© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Playing politics with purpose
By Simon Kolawole
In those days when I believed I was ready to marry and needed to, at least, start a relationship, I met a lady I very much liked. But I wanted something more than chemistry. I was thinking of how we would complement each over a lifetime. Confused, I asked a friend, Kunle Kasumu, for insight. Though he himself was single, his counsel changed me forever. He spoke about “purpose”, taking inspiration from Myles Monroe. “A man is not born until he discovers purpose,” Kunle said. “When you discover your purpose in life, everything else you do must align with it, including choosing a life partner.” I wanted counsel on life partner but I got a big lesson on life itself.
Shannon Kaiser, an American bestselling author, puts it another way: “The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out what your purpose is.” A dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”. Truly, the chat with Kunle opened my eyes to the reasons behind some things I was doing, even though I was not really aware there was a theory, or principle, behind them. Purpose. It has helped me stay within my lane in life. Purpose keeps you going in the face of distractions, storms, trials and temptations. You focus on where you are going. You do things to help you get there.
Interestingly, I actually went into journalism with a purpose — even if I wasn’t officially conscious of it when I was filling my JAMB form. Somehow, I had always believed journalism could be used to promote peace and development, help solve problems and celebrate what is working. That is what keeps me going, no matter the insults, threats, intimidation, blackmail and name-calling. I did not set out to please hate mongers and bigots. When all this is over and I go to meet my Maker, I want to be able to tell Him confidently: “Father, I did my best to use my journalism to heal wounds, build peace and solve problems. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith.” That’s all I care about.
Sadly, each time I reflect on Nigeria’s underdevelopment, I always end up blaming it on politics without purpose. By “purpose”, I mean aiming for the greater good of society, not self. I hardly see passion propelled by purpose among our politicians. I have engaged in fierce arguments with some very knowledgeable people who insist that the followers, not the leaders, should be blamed — because they collect rice to sell their votes and get the kind of leaders they deserve. Fair enough. But this assumes that the voter has the clairvoyance or expertise to know who is going to perform in office. Politicians come with inducements and promises. Blaming the victims is never my thing.
All said and done, I am yet to discover any country that was developed by leadership without purpose. The day I find an example, I will apologise to my readers and change my stand. For now, I will go with my position that development is a product of purpose-driven leadership. I have not excluded the role of followers, of course. Everybody has a role to play. But people are called leaders for a reason. People are elected or appointed to do a job. There is a reason the dog wags the tail and not the other way round. There is a reason a bus has a driver. There is a reason that leaders, not followers, make policies and laws — and implement them.
As the 2019 elections draw near, I have been imagining things. Posters. Jingles. Slogans. Rallies. Permutations. Promises. Intrigues. Politics is here with us again! It is as if we were created for elections. We live for times like these. The ecstasy is out of this world. We do this every four years. But a few months after inauguration, we return to square one: weeping and wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth. Then we look forward to the next election so that we can “vote out” bad leaders and “vote in” new ones. It goes on and on and on. And Nigeria remains essentially the same. That means there is something we are not getting right. Some dots are simply not connecting.
In my series on “mindsets”, here is another take: we play politics without purpose in Nigeria. Without purpose, we cannot even begin to have a vision. Purpose precedes visioning. Purpose shapes visioning. If you discover purpose, you can develop vision. I think every Nigerian politician needs to answer this question honestly: what is my purpose in politics? You can say the sweet things on TV, radio, newspapers, posters and social media. You can muster the sound bites and conjure all the rhymes and alliterations. But unto thyself, be honest: why are you in politics? To solve problems? To help make Nigeria great? Lie to everyone else but be honest to yourself.
In truth, how many Nigerian politicians actually know the real purpose of politics? How many even understand public purpose at all? I have this funny suspicion that the typical Nigerian politician thinks the purpose of politics is to become a demigod and begin to enjoy the sirens, the Land Cruiser Prados, the power games, the adulation, the girls, the Banana Islands, the Cayman Islands, the private jets, the yachts and such like. When they read stuffs like “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” in the constitution, they just can’t understand. It is all Greek to them. Occupying government position, they think, is licence for lucre.
Unfortunately, when purpose is not known, abuse is inevitable — in the words of Monroe, who died in 2015. We should not be surprised at the pervasive abuse of office and the resultant gross underdevelopment of Nigeria. As long as the politicians do not have a proper perspective of politics, the instruments they ought to use for the advancement of society will be tools of self-aggrandizement and oppression in their hands. It’s like handing a gun to a rogue police officer — he will turn it into an implement of extortion, tyranny and murder. Give the same gun to a responsible officer and he will die defending the people. Politics without purpose breeds abuse of office.
Here is my point today. If the Nigerian politician had the right motive and motivation in politics, when a banker comes and says, “Your Excellency, add N2 billion to that contract and I will help you keep it”, he would reply: “So kind of you, but that can build a few roads.” When the lawyer comes along and whispers, “I can help you buy property abroad in my name,” he would reply: “Good stuff, but there is serious housing shortage in my state.” When the corporate guru proposes, “You can buy a private jet and register it in my name,” he would reply: “Lovely, but that money can improve mass transit in the city, don’t you think so?” That is purpose-drive leadership at work.
If public purpose is at work, all the budgeting, oversight and lawmaking by the legislature since 1999 would have propelled Nigeria to a higher level on the development plane. But you and I know that when the lawmakers say they want to hold “public hearing” or pay “oversight” visit, the motive of the huffing and puffing is hardly pure. It is more of intimidation, blackmail and extortion than anything for the greater good of the society. Mind you, it can be well packaged, and they can speak the perfect words in the chamber, but those who know the inside story will just be laughing off their heads at a corner. If our lawmakers love accountability so much, Nigeria would be paradise today!
Those just joining politics (or public service) need to ask themselves sincerely: what is my purpose? Am I entering politics for the right purpose? Those already inside should ask themselves honestly: what have I been doing here? Am I fulfilling purpose or just having an all-expense paid fun? The good news is that it is never too late to discover your purpose. That you have wasted years in office without purpose is not the end. You can rethink and reboot. When you discover purpose, you begin to live life meaningfully. You will realise that public office is not about accumulating wealth and getting worshipped. Politics is not for oppression, repression and exploitation.
My friends have been asking me lately: Simon, where do you belong? And that is exactly the problem: we think the solution to our problem is where we belong, who we support or who we are going to vote or campaign for. But our problems are deeper than that, deeper than the excitement of permutations and elections. How can our politics become politics of purpose? That is the real challenge facing us and that is what I think we should be really concerned about. Until we develop new mindsets about how the society should be run, we will continue to go round and round in a vicious circle. The end product is always predictable: despair and disappointment.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
ARMY VS POLICE
We spend over N1 trillion on the security agencies every year, in case you don’t know, and yet Nigerians are among the least secure in the world. Meanwhile, the police and the army are trading blame on the kidnap of 110 Dapchi girls. Those Boko Haram guys must be laughing at us. The open confrontation between security agencies under President Buhari is the worst I have seen in my life. Reports are suggesting that the kidnapped schoolgirls have been taken across the border — in spite of the presence of police, customs, immigration, civil defence, DSS and military guys all over the place. Can you beat that? We need our heads examined in this country. Incredible.
While some people are still waiting for “fiscal federalism”, “true federalism”, “state police” and “we the people” perfect constitution, it is gladdening to note that some states are already showing what can be done under the current “military” constitution. Lagos and Kano states, two of the country’s biggest economies, have just signed an MoU for economic partnership and to jointly explore investment opportunities aimed at creating jobs and facilitating growth and development. Lagos and Kebbi are already co-operating on Lake Rice. Some people can only see problems, while others are seeing opportunities. He that observes the wind will not sow. Or reap. Word.
The best official response to Nigeria’s declining fortune in the corruption perception index was delivered by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at an event organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and the ministry of justice on Tuesday. He analysed the report and pointed out that it was just on one of the indices that Nigeria dropped and it affected the overall ranking. It is a wake-up call, he said. Compare this to the spurious allegation that the ranking was influenced by former President Obasanjo and Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili — who are board members of Transparency International. Laughable.
YUSUF IS BACK
President Muhammadu Buhari’s son, Yusuf, is back on his feet after his horrendous motorbike accident in December 2017. I am happy for him and his family for the great escape. A lot has been said about the state of our medical facilities, but he received the first, critical treatment here in Nigeria before he was flown to Germany for “finishing touches”. And this is then my argument: government must at least make sure our hospitals are good enough to be the first port of call, good enough to preserve life. Those who can afford foreign treatment are lucky, but most Nigerians cannot afford it and they too deserve the right to live. Basic.
Siomon Kolawole is the Ch