A nation of partisan fanatics led by pragmatic utilitarians

Dear Readers,

Let us today dwell on a peculiarity that in my view is shaping our national conversations be it amongst analysts, be it amongst protagonists or the general public.

The peculiarity is around our propensity for focusing on consequence whilst ignoring sequence.

We tend to dwell on where we are without caring much about how we got to where we are. In that way we find ourselves marvelling on the quality of some of our graduates without spending time to ponder on the number of days most of them attended classes (due to strikes and closure of their universities) the quality of lessons they have received and the rigour of assessment they have gone through (due to the academic and moral qualities of teachers and their disposition to education).

We tend to be touched by and mostly unhappy with the behaviour and performance our of police officers but we rarely stop to reason about their selection, training process and welfare. We marvel at the behaviour of politicians at general elections and once they get into office but we do not seem to care about how they got their tickets through primaries and before that, how they made a name for themselves in the party.

There is a truism made popular by the writer, Chinua Achebe, which states that, “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” The appeal of such statement is clear and quite convincing if not even comforting, a deeper look at things and paying more attention to sequence will however reveal more about those led as well as the cited leaders.

I have argued elsewhere that the idea of identifying leadership with mainly the political class is a very dangerous misapprehension of any society.

It is easy to see why most people can fall into the perilous perception of thinking political leadership is zenith of leadership, but it is also important for those that know, and that can, to take their time to explain to and remind the many that do not know that of all the spheres and shades of leadership, three things mark political leadership.

One is that though the most visible, political leadership is in reality the one that requires least talent, merit or qualification. Never mind the scaringly low level of education required to run for office, to become a medical doctor or a vulcanizer, you actually need to be certified or confirmed as by some form of authority as a capable expert.

The other is that while politics is very important in every society, politicians are more important than others only in societies where ideas and innovations do not occupy prime positions. The third point is that there is a negative correlation between general prosperity and political influence: Society where politics and politicians matter than most sectors and actors are also the poorest societies.

The detrimental supremacy of politics in a society is achieved using three major ingredients: One, the subjugation of sense of citizenry to avoid accountability and scrutiny, two, weaponization of poverty to make people more malleable and thirdly, mystification of leadership and movement to obfuscate reason and sense of justice. Yes, supremacy of politics requires fanatism and in this case, a partisan fanaticism that makes people see, hear, read, speak and ultimately reason only through partisan prisms.

After over sixty years of independence, the Nigerian political class may not have been able to solve basic problems like provision of electricity, any kind of water (portable or not), good roads and functional hospitals, safety of lives and property, reliable civil service and certainty of the law, they have however created a nation of partisan fanatics that can see no wrong in what their leader does.

The partisan fanatics readily justify the actions or misdeeds of their leader and that of their party or movement even when such action is against their own personal interest. Partisan fanatics judge every action and statement in view of how it benefits or harms their leaders, their care is not about how true, how fair, nor how reasonable.

So, when in April 2023, with some eminent concerned citizens we got together to propose an appeal to ask the judiciary to consider televising the recently concluded elections and to make sure that adjudication is done before May 29, too many people were interested not in the fairness or less of the appeal, rather, too many people were taken by how it might benefit or damage their leader and party.

The very simple and clear intentions of the appeal is to help douse tensions, channel all disputes towards the legal process, restore faith in the judicial institutions and make protests and rebellions redundant but shockingly, thanks to partisan fanatism, these points are missed by many normally rational people. Luckily many get it.

Amazingly, whilst observers (historians, reporters and social scientists) as well as other leaders of the society (teachers, leaders of thoughts and religions, captains of industry and traditional rulers) are missing the sequence that leads to the consequence of having a nation of partisan fanatics, politicians who benefit from such consequence are aware and they do two things. One they perpetuate the sequences, secondly, they opt to be and act like pragmatic utilitarians that can focus on their personal interests by taking full advantage of the fanatism of their followers.

To achieve their ambition, as pragmatic utilitarians, our politicians can easily change political parties (like one would change a taxi) knowing their followers will go with them, even religious leaders cannot be sure of taking their flocks with them if they change church or mosque.

To get elected or retain power, a politician that has never associated with a religion or ethnic group can easily and suddenly associate with it and will even be allowed to lead prayers and rituals once it suits his or interest and no one will ask question thanks to partisan fanatism.

Our politicians know they can get into office and not deliver on their promises since there is no institution or collective conscience that will hold them accountable, better still they know they have an army of needy, hungry but hopeful and docile followers that will justify their incompetence and misdeeds. With the aid of partisan fanatics, pragmatic utilitarians know they can turn a principled ally into public enemy within minutes and convert an unscrupulous adversary into group leader as long it fosters the ambition of who matters.

Politicians know that politics is about their interest and they use whatever it takes to achieve their goals, it does not matter if it is religion, ethnicity or corruption or starvation. The only redemption is for citizens to develop a consciousness of citizenry that will break the yoke of partisan fanatism.

Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.

*Prof Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos. www.ciaps.org. He is a regular contributor to The Frontier.




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