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The liars’ club

There are so many wonderful things to say about our politicians that I fear that in trying to say much about them, I may end…

There are so many wonderful things to say about our politicians that I fear that in trying to say much about them, I may end up saying so little. Let me limit myself to a few of the wonderful qualities I admire in them.

These qualities make them what they are and give them the sole right to permanently play on the public stage and thus move from one stage of power to the next. The constitution provides no limit to how long they can play on the stage. There is no retirement age. The longer you survive in politics, the more mature and the more powerful you become. The godfather honorific is not conferred on neophytes.

To begin with, we do not quite know if politics is a calling, a profession, or a power game. Whatever it is, politics attracts men and women with varied educational and professional backgrounds. It is a rainbow collection of men and women driven by the common interest of power, political power. No one is likely to be unmindful of Kwame Nkrumah’s advice, to wit: seek first the kingdom of politics and all other things shall be added unto you.

If politics is a profession, then we can mark it down as the only profession that demands no entry qualifications. The rich and the poor are in it. The educated and the illiterate are in it. Politics admits everyone. As we have repeatedly seen here, the capacity of politics to transform the pauper into wealthy men and women overnight has no equal in any other profession.

One admiral quality of the politician is his raw, naked courage. Everything he does rides on this quality. He does not doubt himself. Men who doubt themselves have a short lifespan in politics. It takes raw courage for the politician to make promises that beguile both the gullible and the intelligent. He has no problems with promising to empty the Lagos lagoon using a teacup. Nor does he think it impossible to break Olumo rock into chips using a sledgehammer.

The courage to make promises cuts the path to success in politics. It is a wonderful quality found in no other profession or calling. Cast your mind back to the short distance we have travelled so far in our democratic journey from May 29, 1999, to this time.

In all that time, we have had different sets of politicians in the executive and the legislative arms of government. All of them got to where they did by making promises we believed they could fulfil but which they knew they could not. It is in the nature of human societies to accept all self-anointed heroes as genuine heroes.

I think the late British prime minister, Winston Churchill, is credited with the saying that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. He did not know our politicians. Our redoubtable politicians fool all of us all of the time. Here is some evidence.

We have been promised the same things by every set of politicians quadrennially. Good roads; end of corruption as more or less a way of life; end of poverty; public hospitals that are not, to borrow from the late General Sani Abacha, “mere consulting clinics.”

They promised a revamped educational system that produces truly educated young men and women useful to themselves and the nation;  job opportunities that take our graduates off the streets; permanent electricity supply in homes, offices and villages; no petrol queues in a major oil-producing nation; firm national security that permits us to sleep with our two eyes blissfully closed; a booming national economy and the end of our beggar-nation status; the transformation of this “mere geographical expression” into a peaceful and united nation in which tribes and faiths matter much less than individual ability and capacity and the content of our brains.

Promises made and promises broken. We have been fooled again and again.

Welcome to the liars’ club.

Each of those men left office stupendously wealthy. And they left the people they purported to govern horrendously wretched.

Human development is linear. You move from point A to point B and so on. We have stood the paradigm of development on its head. Ours is a circular development paradigm. We move in circles. A country that does not break out of this circular movement cannot in truth move forward; and yet moving forward appears to be the often-mouthed national slogan indicative of our ambition.

Same promises made; some promises broken, ad infinitum. We continue to get progressively worse in every aspect of our national life. We remain the poverty capital of the world. To make that clear, some135 million of our country men and women live below the poverty line. No African country comes anywhere close to this remarkable achievement by the giant of Africa.

I wonder, and it is no small wonder, are the politicians riding our gullibility like a willing horse? Why do we support them to enrich themselves and impoverish us? Why do we swallow their lies like life pills?

The answers to these and similar questions lie through the long road called enlightenment. Politicians love to exploit the people’s ignorance and lack of enlightenment. If the people are not enlightened enough to hold their leaders accountable, the leaders will gladly refuse to be accountable to them. An enlightened followership is as critical to good governance as enlightened leadership. Under our laws, no president or governor can spend money not legally appropriated by the legislature. When a president or a state governor plays Father Christmas to the insensate applause of the unenlightened, we forget that he is breaking the law by simply dipping his hands into the public till to oil his self-aggrandizement.

What happens to communities in the northern parts of the country should tell you something about the evil of deliberately holding the people down through lack of education and enlightenment. It is easier for the people in that condition to vote without knowing why and for whom they cast their precious votes. When the people are reduced to a mass of followers, they follow anyone who throws crumbs at them. Our various ethnic traditions complicate this because they oblige the people to be grateful for the crumbs so thrown at them.

We do not question our political leaders. We excuse or even forget their lies. We applaud whatever they do with our common treasuries, as in we lay the red carpet of celebrations for a governor who spreads watery coal tar on a bush path likely to be washed away in a light drizzle.

I am sure you now get the drift of my calculated admiration for our politicians. Chew on my admiration against the background of the change of batons in Aso Rock and in at least 20 states of the federation on May 29, this year. New men, same old promises and at the end the same undisturbed movement in circles in the irony of motion without movement.

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