By Tonnie Iredia
Political scientists offer varying definitions for the term, ‘politics’ making it easy for everyone to latch-on to what validates his disposition. In Nigeria, the definition which seems to have gained ground over the years is that which sees politics as the struggle for power for the purpose of controlling government resources.
The definition is however simplistic because it is silent on how power should be used when attained. If political power is used solely for primitive accumulation of wealth, as is the current practice in developing societies such as Nigeria, then the ideal purpose of politics is lost.
Even during the classical days of the Social Contract Theory, the polity rested on a two-sided principle in which the general public, on the one hand, were to perform civic duties such as voting at elections while on the other hand, those voted into power were expected to develop society and improve the living conditions of the people. It is therefore the duty of those who attain power in a polity to identify nagging societal issues and address them.
That is politics for development which is hardly done in Nigeria thereby compelling analysts like this writer to function permanently as adversarial journalists.
Many of our leaders would have preferred that media professionals operated as patriots with ample focus on development communication positively throwing light on what the political class does in the interest of society. This preference which is not in itself a bad wish would have made sense if the political class also recognizes that the ideal goal of politics is development and not personal aggrandizement.
It is against this backdrop that we salute Kaduna state governor, Nasir el Rufai, for taking the lead in the abolition of the infamous ‘almajiri’ system prevalent in Northern Nigeria. Almajiri for those who may not know, is the title given to out-of-school children in the North who usually engage in street begging.
It is heartwarming to note the huge steps Nasir has taken so far on the subject, the most central, being his decision to prosecute parents who enroll their children and wards into almajiri type of schools in the state which he has since formally declared illegal. As a point of departure, Kaduna state has already expanded its school capacity to integrate the freshly transferred Almajiris from other states into formal schools.
We also commend other state governors in the North who as members of the Northern Governors Forum have collectively agreed to end the system. The governors have done well because their position tallies with section 42 of our Constitution which provides that no child shall be discriminated against simply because of the circumstances of his birth.
In truth, governors have a duty to take over children of irresponsible parents and ensure that they are given the status of first-class citizens of Nigeria. It is certainly not their fault that they fell into the hands of people who are reckless about the duty of care owed to their children. But then, except the governors develop a high degree of uniformity in dealing with the subject, the policy may be driven underground and become intractable.
To this end, ideological differences in the disposition of governors should not be brought into the handling of the project. Instead, the coordinating official in charge of the activities of the governors forum should be mandated to apply proactive peer review mechanism to ensure faithful implementation.
Another aspect that needs to be prioritized is public education. Quite often in Nigeria we roll out laws which prohibit certain actions while forgetting that law enforcement is not our area of strength. Here, the unpatriotic posture of law enforcement agents who have become notorious in collecting bribes to aid law defaulters is instructive.
Only a few weeks back, we saw how they served as the major hindrance to the current lockdown policy developed in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. This is why, the main thrust of ending the almajiri system must not be premised simply on law, breaches and sanctions. Instead, a lot of attention should be directed at public enlightenment which must include a focus on the gains of the policy as well as the role which the public must play in ensuring its success.
The enlightenment scheme must be comprehensive and capable of resolving our population control dilemma rather than grumbling about the stance of Bill Gates etc. Even the so-called elite requires a purposeful public education which discourages a supposedly top politician from showing off his achievement of having “4 wives and 27 children and still counting.”
Indeed, public education about a nation’s viability goes beyond almajiri and the North. The Nigerian political class nationwide needs a comprehensive attitudinal change. The other day, an old schoolmate was in his elements trying to convince me that a particular governorship aspirant who was the best among others because the aspirant “knows how to look after politicians.”
Unfortunately, he was not as eloquent in answering who could best look after non-politicians like myself. What this suggests is that strategic civil society groups and opinion moulders must redouble their efforts in denouncing the politicisation of everything in Nigeria. Our nation cannot develop if politicians continue to divert resources meant for societal development to the private pockets of political gladiators.
While preparing this piece, my attention was drawn to reports of exposures of political leaders who have over the years shared the budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC. Obviously, the Niger Delta cannot be developed if funds running into billions of naira meant to redress the impact of the hard terrains of the region are embezzled. Instead of development, stories coming out of there would always be: NDDC Board constituted; NDDC Board dissolved; NDDC gets Interim Management Committee (IMC); Audit Review approved for NDDC, then IMC comes under investigation by legislators etc.
But if on the other hand we had tried to follow what happens in the western world, we would have by now entrenched the politics of development which takes care of everyone and not just some insatiable political leaders.
We certainly would not have been involved in current malpractices such as illegal and bogus pension and gratuities for political appointees who serve for only 8 years when the average worker gets little or nothing after 35 years. We would probably not have had a system which allows leaders to take huge funds every year from our treasury ostensibly to ensure security of life and property yet insecurity in the nation increases by the day.
The high level of discrimination in the polity such as secret employments in public organizations would probably have been avoided. In fact, we may have since established a social security system which identifies and cares for the vulnerable instead of the diversion of palliatives meant for them during the current pandemic to the homes of members of the ruling party everywhere.
We would have long ago rehabilitated groups like the almajiri thereby practicing true democracy which is premised on the politics of equality. Nigeria is no doubt in dire need of politics for development.