GUEST COLUMNIST By Charles Onunaiju
As the general elections and especially the presidential poll in 2019 looms, there is a near popular consensus that issue-driven campaigns, clearly articulated policy platforms and even organized and well-focused debates by candidates, especially of those aspiring for high offices, would clear the political process of jaundiced prejudices, inoculate it against banalities of thuggery and other associated brinkmanship.
Issue-driven political campaign, strong policy platforms and even muscular political debates centered around issues and policies would be welcome, but to define a productive political process and its potential outcomes and outputs as constituting only in the now widely believed golden triangles of issues, policies and debates would be an over-simplification of the critical fundamentals that has perennially dogged the country’s political life and which have traditionally exacerbated the paradox of robust political campaigns and the outcome of poor leadership delivery, a trade-off, that speaks volume of our existential disconnect.
Sometimes, the banality of the political discourse that feeds into attempts by some people to drag ethnic and religious identities into the maelstrom of partisan politics, fuels a popular desire to transcend ethnicity and religion through what many called issue based politics.
However, while issue and policy debates would definitely enliven the political campaigns, and raise the quality of discourse, they would do nothing in itself to disentangle the gridlock that has traditionally ambushed governance and divert resources to maintaining lousy political elite, beholden to state-directed corrupt networks. The sheer political will and extant courage to deal a damaging blow to the network of elite corruption, administrated by a captured State, cannot be captured in any policy document or even glimpsed through any issue-based debate. The appeal of policy document or the allure of issue-based debates, though, may be fairly elucidating of the various platforms on offer for the choice needs of the electorates, the issue of political will and courage to deal with vested interests that have traditionallyusurped governance and divert it to feeding its insatiable appetite can at least, be glimpsed from candidates antecedents and record of public service, where such is available. It is far easier to keep faith with the parasitic elite and at the same time assuring them of restoration of business as usual, while offering Nigerians the best of policy platforms and issue-based debates that will feed into the public mood for intelligent open discourse, but however, do nothing to alter the course of governance output tailored to the greed of the noxious and State pampered elite.
Disrupting the network of entrenched elite-corruption, the bane of public service delivery and the clear direct nexus to fast declining quality of life is a core political imperative, requiring investigation of candidates beyond their declared policies and debate prowess to important questions of their character, antecedents and stable/forthright political orientation.
Policy platforms and programs are political promissory note and delivering on them, essentially boil down to the character and political will to deal a blow to the powerful vested interests that naturally do not care about policy formulation, but want with vehemence to derail and consign it to the dustbin of history.
Debates, no matter how issues-based or well marshaled out, will not expose the underhand current that makes best policy outlines look just hollow when it comes to practically engaging issues of governance, where trade-offs between the good of the powerless masses and the over bearing influences of the powerful few is the real stuff. Policy outlines can give a certain clarity to the inner mind and thinking of a candidate for a public office, but that will not prepare him sufficiently for the test of character and political will that actual governance will subject him or her.
For a political process like ours, with weak institutions and structural fragility, the vehemence of political merchants to foist their nuances and formalized it to the extant and existing weak institutions cannot be ignored. For example, while existing security institutions are known for inadequate funding, the so-called National Peace Corps, a personal notion, was hurriedly rammed through the two chamber of the national legislature and it took the courage of the Presidency to deal a fatal blow to such misguided attempt to birth another state institution issuing from the hollow prerogative of few persons.
The implications of another dysfunctional institution in addition to the over bearing burden of the existing one, would not have been lost. Several commissions, boards and agencies would have been birthed by politicians, whose main idea of service is to create endless outposts of patronage, no minding implications for overlaps, inefficiency and even cost. The political courage and will to deal with the daily spiraling nuances of the political elite cannot be contained in policy outlines or issue-based debates, but rather is implicit in the character of leaders to stare down on the excesses of the political elite and rein-in their reckless proclivity to multiply costly state institutions for the mere purpose of huge financial returns.
Just recently, the veteran leftist Mexican leader, President Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly nicknamed AMLO was sworn in and he announced that “the government will no longer be committee at the service of a rapacious minority . And President Obrador who has been serially cheated out of the Presidency on two previous occasions, he has ran is not known to Mexicans for alluring policy platforms and debating prowess but the political will of steel to disrupt the elite network of corruption and brigandage that has made many Mexicans look across their border to the United States of America for better life. And when he promised Mexicans, an iron crush on the rotten big toes of the over pampered traditional political elites, no one think he is grandstanding.
While a new political season and atmosphere of grand policy platforms, issue-based campaigns and vigorous debates are welcome, it is even more pertinent to take a deep reflection on the respective gladiators, examine their strength of character and more compellingly, their will to take on vested powerful and influential special interests, who make every government look exactly like “committee at the service of a rapacious minority.” The sound bites of alluring policy platforms, issue-driven campaigns and debates would amount to nothing, except there is evident political will and courage to overwhelm and overcome the political ambush of political syndicates of all sorts, crafted and wedded to the hemorrhage of our national patrimony through their insidious network of corruption.
Onunaiju is head of research at the Centre for China Studies, Utako Abuja.