Nigeria’s Unscripted Politics, By Dele Agekameh
If our politicians cannot be trusted to reason clearly and sensibly on their own, then it raises questions about their qualification for the roles they hold on our behalf.
In the developed world, politicians learn the value of decorum and adequate preparation very early on in their careers. In that world, to be a politician is to live a scripted life, resisting, as much as possible, the urge to go on a whim and break from the script. This necessary public face, while essentially pretentious, at least helps the politicians maintain some level of discipline and self-control in public acts and speeches.
Back home in Nigeria, the politicians appear to follow no script, have no desire for caution and display very poor judgment. With rife indiscipline amongst the political class, the outcome has always been worse. Last week, the country was treated to a double dose of unscripted political drama, with the dramatis personae emerging from the puerile ranks of the Senate and the ‘first office’. Thus, Nigerians were again reminded that they are at the mercy of the undisciplined, chosen from amongst themselves.
By noon on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, we all watched in disbelief as a video circulated on various media channels, showing the moment some thugs gained entry into the “hallowed” chambers of the Senate and made off with the mace, the supposed symbol of authority of the Senate. The images were appalling, with fighting and the usual chair throwing, this time between the thugs and officials. The Senate leadership later accused Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was recently placed on a 90-day suspension, as the mastermind behind the breach of the chamber. Even though the Senator was later arrested, the deed had been done and the images can never be withdrawn.
The development not only highlighted the indiscipline at that level of government, but also exposed the gaps in security at the National Assembly complex. Anyone who has gained entry to the complex will be familiar with the multi-layered security checks for visitors that usually involve long waiting and vetting times. It was a shock, therefore, to see alleged strangers to the complex walk calmly and confidently to the front of the Senate chamber in the middle of a plenary, pick up the mace and fight their way out against minimal resistance. Reports also had it that a senator representing Lagos West was also grabbed by the thugs on their way out before he managed to escape within the premises.
With their unchallenged procession into the chamber, it makes sense for one to conclude that the said “thugs” may have had regular access to the complex before the incident or were ushered in by a high profile figure at the complex. It is unlikely that the mace thieves were unknown to all within the complex, especially considering that they reportedly got away clean. The drama continued a day later when the police claimed to have received a tip from a good samaritan that sighted the missing mace under a bridge somewhere in Abuja where they retrieved it.
The legislature in Nigeria has become a nest of shameless actors, possessed by indiscipline and encouraged by the failure of the people to hold their elected leaders accountable. From a Dino Melaye, who frequently ridicules himself and the Senate in the shameless documentation of his childish squabbling, to others with their indecorous sense of humour…
The story of the recovery of the mace, if one chooses to believe it, may seem like the end of another farcical episode in Nigerian politics, but it is really part of an on-going theatre of absurdities at the centre of government. The entire drama is exasperating and deeply shameful, like many acts of our government functionaries.
The legislature in Nigeria has become a nest of shameless actors, possessed by indiscipline and encouraged by the failure of the people to hold their elected leaders accountable. From a Dino Melaye, who frequently ridicules himself and the Senate in the shameless documentation of his childish squabbling, to others with their indecorous sense of humour, many questionable characters have, indeed, been assembled to pretend to make laws for the smooth running of the country.
What the video also shows is the work ethic of our senators. The plenary was attended by only a handful of senators, as can be seen in the video. About 70 percent of the senators were absent, and this may have encouraged the mace thieves and their collaborators in some way. When some senators are present, they struggle to stay awake or make no contributions whatsoever. Many long term senators have never sponsored a bill or made any meaningful contribution on the floor of the house. Yet, when the time comes for the throwing of chairs, their participation is overwhelming.
As we were being treated to a comedy of errors at home, our number one citizen was in faraway London making less than flattering remarks about the young people of the country. While speaking at the commonwealth business forum, President Muhammadu Buhari, berated young Nigerians for their laziness, and what he seemed to suggest is an unreasonable dependence on government to provide for them because of the perceived oil wealth of the country. His comments hurt the sensibilities of young Nigerians everywhere who already suffer a great disadvantage in comparison to their peers in other African countries and in the wider world.
Thousands of graduates have had to embrace low paying jobs, while the uneducated endure life as artisans and tradesmen of all kinds to make ends meet. Of the uneducated, more than half is purely due to poverty, while the rest is based on improper orientation within their families and communities – a consequence of poverty. If the government is not responsible for this, then one wonders who is.
When put into context, the president’s remark is even more baffling as it was made in response to a question about investment opportunities for would-be investors in the country. Could he have thought that his remarks would encourage an investor to pour money into a region where a large chunk of the working population is “lazy”?
When put into context, the president’s remark is even more baffling as it was made in response to a question about investment opportunities for would-be investors in the country. Could he have thought that his remarks would encourage an investor to pour money into a region where a large chunk of the working population is “lazy”? Common sense at least dictates that a leader can only truly make that kind of assertion if the people refuse to work, despite being given an enabling environment to be productive and flourish. In any case, even if his claim were true, one simply must not wash his country’s dirty linen in public.
Perhaps, what the president’s remark signifies is an undisciplined tongue, as it was not the first time he has made such a gaffe at home and abroad. The president already displayed a lack of judgement with his half joke about his wife belonging to “the other room” at a similar forum sometimes back. He also famously suggested that his government would pay more attention to areas where he received more votes. These are all statements made off the cuff, and they reveal the real man that often hides behind prepared speeches as is often the case with political office holders.
If our politicians cannot be trusted to reason clearly and sensibly on their own, then it raises questions about their qualification for the roles they hold on our behalf. The president is our top diplomat and should have known better than to make such a remark. Many have stressed that he is himself a product of government guaranteed free education and other benefits that accrued to young Nigerians in his time. It is too much for some to have such a man make that statement when he now heads a government that cannot guarantee the most basic education and healthcare need of all Nigerians.
The relationship between the president and the sponsor of the mace thieves, if any, is that they both display a remarkable lack of judgment and an inability to process the long term consequences of their words and actions. In a changing world where perception is key and appearances can carry the day, to have such gaffes as these, especially arising out of ignorance, is unthinkable for a nation that intends to grow.
Many are of the opinion that the political class intentionally ensures that certain sections of the society remain poor and uneducated to make it easier for them to be manipulated when need be. The mace thieves may have been drawn from this section and many more will again be called to vote in the coming elections. To be subjected to ridicule in this manner, whilst being kept in the darkness of penury and ignorance is a truly cruel fate. This is why it is now a collective responsibility to help the unenlightened see the light – the light of their own power at the polls.
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