When H. D. Lasswell wrote his hugely popular book “Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How” as a young academic in 1936, he probably was not thinking about post-colonial Nigeria where it sounds more appropriate to say Nigeria’s politics is about who “promises us what, when, and why!”.
As the year 2015 draws closer, we fully enter into another season when they (the politic-ians) infringe on our personal space again, and start with their many promises. We start to hear:
“Don’t worry, I will make youth unemployment a thing of the past in this country!”
“Before you know what is happening, the Second Niger Bridge (SNB) will be started, completed and commissioned”
“That Expressway will be completed before December 20…. “
“By December, we should start generating 10,000 Megawatts of electricity”
“I will fight corruption forcefully, and ensure there are no sacred cows”
“No, our party is the one that cares for the masses. We will build world-class infrastructure”
But when you do an appraisal of what is indeed delivered, not up to ten percent of our politicians reach a pass mark of 40%. It is a rather interesting phenomenon. And like veteran journalist Sonala Olumhense keeps saying, the incumbency factor should not be something that tilts an election in the incumbent’s way, especially if he has failed to deliver on his promises. The 1992 election was not won by Bill Clinton, as much as it was “lost” by George H. W. Bush. The Clintons rode in on that unforgettable catch-phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!”, pointing to the failure of the Bush administration to fulfil their promise on sustaining growth in the economy, and failed promises in the area of tax increase (remember the “Read my lips: no new taxes” speech by George W. H. Bush). Likewise, it was the incumbency of the Gordon Brown Administration in UK, and that of Nicholas Sarkozy in France that lost them their last elections, as their countries reeled from the effects of the 2008/9 global economic crisis. The populace needed someone to blame.
But the reverse is actually the case in Nigeria. But why is this so? Why does it not matter if promises are made, and are flagrantly broken, the promise-e is the worse for it and the promise-r gets rewarded with another beautiful trust (and unchecked access to our collective purse of course), built on the foundation of the failed promises.
I would venture that the only reason why this happens in Nigeria is because NOBODY suffers any consequence for failing to honour his or obligations, even in private interactions. If nobody will tell us the truth, we should at least know how to look ourselves in the mirror, and tell ourselves this home truth. Simply that we do not place a high premium on integrity and honour, and we no longer have a society where a man’s word is his bond.
When was the last time your mechanic got your car fixed at the time he said it would be?
When was the last time the artisan, or associate, or flight you were expecting arrived on time?
Does the thieving public official feel any shame or any opprobrium, public dishonour, as a result of less than honourable behaviour? Or is there any such thing as “dishonourable” in Nigeria? We even call known thieves “Honourable!”
If you look at the advanced economies of the world very closely, if you would take them apart layer by layer to find why they all work, to find what makes them tick the way they do, the only thing you will find under the layers of asphalt, under the skyscrapers, and in the engine of their speed trains, is an old word – HONOUR. No matter how you spell it, that is the only thing that makes their public officials accountable, and their car engineers the most respected in the world.
Some countries take it more seriously than others of course. Japanese public officials have been known to commit suicide –harakiri– when they feel they have brought shame and dishonour to their family and their country.
I would bet you a million Naira that if we were to somehow find a way to bring honour back (beg her, bribe her or just plain abduct her back to our shores), we would see a real rise in our collective progress.
Some have asked that we make charity begin from our different homes. And I agree.
I agree that we should teach by example, letting our children know that they must own their work, and do their very best all the time; I agree that they must see us refuse to give or receive bribes or cut corners. But I also think that we should take the same principles to our polity, and demand that if anyone promised us, and we placed our trust in that person by giving him or her the keys to our treasury, the person should be made to give account and if we are not satisfied that the person tried his or her best, we probably should not trust that person with the same issues again.
But what of forgiveness? Oh yes, and grace as well. And mercy. I will tell you straight away, it depends on the magnitude of what I trusted you with in the first place, and definitely on how much of what happened was not due to your negligence or even plain dishonesty.
I have three children, you see… If I asked you to look after one of them for me while I went to work, only to come back and find her missing, and you tell me one excuse after the other (including outright lies that she has in fact escaped from her abductors, and she’ll be with me in a few days); and this goes on for 200 days, should I leave the other two with you? Even if you are my brother?
Chukwudi Adepoju is @adechuks on twitter.