Changing the political paradigm and salvaging the nation – By Dr Usman Bugaje
Today, no one can doubt the fact that the last twenty years of democracy in Nigeria have sadly been tragic! In the last twenty years poverty has more than doubled, with the North taking a higher toll. By the last count the North accounts for 87% percent of the poverty burden in the country. To underscore the point, while Lagos State has less than 10% poverty incidence, Zamfara State has over 90% poverty incidence. Some of the consequences of poverty is poor nutrition, which means stunted mental growth, which means that our children will never develop mentally to compete favorable with their peers in other part of the country. Currently nine states of the North alone have more than 50% of the malnutrition burden of the country. Without investment in health and education we unwittingly destroy our human capital development and thus shut the door to any development or indeed any future in the competitive environment of the 21st century.
In the last twenty years insecurity has increased perhaps ten fold, again with the North bearing nearly 90% of the insecurity brunt. Not less than 30,000 people have been killed while over 2.5 million have been displaced in the Northeast. The rural banditry, the famer-harder clashes, the religious and ethnic clashes have killed only God knows what, since we don’t keep records. We can add to this the urban violence unleashed by an increasing army of jobless youths driven by psychotropic drugs. We can also add the potential threats created by the out of school children and the school dropouts waiting to be recruited to join the fray, for there are no jobs for them to look forward to. Our democracy has not created jobs, and may not, for many of those who got “elected” into political offices have neither a development plan or even a clear idea of what exactly to do. Evidently, they have no idea of how to stop the raging insecurity, which is irredeemably, if gradually, consuming the whole country.
In the last twenty years, critical national institutions, like the civil-service, the police, the Judiciary, the legislature, INEC, the political parties, etc., have been so run down that today no one believes them or looks at them with any respect. This is not to say that you wont find a few shining examples of good character in them, but they would be too few to make any difference or redeem the image of these institutions. Just recall the last two gubernatorial elections of Kogi and Bayelsa where the police leadership admitted to being overpowered by thousands of fake police and made no arrests, much less, prosecution thereafter; where political parties organized barbaric and unprecedented violence leading to burning people alive; and where INEC kept fumbling, bumbling and tried changing the whether by changing the forecast. This may well be a rehearsal for 2023. The recent election litigations also exposed the rot and the absence of leadership in the judiciary. Take the legislature, look at the budget for the NASS renovation, nearly five times the sum which built the original edifice. Perhaps not surprising, because if a senator could assaulted a woman in a sex shop and go back to the senate to take his seat with no reprimand or qualms, a sense of shame and moral consciousness may be too much to expect. These institutions are the very institutions that make a modern nation state survive and thrive. It is clear that we have them only in name; the substance has been lost, especially over the last twenty years of democracy and the consequences are unfolding daily.
One could go on, but the point has been made, that we are on a dangerous trajectory that is taking us to extinction. The current political paradigm with its rouge political culture and empty political rhetoric can only fuel this trajectory. We now have to ask ourselves some existential questions: Is this the kind of future we want for ourselves and our posterity? To be sure, what future is there in a nation where the youth make up 65% of our population and where our political leaders have neither the idea nor the competence to provide jobs? Indeed what hope is there for the suffering poor who have only reaped misery in the last twenty years? With the eminent failure of the security forces to deal with bandits, what will happen when they are done with the rural areas and they come into the city? Who will be there to protect us? With the political parties calibrated to produce the worst of us as leaders, what hope is there that we can find leaders who will have the conscience, the competence and the courage to get us out of here?
So what to do? The current trajectory means that we have no future as a nation and we don’t need a soothsayer or some sophisticated analysis to see that we are heading to some implosion and eventual extinction. We must find a way of changing this trajectory and making sure that the new trajectory salvages the nation. In deciding what to do and how to do it, we must tarry a little, reflect and examine the issues carefully, establish a correct diagnosis before prescribing a way out. It is tempting to pour out dozen things that are wrong that need to be corrected. But we must avoid this extempore approach and go for a more studied and strategic choice. If we look back from Greek antiquity, the ancient Asian kingdoms, through the Roman period to our contemporary times, countries that recover from catastrophes, survived and thrived have done so primarily because of leadership. The story of Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, China itself and Rwanda all prove the point that what really matters for countries to change their trajectory, survive and thrive, is leadership.
In other words, we are where we are in Nigeria and will remain so because our leadership recruitment mechanism is not only flawed but it has been gradually, if imperceptibly, calibrated to bring forth as leaders our worst, not our best. Our political culture promotes only money and violence, not knowledge and competence. Today you can only make the list of candidates for election either because you have money or you have a connection to those who own the party. Parties are known by the moneybags that own them and fund them and not by their content. Indeed our political parties today have no content, no conscience and no courage. Primary elections and general elections are openly purchased with money, such kinds of money as only the criminal elements can possess and spend. In other words, we have to fix the broken leadership recruitment mechanism in the political parties such that the more knowledgeable and the more competent emerge as leaders. Thus replace the current expediency with meritocracy. Contemporary China today is a product of meritocracy. In the 21st century, knowledge is the greatest capital, so there is no way to make any positive progress without prioritizing knowledge. The next question is how to go about doing this?
This will require some key reforms in the political party processes. Three such key areas can be mentioned here. First there has to be a premium for leadership. In other words we have to put down certain criteria for all posts to be contested from the councilor up to the President. Indeed we have to start with the party officials themselves, for how else do we even start if party officials are some ignorant bunch, who know only sycophancy. We cannot continue to confuse eligibility with suitability. Some of this criteria must include an educational qualification, proven experience and character reference. Another area of reform is the primary elections. At the moment all the three known methods, i.e., direct, indirect/delegates and consensus are all vulnerable to abuse, in point of fact, it is ‘cash and carry’. We need a modified form of electoral college, which can avoid all the vulnerabilities we know. Details of this can be worked out. Yet another key area of reform is in the content and ownership of the party. Parties must be owned by members, through contributions no matter how little and parties must stand for something and answer the name they are called. It means parties must have ideological content. These are doable and once we agree on the principles the details can be worked out.
To be sure, what is being proposed is not any thing new or outlandish, it is a normal, standard, best-practice applied in the recruitment of leadership of all corporate entities. If one incorporates a company for a business, one would certainly not take a sycophant, no matter how loyal, for a manager. One will normally advertise and set qualifications relevant to the job and set an interview panel of knowledgeable people to pick the best in terms of competence and character. Why should this be different when it comes to politics where peoples livelihood, indeed lives, are at stake? If we can be this meticulous for a private business, the more so for a polity. How then do we get the parties to agree to such reforms?
At the moment any suggestion to any of these parties to reform will be met with resistance, as the money bags will lose their control and will therefore not agree. In fact they will laugh at us because we don’t have the money or the connection to deserve the ears of the party officials. This should not surprise us because in the real world, no one gets what he deserves, one only gets what he negotiates for and the currency for that negotiation is power. The good news is that power is not only military or economic, it can also be demographic and in a democracy, demography is a potent source of power. So, one way to acquire this demographic power is to harvest the growing discontent and resentment to create a movement across the North that is anchored on change. In a population of 200 million where 65% are youth who have no hope for a good future, it is fair to assume that 100 million will be unhappy with their situation. It is also fair to assume that 50 million will be ready to enlist themselves for change once a coterie of credible leaders are assembled to lead it. It will similarly be fair to say that we can reach and capture the commitment of only 10% of this within the Northern States and Abuja in the span of the next 12 months. This is an average of 250,000 per State, which translates to about 12,500 per local government or 1,250 per ward. Just like we do when starting a new political party, after we would have done the mobilization, we open hard cover books in wards to collect names and contacts of these members. We must quickly add that our ability to mobilize this potent force is contingent on the trust the people have in us, so the faces of this movement must be faces that could be trusted.
Once this movement is constructed, motivated and organized, we will be in a position to negotiate with any political party of our choice or even proceed to register a new political party as the circumstances would suggest. This will give us two clear years to 2023 to be able to put out our messages and sharpen our strategies. We know that people are already disillusioned with the more established parties that have supervised their poverty, insecurity, misery and the collapse of key state institutions, over the last twenty years. Even as the elite will have to plan and lead this change, for it to succeed, it has to be grass root based and driven. For this or any movement for that matter to sustain, we must anchor it on a set of core values that promote sacrifice, courage, prudence, probity, respect for knowledge and competence, openness, accommodation of one another, dignity of labor and sanctity of human life. No meaningful change can ever take place and sustain in human society if it not driven by a set of core values. We can harvest our local values and blend it with universal values that promote development. What then are the next steps?
In the last one year there has been a discussion along these lines with progressive active politicians, CSO activist, academics, religious leaders both Muslim and Christian, women, youth and students association. As the number continues to swell, we intend to construct a platform of not less than 100 such people who will meet to craft a charter addressing the North and raising these issues. Once this charter is launched the number will break into State Chapters where they will proceed to conduct town hall meetings to explain the charter and recruit people and mobilize until we get the critical mass to start creating the structures and crystalize the movement.
Once the movement comes on stream, we shall nurture it into some formidable organization and we can start the engagement with existing political parties and open all other possibilities. Given the credible leadership we wish to bring together, we have reasons to believe that we can capture the imaginations of the North and create the alternative direction that many in the North have been waiting for. We can then start reaching out to groups in the south with similar ideas and concerns, we are already mapping them and sizing some of them. This way we create a national but Northern led movement and can hope to be home and dry.
This proposal is not foolproof and we are not giving all the details. We are prepared to consider any other better plan for salvaging this country from the terrible politics that has held our country hostage. So this concept is essentially to stimulate your thoughts and you should feel free to modify what is presented here or think of a better alternative. We simply cannot stand by when opportunists and criminals are destroying our country. So help us God.