Nigeria’s Big Men Politics

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Since the advent of independence in the continent in the late 1950s, Africa has seen its fair share of “Big Man Politics” – where power is concentrated in the hands of the leader (sometimes called the father of the nation) with benefits flowing down from him. The leaders in this group include the likes of Kenyatta, Houphouet-Boigny, Mobutu, Museveni, Campore, Moi and Kaunda.

Nigeria has been fortunate not to have gone through a period of such “big men”; however, the Gen. Abacha era witnessed a great concentration of power in the Head of Government. Even though he operated under a democratic dispensation, Gen. Obasanjo continued this trend; he ensured that everyone knew that power was vested in him and he could empower or disenfranchise whoever he chose (remember Bode George, Sunday Afolabi, Chuba Okadigbo, Wabara, Dangote, Andy Uba etc).

Rather than move along with the rest of the world, Africa seems to be reverting to the politics of old, guised under the cloak of democracy. In Nigeria, what has evolved is a system that recognises one big man and 36 smaller big men. The President and the 36 Governors have empowered and entrenched themselves so much that at present, the 37 of them determine the fate of everybody in the country.

They rig elections, determine those that are to be Ministers, Ambassadors, Board Members, National and State Assembly Members. They empower their cronies, but disenfranchise, threaten, arrest and assassinate those that oppose them. They drive around in long motorcades with overzealous, stern-looking, armed security details that harass anyone that mistakenly gets in the path of their convoy.

They have round-the-clock security guards in their homes, while the rest of the citizens are left on their own to provide security for themselves or live with the consequences of failing to do so. They support those that are from their ethnic or religious groups no matter the evidence of wrongdoing against them; keeping aflame the partitions of ethnicity and religion that further divide the country.

Even with all of these, what do the citizens do? They come out and welcome them whenever they deem fit to come to their villages to commission a borehole or new transformer – the cost of which is always over bloated. At such occasions, the amount spent on the reception for the “August Visitor” could sink many more boreholes or install many more transformers. The people are made to feel that these few instances when they are ‘chosen’ to be in the venue as these big men is a favour.

This big man (or big men) syndrome seems to have come to stay in the Nigerian political system. What we see happening now is that the State Governors, after honing their skills in the various Government Houses, move into the Senate or contest for the position of President to continue their reign of terror on the Nigerian people. The former Governors of Kaduna, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, Anambra, Kwara, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Lagos and Niger States (by proxy through their wives) are at present either serving Senators or served as Senators.

The former Governors of Bauchi and Borno States contested for the Senate (2007 and 2011 respectively) and those of Kano and Rivers States (Shekarau in 2011 and Odili in 2007) aspired to the office of President. The current President and his Vice were former Governors and the feelers are that the current Governors whose terms end in 2015 are already gearing up to continue in one political office or the other – notably Babangida Aliyu of Niger who wants to be President; having previously sought to be nominated as Vice President after the death of President Yar’dua in 2010). Their stock-in-trade is the all-boring lie that they have the needed experience to rule, that they are best placed to aspire to the highest office in the land.

I wonder if Nigerians do not see that we are drifting towards a revolving door kind of politics where we are continuously fed with the same old political elites in new political offices. Amazingly, before they came to power, the current crop of politicians severely criticized the continuity of the old political elites in politics, blaming them for the economic, social and political malaise in the country. But are they any different from those before them? It can be argued that the situation we are in presently brings constant serious pains to the mind and the longer these political elites remain in the corridors of power, the worse it will become for the country, thus further pushing it towards the abyss.

What should Nigerians do? Well, they must demand for change and this demand must not be influenced by religion, ethnicity or sectionalism; it should be propelled by the dire desire for justice and equality. We must demand that our leaders are accountable to us not to themselves. Demanding for our rights is not enough; we must be willing to make sacrifices to get our rights. If we are not willing to make these sacrifices then we must hold our tongue. Sadly, many Nigerians are already at a point where they feel that their voices are not being heard and the fear is that as more voices become silent, the future of the country will look bleaker than it already is.

Posted by Bala Mohammed Liman on April 26, 2012.


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