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Barrow’s Let’s Get Involved as clarion call to political action

Omagbitse Iyekekpolor Barrow’s Lets Get Involved

Over the last two decades, politics in Nigeria has become highly commercialised.

It has also seen the emergence of mostly unpatriotic elements, who seek power and political offices for personal aggrandisement.

Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria has witnessed unprecedented level of vote rigging, ballot box snatching and underage voting.

With the rise of godfatherism, stomach infrastructure, and vote-buying are fast becoming the norm rather than the exemption.

As politicians continue to manipulate the system for selfish purposes, unpopular and clueless leaders constantly emerge to represent the people and continue to ruin the country.

This has resulted in growing disenchantment with the political process and governance in Nigeria.

In 2007, 61 million Nigerians voters registered for the election, but according to official figures made available, 57.5 per cent participated in the election.

In 2011, 73 million registered for the election, but 39 million (53.68 per cent) voted.

While in 2015, 67 million registered for the election, only 29 million (43.65 per cent) exercised their franchise.

The evidence of voter apathy in the politics and governance process motivated a young Nigerian, Omagbitse Iyekekpolor Barrow to start a movement, which has culminated in his writing a book Let’s Get Involved (Be Better Books, Lagos; 2018) to educate and inspire citizens to be involved more actively in the governance of the country.

Let’s Get Involved is a clarion call to all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, religion, social or economic status those who are truly desirous of a better Nigeria to jettison political apathy and do something beyond complaining and ensure only competent and capable leaders lead the country.

The book has three parts, with 10 chapters. The first part is dedicated to changing people’s mindset, the second focuses on getting them into action and the third deals with learning new things.

The author demonstrates a profound understanding of the general disenchantment with leadership of the country.

Quoting from literary icon Chinua Achebe’s An Image of Africa, he said, “Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies”.

He, however, warns against consigning such a life-and-death issue to small talk.

Also, quoting a Professor of Economics at New York University, Ingo Walters, who said, “The Nigerian people keep shooting themselves in the foot because of the type of leaders they have… The Nigerian Renaissance will take place, but only when forward thinking Nigerians decide to act and do something about their country.”

Barrow says rather than act, Nigerians talk, especially on social media.

The biggest challenge to the Nigerian Renaissance lies in the fact that forward thinking Nigerians are too busy trying to build their own private empires and get out of the cycle of poverty so that they can live a better life.

They are not interested in getting involved in the process of determining who leads them across all levels or even vying for political offices themselves.

“The result – we will continue to get the third-rate leaders that we deserve, and in spite of the personal progress we make, we will not make much progress as a society because, inevitable, the fish rots from the head.”

Also quoting from Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, a well-known Catholic priest and scholar, the author raises some questions Nigerians ought to ask: “Who are the aspirants to political office this time around?

What are their antecedents? What kind of people were they in private life or public office? How have they performed in the various positions of responsibility they have held in the past?

What measure of patriotism and sense of service have they demonstrated in their previous outings? What is their understanding of the common good? How do they hope to meet the challenge of national rejuvenation?”

First, the book challenges Nigerians to stop believing their votes do not count.

Second, they should actively participate in electoral and political process, join political parties that offer alternatives to the over-experienced establishment parties and get involved in selecting and grooming leaders.

Third, they should select candidates that are ready to be disruptive to make a difference and add value.

The author also writes about focusing on real issues, getting beyond ethnicity, religion and money politics, noting, “We should stop getting impressed by candidates promising roads, power and hospitals, and begin to challenge our leaders to deal with the soft infrastructure issues of value-reorientation, human capital development and building strong institutions.

In a chapter titled ‘The battle of 100,000,’ the author lays responsibility for the ‘mess’ Nigeria has been facing since independence on all past leaders, including the present administration and a rogue political class.

The book claims that during each administration, less than 100,000 people in different capacities, either as military governors, ministers, advisors, and party functionaries perpetuate misrule in the country.

“Essentially, at each point in our turbulent history, Nigeria and Nigerians have been held hostage by no more than 100,000 people,” he argues.

While much can be said about how these classes of people have kept the country on a leash, dishing out handouts, keeping them busy with mundane issues rather than paying attention to the collective patrimony, Nigerians share a part of the blame.

They are inept followers who are more than happy to continue following and complaining while leaving politics and governance to these ineffectual leaders.

According to him, many are also guilty of aspiring to become a part of the elite 100,000 that are “running” things each time there is a new government in town.

But joining that world may lead to loss of ability to independently build political power and strength to shake-up and shake-off the hold of the 100,000, he states.

Moving from what he terms ‘forward thinking to forward acting,’ Barrow believes the time has come for Nigerians to take ownership of the political arena of the country and stop thinking that the cabal that controls the political landscape will change and start to do the right thing to help the country.

He said the forward thinkers must abandon the stereotypes that indicate politics is dirty and best left for thugs and elections are only won by distributing money.

He said no society in the world has ever experienced true renewal and growth without serious-minded and forward-thinking people coming together to translate their thoughts into action in the political arena.

To remove certain bottlenecks in the country ‘s march to greatness, Barrow’s book examines the underlining causes of stagnation, frictions and conflicts in Nigeria.

The practice of the two main religions by Nigerians has fallen short and failed, he argues.

Nigerians have neglected the core messages of their faith and are too busy posturing and trying to outdo each other as God’s favourite. Similarly, ethnic bigotry, ethnic nationalism and the practice of ethnoism are pervasive in Nigeria.

While noting that it is proper to take pride in one’s tradition and culture, Barrow feels there’s need to draw the line between that and the common practices of ethnic bigotry and nepotism, ethic nationalism and ethnoism.

He says that the political class in their public and private utterances betrays their deep ethnic biases and uses it to promote political agenda and aspirations, pitching one group against the other.

If there are more political leaders sincerely engaging on these issues, there will be progress as a nation.

According to him, the practice of leadership needs to be re-examined in the country, saying, “We have a warped sense of the principal–agent relationship that should exist between leaders and their people and this has been created and exacerbated by our legacy of slavery, colonialism and militarism”.

Barrow also believes Nigerians should expect good political candidates to have professional track record, character, capabilities and charisma, clear understanding of issues, strong community ties, family values, and feasible agenda and plans.

“When next a politician comes your way, don’t be swayed by their cheap tricks and promises. Evaluate their background and motive, challenge them with difficult questions and make choices based on criteria like these that focus on the real issues that predict leadership success.”

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