Society and the corrupt power elite
THE definition of “power” as a concept in political science provided by the late Professor Dimitri Kousoulas of the Department of Political Science, Howard University, is “the ability to make others do what they would not normally do on their own accord.” The doctor asks your wife to take off her top and he starts examining her breasts before your naked eyes. You have no objections; indeed you are more than happy to be told that she does not have cancer.
However, were you suddenly to find the same wife in a similar position with someone else you would probably do more damage to her or the “intruder” than Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield’s ear before you recover your composure!
The armed robber also has power even though it is not one that is backed with authority. Fear for one’s life makes one hand over possessions and do whatever the armed robber orders in the circumstances. However, the power the elected “man of power” enjoys dwarfs that of the doctor or the armed robber. In a crude democracy where the unwritten power of the executive includes that of dishonestly accumulating and dispensing wealth, the armed robber in particular envies the effortless grace with which that function is performed.
The brother of a friend of mine was “running mate” in a gubernatorial election and by virtue of his party winning that election, he became Deputy Governor. Suddenly my telephone began to enlist some interesting conversations: “How is your friend the brother of the Deputy Governor?” “When is he going back to Nigeria?” “Now that his brother is Deputy Governor, don’t you think he should be able to find something worthwhile doing in the state?”
Of course my friend is one fiercely independent-minded individual who is well-acquainted with how power is sensibly exercised in Britain; he merely laughed off the new stardom his kinsmen were quick to impose on him. However, the unpaid-for political science lesson was not lost on him in that the Nigerian society itself puts untold pressure on the elected men and women of power and more or less wills them into doing the evil things they are quite capable of doing.
The powers of the executive are clearly stated in the constitutions and those powers are quite awesome. With immunity from prosecution while in office boldly inserted in the constitution, they are the type of powers that can be easily abused if they find their way into the open hands of a political miscreant. The dominant Nigerian subservient and sycophantic culture, hardly helped by mass illiteracy and poverty, provides no moral restraints or checks. Contemporary Nigerian political culture would seem to expect the man of power to exercise power to the maximum and the philosophy of “if you cannot beat them, join them” offers little sympathy for dissent.
A study in the psychology of why the average Nigerian wants to be president or governor should be interesting and revealing but one can make an educated guess here that the power and prestige the position confers would be right at the top. Such power and prestige, of course, include predominantly economic advantages. Such economic advantages, the looting of the treasuries as we know it to be, are essentially about the greed of the power elite and the empowering of family members and cronies. In some societies where people are quite capable of linking their collective poverty to the corruption and greed of the power elite, and they resent it, the fight against corruption cannot be the fight of Muhammadu Buhari, our current President, but that of ordinary Nigerians.
The power of knowledge and ambition to redirect the course of a resentful history offers little appeal in the choice of leadership. When Chief Gani Fawehinmi offered himself as a presidential candidate in the 2003 election, I knew he was one visionary who had no chance. Nigeria’s politics is still money politics as the poor look only for immediate, though temporary, salvation and not some promise of a better future for themselves and their children’s children. Only the rich and powerful can offer the type of immediate salvation they seek and the Nigerian rich and powerful resent opposition or rivalry to their perceived entrenched positions.
Nigeria’s politics will not change without a fundamental change in the perceptions and attitudes of our people. Education should not be solely certificate-oriented but a veritable tool of assertiveness for individual rights and equality of men and women created by God. Most of the leaders we have today still believe they are there to be worshipped and when they squander public money they want to be thanked for their generosity. Their selfish assumptions must be challenged by a new generation of forward-looking Nigerians.
There are those who believe that politics is their family business, not least because they have no relevance outside it. To challenge them is to challenge their relevance and means of livelihood. They like it when the decent men of society conclude that politics is a dirty game because it means there is limited challenge to their trade. Maybe we must now change our perception of politics because although it may be a dirty game, our very present and future are determined by the decisions made by politicians. Politics could be great if we can flush the dirty men and women out of it.
• Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.