Nigeria's Politics Is Broken, Buhari's Third Term Speculation Betrays It

12 December 2019
opinion

Today, as you read this, voters in the United Kingdom are going to the polls to elect a new government.

Although the opinion polls predict a majority win for the ruling Conservative Party, the outcome is not a given. In a country where only 16 per cent of the population identifies strongly with one political party or another, where 40 per cent of the electorate are swing voters and where volatility at the polling booth is rife, with voters increasingly likely to vote for different parties at different elections, the British politics is genuinely competitive and contestable. This is not only in terms of the absence of entry barriers in the political market but also in the sense that voters cannot be taken for granted or treated as dim, gullible and easily biddable.

Truth is, when you have a competitive politics, with a very enlightened and intelligent electorate, the politicians know who the real boss is: the people. As such, they know they can't show disdain for the voters; they can't be scornful or complacent; and, as one British writer put it, they can't treat voters as "polling booth fodder", only useful for electoral purposes. Surely, when a politician gets to power not through a godfather or vote-buying but entirely at the behest of the electorate, he will show respect, not disdain, for them; he will know that he is their servant, not their master!

But, in Nigeria, the politicians are the master; the people, the servant! Nigerian politicians are hubristic, self-interested, ferociously self-entitled and unbelievably arrogant. Politics is a demand and response process, where politicians identify and respond to the needs and aspirations of the people. But Nigerians politicians, most of them at least, are only in it for themselves; they are selfish careerists, who put their private interests above the interests of the people. Sadly, because Nigerian politics is not genuinely competitive, and, thus, not responsive and accountable, it lacks the moral or ethical force to safeguard, as every democratic institution should do, a common purpose, that is, the general wellbeing of the people.

As Aristotle said, politics is primarily concerned with the "actualisation of human flourishing". But politics is utterly broken in Nigeria, steeped in a deep crisis of legitimacy. Think of it. Nigeria is the sixth most miserable country in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the "poverty capital of the world", according to the Brookings Institution, and, as the World Bank said last week, it could account for 25 per cent of the world's total extreme poor population by 2030.

Yet, what Nigerian politicians care about is not the wellbeing of the people, but their own selfish interests. Is there any wonder that Nigerian politicians are among the least trusted in the world? According to the World Economic Forum's 2018 Index on "Trust in Politicians", Nigeria ranked 130th out of 137. In other words, trust in Nigerian politicians is among the lowest worldwide! Of course, with their appalling behaviours, they would face public opprobrium in civilised climes.

Take the shenanigans of some self-serving politicians, who are manoeuvring for a third term for President Muhammadu Buhari. The mere talk, even in jest, of a third term for President Buhari debases the people of this country. And if it's a serious proposition, then it must count as a heinous crime against the Nigerian state, worse than Omoyele Sowore's innocuous rabble-rousing! Any politician who advocates a third presidential term is full of contempt for Nigerians and this country.

Yet, that's exactly what some members of President Buhari's party in the National Assembly are doing, attempting to amend the Constitution to allow him run for a third term. Indeed, one of them, Charles Enya, notoriously, if also ludicrously, asked a Federal Hgh Court to annul sections 137(1)(b) and 182(1)(b) of the Constitution, which stipulate a maximum of two-term tenure, so as to allow for tenure elongation, arguing that the Constitutional provisions "infringe on the fundamental human rights of the president and the governors who might wish to seek a third term in office". How preposterous!

Of course, from the days of the military dictator General Sani Abacha, when politicians "begged" him to run for president in the mid-1990s, Nigerian politicians have advocated tenure extension for presidents on grounds of indispensability. In their book Too good to die: Third Term and the myth of the indispensable man in Africa, Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori insightfully narrate how selfish politicians attempted to amend the Constitution to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a third term in order to "continue the good work". For several months, until the Senate threw out the Third Term Bill in May 2006, the country was on tenterhooks, while Obasanjo did nothing to stop the Shenanigan. The third term manoeuvrings reportedly cost "in excess of $500m".

Fortunately, President Buhari has denied having a third term plan, saying: "I am not going to make the mistake of attempting a third term". However, the question is not whether he wants to "make the mistake", but whether he allows, even tacitly, others to make it for him. Truth is, his government has become very authoritarian, creating a climate of fear, with arbitrary arrests and detentions of citizens, erosion of free speech and blatant violation of the rule of law that few would vouch that he would not cross any line to retain power in 2023. Something seems to loom large in the horizon!

Yet, the third term speculation and even the premature jockeying for 2023 barely six months after this year's election are symptomatic of an utterly broken political system that's not fit for purpose. Nigeria is long due for root-and-branch political and constitutional reforms, call it restructuring. Sadly, that's not on President Buhari's radar. But for the progress of this country, it should be!

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