascent Nigeria. The problem however is that our country is still at the very rudimentary level of nationhood and has for long been tottering on the shaky walls of statehood. Therein lies the need for the redefinition of the basis for our collective existence as a people. The emergence of our country was only but an accidental political move, which was made to satisfy the political expedience of our former colonial lord. Our continued collective existence must however be based on agreed terms which many perceive must be worked out via dialogue. The evolution of a healthy nation founded on the principles of common good and solidarity, a land of justice and peace; a bright and fair land of equal opportunities, where men and women irrespective of their religious or ethnic backgrounds can pursue the purpose of their creation demands a conscious collective decision founded on some strong moral and mutually shared vision.

For many years now, Nigeria has been moving without any clear direction. There is no national sentiment nor has there been any real attempt at political socialisation or the development of a sound political culture in the country. The poverty in the land is painfully real. Those of us outside the country are seen by those at home as the fortunate lot who have escaped from hell and who must play the father Christmas for those at home. The truth however is that most Nigerians like most people from the Third World who live outside their countries are seen as second class citizens; and do not have the same opportunities as the sons of the soil. The logic is simple: no country develops by investing on foreigners and so no country will create opportunities for foreigners unless such foreigners are willing to change their nationalities and lose their national heritages- a prospect which many Nigerians see as God's answer to their prayers. It is not surprising that many of our country men and women abroad engage themselves in many menial jobs, prostitution and some others in criminal activities just to make it abroad. It is even the practice in some European countries for Nigerians to marry women who could be their grand mothers just because it offers them the possibility of naturalising in such countries! This will however not continue for a long time. In the years to come, if the present trend in terms of immigration discrimination against people from the Third World continues in Europe and North America, many of us abroad may have to be painfully reminded that we are still foreigners who are merely being tolerated; and those at home who are desperate to come over may never have the opportunity. Even though there is talk about creating a common humanity through globalisation, in real fact globalisation is only the internationalisation of trans-national capitalism. This involves the protection of Western economy and the continued milking of Third world economy by the West. When one considers the fact that Western conglomerates like Mobil, Chevron etc have more stakes in Nigerian oil than NNPC and the Niger Delta people; one understands the woes of globalisation for a developing economy like Nigeria. Indeed, our history of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and neo-colonialism should teach us that the Western world would stop at nothing to protect their national interests and a big and richly blessed nation like Nigeria must look inwards to be able to reach into her primary energies-human and material resources - to build a virile economy and a constitutional democracy.

The forthcoming elections should provide the country the opportunity of dialoguing with herself on how to rise to her historical destiny. Thus those who have been gaining from the present unjust structures in the country can no longer ignore the persistent call for some form of dialogue across the lines by many Nigerians. There is the need to redefine the basis for our unity and co-existence. No nation can survive on the structures of oppression and suppression. A greater percentage of our people are totally frustrated with the present situation of things and there are no visible sign that the next election would produce the men and women who will have the courage to address the nagging national question which has held the nation down for many years. This is because the present political structure will only produce the same people whose short-sightedness and selfishness has kept this nation from reaching half her potential. All the people who are lining up for the next elections are the same old political gladiators with the same weapons of state despoliation. The politics of the present moment is revolving around personalities that many of us are afraid that it will only end up in personality clashes, which will only advance the personal interest of the eventual winners, while inflicting a mortal blow on our national interest. The consequence will be that political identification on the part of the citizenry will be based on the ethnic origin of the politician, his religious persuasion and the personal gratifications one could derive from lining behind such personality. What will emerge is the same patron-client relation between the politicians and the people who support their political aspirations, with the subsequent neglect of the interest of those outside their political circumference. The fact that the money for all these is the taxpayers' money brings out the moral implication of sustaining this kind of political arrangement, and the harmful effect it has on the collective interest of all of us. If on the other hand, we have fully articulated our national interest in a round table conference we could be able to remove the concentration of all the resources of the country on the central government and work a suitable way of managing the resources of the country in such a way that each section will have a stake in the management of the resources of their land. Government could only become service when, the alluring perks of office which easily attract many to government is considerably removed; while placing the resources at the disposal of the people for whom they are made. This cannot however come about unless a new crop of leaders aflame with moral integrity and a sense of honour emerges in our country.

Many people have argued that the bane of our country is leadership. This is a universal truth that is not specific to Nigeria. The leader is always the rallying point for the people. He is the personalisation of the highest aspiration of the people. He is the man or woman of the people who feels the heart beat of the people and understands their joys and sorrows. He is one who is not bugged down by the negative sub-culture of the people he is leading. He is with the people and does not rely on second hand information to know the feeling of the people because he is one with them. He is a person of vision with a clear mission and sees himself not on a selfish project but on a path of sacrifice to create a better society. Indeed, he does not see governance as an extension of his business empire nor a means of livelihood. He has a sense of history and wishes to make his contribution to the betterment of the life of the majority of his people. He sees governance as service, which could only be met by patriotism and heroism such that at the end of his service he will perpetually receive the honour and adulation of a grateful populace as a statesman. No nation ever reached it historical destiny without such courageous tall men and women in the saddle of leadership. However such people cannot emerge unless they are imbued with a sense of moral worth. There is the need for us in Nigeria to toe the path of moral rectitude and to wear once again the lenses of moral vision so that we see and assess the good of the nation in the light of the moral imperative of collective living to which all of us are called. This is what should redefine and refocus the politics of 2003.