Why are public statements issued by individuals and organizations? Are they just reflection of some desire to disseminate information based on some perspectives? To seek for relevance and recognition? Could it be for material and financial rewards? Is it to influence choices or endorsements by citizens, public officials, authorities and governments? Or expression of our ability to show superiority or to delegitimize and overpower others? Is there any consistency flowing from statements issued by individuals or organizations? Can such consistency be determined with reference to objectivity, logic, ideology or even factuality in all statements of individuals or organizations?
Perhaps, it could be assumed that combination of factors may inform most statements. Issues of consistency with reference to objectivity, logic, ideology and factuality are often sacrificed on the altar of exigency. This is largely because, statements in contemporary times are predominantly responsive and defensive, on accounts of which therefore the focus tend to be reduced to show of superiority, delegitimization and to overpower others. Once statements are only responsive or defensive, they become cheaply egoistic.
In so many respects, this provides the cultural attributes and orientations that regulates and shapes both contexts and contents of public statements in Nigeria. Whether with reference to politics, governance or any facet of engagement, statements are responsive, defensive and essentially promoting personalities. Matters of objectivity, logic, ideology and factuality can at best be inferred but hardly a guiding principle or consideration, no matter the claims of the individuals or organizations issuing the statement.
In the particular case of politics, it also comes with desperation, which may strategically seek to distort and fabricate information. Part of the stimulating influences that makes that almost compelling is the mindset of living for today. Integral to such mindset is that our today should and in most of cases must be detached from who we are and how we become the personalities we are today. As for tomorrow, let God take care of that, would seem to be the imperious consideration.
How this manifest in politics diminishes the business of mobilization to mediocrity and electoral contest competitively show of inelegance and grandstanding. Egos get fattened and propagation of untruth become the attraction. Rather than contests of ideas and issues based on facts and logic, it become contests of falsehood such that it is all about display of skills to transfigure untruth into facts. Given such atmosphere, abuses, vulgarity and hate become the language of expression.
How else can one explain politics and the contest for 2019 elections in Nigeria? Be that as it may, can we in anyway estimate whether statements are making any desired impact? Do we even have yardsticks for determining any considered impact? Does it even matter whether statements make impact or not? In any case, if politics is denigrated to contests of falsehood, can anyone, politician or not, have any power to make untruth become fact? Against such background, is it possible to produce good or accountable leaders? In other words, is it possible to have good governance in the realm of falsehood? Conversely, is it that falsehood has become our national way of life?
The realities of our times clearly diminish any rational consideration for a brighter tomorrow. If we are not propagating falsehood, we live in perpetual denials, all because a small category of our population has force us to relate with politics and its associated leadership challenges based on a very high capacity to perforce a national political agenda of falsehood. With such realities, factors of reward may not necessarily translate to material and financial compensation. It may simply be the capacity to elicit indulgence, which could come in different ways.
Combinations of this and possible absence of courage and confidence is making the 2019 electoral contests to become swimming competition in the pool of polluted politics of abuses, vulgarity and hate. Choices are expressed accordingly in such languages. Shouldn’t it be possible for choices to be expressed without recourses to such uncouth languages? Isn’t it possible to win support of citizens using a different language? But if political contest is about show of superiority, delegitimization and overpowering others in a pool of abuses, vulgarity and hate, which other language can guarantee victory?
Somehow, it is either that everyone has resigned or we have all been intimidated into accepting abuses, vulgarity and hate as the only language for politics and electoral contests. Unfortunately, it is such banality that would appear to have strong retrogressive influences on the consciousness of all citizens. Educated people comfortably talk in the lexicon of the unschooled, professionals as cultured as unskilled, diaspora citizens more eloquent in the language of abuses, vulgarity and hate than the local rural population.
It is a matter that is truly organic, which question our humanity, consciousness and commitment to a better society. The more fluent we are in this language of abuses, vulgarity and hate, the weaker will be our capacity to produce good leaders, facilitate good governance and contribute to the emergence of a better tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what our claims are or how educated or informed we may be, so long as our language of engagement with politics is defined by abuses, vulgarity and hate, to the extent of our fluency, we can only serve as adversaries to good leaders, good governance and better society.
This is not only an issue that has defined inter-party contests, it also manifests itself in intra-party contests across virtually all the political parties. Most times, the higher the potential for electoral victory, the stronger the manifestation. Often, we argue that it is also a reflection of absence of discipline, commitment to values and how all our parties and politicians are the same, surreptitiously to excuse our responsibilities as citizens to act as moderating influences.
May be on accounts of accumulated anger and frustration over the years, we have all demobilized ourselves from discharging all our civic responsibilities. With politicians concern only about today and citizens demobilized of all civic responsibility, how can tomorrow ever come? Does tomorrow even exist? Once we can’t produce good leaders, good governance and a better society, in whatever form, tomorrow will remain illusory.
One thing is very obvious, abuses, vulgarity and hate are also hostile and destructive to emergence and proliferation of responsive organizations. Emergence of good leaders, facilitation of good governance and a better society will depend on the presence of responsive organizations. Both in politics and wider societal life, any organization whose competitive advantage speaks only the language of abuses, vulgarity and hate, its survival would be limited to the length of time it will take to expose the falsity and banality of its claims. The tenure of leaders will be proportionate to the survival duration of the falsehood that throws then into leadership positions. Such organization will have high volatile propensity, thriving on anger, conflict and violence. Issues of grievance handling, dispute settlement, reconciliation and peace building will hardly be a priority.
This could partly explain dynamics in Nigerian politics. Over time, especially since 1999, political contests and competition have been characterized by the reign of falsehood on accounts of which our parties and elected representatives are scarcely responsive. In fact, processes of candidates’ selections as well as national elections for quite some times were barefaced lies resulting in violence, loss of lives and properties. Processes of reconciliation, conflict resolutions, etc. were non-existent in our parties. Virtually all openings for reforms within our parties were blocked.
Between 1999 and 2015, when the Peoples Democratic Party was in power at national and in many of our states, the progression towards more and more falsehood could be argued to be increasing in such a way that falsehoods are produced at rates faster than their tenure. This means that new sets of untruths emerged to consolidate existing ones before their tenure lapsed. More and new sets of abuses, vulgarity and hate targeted at wider sections of Nigerians emerged, which provoked more conflicts, violence and the attendant loss of lives and properties. The reality of being the operative political culture and behaviour associated with the ruling PDP influenced conduct and behaviour of the opposition parties.
Without doubt, it could be argued that the defeat of PDP in 2015 elections was made possible relatively because the tenure of the falsehood that gives PDP the authority to govern expired. The defeat of PDP wouldn’t mean the immediate disappearance of all falsehoods associated with the era of PDP. It will take dogged efforts to eradicate them. In the process of protecting and defending some of the falsehoods based on survival instincts by both PDP and beneficiaries, new sets of falsehoods could emerge. It will be consistent with the logic of having to tell more lies to defend one lie.
While it will be defeatist to continue to explain our political realities given the role of PDP and how the survival of its tenure relied on falsehood founded on language of abuses, vulgarity and hate, the regime of the All Progressives Congress will be producing new sets of lies if we are unable to take certain basic steps to terminate the life of some falsehoods in our politics. For instance, is it possible for a party to remain electorally strong without internal mechanism for dispute settlement and conflict resolution? Can a political party really afford to ignore its leading stakeholders and move to decimate them on accounts of considered acts of intransigence? Can we even justify any claims as to whether the emergence of APC and its electoral victory in 2015, means that associated issues of authoritarian party leadership, unaccountable management, alienated membership, etc. have been resolved?
It will be delusional to imagine that APC, in its five years of existence has succeeded in resolving all associated political party management problems created during the sixteen years tenure of PDP. Part of the basic steps required to terminate the life of all falsehoods associated with party management will be the humility of party leadership to be able to accept weaknesses, shortcomings, acknowledge that errors are committed and take responsibility to correct situations. As part of discharging such responsibility, viable and enduring reconciliatory processes need to be developed.
The need for viable and enduring reconciliatory processes should be integral to the workings of the party because every electoral contest whether at the level of producing party leaders or candidates during primaries will naturally create dispute situations. What is required is the capacity to mandate a dedicated team with the required skills and knowledge to facilitate reconciliation immediately the need arises.
Current events in APC, especially after the primaries, present some disturbing realities. In particular, situations in Imo, Ogun, Rivers and Zamfara are to say the least unfortunate. Across all sections of party leaders at national levels and from these states, egos have hit rooftop. Avoidable stalemates have been created resulting to all manner of abuses, vulgar and hate speeches directed at fellow party leaders. In Imo and Ogun, it has resulted in situations where serving Governors are fielding and supporting candidates to succeed them in different parties while they are Senatorial candidates of the APC. In Rivers and Zamfara, there is the threat of the party not being able to field candidates for the 2019 elections.
Ordinarily, this reality will be adjudged to be injurious to the growth and development of the party. To the contrary, to the extent that the party is able to painstakingly engage the situation in all the states (Imo, Ogun, Rivers and Zamfara), resolve them and contest the 2019 elections as a united party, it is very healthy. The big challenge is whether all the actors in the disputes across all the states are willing to shift positions. This will be contingent on how much sacrifices each disputant is ready to make in the interest of the party and its electoral victory.
Perhaps, it is also important to underline the fact that the strong currents of disputes internally in the party (APC) reflects the fact that there are contests. It is no longer the case whereby the President or the National Chairman could simply just impose their positions on fellow party members. In so many respects, it could be argued that there is more liberalism today in APC than it was under PDP. On account of such liberalism, the powers of governors are being contested. We could debate the significance of such a contest and its capacity to expand internal democratic space within the APC. However, the big challenge is to ensure the institution of efficient management capacity to regulate contests and resolve conflicts as they emerge.
One issue that is equally important in the discussion of current electoral challenges facing the APC is the extent to which leaders of the party will begin to move away from living for today and working for a better tomorrow. So long as our party leaders are living for today, the probability of unresolvable conflicts would be high. Somehow, it is important to remind our leaders in APC that in truth APC only came into being on accounts of ability of leaders of our former opposition parties to succeed in exposing the greed of the PDP and its leaders around living only for today.
The big limitation of living for today is the inability to produce legacies. Not even the party, PDP, can be said to be a legacy produced by its past leaders. Evidence, President Obasanjo comically and publicly tore his PDP membership card, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was in and out of PDP a number of times, many former PDP National Chairmen and founding members have left the party, etc. In matters of governance, having led both at federal levels and many states, outside records of infrastructural decay, poor citizens’ welfare indices, corruption, etc. it is difficult to highlight any governance legacy.
Related to this therefore is the question of to what extent are leaders of APC working for a better Nigeria of tomorrow? For instance, if former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and their PDP teams have failed to make Nigeria better and therefore left no legacy, to what extend are APC leaders supporting President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC team to work for a better Nigeria with legacies that would survive generations of Nigerians? Are current leaders of APC inadvertently laying the foundation that could make President Muhammadu Buhari and other party leaders to leave the party tomorrow?
The biggest and most important legacy President Buhari can give to Nigerians will be a vibrant, strong and democratic APC. So far, he has been able to, together with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other party leaders of our old legacy parties, inspire the merger of old opposition parties and the electoral victory of 2015. Governors of the old opposition parties – eleven of then at first and later increased to sixteen – were the foot-soldiers of the merger negotiations. Some of the principal actors in today’s disputes in these four states – Imo, Ogun, Rivers and Zamfara – played leading roles as Governors. The current National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was part of the team of Governors who facilitated merger negotiations leading to the formation of APC. Former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, currently DG of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, who is one of the actors in the dispute in Rivers was also one of the Governors who facilitated the merger.
Across board, each of the actors would have contributed in one way or the other towards the emergence of the problem. No one should feign infallibility. Such falsehood only facilitated the exit of serving elected public officials out of PDP. No one should equally elevate fallibility to the level of criminality. In other words, it is important to caution actors against passing absolute judgements based on grandiose plans to emerge as the only winners of the current conflict. In particular, the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, need to be reminded that the resolution of the current conflicts across all our states is a test of whether his leadership will rise above the profile set by PDP and the immediate past APC leadership. It will be a mark of failure if for any reason APC go into the 2019 elections divided especially in the four states of Imo, Ogun, Rivers and Zamfara.
Current challenges facing the party following the primaries, in so many ways, would signpost the opportunity waiting for the emergence of a stronger APC post-2019 elections. This is only possible if appropriate steps are taken within the party to resolve all the conflictual situations. Imagine scenarios whereby the party leadership with Governors in all the APC governed states are united behind one Governorship candidate. All the legal challenges threatening the participation of APC candidates in Rivers and Zamfara will simply close once there is resolution.
Part of the unfortunate reality also is also how unfairly President Buhari is being treated in the circumstance. When the scope of dispute goes beyond individual leaders and become rebellious against the party and the President is being invited to endorse decisions and candidates against his party is unfair. Somehow because one of the lies in Nigerian politics is that party members must be 100% loyal, we are all being cowed in silence. Our leaders and party members must have the right to fight against injustice. But the sanctity of the President to serve as a leader of all and belonging to no one need to be respected.
In the end, what everyone in APC – both members and leaders – need to recognize is that APC must be a work-in-progress. Leaders would be fallible, operations of the party would produce problems, democratic credentials of the party will come under threat and internal contestations would lead to conflicts. It is important that steps are taken to prevent situations whereby fallibility of leaders fed their egos, ineffective party management get entrenched and undemocratic practices erode spaces for membership participation at all levels of party and national elections become attributes of the party.
As party members, we need to proudly engage these issues and at the risk of offending our leaders, volunteer perspectives that could challenge them to do things differently. This is necessary condition for the party, its leadership and members to be able to act as agents for a better tomorrow. Strong internal contestations, institution of democratic frameworks for managing and resolving conflicts and facilitating reconciliations were missing elements in PDP since 1999 and all our old legacy parties. Processes of its institution in APC needs to be engaged and given life to as indication of positive membership and electoral contests and competition. This should be our APC of tomorrow and the model Nigerian political party of the future. It is simply taking politics in Nigeria to the next level.
Lukman, who writes from [email protected], is of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja.