During the Ibrahim Babangida transition to civil rule programme, we, at Newswatch magazine, believed that the emerging post-Babangida third republic politics should be vastly different from the politics of the first and second republics.
After all, the many political innovations the president introduced pointed to the fact that his primary purpose was a national political re-orientation in which the objectives of politics and power are defined in terms of national service and service delivery.
We too believed it was possible to help the newbreed politicians move from the usual bread and butter politics to issues-based politics in which the nation and its political leaders would recognise and appreciate what ailed us as a nation and engage themselves in continuing dialogues in search of solutions to our problems. We might have been naïve in believing that the transition to civil rule programme that its author once said was a learning process, would effect such radical political transformations as to render unnecessary the sugar-coated promises of bread and butter. But we believed our country was ripe for the kind of politics that does not exploit poverty in the land with promises of bread and butter for the poor when the country needed amala, tuwo, akpu and pounded yam.
We invited all the presidential aspirants for interviews with our senior editors. We wanted to hear if each of them a) had a fair knowledge of what ailed us as a nation and b) what he planned to do about them if he became president. The aspirants came in large numbers. They were am glittering mix of the serious and the jokers; the knowledgeable and the ignorant. We distilled the issues into the national economy which, given the poor and confused management of SAP, had begun to show serious signs of poor health; our educational system that had become the victim of contradictory policies and policy summersaults; federal character and the proper management of our diversities; the agitations for the creation of more states and, of course, national unity, still a vexed issue still prominent on the placards of tribes that felt marginalised in their access to power. Insecurity was not one of the big problems then.
We tried to impress upon them the need to make these issues the agenda of the various political parties so that we could infuse some degree of intellectualism into the conduct of our national politics. We believed we were not likely to make the great leap in our national development with the bread-and-butter politics because that kind of politics does not require serious thinking and the vision to project where we were to where Nigeria should be as a nation.
Some of them, like the late Mallam Adamu Ciroma, the late Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua and Chief Olu Falae, demonstrated a full grasp of those issues and what must be done. On the whole most of the aspirants could not rise or think beyond the bread-and-butter politics. It was the easy path to power because it never fails to excite the electorate. I admit that we tried but we did not succeed in our interventionist mission. The radical change we expected did not happen. The newbreed were soon lost along the same beaten path. Perhaps, it is not the business of the media to set the political agenda for the politicians. Still, as someone said, politics is too serious to be left to the politicians. One effect of the lack of will to change is the continued celebration of mediocrity in our leadership recruitment process.
This is much worse now than you thought. At the national and sub-national levels, leadership has been captured by men who separate political leadership and good governance from their intellectual underpinnings. They define politics in utilitarian terms of tribal, sectional, and religious interests. In our 23 years of democracy, we have enthroned money politics and relegated intellectual approach to issues that ail us to the sidewalk of our unsteady march to where we know not.
The issues we have refused to discuss in preference to bread and butter politics, have not disappeared. Here they are, staring us in the face: insecurity, an economy heading south, the poor and cynical mismanagement of our diversities, an educational system celebrated by the sheer number of educational institutions rather than their products; the separatist movements led by men intent on destroying the house built by Lord Frederick Lugard. These are not just issues; they are grave national challenges and constitute existential threats to our country. Do those aspiring to become president next year appreciate the depth of these problems? I do not know.
In about two weeks from now, the 2023 political campaigns will formally kick off. We should expect those who aspire to lead the country post-Buhari from May 29, 2023, to talk about those issues and give us reasons to believe that they are positively re-oriented political leaders and that the 2023 general elections will not be the usual hollow rituals in the endless struggle for political power and the advantages accruing therefrom.
The big and the small masquerades will meet in the market square with the blast of the whistle. Some of them will tell us of their capacity to build castles in the sky. If they are willing to live in the sky, we should encourage them to build those castles. The rest of us need hovels here on earth where we can live in peace and security. We are at the fork in our national developmental journey. This is not the time to recruit our next set of leaders on the basis of ethnic, sectional, and religious sentiments. Our challenges are too critical and too big to be ignored by those who seek our mandate to lead us. We, the people, must spell out the agenda for them and interrogate them in respect of them. We, the people, must take responsibility for cutting a new path towards the enthronement of issues-based politics. Issues-based politics encourages national dialogues and participatory democracy.