How Nigerian politicians are the luckiest in the world
By Feyi Fawehinmi
Admit it – Nigeria’s politics is very entertaining and fun to watch. Yes, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world but so what? The same Nigeria is very rich in what my kids like to call shenanigans. It is also extremely blessed with politicians who have elevated things like defections, skullduggery, political ‘tackling’ and plotting to high entertainment. Imagine being the poverty capital of the world and having very boring politics at the same time. We must learn to count our blessings.
The only problem is when you start to look at the politicians and politics in other countries that Nigeria is frequently compared with and then it dawns on you that Nigeria’s very richly entertaining politics has quite a lot of hidden costs. Yet, the focus on political dramatics helps politicians detract from how utterly abysmal their performance in office is. After all, when you see a politician confidently promising to cut his political godson down to size at the coming elections, you are likely to forget that the same politician was comprehensively defeated by poverty when he was in office.
But things are happening elsewhere. A recent story in the UK Guardian jumped out at me on account of the headline which read, “Five years ago there was nothing.” It was a story about a town called Duqm in Oman which has been transformed from a fishing village to an industrial town with a port, luxury hotels and housing for more than 100,000 people. But if you say Oman is an oil rich country, how about India? In 2014, only 43% of households in the country had toilets. By this year, the total had more than doubled to 89% after the building of almost 80 million toilets. In August 2015, the same India announced a $2.5bn plan to connect all 597,464 inhabited villages in the country to the electricity grid. In April this year, it announced that the project had been completed. Whatever the quirks of how the statistics are measured, there can be no doubt that the country has achieved something remarkable in 3 years.
In the same period, Nigeria has been connecting more and more of its citizens to the poverty grid. Economic growth is almost non-existent while population growth is racing ahead. The combination is toxic and this is before you add in various insecurity problems across the country and parasitic government agencies who resolve to make life as hard as possible for any type of enterprise. Many Nigerians look at all these and decide to leg it to Canada, if they can afford it, or just head to Kano from where there are daily buses to North Africa. From there, they hope to make it to Spain or Italy or just remain in North Africa.
Economic stagnation or regression is bad enough. But there’s an arguably more damaging effect. When people can’t see development – physical development – the effect is to lower standards across the country. After all, what can a people who have never seen big changes or rapid economic growth be reasonably expected to demand from their leaders? What the eye does not see, the heart does not ache about. In that sense, Nigerian politicians are the luckiest in the world. They are like bullet proof – no matter what they do, it is never the voters who will punish them. How is it that no one has taken any blame or punishment for the economic disaster of 2016? Instead what you find is that the government’s propaganda has been quite effective and is repeated ad nauseam by its supporters.
It is important for those who have access to keep reminding those who don’t that there is a lot going on elsewhere in the world. Whatever a country is doing today will likely play a big role in how that country turns out 40 years from now. And if you’re not solving problems, you’re likely to get to 2058 and meet the same problems of poverty, electricity and insecurity in the future. They don’t just go away because you ignore them. There is a lot more to politics than what Nigerian politicians are currently delivering. Politics can be a very noble thing and a mechanism by which countries are transformed for the better. It is not a TV show designed to elicit laughs from the population, contrary to what Nigerian politicians will have you believe. There is no other lever or mechanism available in a democracy to make change happen other than politics.
The 2019 elections are almost upon us. It is unlikely that the political entertainment will reduce. There will be ‘tackling’ and ‘plotting’ and more defections by political entrepreneurs who lose out in the forthcoming party primaries. Some might even remain in their parties and do ‘anti-party’ just to register their displeasure at being denied the chance to serve their country faithfully. But none of all this will mean that the Lagos light rail, which started since 2008, will be completed before 2022. Nigerian politics is fun to watch and rich in entertainment but it is not cheap. The cost is in all the things it does not do.