Political campaigns: Festival of ideas, not war of words – Businessday

Nigeria is in a political campaign season preparatory to the general elections scheduled for February 2023. Expectedly, politicians have been moving from pillar to post trying to market and de-market themselves to the citizens.
This should be a period to celebrate brilliant ideas from politicians. There is nothing wrong in a politician trying to convince the electorate to vote him or her into electoral office. It must be done in a peaceful atmosphere. But what we have seen, and read on front pages and editorials of newspapers, are very discouraging – intimidation, oppression, arson, etcetera.
There are pockets of violent clashes among supporters of contenders to coveted electoral positions. Verbal confrontations may be allowed in political contestations but not physical violence and wanton destruction of government properties.
Rather than engage the citizens on great ideas that will improve the society as it is done in civilized climes, most Nigerian politicians are busy talking tough along ethnic and religious lines.
It is universally accepted that democrats do not fight; only despots do. Democrats discuss and perhaps argue. Nigerians want political party presidential frontrunners and gubernatorial flagbearers to tell the citizens what they intend to do to improve numerous economic challenges of the people if elected.
… what Nigerians’ need is not redemption from sin but recovery from hunger and oppression; Nigerians have no need to pin their hopes only upon heavens, we have everything to hope for in the country
After signing peace accords, we are not interested in any form of violence orchestrated by some politicians and their supporters. We have witnessed enough show of violence from supporters of politicians. This is a time when we need brains not brawns bearing in mind numerous challenges we face today.
Politicians have partially succeeded in shifting Nigerians’ attention to irrelevances such that germane issues namely: How can we reduce budget deficits; how can we improve revenue; when and how can fuel subsidy be removed; how can we reduce our indebtedness; how can we improve security and reduce unemployment?
How can we improve education and human capital, and how can we improve health care? How are we going to improve power supply and road networks, among other challenges? These great ideas have been circumvented for mundane issues.
If politicians continue their campaigns through “war of words” in this political season, then I say with deep sense of patriotism that democracy is under trial in Nigeria.
And it is the responsibility of all Nigerians to save democracy. Why is this my humble opinion? It is because democracy will not function effectively under chaos and confusion. Neither will democracy function optimally when more than 60 percent of the population are poor.
There is no doubt that Nigerians want a change and they can only get it through the ballot box in a conducive atmosphere. Some public intellectuals are of the view that Nigerians want “great ideas”.
Ideas that can bring 133 million people or more out of poverty. Nigerians are tired of flowery expressions from politicians. Many public intellectuals have argued strongly that what Nigeria deserves are well-mannered and well- cultured individuals who have esteemed regards for their fellow citizens to take charge of leadership positions.
Drawing inspiration from a Swiss author and dramatist, Friedrich Durrenmatt, in his book “The marriage of Mr Mississippi (1952)”, what Nigerians’ need is not redemption from sin but recovery from hunger and oppression; Nigerians have no need to pin their hopes only upon heavens, we have everything to hope for in the country.
Nigerians want a liberal society, but not a miserable one led by oppressors. It is known that democracy has its flaws and weaknesses, which makes it imperative for the nation to prepare its leaders for imperfections.
Anything that is to be done during and after election season must be guided by the rule of law. Early philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and others, have expressed their views about democracy. Will their views rescue us from the air of despondency that pervades our society?
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Plato, for instance, argued that it is best for a nation to have political arrangements dominated by educated elites who would be recognized early and prepared through education for the task of leadership. He was favorably inclined to leaders who would own no property and therefore be immune to corruption.
How can this philosophy be accepted in Nigeria today? But Plato in his book The Laws sees law as the supreme instrument for the moral salvation of the society. And that the entire society must be governed by detailed code of laws.
Conversely, Aristotle who defined man as a “political animal,” held that politics and ethics are endless. He claimed that the good life for individuals requires an organized society in order to make democracy work.
Out of all philosophers of old, it was Confucius who questioned what makes a good ruler or leader. In his views, “a good ruler or leader is in essence a highly ethical individual, whose example and loving concern for his people will ensure that the nation functions well.”
There is no perfect democracy in the world. In spite of imperfections, most Western democracies have benefitted from democracy. The benefits of democracy include promotion of change in government, protection of citizens, advancing accountability and transparency, promotion of human rights and equality, prevention of monopoly of power, and provision of opportunities for citizens among others.
The weaknesses of democracy are however, seen in corruption, misuse of public funds, wrong choice of elected and appointed public officers, emphasis on quantity rather than quality, etcetera. It is the rule of law that takes care of the weaknesses of democracy, not impunity.
Nigerians need to develop a culture that obeys the rule of law. For Nigeria to enforce the law, appropriate mechanisms must be put in place to deter, rehabilitate, and punish those who violate rules and norms governing our society.
There is need to reform most institutions of governance, by reviewing obsolete laws. It may be difficult as most elected and appointed public officers want status quo to remain because they benefit immensely from imperfections of our laws.
Democracy will function properly with the rule of law, not impunity. The burden rests squarely on all Nigerians particularly the nation’s legal community and civil rights organizations not to look the other way when impunity is enjoyed by criminals and lawbreakers in our society. Enough of the “war of words”. Let’s have a festival of great ideas! Thank you.
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