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Opinion | Oct 23, 2018

It Pays To Be Diplomatic

It Pays To Be Diplomatic

In recent months leading up to the proposed Presidential election in February 2019, I have continued to express great concern about the need to get Nigeria on the right footing towards its attainment of true democracy and great nationhood.

I highlighted from my experiences some of the serious challenges that would confront, particularly, the young adult aspirants to the exalted post of President and Commander–in–Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. I was most concerned about how these political grey horns in the vast and slippery arena of Nigerian politics were planning to contain the challenges.

In one of my writings, I commented on the dilemma of being a true Nigerian. I told the story I was told of an accountant who allegedly turned down an offer of $US2 million and was assassinated for that reason because it was feared he might expose corrupt top officials. I expressed my sadness about the seemingly insatiable greediness of the political class which has routinely made Nigerian legislators unable to see anything wrong with them being touted as the highest paid legislators in the world. What are they doing for Nigerians at the end of the day?

I talked about the several agitations across the country, the inability of the Jonathan administration to cope with the challenges and now the near-total cluelessness of the Buhari administration in dealing with the menace of Boko Haram and other insurgencies.

I commented on the importance of securing 24/7 electricity and water supply to all nooks and crannies of the country. I fingered the civil service as a major contributing institution in the corruption of an otherwise decent political class. I spoke about granting full autonomy to the six zones in the country to utilise their resources and develop their states at their own pace.

In another article, I talked about the vicious, dangerous military clique that was behind the country’s unitary system of government, masked as democracy and the need to abrogate the 1999 military constitution and have a civilian constitution drafted by the elected representatives of the people for their constituents.

I advised that the government reviews its skewed monetary policy where dispensation of available funds starts from the Presidency and trickles down the line, as in a one party system of government. I suggested that it was necessary to now get a clean record of Nigerian census figures – before our people become vaccinated to death on the pretext that Africa’s growing numbers is a threat to Europe and America.

I also suggested resuscitating the middle class, in order to bridge the yawning gap between the very rich families and the very poor ones. I advocated for Nigerian politics to be family-friendly.

Perhaps, I should have given my observations closure at this point but when I recently watched a video clip in which two of our young adult presidential aspirants were having a debate on what each had to offer Nigeria should one of them be elected into the high post of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, I felt I should say something about that clip.

Nigerian political terrain needs a lot of diplomacy for any politician to survive the stress. I observed in the clip, for instance, that the aspirants spent much time and energy trying to impress their audience with their high profile academic attainments and job experiences. But the fact remains that one’s education and exposure which the whole world already knows about does not need to be emphasised every time one has a conversation or a debate about one’s political ambition. True education humbles.

The in-depth impression of this bluff is that of a man who is gradually losing self esteem without feeling it and without knowing about it. I suffered that psychological trauma myself and that is how I came to know. Each time I wrote, in those days, I found great joy adding at the end of my story: “Mr Asinugo is a London-based journalist and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine.” At some point, it occurred to me that I was over-flogging this issue and that my readers could see me as a weak writer, given the continuous ego massaging that was becoming a part of my identity. And once I realised it, I stopped it. I am even more confident now that people still know me for who I am without me ego-massaging.

In the same vein, defining the older politicians who have been in the political lecture room for so long without achieving much as a “spent” or a “recycled” political class will not help matters. It will not single out any of the new breed politicians whose hands are yet to be tried on the mastery of the political ropes as the Messiah of the country, the one everybody has been waiting for to arrive. Rather, it has a capacity to antagonise the ‘new comers’ with the very people they cannot help working with in the future because right now, Nigeria’s political future is taking proper shape.

I mentioned this in some of my recent writings. Britain and America are two countries that mostly influence Nigerian policy makers. Britain has two dominant political parties – the Conservative Party and the Labour party – which have been alternating in producing the Prime Minister since 1920. America also has two dominant parties – the Republican Party and the Democratic Party – which have continued since 1886 to alternate in producing the President. In line with these countries today, the APC and the PDP have overwhelmingly emerged as the two dominant parties that will alternate in producing Nigeria’s President in accordance with how Nigerians appreciate their levels of service and commitment to nation building.

To think otherwise is self delusion and that is not what I wish for any of the young aspirants. So, there is a need to be more diplomatic in dealing with these older people so that when the time comes, the younger aspirants would still be in their good books and they will eventually be given an opportunity to fulfil their dreams. It is never late because they are still young men and women, ready to learn the ropes of Nigeria’s brand of politics. And of course, it is only after then that they can begin to introduce any innovations that would better the lifestyle of the average Nigerian.

Perhaps, taking a cursory look at the experiences of Arab countries which participated in the uprisings which became known as the Arab Spring and which rocked the world in 2010 for almost two years, we might be able to understand why diplomacy is very vital in the ways these young aspirants tabulate and articulate, especially, national issues that, to them, seem so easy to deal with.

Many among us are indeed not in a hurry to forget Saturday 18 December 2010, the day all the trouble started and everyone hoped that the political history of the Arab World was about to be rewritten in gold. The day before that day, on 17 December, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, had protested against his humiliation and the confiscation of his cart and the goods he was selling by a municipal council official and her aides. The government officials accused the young man of operating without due licence. He pleaded with the governor to intervene and return his cart and wares, but the governor took sides with the government officials.

The young man sat down in front of the State Office, poured petrol over his head and set himself ablaze. He died 18 days later on 5 January 2011. Spontaneously, Bouazizi’s self-immolation ignited public anger and violence in Tunisia and subsequently became the wake-up call, not only for the Tunisian population but also for the wider Nation of Islam.

From then on, the stage was set. From North Africa to the Middle East and beyond, protest after protest followed in quick succession across the entire Arab World. The success of the Tunisian protest stoked the fire of rebellion among discontented citizens of several Arab countries. The wave of unrest sparked by the Tunisian street vendor hit Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen, and quickly spread to other countries, including non-Arab nations. Not only had Bouazizi awakened the deep-rooted anger of Tunisian society and the reality of the repressive attitude generally exhibited by state agencies in Arab countries, he had also hit at the severe economic inequality, chronically underlining relationships between Arab citizens and their government officials.

It was widely believed that these protests and sometimes violent demonstrations happened as a result of popular resentment against the autocratic governments of these countries which the masses of their people had had to endure for a long while. It was also widely believed that if the protests succeeded, they would possibly herald a Western-style democratisation of the Arab World. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was ousted. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was ganged. In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was killed. In Tunisia, Ben Ali was chased away to Dubai where he lived in exile. Young men and women took over the rulership of these countries.

Nearly 10 years have gone by, and observers are asking questions. To what extent has the toppling of all those dictators transformed the Arab World into representative democracies whose citizens have begun to enjoy the dividends of long overdue social and economic reforms? Since Ben Ali was hounded out of Tunisia, what have been the achievements of those who were anxiously agitating against his autocratic government and had finally driven him out of Tunisia? In comparison with Ben Ali’s government, what have they achieved for Tunisians since the exit of the dictator?

From the look of things, there did not seem to be much hope that those who took over the mantle of leadership from the ousted governments were likely to do much better than the autocrats they removed from office. Despite its global appeal, every indication seemed to point to the fact that those who most resolutely ousted the so-called corrupt governments of the ruling families were in no position to do better than those they ousted.

The taste of power is not usually relinquished without a struggle. It is a fact of life, a fact of our human struggles. It is a fact that prevails in both the developing and the developed nations of the world. “New blood” took over power. But what did they achieve in comparison? With continued internal conflicts raging interminably since the time of the regime changes and with practically no visible improvements in the democratisation process of these Arab countries yet, was it a question of who gets what in the scheme of things after all? While I wish our young adult presidential aspirants well, it is also necessary to remind them that it pays to be diplomatic.

Emeka Asinugo
Emeka Asinugo, © 2018

This author has authored 160 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: EmekaAsinugo

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