Politicians and the theatrics of 2019 elections, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Daily Nigerian
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

Once upon a time, in the period in which the first generation of Nigerian politicians reigned, politics was not only about the serious business of vying for a political office, it was something much more. Politics was also seen as an art. As art, its performativity was very theatrical, entertaining and lively.

So many spectacular performances by those men of timber and caliber christened by K.O. Mbadiwe of blessed memory could be recollected here. Those are the bygone days in which politics was performed with all the drama, comedy, humor, fanfare, merriment, gaiety and high degree of glamour.

However, all that has given way to a new form of uninspiring colorlessness, dull and humorless routine that our politics has turned out to be today. Call it a theatre of the absurd in which the cast is anything but lively at campaign rallies. Again, in those days the politicians were directly the dramatis persona in the campaign arena.

As elsewhere, drama is a central component of politics. It is a sort of universal given that any aspiring politician cannot do without. You would therefore find doses of drama in the campaign trails of politicians that knew its value. To say the least, drama is as an effective means of communication and mass mobilization.

These days however, politicians rely more on external sources for the glitz side of their campaigns. The veritable icing on the cake of our political drama is, like everything else, now lazily outsourced to popular entertainers, especially those extracted from Nigeria’s booming pop culture industry.

Like a determined commodity merchant of the weekly market in rural Nigeria, all you need to do, as a politician worth his mettle, is to know the asking price of the entertainers such as Pantimoti or Rarara. Many stories are spun on each one of our special popular entertainers, of how the politicians are settling their asking price and more.

As soon as the price negotiation is sealed, you would have your entertainer vicariously running from pillar to post on the stage singing your praises to high heavens, magnifying your prowess and how you defy your political opponents and their machinations against you. Of course, this is not something invented out of the creative imagination (or the ingenuity) of our modern-day politicians. It has been there all alone.

It was something borrowed from the residual culture of our deeply entrenched feudal order that the new rulers are turning into a punching bag. Ask Emir Muhammadu Sanusi of Kano if I’m lying.

Anyway, in the same manner in which our royal fathers and other members of the ruling aristocracy were eulogized in those days by tied or freelance praise-singers of old, our new powerbrokers are treated exactly in the same manner.

Sometimes our political paymasters are treated with all that client-patron concordance characterizing the ethics of such relationships between the feudal lord and his professional praise-singers. If you know anything about that residual culture and its drama and fanfare and absurdity, you are exactly seeing its replica, its reenactment with a different set of paymasters. Only that this time around it is the political office holders rather than royal fathers that are in power or calling the shots.

Not that in the past there were no performing artists accompanying members of a certain political party in the campaign trail, there was a whole battalion of them and more. The only difference is that those earlier politicians used to outperform the professional artists in staging campaign drama.

On a more serious note, politics is no longer entertaining in theory and practice. Instead politics has become a do or die affair. While in the past most the politicians were in it largely out of a genuine desire to serve the people, nowadays that is no longer the case.

It can be observed, and rightly so, that those who trooped into politics are in it for the material benefits that would accrue to them. That is to say, they are there to reap personal benefits from the political process in which they get involved. No more, no less, as the saying goes.

Like bozos, our politicians are turning into predators who are in politics for no good reason other than to scavenge on public resources. The inevitable foregrounding of the ugly side of the very act of our negative politicking has everything to do with what politics is all about in Nigeria most especially.

Look at any politician these days, and all you see is a desperate person who can do anything untoward, who can go to any length, who can also take any despicable measure to secure a political office. The abiding consideration is unbridled selfishness.

And outside the narrow circle of their nuclear family or a coterie of associates and cronies of our politicians, no other entity benefits from their style of governance.

Certainly, public interest is the least in the list of priorities of our latter-day politicians. Most of our politicians are without character or principles. They can instantly cobbled political parties without sense of pragmatism, ideology or manifesto to guide their own operations.

Even where they have a manifesto it is only used for campaigns or to attract votes. Beyond that the manifesto is abandoned for the pursuit of personal agenda. All that you see in the parties are cliques of associates, friends or some strange bedfellows that have come together from different parts of Nigeria for the purpose of wrestling power from their opponents by all means.

Power is merely sought for self-aggrandizement and the perpetuation of self-interest in the name of democracy. This also explains why these apolitical novices blindly plunged into the political arena unprepared for the enormous responsibilities that go with the political office they fought tooth and nail to occupy.

Again, the same old and new faces have been recycling themselves from 1999 to date with no noticeable improvement in the quality of life of the generality of Nigerians. They are of the habit of shamelessly hopping from one ruling party to another without minding the consequences of their action to their personal integrity or standing in the society.

In Nigeria, politicians are very mobile and fluid like birds that fly in the air. The parties they float are not even less so. Is it the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Action Peoples Congress (APC) with their crude symbols of umbrella and broom? What is the difference?

Is there any difference between the two dominant political formations in the country more so in a context in which individual politicians are carpet-crossing from one political platform to the other with a lot of ease? From my observation of our political behavior, parties are merely plotted to win elections. After winning elections, politicians then abandon their parties.

They usually leave the parties to their own devices. They resurrect them only when the need arises, especially when they need them for another round of elections. Although when one compares our two dominant political parties, one can safely conclude that PDP is more of a political party than APC, even though out of power it is losing its steam as the cohesive political entity it appeared to be during its sixteen years of rule.

The greatest undoing of the PDP is however arrogance and impunity. Apparently, this is the albatross that is hampering its resuscitation as a formidable opposition party or gingers it to wrest power from the APC.

Now that Atiku Abubakar, a very coy politician as well as the veteran of Nigerian politics, a person that is well schooled in political intrigues, has ended his romance with APC by conveniently shipping himself back to his traditional political homestead of the PDP, it would be interesting to see how he is going to impact the fortune of the party between now and the 2019 elections.

As for the APC, its leader President Muhammadu Buhari has, for most part of the past two years as its flag-bearer, appeared to be clueless as to what needed to be done with the party.

He obviously abandoned the party in favor of his apolitical associates who did everything possible to weaken it as the ruling party by completely ignoring its contribution or even silencing its voice in matters concerning how the country is governed.

The danger that President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet exposes him to is very grim, particularly now that he has indicated his desire to contest 2019 elections. President Buhari would now be forced to pay a heavy price in order to make amends or to have an easy ride to clinch the APC ticket one more time.

Weather President Buhari likes it or not, he must learn the art of political horse-trading. He must necessarily give lots of concession to the different power blocs that would hopefully remain in the APC.

I am here referring to those restive elements that are indirectly voicing their dissatisfaction with the direction things are assuming in the APC government. They may or may not adopt Atiku’s drastic measure of abandoning the party.

But only time will tell. The next couple of months are going to witness more fascinating surprises in the run up to 2019 elections.