When an English man talks of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, he means an agreement reached by people with integrity, who place a premium on their words and names. A gentleman needn’t necessarily be tame or docile, and is certainly not clueless. He is one who doesn’t need the axe of the law dangling over him before doing the right thing and playing fair and just by all men. The antonyms for ‘gentleman’ are ‘thug’, ‘miscreant’ and, if you move closer home, ‘agbero’, ‘419er’, ‘yahoo boy’ and one of those violent cultists we have left our grassroots to presently. This other set of people are violators of the dignity of a people. Even the law means nothing to them. Yes, Nigeria has been laid prostrate over the decades by non-gentlemen. But Nigeria shall, at the end of the day, be saved by gentlemen, not criminals, in the same way that all wars are settled at the boardroom table. If criminals seize power, in whatever form they may present themselves, and under whatever façade or disguise, what you have is a nation in turmoil – a place unsafe, corrupt, dirty, illiterate and poverty-ridden, where criminals and gang leaders divvy up the landmass and rule by the force of arms, violence, deceit and chicanery. Is that what we want for Nigeria? Well, that is close to the current reality and this is what some guys are pushing for, glorifying and eulogising.
Permit me to visit home a little. You see, when the Yorubas speak of ‘gentlemen’, they have a word for it: Omolúàbí. However, the Yoruba term is far more encompassing. It recommends anyone so called, to be of impeccable character, to be of sound mind, to value his/her name, to be hardworking, to understand that his/her heart’s desires will only be met by legitimate ventures, to be someone who is ready to sacrifice so much for his/her people and for humanity at large. In my humble view, Nigeria needs all the Omolúàbís it can find, in the front row, immediately, steering our ship out of what seems to be a journey to self-assured destruction. Anyone who says we should jettison our politics to thugs and chancers, cheats and criminals does not have the love for humanity at heart and is also culpable for our current state of anomie.
I have laboured really hard in recent times to let some of our brethren see from my perspective, on whether newbies and younger elements should get into politics in any way they can immediately. The contentious matter is about those of us who contested for the presidency in 2019. Somehow, a few of us are being held up, vilified and made to look like the beginning and end of Nigeria’s political problems, and of course called fools, ‘naïve’ and ‘stupid’. As a historian, I have seen how Nigerians regularly feed on their best, excoriate and destroy those who make the most sacrifice for them, all the while embracing those who sell them down the river. We gravitate towards those who have money and immediate power, no matter how they get such. It’s some kind of curse or perhaps a stage in ‘development’. But we who know the implications of dangerous talk and opinions, and are concerned, mentioned or involved, are ready to speak up, lest we become victims in spite of our sacrifice to motherland – no matter how small or insignificant the sacrifices may be deemed by our fellow countrymen.
Some points need to be thrown up AGAIN, for the benefit of a growing gang that is throwing up rhetoric that actually favours the status quo, decimates the younger generations, and beat down those of us who contested for 2019 elections:
First, those of us who contested for presidency in 2019 should be seen as biblical John the Baptists. We sought to prove that anyone of constitutional age could give any position in Nigeria’s politics a try – even the highest office. We knew we would be rigged out, and that we didn’t have money to spend for the millions of Nigerians who have been so conditioned to make such demands of public office seekers. We know things are tough for Nigerians. But we also know that we cannot wait for a perfect time to try because there are no perfect times for a country in trouble. Seeking a perfect time, or going gradual by getting enmeshed in the extant political culture will be akin to seeking the best seat in a sinking Titanic. I have seen many comments where I, Fela Durotoye, Sowore and some others are being asked by Nigeria’s social media active people to start getting together for 2023. I have replied many of them that they too should try. Solving a problem like Nigeria requires everybody’s efforts. The Nigerian youth, the not-so-young and those who have never gotten involved in our politics should stop seeking superstars. We are all superstars. We all must keep trying until something gives.
Second, nobody should ordinarily expect to contest and win an election the very first time in a clime like ours, especially at the level of the presidency. It is a game of probabilities and the chances are slim. In these past elections, we found very few people who were that lucky to win lower offices. I read somewhere that 17 people below the ages of 30 won positions (usually on the platform of the two big parties or other parties with noticeable moneybags) into various state houses of assembly. This is not very encouraging. But anyone getting into the political fray should make provision for initial failures. How some commentators choose to blame and castigate people who failed at the first try beats me. Even for the presidency, there is always a first time to step forward. Politics is full of many people who tried and failed, then succeeded. Nobody becomes a brand overnight, with millions of followers. The most important thing, many times, is just to start.
Third, we all cannot be cobbled into the ‘two big parties’. Everyone reserves a right, through Section 40 of our federal Constitution, to choose who they want to associate with. Since most of the young people who won positions did so on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC)/Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there is a fat chance that they are likely to deliver the same outcomes as what the last 20 years have produced. It is a valid right for others to decide not be a part of the mess, no matter what it costs them. A society must have a diversity of ideas and opinions. Opinions cannot be criminalised.
Fourth, the problem with Nigeria today is not at the legislative level. We have enough laws already and there is no point converging daily to deceive Nigerians that we need to make more and more laws. It is even said that the more the laws, the more the offences. What needs to be done is to scrap one of the legislative houses or make the work of preparing legislation part-time. It is fairly obvious that none of the incumbents in the legislature will truly want to annihilate his/her profitable position. So I need to remind the traducers of those young-ish guys who adamantly ran for president, that everyone has a right not to be part of an existing problem (a bloated and expensive National Assembly), and to try and attack the real issue (presidency) somehow, anyhow. In any case, no one can dictate to anyone what offices they should run for. Some of us ran to throw up issues like what to do with our National Assembly. We are honest enough to know that such a problem cannot be changed from inside. If it could, the likes of Shehu Sani, Sola Adeyeye and a few more would have done that.
Fifth, many young people contested for other positions as governors, senators, House of Representatives members, assembly members, down to councilors. Why are these guys being ignored? Some of them even have higher profiles than those who contested for president. Is it not illogical to single out those who contested for presidency for daily lampooning? Why the fixation? Why aren’t we helping the profiles of the others? I also don’t believe that ‘young’ people of this country contesting for presidency or other positions should be mutually exclusive. We should all be rushing forward like firemen to douse the conflagration engulfing the nation.
Sixth, have we considered how dangerous Nigeria has become today? A number of us who were serious about our quest for impact (not necessarily power), went through all the dangerous parts of this country. I went through Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, where people get kidnapped daily. I went through Katsina, where kidnapping is also rife. I journeyed through parts of the South-South, and went as far as Yobe State by road, coursing through Boko Haram territory. My greatest joy when it was all over, was that none of my team was hurt, even though we had an accident right in my backyard, on the Akure-Ondo Road. How am I supposed to feel reading people who never lifted a finger to help their nation, piss on the sacrifice of money, time, emotions and the sheer efforts of others?
Seventh, articles which flay the sheer involvement of a few people in their 40s and 50s in the last elections, especially at presidency level, are somehow designed to scare young people from aspiring to the top position in their land, and also try to take the wind out of the sails of younger, smaller political parties, while putting a few of us in bad light as incompetents and time wasters. This is quite unfair and inimical to our social progress.
Eighth, it is sad that some of us are striving to close the political space, stymie their colleagues and propagate the absolute power – through the instrument of finance – of the old, established parties. May I repeat here that those parties are strong because they have been funded with hundreds of billions of naira for almost 15 years from 1999. Many of the movers and shakers were also in parties sponsored by the military since 1984 and have become billionaires from such ventures. Many of them are military men anyway, who looted this country blind in many ways in the days of the jackboot. Parties that are struggling to stay alive on the contributions of members since their inception should be commended, because we hold the key to a better future for this country. It is not going to be easy, but we can achieve something because we are trying to use new approaches to solve a current problem, like Albert Einstein recommended.
I believe strongly that anyone who has joined the fray at any level has superior socio-political knowledge than anyone sitting in the ivory tower postulating about what they believe is the ideal situation. I believe Nigerians must continue to try; the old must continue to bring their wisdom; and the young their energy, passion, innocence. We cannot and must never give up by leaving the space to the lords and masters, who are busy building dynasties, having used the instrument of poverty to cow a majority of Nigerians into subservience and are now using us against each other.
Our streets are being run by cultists and area-boys. Our highways are no longer passable. Our billionaires now bunch up in cheap train cabins or disguise to escape kidnappers. We are losing broad swathes of our land to criminal elements. We cower under our beds for the fear of terrorists. Poverty ravages the land. Inequality has made a landfall in Nigeria as its global capital. Nothing works anymore; not security, not energy, not the roads, not the schools or the hospitals. We don’t give a toss about the environment. So the only way this argument can be won by those who feel so irritated by our involvement in the political space is if they can show that Nigeria has suddenly become nirvana.
So my quest is to get the growing army of postulators and internet tigers who wake up daily to curse out and insult Sowore, Fela, Moghalu, Mailafia, Yabagi, Duke, Byron and myself, among a few others, for running for president when we should have been ‘humble’ to run for state assemblies or councilors and work our ways up over the next 25 years. I will ignore the fallacy that says we had no financial base and should have gotten that ‘financial base’ through something called ‘proper engagement’. I reckon that will mean getting on the gravy train by hook or crook, and ensuring to ‘deliver’ to the Jagabans who put you in positions of what Yorubas call ‘Ilabe’ (come and eat). Some of us ‘stupidly’, ‘naively’ and adamantly choose a different path, for God and country. What is at play is expediency versus idealism and integrity.
And we failed, mostly because we have not and could never master the art of vote writing and vote buying. A lot of the figures that passed as votes, were written especially in impregnable parts of the country where elite opinion were almost unanimous on who should lead Nigeria. We failed because we could never conjure the consistent amount of money needed over time to grab and retain our people’s attention. I doubt if any of the naïve contestants had accounts at Central Bank of Nigeria that could warrant bullion vans delivering billions to them at home. We failed. But we failed with our dignity and integrity intact. To try another day.
Our traducers cannot hope to rewrite what all-time greats like Socrates and Plato knew about human nature and democracy. We cannot whitewash the role of money in a country as underdeveloped as ours. The sophistication of voting in Nigeria is limited to the sophistication of bribery. It has always been there. It only got worse (more sophisticated) in 2019. We should be discussing the psychology of the pressure that each voter comes under in the two minutes that s/he has to make up his/her mind at the polling booths, if we were true intellectuals. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the old, unlettered woman in the village, with failing eyesight. There are always interlopers who ‘help’ such people vote. We should be discussing whether American type democracy – as expensive as it is – is the right choice for our stage of development. We should be discussing electronic voting or other approaches that can bring in some integrity, but here we are eulogising, and hoping to canonise a failed process. The real ‘philistinism’ here is the art of painting this monstrosity with garish colours for selfish ends, not the strong-headed belief by a few who tried, that something good may just come out of Nazareth if we keep trying. Effort counts. Efforts is experience. Experience, is priceless.
I just want to leave a final message for the tribe of lampooners of presidential candidates – the class of 2019; back off and show respect! Aspire to a political office of your own choosing. The responsibility of saving our country lies on all of our shoulders. Express yourself in any way you can. God bless you too.