POLITICS is one area of social life in which shared accountability is critically required but is embarrassingly missing. The social contract theory justifies the state based on this idea of shared accountability between the state and the individual. The individual foregoes absolute freedom and the state assures him or her of security and welfare. Do your part and I do mine.
On this original foundation of shared accountability, others follow. With the emergence of modern representative government, citizens, in their capacity as voters, choose their representatives based on their understanding of their interests and who presents an acceptable platform to promote them. “I vote for you to take care of my interests.” “Thank you; you can be sure that I have your back.” Thus goes an implicit contract between the two.
The successful execution of this implied contract, like every other contract, presupposes the vigilance of both parties with keen attention to its terms, the most important of which is the need for active participation by all in the political process. In what follows, I discuss two models of politics, one that conforms to this need, and one that doesn’t.
In the first republic, the Action Group government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced a system of politics and governance that took seriously the active participation of the masses of its members. Not one to take the support of citizens for granted, Chief Awolowo canvassed for votes from local government to local government, telling the people the truth about his proposed policies and programs. He also told them what to expect as well as what the government expected from them.
First, Awolowo assured the people that the party was theirs and they had responsibility for its success. Everyone who cared had a role to play from region to local government and ward levels. Members paid membership fees and were duly registered in their wards. Organizing Secretaries were appointed across the country. You could feel the enthusiasm of the members believing the success of the party was their success. This was what sustained the party even at the height of repression by the NNDP when a majority still retained their membership of the Action Group. It was why the party, reborn as UPN, emerged as the ruling party in the LOBOO states in the second republic. When you let people own an organization, they give their best for its success.
Second, however, it is not enough to give people ownership. It is also important to show that you care for their welfare in terms of the programs and policies that you put together. And on this score, the Awolowo approach was also spot on. This Sunday is the 66th anniversary of the Free Primary Education program of the Awolowo government in Western Region and it is one program that exemplifies the model of government that I find admirable. It was for the good of the people, part of the philosophy of Freedom for all, Life more abundant.
Before the program was introduced, there was detailed planning. Key members of the party, including the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, were involved. The planning included an analysis of the anticipated number of children, number of classrooms, the number of teachers, and the overall cost of the program. In addition to the cost, they already figured out the overall benefits, not just for the region but for the nation. With the balance of benefits overwhelmingly positive, they decided to forge ahead. And to get the people involved.
Getting people involved meant telling the truth about what was going to be their expected contribution in terms of taxation. The opposition took advantage of this truthfulness with conspiracy theories about how the government was going to deny parents the services of their kids on the farm. Unfortunately, it worked, and the ruling party lost at the polls. But this didn’t deter the Action Group. It did a better job explaining the benefits of the program and secured the buy-in of the people. The program was a huge success.
Third, in this model, political leaders showed that they were exemplary leaders with integrity and transparent sacrifice. Many of them were self-made with modest beginnings and modest means of livelihood. They refrained from vulgar ostentation. Therefore, the people saw them as an extension of themselves. Many of the legislators and ministers in the Awolowo administration were school teachers, headmasters, and school principals. Many served as part-time members of parliament holding on to their day jobs. Their politics was people-oriented.
There is a second model of politics and governance in which those three considerations are tossed out and abandoned.
For instance, instead of the active involvement of the people in politics, in this second model, only political leaders matter and whoever has the “structure” is the master. Whatever makes leaders lose control is frowned upon. Thus, membership registration is for the masters to control. Due to a new culture of dependency, the people themselves don’t bother about their obligation for the success of the party. They will own it if it succeeds; if not, they will join a successful party. In any case, without a semblance of ideological orientation, what matters is to be with the ruling party. It would be unfair however to blame this on the people. They only play the deck of cards they have.
The people are also neither involved in governance nor in making contributions to the workings of government. While salary earners in public and private sectors cannot avoid paying tax, only a few self-employed and business people voluntarily pay tax. We are in an era of representation without taxation. But this does damage to the expectations of the original contract. When you fail to discharge your own responsibilities, you cannot expect the other side of the contract to fulfill their part. Thus, only a few have the right to complain about waste or theft of tax-payer money.
Again, however, many political leaders hardly raise the issue with this. They don’t need too much involvement of people because their model of politics is a business model. In this model, the politician is a businessman-shareholder. He or she is an investor with capital. He or she only needs workers to help realize his or her dream. It is consistent with this model for the politician to have a structure, to invest in the structure, to have people work for him or her.
This is the language of our electoral politics: Mo fe ki o sise fun mi. (I want you to work for me.) This personalization of politics is responsible for the emergence of personality cults. There is no ideology that brings political activists together. It is only an assembly of self-seeking pragmatists jostling for political power. Towards what end? Your guess is as good as mine.
This is why our politics has become such an expensive enterprise. Surely, people are also not innocent bystanders in their marginalization. They have evolved tragically from patriotic citizens of the First Republic giving their moral and material support to the causes that they believe into the dependent parasites of the present, selling their votes, and thus the future of their children, to the highest bidder.
Some would suggest that I have engaged in a game of blaming the victim here. But no. Again, it takes two to tango. I do not deny that there is poverty now. But there was more gripping poverty in the land in the 50s and 60s. People didn’t sell their votes or birthright for a pot of pottage.
The reality now is that greed has overcome people’s psyche. We have not reconciled our desires to the reality of our means. And business politicians know this very well and often use it to their advantage in an ungodly and grossly unethical manner.
Toward the maximization of their interests, the Machiavellian ones would double down on denying people the means of livelihood until they need them for elections. At election time, these helpless folks are hired for various schemes from campaign aides to thugs only to be discharged after the election. It’s the legacy of the business model of politics.