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15.12.2019 Feature Article

African politicians have questions to answer

UN Special Envoy on Crises Management, Dr. Jonathan  and Ghana's President Dr. Nana Akufo-Addo
LISTEN DEC 15, 2019
UN Special Envoy on Crises Management, Dr. Jonathan and Ghana's President Dr. Nana Akufo-Addo

It was Lionel Ritchie who sang that 1984 still fresh and melodious hit, ‘Stuck on You’ in which he says “I’ve got this feeling down deep in my soul that I just can’t lose. I needed a friend and the way I feel now, I guess I’ll be with you till the end.” It would have mattered. It would have been a worthy idea, somehow, to stay on till the end. That is, stay alive. But that is usually not the case in Africa’s political arena or with its political leaders and their fanatical followers. On the contrary, it is always a sad reflection that many young adult citizens of the developing countries of Africa have got so stuck, not in love with their country but perhaps with the money they would gladly die for, in the name of the political party they support or even the leaders of such political organizations.

Many reasons have been adduced for this very obnoxious development. Some people think that it has to do with the level of poverty that has eaten so deeply into the fabric of African societies. The army of unemployed youths in some of these African countries becomes a willing tool to be used by politicians to scare or deal ruthlessly with their opponents and in the process, these young people become vulnerable, exposed to many dangers and risks.

The culture of impunity which is ushered into the political system by the recruitment of these young adult thugs is also blamed for the development. But the most painful fact about the development is that no form of compensation is usually offered the families of those who lost their lives in the defence of their political parties or leaders. Neither the parties nor the leaders are known to make any budgets for incidents like the death of these youths they employ as thugs during political outings. There is no known form of consolation coming from those in whose defence these youths laid down their lives. So, eventually they die in vain.

All these happen because the system in Africa turned public offices into gold mines for those who dare to do or die. Ill-informed young adults become indoctrinated into the belief that one who dies in the pursuit of money to better one’s life did not die in vain. So, they throw in their towels ready if the worst comes to become. And it is worrying. The near non-chalant attitude of both the political and religious leaders of African countries towards such developments is very disturbing.

Advertisements have gone up in several media and platforms urging young adult citizens to refrain from electoral violence. Even actors have displayed banners and acted films depicting the evils of violence before, during and after elections. Many churches and mosques preach daily against electoral violence. But how far have they succeeded in controlling the tendency to physically fight for the party or leader who young adult citizens usually follow, and are stuck on?

When I wrote ‘Leah Sharibu: some of the facts that will count’ a few weeks ago, I did raise some very salient points about that sad development. Is it right for Leah to die for her faith? In the same vein we might be asking: is it right for African young adults to die for the political parties they support or for the leaders of such parties? Is it right for parents to indoctrinate their children with religious dogma? In the same light: is it right for African politicians to allow these youthful adults who might have been their own children to die in the defence of their political ambitions? Is their political or religious indoctrination likely to make or mar the future of these young people at the end of the day?

I have become sadly thoughtful of these issues in recent times. Yes, religion and politics are the opium of the world. Yes, in life there are religious and political leaders who command cult-like followership. Yes, their followers are always ready to die for them or for what they believe in. But is it right for their leaders to do nothing but allow them to die for what they believe in, just because they believe in that thing or that person? Is it right to die because, as a young adult in need of money, you consider that your organization or the leader of your organization deserves to be the one on top?

It reminds me of the religious disaster that rocked the world with the mass murder of hundreds of Christians which happened in Guyana in the 1970s. Many of the older ones might still remember it. They might still remember when Jim Jones opened his first church in the mid-1950s in Indianapolis in the United States. His church was not affiliated to any known denomination at the time. Jones had no theological training either.

He was a white man. Yet, his congregation reflected a mixture of races. The seamless racial integration in his Church was simply phenomenal. And so, in 1960, his congregation became affiliated to the Disciples of Christ ministry. Four years later, Jones was ordained in that Church. His branch of the Church opted to be called the Peoples Temple.

By the mid-1960s Jones and his wife incorporated the Peoples Temple in California and settled outside the serene American town of Ukiah with about 100 followers. By 1970, they were conducting services in San Francisco. By 1972 they opened another branch of the Peoples Temple in Los Angeles. He made friends among politicians and journalists in California and soon became a respected man of God.

As Jones’ charisma centred on his art of mind reading and faith healing, thousands of his followers, mostly Afro-Americans, always thronged around him. But while the Peoples Temple was actively engaged in charity work within its communities, Jones was said to be actually treating his followers arbitrarily. Temple members were regularly humiliated. They were frequently beaten and blackmailed. Many were coerced or brainwashed to sign over their properties which included their homes to the church. Black members and members of other minority groups were cajoled to believe that if they left the Peoples Temple they would be arrested and put into concentration camps managed by government. Family members were accommodated in different locations and made to spy on each other.

By 1977, journalists began to ask questions about Jones and how he ran his Church. Sensing danger, he quickly relocated with hundreds of his followers to Jonestown, a large compound with many houses that he built in South America’s Guyana some years earlier. Subsequent attempts by the American government to dig deeper and understand how Jones operated his ‘town’, independent of both the American and the Guyanese governments and agencies, culminated in either the suicide or murder of more than 900 people mostly members of the Peoples Temple.

But such deaths also happened in some parts of the African continent and they underpin the level of mental development that prevailed among the people of those countries.

In Nigeria alone, it was estimated that more than 15,700 people had been killed mostly in political but also in inter-communal and sectarian violence since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999. In 2000, in Kaduna State, at least 2,000 people were killed in sectarian clashes ignited by Christians who protested against the introduction of Sharia law in the state. Two years later, sectarian violence that emanated from Muslim protests connected with the Miss World beauty pageant left about 250 Nigerians dead. And in the neighboring Plateau State, Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 3,800 people had been killed in inter-communal and sectarian clashes since 2001. Not less that 1,000 of them were in 2010 alone. These were people ready to die for their political or religious leaders or belief.

During political primaries and campaigns was another time to expect electoral violence by those who are convinced it was mandatory to die for what they believed in. Since November 2010, it is conservatively estimated that at least 165 people have been involved in killings associated with party primaries and campaigns. One leading gubernatorial candidate in Borno State was assassinated in January 2011. Bombings in four states - Bayelsa, Borno, Kaduna, and Niger - left dozens dead. Clashes between opposing party supporters or attacks by party thugs during campaigns killed dozens of others. Elections were also marred by allegations of vote buying, ballot-box stuffing and inflation of results. Deadly election-related and communal violence in northern Nigeria following the April 2011 presidential voting left more than 800 people dead, Human Rights Watch also said. The victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 northern states.

The violence began with widespread protests by supporters of the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, fielded by the Congress for Progressive Change, following the election of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta of the Deep South, candidate for the ruling People's Democratic Party. The protests degenerated into violent riots and sectarian killings in the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara. Relief officials estimate that more than 65,000 people were displaced from their ancestral homes.

But all those unnecessary killings were forestalled after Dr. Jonathan’s one term tenure. Even before the result of the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria was officially announced by the National Electoral Commission, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces phoned up to congratulate the opposition leader who contested against him. Jonathan later explained that he did not want the further spilling of the blood of even one Nigerian because of his desire or ambition to remain in office for one more term. In such a way, Jonathan laid the foundation of one aspect of true democracy by awakening the people of Nigeria to the fact that the days of politics of do-or-die were over. Politics in Nigeria should no longer be a matter of do-or-die.

And I have been wondering. Are the numerous instances of violence before, during and after elections in African countries like Nigeria not an index of the mental and psychological underdevelopment in these countries? Take a country like Britain for example. The country has just concluded an election. It was a very important election. But as soon as the results were announced, everyone shielded his sword. What kind of British voter would want to fight and die for Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn or any other politician or party because of an election in the UK? No one has gone to a tribunal to complain about the results of the election. Everyone simply accepted the results as they were announced by the Returning Officers and everyone was expected to work with those results. That is as it should be. That is true democracy in practice. Even President Buhari was impressed, and he sent a congratulatory message to Boris Johnson.

What is mostly worrying is why African politicians have bluntly refused to learn about the factors that make democracy work for the common good. Why can’t Africa’s political leaders stop their followers from killing themselves in the defence of what they believe in because of their level of poverty and psychological maladjustment? Why can’t African politicians accept the results the Returning Officers announce as authentic and final? Why can’t they stop election rigging which produces the wrong leaders and undermines the wish of the people? I think African politicians have questions to answer.

Mr. Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: )