By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
It didn’t start today. In A Man Of The People, Achebe’s Max and his fellow idealists tried to fix the rot in the politics of their country. They knew the problems— corruption, greed, indolence. They knew the ideals—patriotism, transparency, selflessness and imagination. But Max and his fellow political saints failed woefully.
In the second republic, we had many Maxes. Soyinka, Achebe, Tunji Braithwaite and others. They tried to steer the country towards principled governance and freedom by immersing themselves in peripheral parties. That failed too.
In the third republic, we saw Gani Fawehinmi and company. We saw their National Conscience Party ( NCP). We saw how the public never thought it was a real party. They stayed too clean, too aloof and practically inconsequential.
After Gani and his NCP, we have seen other puritanical fringe parties. These parties were supposed to help set political agenda and deepen discourse. But even such theoretical ambitions were rarely met. They were not seen as feasible alternatives so their political sermons sounded as if they were meant for a future generation.
A few weeks ago the nation convulsed. The youths rose to demand change in policing and in governance. Since then there have been talks about the rot in our politics. How then can politics be fixed?
I think our politics can only be fixed if good people, idealists inclusive, roll up their sleeves and do real politics. Yes it’s important that a few people stay above the fray and perhaps retain the capacity to claim to be moral compass but in the main, a critical mass of good people must take the risk and get into the stinking, muddy waters of mainstream third world politics. That won’t be an easy decision for many in a community where politicians are seen as pigs. Many a social critic would rather retain his holiness and stay at the ineffectual periphery. But for how long would ego massage.
Take Sowore and Ezekwesili. They stepped up in 2019, but they stepped into small parties. These parties failed to incite the imagination. If Sowore and Ezekwesili had gone into the PDP or the APC they would have had to discard their sanctimoniousness but they might have affected Nigerian politics in more significant ways.
Achebe’s Max and his compatriots failed because they made themselves aliens; they didn’t understand the electorate. They danced to their own rhythm and not to the rhythm presented them by the situation. They were aloof. They came with good intentions but couldn’t play the game before them. Some of them played the game as if they were in Sweden.
Gani Fawhenmi might not have cured the PDP of political leprosy but he would have helped the country better if he jumped into in the PDP or the AD rather than the NCP. Idealist and social crusaders should drop their huge egos, join the mainstream parties and help reform them from within.
A few people could sneer and say Professor Utomi joined the APC and got lost in the currents. But that brings me to the next point. A critical mass of good people is needed in the mainstream parties. If the others had chosen Utomi’s path, we would have been nearer the threshold needed to steer these parties towards becoming enduring moral institutions for political and economic development rather than mere contraptions for the appropriation and misuse of political power.
Some would say Aminu Kano belonged to a bygone era when vote-buying didn’t exist and politicians didn’t have to make provisions for INEC staff and security officials to win popular support. That’s not true. Aminu Kano retains the moral high ground, played by example but went in deep enough to ward off the money politics of the NPN in kano and Kaduna—present day Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Jigawa.
Others would say they would rather be like Aminu Kano—avoid the being swallowed up by the filth of the NPN and seek success with a cleaner, small party in a small section of the country. Aminu Kano’s PRP was not such a small party. It was neither NCP of the recent past nor today’s AAC. Within its domain, the Aminu Kano’s PRP didn’t just preach socialism, it had offices everywhere. The PRP dominated the grassroots in its territory. They didn’t do more seminars than community organizing. Aminu Kano pitched his tent on the streets and local power brokers joined him.
I have an advice for the EndSars youths, 2023 is at the door. They have to do more politics than protests. Protests are good. In fact, having the capacity and willingness to protest against social injustice is commendable. But finding the tact to seize political power in a society where youths have numerical strength must be their immediate preoccupation. They won’t achieve anything if they do not strategize. The rot is systemic.
They can form new parties but they must shed conceitedness and pour themselves into the mainstream parties. They won’t win by espousing ageism. They won’t win by being insensitive. Their target must be to dominate the state legislatures. If they take hold of 6 or more state legislatures in 2023, they would have seized the country. They have the voice and energy to dictate the pace from just six important states.
It is tempting to believe they can wake up one morning, march the streets long enough, generate a ‘Nigerian Spring’ and dislodge the old order. That could happen. But it’s more realistic, more sensible to work towards an organic capture of political power through party politics and the polls. In the latter route, they would be tested by the system. While they must not become pigs overnight, they must know that politics is not church.
They must play the game set before them with all righteousness compatible with a reasonable chance to win. Fringe parties might work. But they must learn from history.