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Obiano: Lessons in real politics BY CHUKA NNABUIFE


YOU can’t make omelette without breaking eggs. But in current Nigeria, some think we can – at least in our governance and politics. This is unfortunately our doom.

Hold-Easy, Lose-Easy

Watching as dead bodies of innocent children were being drawn out, one after the other, from the rubles of the three-storey building that collapsed in Ita Faaji area of Lagos Island, Lagos State last Wednesday, got me devastated. I saw mothers, siblings and fathers weeping uncontrollably. One emotionally chattered woman, reportedly had four of her children in the buried school.

Beholding the scores of the victims that one would describe as lucky being pulled out of the ruins with several degrees of injury was farther harrowing. Creche, kindergarten and primary school pupils being excavated from heaps of concrete, rod and rubbish. Children in school uniforms who only a few hours before were seeing the world with hope, only rejoining the same world with bruises, broken bones, horrifying memories of passing hours of torture of being buried alive under the wait of the building they innocently called their place of learning not knowing it was actually a facility meant for their mass killing and unlearning. I saw the terribly befuddled kids who we call, lucky and pondered how their lives have been badly adjusted forever as they will always live with the trauma of that incident, and wonder what a world we, their elders and parents set for them. Eight pupils, a pregnant woman and over 10 other occupants of the ill-fated building died. Over a score were injured. Many are still missing. Possibly asphyxiating under the choking heap of concrete.

When the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi  Ambode, arrived the scene and it was disclosed that the school had been operating illegally, and had received earlier warnings on its status, I shuddered and exhaled in disgust. I pondered how that development fits the narratives of a typical Nigerian society where politics and governance is expected to be an endeavour in pleasing people and not hurting a fly because some misguided opinion holders want the people to assume that good governance is doing nothing but pleasing everybody -one reason why we have had over 50 reported incidents of building collapses across Nigeria in the past two years with 60 per cent of that happening in Lagos.

I do not envy Gov. Ambode. His Lagos has struggled hard to prosecute some building collapses with almost no headway or near deadlock. From the internationally reported fall of a huge hostel complex owned by Prophet T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue in Ejigbo area of Lagos which killed people from several nations to the embarrassment of Nigeria to the collapse of a high profile multi story structure in Lekki, all to no significant outcome yet. One can bet that this week’s event in Lagos Island, a political fortress and home of his political godfather, Bola Ahmed Tinubu with whom he is currently not in good terms would end up like the others and the children would grow up in askance how they got to enter the world through such a country.
Same Wednesday, there was a fatal accident in the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, Anambra State. According to reports,the driver of an articulated road tanker, loaded with kerosene ,lost control and ran over a lot of people and vehicles on the road side. News reports of death toll state over 20. Scores were injured. This was the second of such huge fatality at the same Upper Iweka in four years.

Far be it from this piece, blaming the dead. May God accept their innocent souls. But will it be wrong to berate the deaf who has refused to heed the orders of state authority against lining the busy roads to sell all manner of wares? Will it be wrong to note the misdeamenour of commercial buses, tricycles and motor transport touts among others who set up ‘shops’ along the roads, obstructing free flow of trafick and putting theirs and others’ lives in danger? If Anambra State government had not had a strong stance against street hawking and banned motorcycle commuting (Okada) in Onitsha, the level of casualty would have been gargantuan.

Only last month, a cooking gas laden tanker skidded of track at the frontage of St. Jude Secondary School, Ihiala, along Onitsha/Owerri expressway, dismembered and caught fire. The blaze torched a Celestial Church on roadside, killed the resident cleric’s wife and three children, among other casualties, in broad daylight.

Anambra State government has repeatedly urged against roadside businesses but some folks, for whatever reasons that can never be altruism keep working the communes with falsehood. The real issue from these developments in Lagos, Anambra and other places is that government cannot sacrifice governance and the people’s good for just the lure of currying some fat folks’ favour. Indeed, Anambra government has re-emphasised her stance on roadside trading and set up a high callibre panel of inquiry on the Upper Iweka saga. Anambra State Physical Planning Board ANSPPB has also issued a ‘final warning’ on citing gas plants in living areas. No one makes omelette without broken eggs.

Sadly, many in our country have bought the lie that governance is about letting everything be as it used to be. This mindset which does not help a developing society especially has contaminated our understanding of everything about governance and politics, not only safety matters.   We need sagacious politicians with vision, bravery and balls. For them to lead us well, we have to arm them with a society that gives them latitude to express their gut instincts too. It is such leaders that led hitherto backwater lands out of the doldrums.

Hardball Politics

Checking through the results of Nigeria’s 2019 general election, and keenly appraising reactions from the streets, one cannot but note a growing trend of celebration of political indiscretion. The saddening settling for moans, air punching and a form of follow-the-crowd populism that never cares to pause and ponder: ‘to what end should our politics head?’ baffles. It actually, turns  the essence of politics upside-down.

Politics is about getting, retaining, cultivating and creating power with its attendant authority. Discoursed more technically, it is the science of running states, effectively or ineffectively. Scholars like Okwudiba Nnoli would describe politics as “all the activities that are directly or indirectly associated with the seizure of state power, use of state power and consolidation of state power.”  In other words it is the art and antics of acquiring, using and consolidating power. Basic fact: The ultimate factor in the endeavour,  concept, practice and properties is the posesion of power and authority. Ask the man who runs a church, club, family, business, school, town union, or whatever who can pause and articulate what is grappling with, because all those ventures are politics in practice, he will tell you this truth. So when politics is discussed as something akin to aspiring towards sainthood or a smile-through popularity contest, it convolutes the original goal of the enterprise.
Sure, with democracy, as the most popular modern concept of running states there have been some infiltrating notions that politics is a game aimed at entertaining some spectators. It is not. It has never been. It will never be. And there is no spectator in politics. Everybody is either involved or directly or indirectly affected by the endeavour. No one is isolated. That is why the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said every man is a political animal.

In its real sense, It is not a game meant to please anybody. Everybody involved strives to win something else some other fellow will corner his own and keep as his laurel. It is a winner-takes-all contest. Notwithstanding the persuasions and manipulations of contemporary activist on democracy, it is still a zero-sum contest in which the loser losses and the winner wins, outright.  But its beauty is that it is such a multi-pronged contest that there are several things to win or lose for those who are discerning enough to spot what is up for grab and have the guts and sagacity to go for it. May be that is why some still call it a game. In reality, it is not. In fact, if it will be likened to any game, it would be a hardball game. That is possibly why North Americans have two definitions for the word ‘hardball’. One of their definition of hardball is the rough heavily body contact sports of rugby in which participants hit one another very hard in pursuit of an oval hard ball. Their other explanation of the word is raw, hard core politics which pursues real evidential result not minding whose ox is gored provided the end is good.

Hardball politics comes with discomfort when in play yet it always makes sense at the long run, especially, when it successfully culminates to a victorious cause.

Be it in the style of the current era Trump, a Berlesconi, a Putin, a Netanyahu, a Kim Jong-un or even the yesterday’s Tatcher, Regan, De Gual, Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yew  or whoever,  hardball politics is an effective art that distinguishes the astute leader from the naive one. The politician who plays hardball has no time to mess around. His goal is result. He keeps his eyes on the ball and deals frontally with the issue till he flogs out a good deal from it.  When shove gets to push the hard-nosed operator employs hardball strategy to get things done. But only the shrewd strategist and focused tactician can excel with the approach.
Explained methaphorically, hardball politics is mostly an American expression which refers to “the discipline of gaining and holding power.” Very useful in many professions and social undertakings, it is often practiced  “most openly and unashamedly in the world of public affairs.” An interesting hallmark of it is that it is intriguing to a spectator and wholistically engaging to the operator.

When hard-to-sell but smart issues of governance or development meet the conservative hunkers of hard-to-convince fat folks whose views may not be right yet they influence a lot of the people, the one who is sure of the aptness of his stance may need to play hardball politics – take the risk and stir his society off harm’s way. However, it not easy to take such lead and push through even if one knows that the verdict of history will eventually, prove him right. It is an extreme risk that only the courageous, selfless and boldly visionary leader can take. Many societies remain behind because they do not have such leaders who can stick out their neck, stake their comfort to go for the right political decision, especially when the move initially appears unpopular.

The task before us in Nigeria, if we are seriously desirous of leapfrogging into the fold of developed nations, is to encourage the handful of such leaders we now have among us.

The Massachuset Institute of Technology (MIT) scholar,  Lloyd Etheredge in his oft cited journal article, ‘Hardball politics: A Model’ describes hardball politics as the ideal politics.

Hurray Anambra

The Nigerian polity of today, like the Asian Tigers of the 1970s needs smart, visionary and brave politicians who seldom play to the gallery or sacrifice governance to jejune frivolities like currying favours across country. I see a lot of such ideal politics in the style of Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra State. He blends his with high faculty for the real politik of issues. Almost like one gifted with a rare third vision on things he heads for right mine in the field and strikes the gold. This is why his fifth anniversary as governor, today throws up several references of eventually successful visionary decisions and political stance that may not have been well received by very influential folks when they came but have turned out wise and smart with time. Within just a while, his projections are yielding positive results. And Anambra soars under him.

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