This is the second and concluding part of the Billy Dudley Lecture, 2022 by John A. A. Ayoade, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan; President, Nigerian Political Science Association (1987-1989); Director of Studies, Centre for Democratic Studies, Abuja (1990-1995); Dean, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Ibadan (1997-1999); Member, National Political Reform Conference (2005); Dean, Faculty of Social and Management Sciences, Bowen University, (2015-2019); Provost, College of Social and Management Sciences, Bowen University, (2019-2020).
By John A. A. Ayoade, (mni),
Proposition and Rebuttal
Plato initiated and popularized the idea of political lies in the myth or parable of the metals. He thus promoted gennaion pseudos meaning magnificent myth which was mistranslated as noble lie (Wikipedia). Socrates envisaged it to be one ‘single grand lie’ that will be believed by everybody in the state, rulers and all. G R Ferrari argues that the lie is only grand or noble because of its civic purpose while Cornford sees the term ‘noble lie’ as self-contradictory (Wikipedia). According to Plato, the earth is the mother of all which makes all citizens siblings. The common descent therefore presupposes the consanguinity of all citizens and ipso facto common DNA in modern parlance. Plato’s intention of common ancestry was to create a basis for social integration and unity. However, for administrative convenience, he superimposed a differentiation of quality over the sameness or commonality of kind. He conceived of the function of these political classes as true or essential falsehood (Avshalom Schwartz). The highest class in Plato’s scheme is made up of people who have gold in their make-up and are destined to produce the rulers. The second class have silver or iron in their make-up and constitutes the auxiliary class which is next to the ruling class. The third and lowest class i.e. farmers and other craftsmen have brass in their make-up. The Tiv of Benue State of Nigeria also believe in an innate endowment that sets such endowed people apart from less endowed people. Such innately endowed people are said to possess tsav, a fluffy material around the heart which makes them specially gifted and excellent in whatever they do. Plato constructed a pseudo Olympic medals table based on natural laurels of gold, silver and/or iron and finally brass. Plato however ingeniously united the divided class system by inserting a process of social upward mobility by which a member of any class can give birth to a child with a higher or a lower class. Thus a golden couple can produce a brass child just as a brass couple can produce a gold child. In essence, therefore, it is a fluid inter-locking class system which holds out hope to all classes because any class can produce people of any metal. The inter-penetration of classes by birth creates a dynamic class system as against the iron-cast class system. The Platonic class system is not a discrete class system and does not conform to the general rule of classification because the classes overlap and interlock. This ingenious class arrangement therefore removes the conflict arising from the inequality and rigidity of the classical class system. For example, there is neither a doctrine of ‘born to rule’ or ‘born to serve’ which constantly heats up the Nigerian polity nor the exploded “divine right of kings”. In spite of the fact that Plato argued that the philosophical soul is truthful and averse to falsehood, he still constructed this mythical socio-political architecture in honour of a lie. Is Plato therefore a liar?
Plato is not without adversaries. Socrates who was Plato’s teacher placed a high premium on truth but conceded the noble lie as the equivalent of the doctrine of necessity because a good regime must be based on some compromises. Wisdom can only succeed in governance with an appropriate admixture of falsehood (Wikipedia). This paradox was in agreement with Plato who was of the opinion that a truly just society can only be founded on a lie. He therefore concluded that although the gods cannot lie, rulers may lie because a lie is a ‘form of medicine to men’ (Madeline Aruffo). It is for this reason that lieing is the prerogative, and like force, the monopoly of the ruler. However, not all lies are pro-people and are, therefore, deficient as social therapies. Plato’s interest was skewed in favour of the State and the Prince (Desmond Lee) such that the purported social therapy was mere placebo. While the ruler can lie with impunity, it is punishable for the citizen to lie. It is assumed that a lie by the citizen can destabilize and destroy the state but not the lie of the ruler. The ruler is therefore induced to construct powerful and inspiring myths as ‘necessary illusions’ like religion and the myth of a nation (Adam Curtis). The right of the ruler to lie to the subjects amounts to treating the people as means rather than ends of government thus resulting in the chatelization of the electorate. It achieves this, according to Piers Benn by “subverting the fundamental purpose of speech which is to convey the truth” (Cody Fenwick 2016). Immanuel Kant, also believes that lies violate the maxim that something is only good if it could become a universal law. In summary, Kant held the view that lying was always morally wrong because it negates human dignity (Tim C Mazur scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/lying/). Blaise Pascal put it even more pointedly by saying “Never does one do evil so fully and cheerfully as when one does it by a false principle of conscience” (Michelle Arnold). It is no wonder then that Karl Popper accused Plato of making religion a noble lie by establishing a spiritual naturalism. Be that as it may, the noble lie appears to be a blanket endorsement of the executive privilege of lying and the sanctification of impunity. In the absence of necessary restraining caveats, the noble lie is prone to establishing a proto-authoritarian ideology on the way to fascism (Lee McIntyre) because, according to Kevin Kelly, “politics has always bred those who will mislead to get ahead” (Richard Gray 2017). It is even more dangerous in the light of modern day development and the expansive interpretation of freedoms and rights. Senator Amanda Chase of Virginia was quoted as saying, in connection with the 2020 U S Presidential election, “It’s my free speech right. I can say all day long that the election was stolen, that’s my right to believe that” (Associated Press 2021). Some influential sections of the media buy this argument that free speech implies that lies are admissible (David De Casse). For example, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook says that fact-checking politicians is censorship (Eric Lutz 2020). Richard Anthony argued that politicians are often held to a lower standard and their statements and advertisements are considered “political speech” which is protected by the First Amendment (Jagir Reehal 2019). To that extent, false speech receives constitutional protection. This explains why a February 2016 court ruling in Ohio State, USA allows lying in political advertising based on the rubric of freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Court maintained that only the electorate can judge the veracity of candidates’ campaigns and not the government. On the contrary, however, the Court held that lying is forbidden for candidates contesting for the post of a judge (Ben Thompson 2016). This is understandable because judges play an important role in ascertaining evidential truth but the judge-candidate also addresses a constituency. The Massachusetts Supreme court had similarly approved lying in political campaigns in August 2015. It is logical to assume that freedom of speech legislation did not anticipate the inclusion of lying because, according to Alfred Kililea, lying is indisputably a fundamental act of unfairness (Cody Fenwick 2016). It is simply moral barbarism (Peter Oborne). David Simpson took a more serious ethical position by seeing lying as an act of betrayal which also deprives the audience of their right of judgment. Since the free exercise of political judgment is the most important defining property of democracy, lies therefore contravene democratic rights (ibid). Jay (2010), on the other hand, argues that mendacity is an integral part of politics and a necessity of democracy which revolves around the questionable and/or fake proposition known as common interest. With a desire to sanitize democracy, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory passed laws mandating truth in political advertising. It is however still being awaited whether it will not be struck down as contradicting the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian Constitution (ANU College of Law 2021).
Politics: Truth-centric or Lie-centric?
Lies are as old as politics (Jagir Reehal). Lies are both real and departures from reality. Politics, on the other hand, is the human construction or device for group governance and the resolution of problems attendant to large numbers. According to Indira Gandhi, “politics is the art of acquiring, holding and wielding power”. At the beginning, it produced a social contract for the benefit of the individual but ends up following a continuous chain of compromises and adjustments in a Leviathan which sucks away the interest of the individuals for whom it was devised. Robert Michels identified the surreptitious process by which an organized activist internal power elite entrenches itself. The iron law of oligarchy, as it is called, produces power dispensers who decide all political issues through authoritarian elections, if need be. It is no surprise that Paul Valerie therefore describes “politics as the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them” (Paul Valery 1943). Using different methods, particularly in developing democracies, the oligarchs decide party governance procedures, candidate nominating and electoral processes. Politics therefore becomes a “beautiful fraud” imposed on people (Shirley Chisholm 1970). The competitive party process hardly ameliorates this situation because all the parties are, more often than not, the same poison in different dispensing bottles. Similar to organizations, all forms of government are prone to intentional or unintentional capture although socialist and communist governments are more honest about it by giving it constitutional backing. It could not have been otherwise because the politics which gives rise to government is a product of different compromises and manipulations. Adlai Stevenson was right that “Good government cannot exist side by side with bad politics, the best government is the best politics” (Adlai E Stevenson 1977). Democracy itself is rooted in the simultaneous presumption and aspiration of common interest. The presumption of common interest is false while its aspiration is a forlorn hope. The dynamics of democracy continue to demonstrate that common interest is not assumable because politics itself is a contestation of interests as interests can hardly be homogeneous in a society. If all interests are common, the need for politics ceases to exist. Even when we concede that some interests like prosperity, safety, security, welfare and well-being are common, they are too fluid and internally diverse to be common to all. Even then, the administration of that supposed commonality remains diverse and conflicting within the society. This is why Ambrose Bierce defines politics as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles” (Ambrose Bierce 1906). In reality, it is the interest of the powerful, as determined and defined by them, that is imposed on society as common interest. By and large, therefore, common interest is a socio-political myth which in Platonic tradition will pass for a useful fiction. It is never a consensus. George Orwell went further to say that even political language is deliberately designed to make lies sound like truth (Ilya Somin 2016) just as political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible” (George Orwell 1950). Many have come to believe Henry Adams that practical politics is characterized by ignoring facts. In fact, “lies are widely regarded as a necessity and justifiable political practice” (Islam Mohammed 2020). It is no surprise, therefore, that “politicians have never been known for their veracity” (Michael Sean Winters 2016). If democracy itself is a fiction, it is a misnomer to claim that “lies bullshit democracy” just as Lasisi Olagunju’s characterization of democracy as “the way to paradise” is equally fictive. (Lasisi Olagunju 2019). The truth is that democracy is not just a successful myth but also the most deceptive form of government that is paradoxically more people-friendly than any other form of government. This tends to confirm the proposition that government needs some measure of lies to function; but what is the permissible ratio of lie to truth and who decides that ratio?
If lying is human why do we single out only politicians as culprits? (Manish Dubey 2020). If everybody except politicians lie, then politicians will be deviants if they don’t. Since politicians lie like other humans, they are in ‘good’ company but for the fact that they lie more than anybody else because they talk more publicly (Robert Prentice 2021). There can be no non-political speech by a politician. The Yoruba adage that too much talk results in lies confirms this situation. Lying is therefore the professional hazard of politicians because lying and deception are “perennials of politics” (Islam Mohammed 2020) or, according to Michael Waltz, “no one succeeds in politics without getting their hands dirty” (L. Pasquerella and Alfred Killilea). No wonder Lord Bryce told Owen Wister in 1921 that “a political career brings out the basest qualities in human nature” just as Otto von Bismarck had earlier observed that politics ruins character. The nature of politics also facilitates lying because it is easy to make policy promises that no one will keep because the amorphous public is structurally incapable of holding politicians accountable. Politicians are prone to talk up their achievements and deliberately manipulate the truth for electoral advantage in political campaigns (Philip Seargeant). Paradoxically, because of the loose hold on them, political liars make the most attractive promises. It is no wonder, then, that Afe Babalola rightly concluded that “politicians have no qualms promising the absurd and outright impossibilities …” (Afe Babalola 2018). They are even known for peddling “ridiculous tales” (Freda 16, 2016). The danger of this behaviour, according to Voltaire, is that “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”. Politicians trade in lies which create unfulfillable expectations and result in the escalation of social frustration. By so doing, politicians set in motion a revolution of rising expectations which ultimately hurts them but more seriously creates a devastatingly morbid polity. Curiously, however, liars and demagogues appear to be better readers of the minds of the electorate. Liars accurately target what the people want to hear thus giving lies greater electoral value than veracity. If the electorate does not care what is true in politics, then elections are meaningless. This results in a political puzzle because if it is the people that deploy their power of the vote for falsehood, politicians can be exonerated. Politicians still remain guilty, though, because they have only succeeded in convincing the people that falsehood is truth. Bernard Baruch therefore advised people to “Vote for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing” (Meyer Berger 1960). Political leaders have to be held to a higher standard of responsibility because they claim or aspire to political leadership (Manish Dubey 2020). Apart from the fact that political leaders volunteer, probably deceitfully, to lead, their lies can cause immeasurable damage to society through wrong prioritization, deliberate falsification and/or concealment. Perhaps even more dangerous is the snowball effect of lies on the polity and politics. Lies have huge human and material maintenance costs. Even the liar who enjoys an initial advantage ultimately suffers stress and opprobrium in the necessary continual effort to keep the lie alive. Nurturing a lie is an arduous business requiring skill and, according to Quintilian, good memory to remain consistent. On the contrary, however, Abraham Lincoln, who himself also lied (Michael Holtzman 2016), was perhaps also right when he said that “… no man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar”. A liar is prone to be inconsistent. Apart from the fact that his ‘facts’ change, the liar himself is prone to shift loyalty as political occasion warrants. Liars are not short of rationalizations for any of their new positions, no matter how ridiculous.
Now that we have highlighted the high prevalence of lies in politics, the nature and character of politics becomes clearer. The significant ratio of lie to fact in political statements makes the separation of facts from frauds difficult. Politics is so sensitive that a tincture of lie can change the intent and direction of any political statement. It is so sensitive that even telling the truth with a bad intension amounts to a lie because a lie is no more than an intent to deceive or misdirect (Douglas Kiereini – David Barker). In Nigeria, “political solutions” have become a euphemism for bending the rules. This explains why telling the truth and being truthful are not the same (Ramsay 2000). When politics is suffused with lies deliberately, it becomes mere “show business” and some of the best Nigerian politicians have replaced political campaigns with fictional dramaturgy. Peter Elliott even thought that politics has degenerated into “blood sport” (Peter Elliott 2020). Many people across the world now think that politics has come to mean deception and propaganda (David Briceno 2009). The result of this is that trust in government has declined sharply. Whereas in 2004 Americans had 52% confidence in government but by December 2008, Trump’s popularity rating has dived to as low as 13% (ibid, Nilagia McCoy et al. 2016). Dwight Eisenhower had identified trust as one of the most important tools of the President of the United States (Jane C. Timm 2020). When the bond of trust is broken future Presidents lose the inherent power of political trust (ibid). Lies cause disillusionment among the electorate. Once people are dragged into debating between lie and truth, then truth ceases to be priority. And when a society has a large number of misinformed people, the state itself is endangered (Richard Gray 2017) because only a well-informed people can be permanently free to exercise the vote rationally (Anna Sommers Cocks 2019). The quality of the electoral mandate is seriously affected when the electorate votes under false premises. This raises the question of the validity of a mandate obtained under false pretences. Such a mandate is false and void. The expectation of the electorate from the ‘mandate’ is therefore misplaced ab initio because the candidate deliberately obtained it without planning to honour it. As long as the candidate prioritizes fiction over facts democracy becomes fictional. Although Barack Obama is quoted to have said that democracy does not create a problem that it cannot solve, this is a very fundamental problem. Fact-check and civic education are still inadequate checks against political lies. They are even more improbable in under-developed democracies like Nigeria. Even in developed democracies, political demagogues are known to have great political following because ordinarily, people are known to be able to only spot about 53% of the lies they are told while even those trained in lie detection can detect only about 60% (Travis Bradberry 2017).
We do not intend to over-simplify the epistemic crisis in political communication. It still remains very complex and un-resolved. Different political philosophers, high profile politicians and writers have pronounced for and against truth. Even some of them simultaneously came out in support and against truth. For example, Mark Twain advised that people should “prevaricate thoughtfully and judiciously” only to say again that people should get formalities right in statesmanship without minding moralities (Mark Twain 1897). Edmund Burke was pungent enough to assert that “fraud and prevarication are servile vices although he also maintains that “Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement” (Edmund Burke 1899). Michael Okpara, Premier of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria was in agreement when he said in the 1960s, “We are in politics, not in the Church”. The Yoruba of South-Western Nigeria however believe that “whoever lies will steal” indicating that truth is moral and lie is immoral. We can also logically infer that “whoever believes a lie can lie”. Therefore when the political leadership lies regularly, it inadvertently imparts negative political education. Lying therefore gradually tends to become a public norm. This was exemplified in the Nigerian political stanza of the mid-sixties that “If you see my hand (symbol of the government party), you cannot see my mind”. Another example of the citizens trading lies for the lies of the political class is that they collect money from certain politicians to vote for them but end up voting for their opponent. Politicians then retort by requiring voters to take a screenshot of their ballot paper before dropping it in the ballot box in order to qualify to be paid by the candidate. That is the current level of mutual distrust.
Be that as it may, philosophers, and writers are sharply divided over politics and morality. Leo Strauss postulates that absolute truth will threaten political stability because lies are essential to maintaining order (Leo Strauss 1959). Strauss is therefore in support of a mix of truth and lie without prescribing the ratio or proportion. On the other hand, J. J. Rousseau argued that people who separate politics from morality cannot understand either of them. Contrarily, Will Rogers argued that if truth is injected into politics, then politics disappears (Will Rogers 1949). But at the other extreme are Nicolo Machiavelli, Hannah Arendt and Edmund Burke. Machiavelli was consistent that politics has no business with morality. It would in fact have been un-Machiavellian to say otherwise. Hannah Arendt was equally clear-cut when she concluded that “truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other”. Other philosophers including Hugo Grotius, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Jason Brennan gave exceptional conditions when a lie is right. The Dutch philosopher, Hugo Grotius stipulated only one justification for lies which is when the person being lied to has no right to the truth. St Augustine also identified some occasions when it would be appropriate to lie. Similarly, Thomas Aquinas exempt jocose and officious lies but not malicious lies which are not pardonable. Jason Brennan of Georgetown University endorses a deception which prevents an ignorant electorate from pushing through harmful and oppressive policies (Ilya Somin 2016). Abraham Lincoln’s lie about slavery is exonerated on grounds of preventing the electorate from pushing inhuman policies. This is the position that is well summarized by Daniel O’Connell that “Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong” (Wendell Philips 1891).
Nigeria’s Injurious Political Lies
Nigerian politicians have told lies of different weight and significance to the Nigerian public at different times and for diverse purposes. Some lies are about individual politicians and with limited coverage. These are in the nature of retail lies whose impact and damage effect are narrow. Oftentimes such lies are dispensed during election campaigns. They are told about candidates’ plans and programmes usually raising the hopes of the constituents. Nigerian election campaigns are characterized by promise escalation through competitive bidding by candidates and political parties. The process invariably ends in unfulfillable promises. The mortuary of Nigerian elections is therefore full of unrealistic promises. Experience shows that the opposition is more prone to be less cautious about making promises because it is propelled by the hot desire to unseat the incumbent. It therefore needs to show that the government party is either non-performing or under-performing forgetting that, if it succeeds in unseating the government party, it will it will be judged by its own promises. Candidates make such promises oblivious of the objective institutional and environmental constraints of implementation. A common example of the lies of candidates is the claim that “my people instructed me to take the particular stand” when in actual fact there was no consultation at all. Such candidates again change their political affiliation pleading the same excuse. And one electoral season thereafter they are back to the same old party claiming that it is the wish of their constituency. How I wish they are that compliant with the wishes of their constituency. In the process of these political migrations, the electorate is confused and dumfounded and the polity is overheated. The most classical of such comical defections in recent times is that of Femi Fani-Kayode (FFK). In 2019, he had claimed that he would rather die than join the All Progressives Congress (APC) which he equated with darkness. He described his rumoured defection then as “false and insulting” (Oluwatobi Bolasodun 2021). Two years later, in September 2021, he defected to the APC which he then described as a “liberal party”. He further justified his defection on the ground that “There is no point having any principles without power” (Terhemba Daka, et al 2021). Of course Senator Abaribe quoted former President Olusegun Obasanjo as saying that “FFK follows where there is food for him” (Oladipo Abiola 2021). Abubakar Gumi further described him, while reacting to the defection, as the “Judas of Oduduwa” (Femi Ajasa 2021). Reno Omokri contrasted his position on stomach infrastructure or what Abati calls “stomach democracy” when he said, in a different connection, “My stomach does not control my mouth” and that his (Omokri’s) behaviour is dictated by his conscience rather than his appetite (Peter Okereke 2021). Nigerian political parties are complicit with lies as they embrace rather than turn away liars. In fact, the worse the better. Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s two-term Minister of Information, who was likened to Comical Ali of Iraq for lying (The Whistler December 29, 2015). He was alleged to have lied so much that Aynaijang News said that Mohammed’s “native language” was lying. By Lai Mohammed’s personal admission, even his own grandson was so tickled that he asked him why people call him a liar. For example he once told an outrageous lie by equating Boko Haram insurgents levying taxes on occupied territories in North-Eastern Nigeria with hoodlums in Southern Nigerian cities extorting levies in Motor Parks (naijablog.ng/2021/10/29/). In the words of Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, “there is a new sheriff in town” (Jibrin Ibrahim, The state in question as 2021 draws to a close Premium Times Dec 31, 2021). The truth is that a tax is a signification of quasi-sovereign political authority as distinct from the rogue collection by touts. In this case Lai Mohammed adjusted facts to political cause which further complicates the mystery of the origin and persistence of the Boko Haram phenomenon. Nigerians are still unclear in their minds whether a particular State Government and even the Federal Government can wash their hands clean of Boko Haram at different stages. The prevarication and hesitancy in confronting the insurgency and the insurgents continue to create doubts whether all that should be said has been said by government on the matter. Silence, when there is something to say, amounts to a lie. Strangely enough when a former political opponent becomes the new political comrade through political migration all the past is forgiven. In addition to lying on issues, politicians also lie against themselves if on different sides of the political divide. This has implication for the total political system because it denigrates the credibility of the political class. Lies increase political polarization although Nigerian politicians behave as if they have short memories. They observe no limit in making assertions about themselves and their parties. For example, the Governor of Ebonyi State and a recent convert to the All Progressives Congress, Engr Dave Umahi, was quoted as saying on Channels TV that the All Peoples Congress has “divine backing”. The News Reporter and also a member of the party, Kess Ewubare, even blasphemed by claiming that “God is a member of the All Progressives Congress and directs the affairs of the Party (APC)” (legit.ng/1427649).
The second set of political lies are the wholesale lies which are told by government functionaries. Such lies have system-wide implications and affect more people. They are high profile and high-impact lies told to shore-up government’s poor performance. They increase in frequency in direct proportion to the inefficiency of government. In fact wholesale lies are clear indices of government inefficiency. Such lies do not only affect the citizens and the polity negatively, they also affect the liars negatively in the long run. A government that is already low on performance cannot improve that performance with a lie because fighting darkness with darkness will never give light. At best, a lie is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It can only give a temporary relief to such a government and the credibility of such a government will sink further thereafter. Nigerian political leaders like Ministers or government sponsors/proxies/contractors are sometimes engaged to lie for and on behalf of government. Buhari’s antimetabole during his inaugural “I am for everybody and for nobody” is similar to Shel Silverstein’s illogicality that “I can be someone’s and still be my own”. Buhari’s speechwriter was innocent of the contradiction of that figure of speech which was first employed by Socrates. We will treat three principal Nigerian political leaders who deployed deception to governance. It is convenient to start with Babangida who claimed that he was trained to dominate his environment (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021). In the late eighties, Ibrahim Babangida set up what was later clumsily christened MAMSER to launder government’s image. The consultants to MAMSER at the time including Prof John Ayoade, Prof Aaron Gana and Prof Friday Onoge advised that excellent service delivery to the people is the best public relations for government. In fact, according to Thomas Fuller, “The subject’s love is the king’s best guard” (Gnomologia 1732). They further advised that government should never engage in any white wash as it will fade disastrously. Governments sometimes engage proxies to lie as decoy to plead an alibi if the need arose. This does not exonerate a government. We shall discuss some prominent cases of such political decoy in the recent political history of Nigeria as examples of the Big Lie. These include the hoax called the Association for Better Nigeria which culminated in Babangida’s annulment of June 12 election of 1993, Daniel Kanu’s Two Million Man March, the saga of Abacha’s Five puppeteer Political Parties, and Obasanjo’s Third Term Gamble.
Babangida initiated the most elaborate transition Programme which included the Political Bureau, the system of Two Parties, MAMSER, the Centre for Democratic Studies and the National Electoral Commission. Perhaps all those who operated these Transition institutions were unaware of the hidden agenda and worked tirelessly towards a military disengagement. From hindsight it would appear that Babangida’s body language was to the contrary. For example, first, he reneged on handing over in 1990. Second, he failed to give any specific date for the handing–over. He was quoted as saying evasively “we shall not stay a day longer than is necessary” without specifying any date. In fact Babangida’s transition programme was variously described as “smokescreen”, “endless” (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021) and “transition without end” (Oye Oediran ). The Presidential Primary which was conducted by the National Electoral Commission was cancelled by Babangida and all the candidates and their parties were banned from further participation in future elections allegedly for fraud. Babangida then established two political parties – a little to the left and a little to the right. The parties were founded and funded by the Government so as to eliminate the erstwhile control of the founders and funders. Nigerians were therefore required to join either of the parties of their choice without political allegiance to any political godfather or money-bag. The parties were Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). It was under this new dispensation that elections were first conducted into the Local Government Councils and then into the state governments. The final lap was the Presidential election. It was at this stage that a strange organization called Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) surfaced on the political scene. The objective of the ABN was to keep Babangida in power. It demanded ‘four more years’ of military rule arguing that Nigeria was not ripe for democratic rule. The fact that the activities of ABN were not stopped by the Military Government convinced people that the ABN was a baby of the Military Government. In fact it could not have been otherwise because the ABN violated the NEC Decree without any reprisals. The leadership of ABN included Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, Abimbola Davies, Jerry Okoro and allegedly Brigadier General Haliru Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. The ABN claimed to have over 25 million members. The figure was spurious as the members were not visible on the streets. The ABN filed a suit June 11, 1993 at the Abuja High Court to stop the election and the order was granted by Justice Ita Ikpeme. The National Electoral Commission, relying on the ouster clause in the Electoral Decree 13 of 1993, went ahead to conduct the election. While the results were trickling in, the ABN, again, approached the Abuja High Court to stop the announcement of the results. The petition was granted by no other than the Chief Judge of Abuja, Justice Dahiru Saleh himself in spite of the fact that the Decree ousted the jurisdiction of the court. And whereas the suit filed was a Motion on Notice requiring that the National Electoral Commission should be heard, Justce Dahiru Saleh decided to hear the matter ex parte in his Chamber and stopped further announcements of the results because, according to him, the election should not have been held in the first place. The NEC complied with the ruling but headed to court on June 22, 1993 to challenge it. On June 23, 1993, Babangida annulled the election and suspended the National Electoral Commission arguing that the step was taken to “save our judiciary from being ridiculed and politicized locally and internationally” (neusroom.com/association-for-better-nigeria-babangida-used-to-scuttle-jine12/). The event showed that the Judiciary under Babangida was just the hand-maiden of the Executive to be ordered at will. Even if his argument about the Judiciary were right, Babangida violated one of his popular tenets that “legal justice was not social justice” because legality is not necessarily ethical. It is no wonder that Wole Soyinka wrote that “A nation of some 90 million people is being wound round the finger of a master player whose mental state is seriously in question” (Kenneth Noble 1993).
The annulment of the June 12 Election was orchestrated by Babangida using and/or condoning political hirelings operating the phantom organization called ABN. Secondly, the June 12 saga proved that politics behind the scene – dietrologia – could be more powerful than politics in the open and unofficial advisers and old school boys more effective than official advisers. The Courts sank to depths unknown in colluding with the Executive to scuttle the election. The government which ousted the involvement of the Court in the transition process watched the Court as it scuttled the process. In fact it was out of character of the Babangida regime to suffer the political rascality of spurious organizations like ABN unless it was a surrogate of the government itself. Babangida was the beneficiary of the illegal roles played by the ABN and the Courts. Strangely enough, rather than sanction Justice Ita Ikpeme and Justice Dahiru Saleh for abuse of court processes and bringing the court to disrepute, Babangida protected them and the Courts at the expence of the democratic process. Of course there were powerful non-state political actors in the background breathing down heavily on the government. Early in 1993, a delegation of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) visited the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Dasuki on a transition sensitization visit. After the formalities, the hall was cleared and the Sultan requested the representatives of the Management of the CDS to advise Babangida not to proceed with the election, because according to him, neither M K O Abiola nor Bashir Tofa was qualified to be the President. The Management of the CDS replied that it was already late to stop the process because the candidates were already on the campaign trail and the nation was expectant. The Sultan said that if the Management of the CDS could not advise President Babangida to stop the election, he (the Sultan) would do so himself. Apart from the undeclared intention of Babangida for self- perpetuation in office, there were powerful lobbies from side-line beneficiaries who were uncomfortable about losing the ‘national feeding bottle’. According to Babangida, such lobbies were also present in the Nigerian Army because it was alleged that there was an agreed secret succession plan based on the Egyptian succession model (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021). Babangida annulled the election but has since been unable to give the real reason for doing so. A lie normally assumes a life of its own but its existence may produce a conundrum. It can outsmart the liar and this one did exactly that.
The repercussions of the annulment did not prevent General Sani Abacha from another dastardly gamble against the nation. It wasn’t for fun that Abacba’s close associates call him Calipha. Some people argue that Abacha took over in a coup on November 17, 1993. That amounts to believing the ruse by the Government. The reality was that Babangida nominated Abacha by seniority and position as his substantive successor as Head of State. The Interim National Government (ING) Decree, which appointed Ernest Shonekan was signed by Babangida and gazetted by the Babangida administration, contained a provision that the “most senior Minister” (naming an un-named name) would take over if Shonekan was unable to continue as Head of State. Unconfirmed sources alleged that Babangida once told Obasanjo that the nomination of Shonekan was a “little mischief”. Babangida knew that Sani Abacha was the most senior Minister and Abacha also knew that he was. In the light of Babangida’s later confession that there would have been a bloody coup if he did not annul the election the ING was put in place to prevent the coup, then it could not, at the same time, be a coup if the successor was ‘named’ in advance. At best, it was a negotiated succession in which Shonekan’s ‘inability’ was confirmed in advance of taking office. To believe that it was a coup is to accuse Babangida of concealment of a coup which he tried to forestall. Having appointed Abacha as a Head-of-State-in-Waiting, it is surprising that Shonekan lasted eighty-three days in office. Abacha did not need to provide any proof of Shonekan’s ‘inability’ and he did not. Justice Dolapo Akinsanya declared on November 10, 1993 that the annulment of June 12 election by Babangida was null, void and of no effect as it violated due process. Similarly, the appointment of Shonekan and the Interim National Government which he headed were declared unconstitutional, null and void because Decree No 61 1993 on which it was based did not vest their appointment on anybody (vanguardngr.com/2010/07/from-the-archives-any-action-against-the-attorney-general-is-binding-on- the-government/). The Judge, relying on Section 15 of the Interpretation Act Cap 192 Laws of the Federation, declared that Babangida effectively ceased to be President by the midnight of 25th August 1993 since he announced that he was stepping aside on 26th August 1993. He should therefore not have signed the ING Decree on the 26th of August 1993 a day after he retired. Shonekan had been billed to conduct an election in 1994. Abacha was alleged to have promised to lift the annulment and install Abiola as President (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021). Abiola bought the lie and even nominated Ministers into the Abacha Cabinet (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021). That was an inadvertent endorsement of the Abacha regime by Abiola. Abacha then started his own plan of self-succession. Of course surrogates were not wanting. Daniel Kanu a physical fitness merchant supplying physical fitness equipment to Aso Rock got contracted to launder Abacha’s image and to draft him into the self-succession project. Kanu put together the organization “Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha” (YEAA). He bought and distributed Exercise Books to School children, mounted Bill Boards and purchased two luxury buses fitted with loudspeakers and spent more than 800 million Naira ($36 million) to fix the parade ground. Such capital outlay was definitely more than what an ordinary person could spend on a political hobby. He surely had a surreptitious off-budget backing by the government. In fact, it was alleged that the 36 States of the Federation each sent 50,000 delegates at a total cost of nine billion Naira ($414 million) to his Two Million Man March from March 3-4, 1993 (Matthew T. Page 2021). The cost of the rally was put at 400-500 million Naira paid for by un-named “patriotic individuals”. Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer of Gen Abacha was alleged to have aided the propaganda and provided state support for the YEAA. YEAA was formed “to extol the benefits of Abachism” because according to Kanu, ‘the destiny of this nation and the transition to democracy under the present dispensation can only achieve its present potentials if handled by the prudent, purposeful and transparent leadership of Gen. Abacha”(Matthew T Page 2021). Abacha gave a tacit approval to the invitation of the Two Million Man March and proceeded to the next stage of the transition.
The National Elections Commission of Nigeria (NECON) called for the registration of Political Parties. Fifteen Political Associations applied for registration. NECON screened them, approved and licenced only five. The registration was skewed in favour of the regime. Parties with a large membership and spread were disqualified just as parties whose leaders were deemed unamenable to manipulation by the regime (A. Sat Obiyan 2005). These included All Nigerian Congress (ANC), Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), Peoples Concensus Party (PCP), and Social Progressive Party (SPP). The Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) was not registered particularly because of its affiliation with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) an activist opposition group. The following five parties were registered on September 30, 1996. They were the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Committee for National Consensus (CNC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). All the registered Parties were tailor-made for Abacha self-succession except the GDM led by M D Yusuf who also belonged to the Northern political class. The registration did not envisage any genuine electoral competition. Pita Agbese rightly suspected that “the military deliberately sabotage its own transition programme to maintain itself in power in perpetuity” (Pita Ogba Agbese 1999). Initially, two of the five Parties, United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) opposed the Abacha self–succession plan. Gambo Lawan of the GDM had said that “There is an attempt to foist a one-party state on Nigeria” (Matthew Page 1998). Later, the UNCP succumbed leaving the GDM as the last opposition. By April 20, 1998, “the scripted show designed to let Abacha keep power” was almost complete as the UNCP amended its Constitution to let Abacha, a non-member, become its Presidential flag-bearer (James Rupert 1998). The Convention Chairman of the GDM, Isiaku Ibrahim, resigned before the Convention saying “I don’t want to be part of the game plan of imposing a presidential flag-bearer on the Party who … is not a (party) member” (ibid). The GDM finally succumbed to pressure and its prospective Presidential candidate, M. D. Yusuf, joined the United Action for Democracy insisting “we should not continue to be used by the military to perpetuate themselves into (sic) office” (ibid). The five registered p0litical parties then endorsed Gen Sani Abacha as the concensus presidential candidate. Chief Bola Ige, who has a rare gift for naming, described the five political parties as the “five fingers of a leprous hand”. The purpose was to fake an undeserved national electoral popularity in which Abacha would be elected without election. This was achieved by duress, pressure and bully tactics. These theatricals were followed by a sham advertorial run by all major television stations and the print media captioned “Who the Cap Fits” (nigerianpolityblogspot.com/2006/04/who-the-cap-fits-all-over-again.html). The military cap morphed into an embroidered northern Nigerian cap or a southern Nigerian cap. “It was a tasteless attempt by the Abacha regime to sell the Abacha candidacy to the Nigerian populace, never minding that 99.99% of Nigerians were disgusted by the ploy …” (ibid). Abacha had requested Nigerians of all faiths to pray for Nigeria. It is difficult to know what they asked God to do; but on June 8, I998, the self-succession plan came to an abrupt end with the death of the fifty-four year-old General.
Obasanjo is an old war-horse. He succeeded charismatic Murtala Mohammed as Head of State in February 1976 and handed power back to a civilian government on October 1, 1979. The hand-over was regarded as unusual in an era of sit-tight Generals. As demonstrated earlier, two of his successors as military Head of State and were also his predecessors, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha played smart to sit tight in the same office. Ibrahim Babangida was described as “untrustworthy” (Sabella Ogbobode Abidde) while Abacha was seen as an abrasive “straight shooter” (ibid) to a lie. Ibrahim Babangida contradicted himself by annulling his pride of conducting a relatively flawless election over which stupendous amount of money had been spent while Abacha played smart by assembling a political orchestra of sorts for a fake national political endorsement. He even jailed Obasanjo, his boss, in the process. Obasanjo came out of prison gaunt and emaciated and was pushed into the presidential race because the South-West had insisted on the Presidency or nothing. Obasanjo’s Presidency was a product of political climate determinism. The North, without saying so, pleaded guilty for the annulment and, for the first time in Nigeria’s political history and perhaps a foreseeable long time to come, the presidential election was, in reality, a contest between two Yoruba candidates. Obasanjo won, although twenty years earlier in 1999, he had postulated that the best candidate did not have to win an election. The Constitution prescribes a term of four years renewable upon success at the next election. Tempus fugit and eight years was about to fly past. Obasanjo was alleged to have said, at different times since he took power in 1999, that “the PDP would rule for anywhere from 60 to 100 years” (Sonala Olumhense 2013). So in 2005, in deft military decoy and surprise, surrogates, including Ibrahim Mantu, Ifeanyi Ararume and Jubril Aminu (Jude Egbas 2019), whether they volunteered or were hired, started working on a constitutional amendment for a third term. The attempt to foist a draft Constitution on the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) of 2005 was foiled by members of the Conference. Of course, for that, the Conference ended without being allowed to conclude its assignment. Thirty State Governors are said to have signed to the third-term agenda allegedly on a trade-by-barter basis so that they too would also get a third term (gamji.com/article5000/NEWS5427.htm). The Fifth Senate under Senator Ken Nnamani scuttled the third term plan by making two strategic moves. First, the Senate went on a recess to allow members to feel the pulse of their constituencies over the matter. Second, the proceedings of the Senate was televised so that the Nigerian public could watch how the members voted (Bakare Majeed). In the circumstance, even those who were alleged to have collected money to vote for third term could no longer do so under klieg lights when the motion was put. On May 16, 2006, the third term scheme was laid to rest by the gavel wielded by Ken Nnamani. Obasanjo has refused to own up to the third term plan ever since. He insisted in 2012 on Channels TV, “If I wanted a third term, I know how to go about it. And there is nothing I wanted that God has not given me” (ibid). Fortunately for Nigerians, God is not a liar. The aftermath of the botched third term also showed Obasanjo’s tendency to punish innocence. He was alleged to have said in an interactive session that “Nnamani’s successful business might help him; but it might also injure him” (Bakare Majeed 2021). Obasanjo waxed vindictive ready to punish the innocence of those who reminded him of his oath to protect the Constitution. He went to war with his opponents. Ken Nnamani (ex-Loyola College, Ibadan) representing Enugu East Senatorial District lost his Seat in Senate like some other Senators who opposed the third term. Some Governors also allegedly lost their gubernatorial seats for the same reason just as Orji Uzo Kalu claimed that his businesses were ruined. Kalu alleged that Obasanjo threatened him physically, threatened to render him poor and to even turn him to a beggar (Aidoghie Paulinus 2018). Yet Obasanjo claimed he never wanted a third term!! Lord Acton must be right when he said that “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it”. The Oath of Office is incapable of self-enforcement. The reality is, according to Milton Rakove, “The citizen is influenced by principle in direct proportion to his distance from the political situation” (The Virginia Quarterly Review 1965).
The question has always been raised why Nigeria has no heroes. The simplest answer is that Nigerian leaders do not finish strong. They often falter in the final lap. Ibrahim Babangida was almost coasting home as the foremost contender for the position of the Maker of Modern Nigeria (Ayodele Akinkuotu 2021) until he decided to shred his own testimonials by annulling the most credible election that Nigerians yet have. There and then, the General “lost his last battle” (ibid) which, unfortunately, was even pointless. He punished innocence and covered up impunity. He was otherwise creative, innovative and amiable but he loved office more than Nigeria. Almost thirty years after the unpardonable sin against the god of democracy, he still fights shy of telling Nigerians why he betrayed them. His excuse that it was to avoid a bloody coup is unbecoming of a Commander-in-Chief who, earlier in his military career, had successfully botched a coup with bare hands. Sani Abacha was not given to finesse in action or words. He had a mastery of privatizing the public. His style was crude, direct and deadly. Olusegun Obasanjo‘s style betrays the clear cowardice of courage in denying what is clearly in the public domain. His denial negates the Yoruba advise that any person who consumes the sacrifice to the gods must have courage (O gbodo l’aya ak’eboje). He who denies such facts, as Obasanjo does, is prone to continue to live by being counter-factual. Obasanjo has a mastery of deception and is skillful in surrogate management but his continued denial of what even infants know is embarrassing. In spite of his other apparent contraries, Olusegun Obasanjo is endowed with charisma, public respectability and goodwill.
Generally, as shown above, Nigerian political leaders demonstrate three major characteristics. The first is that they push power beyond elastic limits. They invest the most to achieve least. They deliberately consume poison believing that they can vomit it at will. While one was alleged to have bankrolled several candidates for the post of President in order to deliberately to create pandemonium, the other bankrolled five different political parties to nominate him as their ‘concensus’ candidate. Their lies are worse than fiction because, paradoxically, fictions, according to Gainman, ”tell us true things” (Neil Gaiman 2013). The second characteristic is that they “are not in the habit of repenting from their evil deeds … Heaven is not that close to their hearts” (Daily Trust 8 April, 2018). They are not even ready to honour the people with the minimum of confessing the crime against them. They continue to issue emphatic and ponderous denials and sometimes even boast that, given another opportunity, they will do it again. No apologies, no regrets, just defiant impunity. It is no wonder that La Rochfoucauld says “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue”. The third, and perhaps the worst characteristic, is that, smart as they are, Nigerian politicians have sight without vision which Hellen Keller considers worse than physical blindness. Politicians weaponize lies as an amplifier or multiplier of influence (Ireton and Posetti 2018) in order to hack the rationality of their audience although in the long-run, they also damage themselves, their brittle career and the political system.
Summary and Conclusion
Lies in politics are complicated by the beneficiaries. It has gained visibility and prominence in politics because it has long been adopted as an appurtenance of power against which power has refused to legislate. Unfortunately, it appears that lies pay off (Islam Mohammed 2020) as liars are known to record electoral successes. There is no concensus on the admissibility or otherwise of lies by philosophers and other writers. Plato and Machiavelli were in agreement that lies are indispensable to good governance just as Mikhai Bakunin holds duplicity as a virtue in politics. Henry Adams, himself a frontline politician, concluded that practical politics consisted of ignoring facts. However other philosophers, mostly ethicists, like St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and Sissela Bok hold the view that a lie is immoral. Immanuel Kant believes that a lie deprives man of human dignity and autonomy (Tim C. Mazur cf Richard Bellamy 2019). Sissela Bok argues that adding the coercive mental effect of lying to the enormous coercive power of the state as a sovereign makes a lie in politics “the most dangerous of all deceit”. The contradiction is not limited to philosophers and politicians. Writers and commentators are also found on both sides of the divide. Hannah Arendt holds the firm view that politics and truth are incompatible while Masha Gessen argues an equally strong position that “truth is the sine qua non of politics” and that “when lies overpower truth, politics dies” (Mash Gessen 2021).
Lies have assailed politics relentlessly through all the ages and in all climes. Politics has refused to die but its quality has diminished and public trust in government has suffered a very damaging reverse. In fact, Nilagia McCoy concluded that “Trust is now at an all-time low” in America (Nilagia McCoy 2016) because truth and trust are twins. The decline in public trust would make it harder for future presidents to exercise the necessary enabling moral authority that facilitates governance (Jane C Timm 2020). Trust facilitates public compliance with public policies and thereby reduces the gap between the government and the people. On the contrary a diminution of trust increases government-people distance and ultimately alienates the people from the government. A typical example of such alienation occurred in Nigeria in the late 1980s during General Ibrahim Babangida’s presidency. Prominent human rights activists including Aka Bashorun, Gani Fawehinmi and Beko Ransome-Kuti demanded a definitive transition plan from the Military Government. Of course the Military Government was evasive. Instead, the activists were detained and castigated as skeptics typical of the way Donald Trump described any unfavourable news item as fake. The lack of trust creates harmful public disillusionment and cynicism (David Luban 2022). The more deleterious effect is that a breach of trust transforms the elected and the electorate into political parallels. This disconnect is a product of public disenchantment and frustration. Over time, public cynics develop into public skeptics. A public sphere dominated by skeptics is a fertile ground for political apathy or violence depending on the prevailing culture of the society and the political environment. If it results in political apathy, the public becomes immune to falsehood thus making propaganda tolerable because the brain adapts to dishonesty (Neil Garrett et al 2016). The resultant public numbness engenders political de-participation which adversely affects the efficacy of democratic institutions (Manish Dubey 2020). For example, when South-West Nigeria felt unduly marginalized by the regime of Sani Abacha she withdrew her participation by adopting a strategy of “siddon look”. If lies are congenital to democracies, as some claim, it will self-destruct. To accept that politicians are right to lie to the public is to renounce the democratic ideal of government by the people (Cody Fenwick 2016). In fact the collapse of trust creates a disconnect between the elected and the electorate and signals the collapse of democratic institutions (Sissela Bok). It also repudiates the mandate which is the contractual bridge between the elected and the electorate because a mandate obtained under lying influence is ipso facto invalidated. If, as the general public believes, democracy is equal to the ballot box, then any vote obtained by lying detracts from democracy. This remains the case in spite of the semantic dilution of truth as post-truth or ‘truthiness’. The era dominated by lies is described as post-truth because it is characterized by “misleading or false political truth claims” in political communication (Wikipedia). It is post-factual and post-reality. In fact it is counter-factual. The various forms include “intentional rumors, bullshitting, lying, conspiracy theories and fake news” (ibid). The distinguishing feature of the post-truth era is, according to Ralph Keyes, that lies are acceptable in certain situations (ibid). This amounts to a deliberate devaluation of truth in political discourse (Ari-Elmeri Hyvonen, Post-truth, structures, agents and styles 2018). According to the Word of the Year Oxford English Dictionaries entry, post-truth is the public incineration of “objective facts” and the acclamation of “emotion and personal beliefs” (John Keanne, The Conversation March 23, 2018). Any contestation between truth and falsehood, even inadvertently, already demonstrates the ascendancy of lies. Lies destroy individual autonomy and even the possibility of collective consent because the individual has been conditioned to believe that falsehood is truth. Similarly, Stephen Colbert an American comedian said that politicians in the era of post-truth are content with ‘truthiness’ which simply means ideas which “feels right” or “should be true” (The Economist, September 16, 2016). It is the process of giving more weight to feelings than facts. In such times there is a yawning gap between what ‘feels right’ and the fact. This is what Richard Hofstadter referred to in 1964 as the paranoid style in American politics.
When falsehood becomes the dominant currency of politics, it creates a frustration of rising expectations because politicians out-bid themselves in lying. Each party matches the unfulfillable promise of the opposing party with its own unfulfillable promise. In the alternative, it trades ambiguity for a promise. For example, in the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) countered the Unity Party of Nigeria’s (UPN) programme of free education with qualitative education which is non-descript. Citizens also see through clumsy or opaque government policies like the fuel subsidy in Nigeria. A frontline oil-producing country with four refineries relies on the ‘subsidized’ import of fuel to meet her daily needs. The logic of fuel importation in the circumstance defies rational explanation nor has the government come out clean on the economics of fuel importation. The resultant frustrations from poor governmental performance transform into the proverbial immiseration of the proletariat which is prone to social explosion. This also fits into Ted Gurr’s theory of relative deprivation and its violent consequence (Ted R. Gurr 1970). An unrelenting frustration of hopes will someday be met with violence. Lies either explain away shortfalls or pitfalls in governmental performance or serve as the excuse for the failure to meet social service targets. Either way, the people are pushed beyond their endurance limits. The attempts of government to cover up its incompetence or inefficiency offends public sensibilities and account for most of the violent religious outbreaks which are strategic conduits for political protests (Ayoade 2017).
The three Nigerian instances discussed above continue to affect the Nigerian polity and highlight the fragility of national leadership. The annulment of the June 12 election of 1993 forced Babangida out of office in spite of his power as Commander-in-Chief. The electoral orchestration of Sani Abacha met with stiff public resistance which stopped him in his tracks. Even the massive turn-out that swept Obasanjo into office could not withstand the popular gale that dissolved his third term agenda. All the three indicated the ethical resolve of the people against unethical leadership. The three also show an ethical divide between the people and the political leadership. There is therefore a substantial popular lie-resistance capacity. On the other hand, the episodes demonstrate three characteristics of Nigerian political leadership. The first is that they always stretch power beyond its elastic limits because they are not democrats by conviction even though they won elections. This is perhaps the case because, as observed by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Politics is about the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary” (quoted Rocky Mountain News September 3, 1979). Most political leaders are therefore political illiterates. They were made through irregular accidental street apprenticeship which is bereft of standardized rules. Politics, therefore, which Plato correctly identified as the “Master Science” and which is perhaps the most critical existential human activity is reduced to an accidental street affair. This negates the Platonian prescription with an underlying ascriptive requirement topped up with a rigorous extensive prescriptive learning process. Even for Plato, the congenital possession of gold was not enough to make a philosopher king. In the circumstance, therefore, leadership without training is prone to trial and error where, more often than not, the end justifies the means.
The second characteristic of the Nigerian political leadership is the embedded impunity and entitlement mentality which derive from arrogance of power. This is why Nigerian political leaders neither own up to their lies nor apologize for them. Rather, they continue to plead their innocence against all available evidence. They, therefore, end up neither being accountable nor responsive. The defence of lies breeds more lawlessness and creates a morbid polity.
The third characteristic of the Nigerian political leadership is that, by default, they have sight without vision which is worse than physical blindness. This accounts for why they lack developmental ideas and squabble over such puerile matters as zoning, rotation, quota rather than cogent issues like merit, competence and progress. Of course their pedestrian preoccupation is the result of their consumption concern driven by what Abati calls ‘stomach democracy’. This is naturally prone to violence because it is driven by a survival mentality. In such circumstances people will always struggle for a slice of the ever-diminishing pittance and the smaller it is the fiercer the struggle. The rampant socio-political conflict in Nigeria is therefore partly a product of mendacity as tool of survival. It is mere masochistic politics in which politicians win elections only to overpower those who elected them. Contrary to Cicero, those who confer the trust are now subordinated to those who receive the trust.
The above pose a problem for the Nigerian Political Science community. Has the over seventy years of teaching Political Science in Nigeria been reflected in the practice of politics? Are the products of our Political Science Departments different from the other politicians? Let us start with the convenient alibi that our Political Science graduates are too few and far between on the Nigerian political scene. If artisans undergo mandatory training why not those who govern souls and nations? Let us also add that perhaps our curriculum is not specifically focused on political practice or political participation but on the development of the intellect. Are these alibi sustainable, reasonable or sufficient for our existential needs? This is a critical question. Before now, as Political Scientists, we operate only an ancillary mission. We are Political Scientists because we are, first and foremost, citizens. When we lose citizenship, we lose our raison d’etre. We therefore cannot afford to teach Political Science without paying attention to the needs of citizenship. We should not do less than training the drivers of positive change at this point in time. It is therefore incumbent on us to create a critical mass that is capable of initiating and implementing massive political socialization and reorientation. It can no more be business as usual. The laissez faire policy is no longer a viable option. It is a journey to nowhere. Our curriculum emphasis should change from Government to Governance and Leadership. We have to listen to the eternal counsel of Alexander Pope “For forms of government let fools contest; Whate’er is best administer’d is best”. The problem is not with Government but with Governance and Leadership. It is not with the principle but with the actors. Anybody can steer the ship when the sea is calm. Nigerian politics requires master political mariners. This is the most rational way for the contextualization and domestication of the discipline of Political Science. There is no way that un-equipped people can deliver people-centred, people-driven governance. Governance is too serious a business to be left to the guess work of political novitiates. The suggested change is in line with our disciplinary shift from the static institutional approach to the dynamic multi-disciplinary behavioural approach which emphasizes actors and not structures. It is necessary to inject into the curriculum an emphasis on governance and leadership with some real life hands-on politics. There must be a compulsory six month practical attachment to candidate constituency offices, state and national party secretariats, Non-Governmental Organizations, International Donor Agencies and Multilateral Political Organizations. This is to top up intra-mural theoretical learning with practical observation and political apprenticeship. The apprenticeship is to familiarize the students with the current negative creativity of the political class and devise solutions for changing it. The apprenticeship is not a trip in imitation but a deliberate debriefing educational exercise. It is necessary for the understanding of the logic, tactics and strategy of bad governance which requires urgent change in order to institute responsible and responsive governance. The quality of governance is measured and measurable by the welfare of the people rather than the opulence of the political class. It is only when we train those who govern that we can seriously hold them accountable. They are not philosopher kings but governance professionals.
There is also a role for the Nigerian Political Science Association, first as public educator and second as honorary political umpire. The NPSA must play a pro-active patriotic role in the politics of the country through regular engagement of the relevant political public. Its role as public educator is, among other things, to organize highly visible symposia, conferences, colloquia etc on matters of urgent national importance to enlighten the public and generate national debate. Nigeria is very much in need of vibrant political education at this point in time. The Nigerian Political Science Association must play its role as an interested stakeholder. We would be guilty of dereliction of duty if we fail to do this needful task. Let me quickly interject a disclaimer that this process does not negate the required objectivity and neutral competence of the Political Scientist. Value neutrality presupposes that values have values. We must remind ourselves that a football game that starts without the rules will end without the ball.
Additionally, serious issues are being vigorously canvassed from partisan perspectives at different times in print and on electronic media without professional input. It is desirable for the NPSA to get involved in such dialogue to prevent wrong input into the policy process. It will be a disaster to allow self-interested members of the public to dominate such discussions and pollute the political process. The citizens in the developed democracies can afford to be reticent because the political process is relatively fully formed to be put on a roller coaster. The citizens also benefit from the informal political education in the general environment as well as from the activities of the governmental institutions. Not so for developing countries. That is why the Nigerian political science community must be pro-actively involved. For the desired New Dawn we must provide the New Light.
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