Why they fight and kill
Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District was right on the spot this weekend when he repeated what many of us have said before, times without number. But because he is a distinguished senator and he is involved, his voice is likely to carry more weight. But in a seeming haste, I ask: to what extent?
The senator must have pondered deeply before he voiced out his own antidote to political violence or what is now famously referred to as do-or-die politics. Political violence has unfortunately taken the centre stage and has come to define the terms of engagement in our current political dispensation in which you must win election by all means, fair or foul, or be prepared to be consigned to a political wilderness of perpetual anonymity and financial penury. Senator Murray-Bruce said the only way to curb excessive and violent hunger for power is to make political office less attractive by reducing the salaries of political office holders.
Referring to a statement credited to an Oyo State political juggernaut, former governor Alao Akala who lost his bid to come back to Government House, Agodi, Ben Murray-Bruce said his stand had been vindicated. What did Akala say? The ex-governor was quoted as expressing joy that his beloved people in Oyo State, specifically the voters, had, in their absolute wisdom, denied him the re-entry permit to Government House. And, he must have asked himself, what would he miss considering the fact that the allocation from Abuja has dwindled to a point where it is no longer attractive to be called his Excellency, the executive governor?
“This Alao Akala statement vindicates my argument that money drives do-or –die politics. Close the treasury and do-or-die politics would end,” said the senator.
And he is not done yet: “If you really want to bid farewell to do or die politics, Nigerians must vehemently push for a ‘demonetisation’ of politics.” I salute the distinguished senator. But the senator should accept the challenge to get back into the hallowed chamber and bell the cat. He should, on our behalf, raise a motion and call for a debate. It will help to put this matter back in the public domain. Some of us have said before that most of the people who seek public office today do so not necessarily for public good but for their own selfish reasons. For sheer love of self, nothing altruistic, these people fight and kill to get there and help themselves to the public wealth. We need no ghost to come from hell to tell us that our position is right.
The starting point is to lower the stakes. When the stakes are high, as they have become in the last 10 years, the do-or-die battle becomes more ferocious. In some cases it is no longer do-or-die; it is fast becoming do and die. Someone says he wants to be governor to serve his people and make their lives and their living conditions more abundant. He wants to give his people the best things money and power can give. He promises to build bridges for them even where there is no river. He is determined to spend his own money – in most cases stolen money – running into billions of our thoroughly devalued Naira to achieve this noble objective. He uses the money to buy delegates and get the ticket. He buys the people’s vote and intimidates his opponents into submission because he wants to be given the opportunity to serve his beloved people. Those of his people who stubbornly refuse to toe the line, he would be prepared to square them by buying them. And if they refused to be squared, he would squash them, in the manner that a former British prime minster, James Baldwin had vowed to deal with the recalcitrant British press of his time.
Whoever gets to public office riding on the back of impoverished people or stamps his feet as he marches on the graves of his people, his opponents, as it is currently happening in Rivers State and as it has happened elsewhere including Akwa Ibom State, cannot convince me that he is doing it for the love of the people. The stakes are high, indeed, because the money to be made from public office, call it the dividends of kleptocracy, is running into trillions of naira. As the stakes get higher, so does the urge and the determination to maim and kill.
In other climes when people talk of the stakes in politics, they are talking of the noble idea and desire to serve one’s fatherland, to go to war, if need be, in defence of national interest as Britain, under Premier Margret Thatcher, did in the Falklands against Argentina. In other political environments, the fight is about honour and principle, a fight to enthrone the supremacy of a noble idea and change the direction of the trajectory of political movement and political thoughts.
Ben Murray-Bruce’s analysis is apt in my view. He said those states that experience dwindling Federal allocations would soon witness a decline in do-or die politics. The less money, the less attraction and incentive to fight and kill. The reverse is the case. The struggle for power is more intense and more deadly in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. The orgy of violence the nation witnessed in the governorship elections in the two states and current re-run election in Rivers State is about access to the state wealth – resource control of a peculiar and pernicious type. As elsewhere, it is not necessarily about the development of the state.
The application of this theory will show why Africa, nay, the world’s longest serving leaders come from countries that have enough resources – oil and minerals – to serve as incentives for the stay put leaders. I have in mind the likes of Teodore Obiang Nguema of Equitorial Guinea, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Paul Biya of Cameroon. Each of them, according to Tom Burgiss in his book, the Looting Machine, presides over an African state rich in oil or minerals. Between the four of them they have ruled for 136 years. And we are still counting.
Reduction in salaries or a total abolition of salaries, if that is possible, does not solve the problem. It is not salary that is the major incentive. No, it is the access and control of the levers of power and the sharing of the resources of the states into private pockets that is the major, if not the sole, attraction. You think the current war against corruption that has so far taken its toll on yesterday’s eminent men and women will curb the appetite of Nigerians for stolen wealth? You will have to think again. As they say, leopards hardly change their spots.
Even under President Buhari’s watch, those with sticky fingers must be finding ways and means to beat the Sheriff to his game. What is required most urgently are institutional reforms that will put in place adequate alarm and whistle blowing system because President Buhari, eagle eyed as he may be, cannot be everywhere at the same time.