Let’s Reclaim Our Country From Politicians - by Bayo Olupohunda

It is a fact of history that every attempt made by ordinary Nigerians to entrust the leadership of our country into the hands of politicians has always left us, the citizens, anxious, disillusioned, traumatised and impoverished. 

On the few occasions that our country had experimented with democratic rule, the recklessness of politicians as they struggled for political power had truncated democracy and almost pushed the country into the precipice. In their quest to exert control, politicians from both sides of the divide have often thrown caution to the winds as they fight dirty, unleashing violence on the country and the people they are meant to serve. The violent political trajectory behind our chequered history as a nation often makes one wonder the real intention of politicians.

If truly the quest for power is to serve the people, why then do those who seek public office, resort to violence? Why deploy hate campaigns, keep thugs, kill opponents, burn houses and destroy properties? If indeed politicians intend to serve the people, why do they threaten to throw the entire country into chaos as they have been doing? Sometimes, I wonder if they know that after their hate is spent, there will not be a country left to govern. The 2015 elections are treading the same well-worn violent past. Sadly, the expected tragic denouement bodes no good for our country.

Since the First Republic, power struggle among politicians has ensured that our experiment with democracy has been an exercise in futility. For example, the controversial parliamentary election of 1965 led to a crisis which caused a state of emergency to be declared in Western Region. This was after disagreement among politicians in the region resulted in widespread breakdown of law and order, leading to the truncation of the First Republic. The violence was so pervasive that the media at the time labelled the region, “Wild, Wild West” because the entire region was a theatre of chaos. The impact of the violence echoed throughout the country prompting the intervention that led to the first military coup of 1966. The rest, as they say, is history.

When I think of how our brawling politicians bungled the First Republic, the thought also leaves me to wonder how they have often forgotten to learn from history. Indeed, Nigerian politicians are poor students of history. This explains why every time they have had the opportunity to deepen democracy, they make a mess of it. When George Santayana said, “those who cannot learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it’’, he obviously had the typical Nigerian politician in mind. Let’s assume the lessons of the First Republic were lost on our politicians; how about the recklessness that led to the fall of the Second Republic?

The Second Republic lasted just four years and three months. Again, the opportunity to deepen democratic culture, values and institutions was wasted by corrupt and reckless politicians at the time. The demise of that republic demonstrated that our politicians did not have the capacity to see the big picture to take our country to its desired future. They lacked patriotism and their ambition driven by personal self-aggrandisement coloured by primordial, ethnic or religious biases to work for the common good. At no time in our recent history have we seen the crass debauchery exhibited by politicians in the Second Republic. There was massive corruption, with the government lacking direction. Patronage and tokenism system became the official means of dispensing favours. It was in those years that politicians, conniving with civil servants, looted the treasury and ferried our commonwealth to Swiss banks. Some politicians even had their names emblazoned on choice wines as status symbol. Corruption was widespread. Expectedly, the Second Republic collapsed before it could even start to yield any benefit for the people. Once again, politicians proved that they could not manage their affairs. They proved that they could not be trusted with leadership. When the military struck again in December 1983, the jinxed Republic was in the third month of a second term for President Shehu Shagari. The taciturn president who celebrated his 90th birthday recently offered no resistance as soldiers came to arrest him. Unlike the previous coup of 1966, the 1983 coup was bloodless. The army just came, shoved the politicians aside like babies and returned to power quietly as if it was their birthright.

Characteristically, when the military struck, politicians fled the country for fear of being arrested for corruption and personal enrichment. Unfortunately, the military regimes that came after the aborted Second Republic offered no succour. The years of brigandage and corrupt military rule are still regarded as Nigeria’s darkest years. No thanks to politicians who could not use democracy to put our country on the path of growth and development.

Another opportunity for democratic rule did not come until 1999. Since then, our country has been under civilian rule. The Fourth Republic, after the interval in the 1990s of the toothy despot, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, is now the longest of all the republics. Given the penchant of our politicians to behave badly, the atmosphere of fear and threat of violence in the run-up to the 2015 elections has heightened the fear that this dispensation may be at the risk of going the way of others before it. Already, there are fears that crisis from the elections may lead to the country’s disintegration.

The atmosphere of hate engendered by the 2015 elections has shown that we still cannot totally leave the affairs of our country in the hands of politicians. It is worrisome that the mistakes that shortened democracy in the previous republics have surfaced again. Politicians, political parties and their supporters are digging their trenches in anticipation of the battle ahead. The hate campaigns in the run-up to the elections have intensified. The media have been taken over by propaganda and hate speeches the type that led to violence in countries like Ivory Coast, Kenya and Central African Republic. The hate campaigns are meant to denigrate opponents but could cause tension that may ultimately snowball into violence.

The trend is scary. For example, in recent times, we have seen how hate campaigns and propaganda have replaced healthy debates. Now, Nigerians are left to wonder what will happen during and after the elections. Fear has gripped the entire country. Nigerians are apprehensive that our country may erupt into violence. The fear is real. If elections are conducted and politicians refuse to concede defeat, the aftermath is often bloody. It is for this reason that the previous republics collapsed. This is why it has become imperative that we as Nigerians must not leave politicians to push our country to the brink. We must speak out against any form of violence. Supporters of political parties must denounce violence. Civil society groups, professionals, statesmen, corporate bodies, faith-based organisations, religious and traditional leaders must speak out against election-related violence. We need to take our country back from politicians, both in the ruling party and the opposition, whose actions and utterances threaten the Fourth Republic and our corporate existence as a nation.