Why I Am Unable To Defect, By Uddin Ifeanyi
It matters therefore that we ask the question: “Are our political leaders’ actions and expressions sufficiently capturing sentiments in their political constituencies?” The sub-themes to this question should have us wonder whether our politicos should be shaping these sentiments, or how much should these sentiments shape both our politicos’ perspectives..?
In a couple of months from now, Nigeria heads into a general election. Ahead of this milestone, the political argy-bargy has speeded up. It is also providing rich spectacle, as different interests scheme, like the proverbial cuckoo hatchling, to push all perceived opposition out of the nest. Whether it is accusations by opposition politicians of government use of the infrastructure of the state to harass them. Government’s insistence that much of the verbiage from the opposition might qualify as “hate speech”, likely to inflame passions in the country, and thus qualified to be suppressed in one form or the other. Or the worry that institutions of the state (the central bank, for one) are being co-opted in the interest of partisan concerns (again in the case of the central bank, the worries are of “fiscal dominance”). Everything is likely to be appraised through “political” lenses for some time to come.
The sense of an impending crisis, either later this year or early next year, derives from a sense that this process is intensifying. On this reasoning, doomsayers have been helped to no end by the recent gale of defections by leading politicians from parties that they have represented over the last couple of years. Such is the passion generated by divisive developments in the run up to the elections that only a few now think that the impending crisis has anything but downsides to it.
From a vantage several times removed, it is hard not to want to understand the “Why?” of it all, though. Put differently, it is difficult not to ask to what purpose all these intense outpouring of energy is. How much of the intense dissipation of bile that now characterises our politics is the result of disagreement over how much investment the economy needs? In which sectors, municipalities and provinces these investments should go? And what the optimal investment mix should be — public versus private provenance, and then, equity versus debt?
Clearly, none of the disagreements we are witnessing is about differences over how we may change our educational system. To start with, what are the policy implications of the new argument that Nigerian graduates (of primary, secondary, and tertiary schools) are not fit for work? Then, what kind of work are we on about: Private sector employment or public sector ones? In the private sector, is the work that matters most in manufacturing — where STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) knowhow counts for much? Or in services — where the gig economy is all about entrepreneurial vision?
I haven’t heard much about the reforms to the judiciary without which the criminal justice system will remain but a farce. And even though our echo chambers resonate with conversations around the effectiveness of the Nigerian Police Force, the bulk of the arguments have revolved round how much of an arbitrary killing machine the force is.
How significant is the fact that the main body of Nigerians aged 25 years and younger are neither in education, employment or training? At more granular levels, we are agreed that both the rote learning that currently passes for teaching, and the content of school curriculum have got to change. Are we agreed on the nature of such changes and the direction in which they ought to be headed? Given how much the teaching unions have invested in the current game, there may be a very strong case for breaking the union’s hold on school processes. Is it okay to ask that union members opt in before they are eligible for dues check-off? Is it not the case that a fall in union membership is positively correlated with rising income inequality? Can we promote teachers on the basis of pre-agreed performance indicators, for example, rather than the current tenure-based arrangement?
I haven’t heard much about the reforms to the judiciary without which the criminal justice system will remain but a farce. And even though our echo chambers resonate with conversations around the effectiveness of the Nigerian Police Force, the bulk of the arguments have revolved round how much of an arbitrary killing machine the force is. Mention is rarely heard of what we must do to deploy a police force that can properly take cases through the prosecutorial processes that secure convictions needed to support the structure of domestic incentives.
Not even the conversations around domestic businesses’ rejection of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement were couched in sufficiently partisan terms. Interestingly, not even the possibility, raised by the federal government in explanation for the virulence of the herders versus farmers conflict in the north central region of the country, that non-Nigerians may be to blame has inflamed nationalist, anti-immigrant passions, as would have happened elsewhere. Given how riven down the middle our urban elites are, across just about every dimension of our lived experiences, is it time to review the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme? Has it achieved its goal of fostering national unity? Or in the absence of a useful counter-factual, is it okay to assume that our “unity” (increasingly in need of a consensus these days on its meaning) would have been worse off without the NYSC scheme?
As with politics almost everywhere, the need for reform of our space is a compelling one. Except for this one difference: that we are invited to contemplate a root-and-branch overhaul of our own system long before it’s even hard a chance to prove itself.
There is then, the sense in which one could be charged with envying Europe and north America for their “culture wars”. For divisive, though, these guttural disagreements in those spaces might be in the short term, they are part of a process by which these societies break the sod on the middle ground on which they may build long-term initiatives that their respective electorates may support.
It matters therefore that we ask the question: “Are our political leaders’ actions and expressions sufficiently capturing sentiments in their political constituencies?” The sub-themes to this question should have us wonder whether our politicos should be shaping these sentiments, or how much should these sentiments shape both our politicos’ perspectives and the trade-offs they are willing to abide? Is it important that these sentiments may be inchoate (as with the popular approach to the concept of “market forces”, and the desirability of subsidies that support consumption, instead of subsidies that strengthen the economy’s supply-side responses), if they exist at all?
As with politics almost everywhere, the need for reform of our space is a compelling one. Except for this one difference: That we are invited to contemplate a root-and-branch overhaul of our own system long before it’s even hard a chance to prove itself.