It is now the season, power will be changing hands and the players are entering the arena to seek our votes, not for our own good, but to continue to divide and ruin Nigeria. Last week, I took up the question of civics and the very poor quality of our political class. I argued that we do ourselves a great disservice by accepting it as a given that our leaders lack integrity and competence and yet we allow them to govern. By so doing, we are as guilty as the politicians in creating the ideological basis for excusing the political class from responsibilities for what they say, promise and do, or rather, do not do. I made the case that in representative democracy, the political class is by definition supposed to be composed of people with character and integrity who keep their word and do exactly what they promise to do.
Nigeria is a large, diverse and complex country with a population of over 200 million. The country has had a turbulent political history with the First Republic lasting only five years while the life of the Second Republic had an even shorter life span of four years. The Third Republic did not even take off due to military adventurism. The Forth Republic has however endured for 23-years. Political parties are the central players in the democratic process and the consolidation of democracy requires that they improve the quality of their engagement with the democratic process as they grow and develop. The reality however is that political parties systematically refuse to imbibe and practice internal party democracy and are essentially run by godfathers and political barons who are the “owners” of the parties. Party membership is very weak in Nigeria and unlike the case in most democratic countries, party members usually play no role in the choice of party leaders and candidates for elections. The party convention is usually a circus, or rather, pantomime, where the delegates are directed by their bosses or paid a fee to produce the outcome decided by godfathers.
I have always argued that the pathway to deepening democracy is to get ordinary members takeover control of their parties and if they are blocked, to move en masse to other parties that might be ready to play the democratic game. The way to improve our democracy is to make party membership less ephemeral and more real. Nigerian political parties need members not patrons and their clients. The attachment of citizens should be to political parties not to patrons or godfathers who pay for their engagement in the political process. The mode of participation in political party activities, which is currently mediated by political bosses to whom people owe allegiance, must change.
We must also begin to change the prevailing culture of political nomadism in which patrons and godfathers engage in party activity to obtain nomination and elections for themselves or their surrogates and when they fail to obtain the position, they tend to move out with their clients to other parties in search of new opportunities. This means that both for the patrons and their clients, adherence to political parties is very fluid and opportunistic. It is also true that at the grassroots, many people own multiple party cards as they seek to be invited to as many party congresses as possible, because the tradition is to pay participants for their support and votes. Such people therefore move from party to party in search of opportunities. This is the entrepreneurial approach to politics, which should be replaced by a more democratic one. We need a new breed of leaders.
In his classic lecture on leadership qualities – “Mutumin Kirki: The Concept of the Good Man in Hausa Society”; Anthony Kirk-Green defined the attributes that people seek for in good leaders. They are truthfulness, compassion, integrity, trust and generosity for those in need. Wealth and material success were not considered important attributes in the selection of leaders. Today, those who can provide the biggest bribes for the biggest number emerge as our leaders. We must develop an overwhelming consensus that political leadership cannot remain the only job for which no qualification appears necessary except to have a lot of money, usually, stolen money. It is clear that for as long as the current pattern of leadership recruitment continues, our troubles will continue. It is for this reason that we must find a way to bring relevant criteria to bear on the selection of leadership. We have got to find a way of making character, competence and capacity to determine who leads.
Only people of proven integrity should be considered for leadership. People know who are the persons of good character in their communities and the proposal is that before primaries, widespread discussions are held to identify people with integrity to be considered for positions. Many such people may not propose themselves for public office knowing the high level of monetisation of our politics and might therefore rule themselves out for consideration. The benefit of community involvement in the process is that resources could be raised collectively to support their candidature. People who have been known, formally or informally, to have been involved in corruption must be ruled out of consideration at the outset. Truthfulness is another important criterion for consideration.
Leadership requires people with a vision of what they want to achieve for Nigeria. Of course, those who want to present themselves can get good consultants to write up a vision and programme for them. It is therefore important to define competence on the basis of track record of proposed candidates – professional background and accomplishments, community engagement and service, views expressed on political, economic and social issues. There has to be minimum education standard, degree or higher national diploma. Finally, age and good health are key factors in leadership and Nigerians know a lot about this issue. People over seventy years should be encouraged to stay out of politics because they are unlikely to have the energy for the enormous work involved in running a country as large and complex as Nigeria.
Governance success requires respect and knowledge of how democracies work at their best. The good profile for a democratic player includes respect for due process and the rule of law. Even more important is the disposition to be always ready to promote participation of members – community, political party, assembly etc. In order words, people with an ingrained civic culture. We need a new breed of leaders who see their role as listening to the people and negotiating compromises that address at least some of their needs. Thorough and open discussions of policy programmes before their adoption is extremely important in democratic systems. The idea is we want to move away from politics as brute expression of power or manipulation. A civic culture that respects and builds citizenship is very important.