5th September, 2012
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
The debate on professionals in politics and professional politicians has been on for sometime in the country. Professionals in politics are those who have distinguished themselves in other fields before venturing into politics. On the other hand, professional politicians are those whose source of livelihood begin and end with politics.
While receiving a delegation of the federal government that came to commiserate with him on the death of his mother, in his office recently, the governor of Oyo State, Chief Abiola Ajimobi, brought up the issue of these two classes of politicians once again. According to the governor, it is only those that take up politics as a full time profession that get involved in ‘do or die politics’. He specifically mentioned himself, Ms. Jumoke Akinjide, the minister of state for Abuja; among others as examples of refined politicians because they are professionals in other fields.
Simply put, there seems to be a consensus across the land that professionals in politics make better politicians. However, one is of the opinion that it is too simplistic to narrow the issue of rot in the polity to the issue of professionals in politics and professional politicians. Indeed, it is a bit difficult to establish a clear cut line of demarcation between the two classes of politicians.
As a matter of fact, it will not be unusual to find professionals in politics among the so-called professional politicians and vice versa. A look at the membership of the National Assembly since 1999, for instance, clearly reveals that most of the members are professionals in politics. Same goes for governors, ministers, commissioners as well as other political appointees across the country. Even at the local government councils, one is beginning to see the emergence of new crop of young professionals at the helm of affairs.
Undoubtedly, the challenges confronting politics in the country is not in any way different from those facing other sectors. Today, sycophancy, hypocrisy and deception have become instruments of governance and social interaction in the country. Most often we lay the blames of the nation’s woes at the doorsteps of leaders but the truth is that the people themselves are more reckless than the leadership.
In as much as it is undeniable that we have a leadership problem in the country, it is equally a fact that the followers are a major concern. When we talk of corruption, for instance, the general tendency is to point fingers to those in government. But the reality is that hardly is there a sector in the country where corruption doesn’t thrive. Take, for instance, the banking sector. Who were the people responsible for the collapse of once viable banks in the land? Who were those that pounced on shareholders’ funds to satisfy their incurable thirst for material acquisition?
We crucify policemen on a daily basis because they have the misfortune of putting on uniforms that easily mark them out when they embrace anti-social behaviour. But, there are institutions, in this country, that have simply integrated corruption as best practice. Except we are deceiving ourselves, everywhere is rotten in the country. Even in religious places, where one expects a reasonable degree of uprightness, the story is not different.
On our roads the situation is not different. Everybody drives as if there are no rules governing traffic. Operators of the informal sector are not exempted from this culture of madness! If you have ever given your car to a mechanic to fix or you have had cause to deal with plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. you will understand the resourcefulness of the average Nigerian in cutting corners!
What we need to transform the country is neither professional politicians nor professionals in politics. Rather, we need a complete re-orientation that cuts across all spectrums of the society. A process that is all encompassing in the sense of a fusion between the physical and the spiritual. Something that affects the mind, the soul and the spirit positively.
As a prelude to setting this process on course, we need to change our value system as a people. We need to re-appraise our undue obsession with materialism and wealth accumulation. It is such mania that is partly responsible for the rot in our socio-political system. How come men of questionable character and unproven integrity are calling the shots in nearly every sector? The answer is simple. Money has become our god. Sadly, religious centres are not excluded from this craze! Neither are traditional institutions. Today, respected monarchs, who occupy sacred ancestral thrones, dole out chieftaincy titles to the highest bidders, even if they are criminals or ex-convicts. These days, we have chiefs, who are actually thieves, dining and wining with kings.
In the days of our founding fathers, men of ideas and principles were widely respected and honoured. Our national heroes such as Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, and Aminu Kano among others did not rise to national prominence as a result of the fatness of their bank accounts. Rather, they won the hearts of men of their generation because of the strength and depth of their ideas and principles as well as their total commitment to those ideals which they hold in high esteem.
Sadly, discipline, integrity, hardwork, honesty, selflessness among other hitherto revered virtues in our society, have taken the back seat. Gone are the days when unionism activities on our campuses were based purely on principles and ideological leanings. Today, student union leaders hobnob with the very oppressors that they are supposed to tackle, in as much as the pay is good.
Governments across the land have a vital role to play in this re-orientation process. There is a need to put in place a culture that rewards honesty, integrity and discipline. Take, for instance, the issue of National honours. A look at those that had been honoured in the past smells money and power. One wonders why, for instance, a diligent a traffic warden cannot be decorated with a national honour to encourage dignity of labour?
One other vital key to changing our value system is good governance. Governance is about service. It is about selflessness. It is amusing that people kill, maim, rig as well resort to other forms of manipulations to acquire power. Leaders that understand and appreciate the whole essence of governance are very few in the country. Unalloyed commitment to good governance remains a crucial path to transformation. Nigerians are partly crazy about wealth acquisition because of the failure of successive governments to sincerely tackle their social-economic needs. Imagine a Nigeria where public infrastructure works!
It is the inability of governments, over time, to meet these basic needs that is responsible for most of the crisis in the polity. Everyone wants to provide for himself and his family the basic needs of life which government couldn’t provide. This is the reason why the nation has become a jungle where everyone devises all sorts of survival strategies. After all, the end, as they say, justifies the means.
The way forward, is for everyone to have a strong resolve to always do the right thing.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja