Political Promises and Scruples to Keep Them

Can Nigerian politicians be trusted? One big deal in Nigerian politics is the ability of and pride for a politician to deceive the mass of population and get away with it. Politicians view politics as the capacity for successful deception and ability to maneuver and manipulate the system to gain hegemony in the body-politic. The popular idea by Lasswell that politics is the “determination of who gets what, when and how” or Easton’s “authoritative allocation of values” is construed in the Nigerian context as “smartness” of a political actor, and as a matter of fact ensconced in misrepresentations by the various actors in the various divides of the political spectrum. The godfathers and their ‘scheme’ to outdo opposition and this is largely attained by verbosity and grandiloquence of politicians, whose trademark is big, big promises prior to general elections.

The platforms for making such grand statements of “packages” if elected are usually the television or radio studios, newspaper and newsmagazine interviews, campaign billboards, campaign leaflets and handbills, newspaper advertorials and campaign rallies. The Nigerian version of electioneering campaign rallies have in actual been, as experience has shown, mere rallies without campaign. At a typical PDP or APC “campaign rally”, the stage is set for a real entertainment show. As the bigwigs are well seated, the musical set is ready and famous musicians take turns to embark on adulation of the candidates and entertainment of guests with their hottest but tracks modified to suit the occasion. Comedians and comperes take turns to crack jokes demeaning of the opposition. Other artistic displays are injected at intervals as governors, party leaders, and decampees from rival parties take turns to address the mammoth crowd.

All sorts of jabs are thrown at the opposition and then the decampees come out to make their testimonies of how deliverance has finally come their way when they left their old parties, bla…bla…bla… After hours of all these rituals and rendition of hate songs and African traditional lyrics converted into mockery tunes to spite the opposition on live telecast, the big masquerade (the candidate) now leads a large entourage into the venue (typically a stadium) and goes up through the aisle in the middle of loud cheers, to mount the podium. Surprisingly, he or she addresses the waiting for only five or ten minutes and all that he says are the same old ‘I will do this…I will do that…I had done this…I will do more…” speech. And the rally comes to an end.

This is the typical post-military rule electioneering culture in the country. Statements are carelessly made and most of them are not from the heart. They never come from the heart of a Nigerian politician. They end up being “white lies”. Once the bait has sailed through and the hook has done its big catch, the politician insulates himself until years after when it is time for election or re-election. He then throws across to the populace once again, carrots in form of money, foodstuffs, popular policy, et cetera; he or she might even lie down flat or shed some tears to beg the electorate to consider them for elective posts.

Or what can one make of President Goodluck Jonathan’s promises four years ago? Cursing, swearing and vowing repeatedly at different forums, including during a PDP stakeholders’ meeting and at a function in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) where some former Nigerian leaders were gathered, he promised to not attempt a second term bid. A written agreement was reached, which should commit the President to his words. In video recordings, he had openly said that if he could not make any meaningful change in four years, then he would mean he would not be able to make any change even if he spent a hundred years more as President. Jonathan got a loud ovation for this act of gallantry. But today, the President is still eating his words as GEJ is at the campaign rallies breaking that promise everyday as he is up for the presidential polls. Second term is the target.

General Muhammadu Buhari is not any better in this regard. Four years ago, after losing the presidential elections the second time in what has been termed in some quarters as “fatally flawed” process, he shed some hot tears regretting why Nigerians would not realize or appreciate his genuine goal to redeem the country from the abyss and return it to the path of honour. He then made a solemn promise not to ever contest presidential elections again, saying that was going to be his last attempt. People praised this statesmanship and began to have original cause to venerate Buhari, describing him as a modern-day Nigerian hero. Today, Buhari is carrying the broom this time, asking for our votes to become President again.

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We have seen a plethora of this instance in the past. They come in circles in a political cycle, to make promises that will never keep. Buhari might have a genuine agenda to salvage the country from the throes, but his words should bind him. He should never have made them in the first place if he was not sure to keep it. Jonathan has dishonoured his words and betrayed his many supporters and godfathers to whom he vowed never to re-contest after having served as President for six years (2009-2015). It is not new to us in this part of Africa, to see public officers lie again and again, with so much impunity. But, we have to be wiser for this. Can we trust our leaders and politicians when they now tell us that they will build our castles in the air?

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