Playing politicians in Nigeria implies that our politicians play politics in the same way that one participates in a fun activity or game where the desired or expected results are for the glory or personal pleasure of the players..

By Napoleon Esemudje

The idea first came to me in 2009, after the messy awakening from the Ekiti re-election fiasco. Then a visibly agitated colleague, in a moment of exasperation, snapped out loud; “We do not practice politics in Nigeria. We just play politics!” Having long assumed a studious curiosity about Nigeria’s longstanding political melodrama, I was both puzzled by its rather abrupt deduction and intrigued by what I took to be a traumatized citizen’s hypothesis.

The premise of my unsolicited diagnosis, I admit, is the subtle definition and interpretation of “playing” as opposed to “practicing” politics. I suppose my friend’s frustration (malaise may be a more apt description given the harrowing impact on his general well-being) is a symptom of a deeper national grief, stemming from the relentless antics and traumatic blows of our political class.

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The main members of this class, the typical Nigerian politician, is a special breed (often in the manner of Chief Nanga, the fictional villain in Chinua Achebe’s satire “A Man of the People”) that was seeded in the First Republic and it has (despite the sanitizing efforts of a self-described evil genius) elastically metastasized to the Fourth Republic; leaving to this day, the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over this country.

But beyond this crude and invariably unsatisfying attempt to psychoanalyze a country, the differences between playing politics and practicing politics are worth exploring, if only for a basic understanding of the perplexing concept of Nigerian politics.

It’s all fun and games.

I suspect my friend would argue that our politicians play politics in the same way that one participates in an amusing activity or game whose desired or expected results are for the personal glory or pleasure of the players, such as an entertaining evening of street soccer or an evening of letters among friends. Obviously, the results of such fun and games played by a few individuals normally do not and should not determine the fate of hundreds of millions of citizens. And this, by the way, should not be misconstrued to include what some of us may, with unbridled passion, regard as more than just a game.

Competitive club soccer or World Cup tournaments, where the outcomes at stake are significant financial gain or national honor and prestige, are duly protected by this warning.

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But I digress. Perhaps it turned out that my friend, after another bitter taste of unpleasant elections, is convinced that our politicians do not practice politics as true statesmen would be expected (and yes, they are mostly men. Although in this very patriarchal society, the few female politicians it may seem have taken the Biblical notion of Adam’s helper too literally, and are content in their roles as collaborators).

Undoubtedly, it is also an annoying pun when many of our excellencies and honorable ones behave in ways that do not promote personal honor or the ethical values ​​that underpin good society and national pride. In fact, aside from the bizarre embellishment of nonsensical political slogans, many without rhyme or reason, it’s hard to find a politician in this country draped in clothing similar to the cloth of a patriotic flag. But this is not a game. There is too much at stake. The lives of hundreds of millions of citizens, including those of generations yet to be born, hang in the balance.

Politics of base instincts

Still, in a country with such a large and diverse population, what is it about our political system that makes our race of politicians (whose number surely does not exceed tens of thousands) so enduring and dominant? Could it be that there are rational reasons for our local variety of political deviance and that we have simply painted politicians in broad strokes? Could we, perhaps, draw from the deep pool of knowledge of experts for whom the study of politics was a profession and a calling?

I am inclined to grant value to the latter with special emphasis on contextual relevance. In this sense, we could adopt the definition of politics that lends itself to the Nigerian situation: that of the legendary political theorist Harold Laski. His seemingly primal definition of politics as “who gets what, when and how” seems to align with the underlying philosophy (in its purest and most primitive form) of “amala” politics pugnaciously espoused by the late Adedibu; once described by his disciples, with deference worthy of John Pepper Clark’s conqueror of the seven hills, as the “garrison commander” of the Ibadan polity.

Indeed, defenders of amala politics would be happy to repeat Laski’s definition as a conceptual acknowledgment of their brand of politics, which is at its core devoid of any pretentious affiliation to some fancy, albeit higher purpose, ideological essence. In any case, the closest that our amala politicians or defenders of the “stomach infrastructure” (the characterization of the last days) have come to any ideological leaning is their predisposition to the basest forms of compulsive exploitation, relentless greed, dishonorable little sins and the vampiric feats of political longevity. and self preservation.

But for a significant number of vulnerable, poorly educated, and largely impoverished constituencies desperate to survive in the here and now (after all, the future is decided by the gods), the offer of amala, or stomach infrastructure, seems like a fair deal from Faust. . Of course, it also helps that much of our electorate has long been fed and conditioned with the stimulants of ethno-religious partisanship. So yes, this is the arena and playground on which our special breed of politicians ride like ancient colossi.

It doesn’t matter that outside the borders of this country and continent, they are no more visible than shadows in the night. But for decades they have

We operate here with impunity and their operations have left behind a stunted country with a democracy almost in name only.

In search of good values

Therefore, from this perspective, my friend’s outburst is understandable and only reveals the smoke of his simmering discontent with a very frisky political class and the high costs of his game. Sadly, I am also inclined to believe that the dearth of a higher purpose ideology is not only missing from our politicians, but is also missing from most of us, including, dare I admit, my very concerned friend.

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It is this lack of a moral compass that may partly explain the transformation of former champions of civil justice and national renaissance into arrowheads and bulwarks of the status quo. Their claim, to be in the system to initiate an invasive procedure for change from within, is often so hollow that it is more about contaminated sutures and pus-leaking injuries of a distressing variety to the good men and women of yesterday. It makes one wonder. Are we all susceptible to the sweet poison that flows through the dark corridors of power and somehow turns yesterday’s heroes into conscience-gagged villains? Are we then all capable of the great evils of excessive greed and hypocrisy?

Perhaps it is worth remembering the thoughts of Martin Luther King Jr., a man who should know, about the existence of two selves in each of us: a higher self and a lower self. Mr. King recognized the existential struggle of maintaining control of the higher self at all times because once the lower self takes control; even the best of us fail. And despite all my fervent contemplations, it is clear to me that until we win this civil war of the mind with the arsenals of principles and ideologies that support the public good, we cannot improve our political fortunes.

a new year wish

So there it is. It seems that we have lemons for politicians and an electorate conditioned in survival mode; the latter possibly a fertile farm for future lemons processed via assembly line picks. How do we make lemonade with this sour mix? Who will save us from ourselves? Now, with my hand on my chin, I have to admit that finding light-hearted answers to these questions is a lot like nailing Jell-O to a wall. But this is a new year and an election year for that matter.

So, like the bleary-eyed hopefuls crossing over from 2022, I’m inclined to suspend twilight doubts and respond with a series of New Year’s wishes for a different kind of politician. Not necessarily a politician so virtuous as to be called a saint. No, that would be like finding a pin in our political haystack, and the true saints, in any case, are long dead. We also do not look for angels that do not live among us or that we cannot see. And we’re certainly not asking for a messiah, attractive as that prospect may be.

We simply need a politician who not only understands the system but has enough moral authority drawn from deeply held values ​​and a sense of personal honor to put country before himself.

One who is capable of shame and revulsion at the grandeur of their special privileges, as well as grief and empathy for the plight of the unfortunate citizens.

One who will not play silly political games with the lives of citizens but has the right vision to see beyond the now and the fleeting pleasures of power and wealth.

Someone who knows they won’t be remembered for their possessions, be it the size of their bank accounts, their fleet of jets, the length of their caravans, or the splendor of their palaces.

One driven by a sense of history, to rekindle trust and faith in our faltering homeland among scarper citizens and a sense of national pride and esteem that ultimately uplifts the African continent and the African Diaspora.

One committed to leaving behind a transformative legacy that would be a beacon for others to follow and a milestone for posterity.

Such that when future generations of the country look back, they will say that at this moment, under the skillful helm of this politician, this drifting ship of a country finally changed course and headed full steam ahead towards port. of his promised greatness.


  • Napoleon Esemudje, a Chevening scholar, poet, storyteller, playwright, banker, management and human resources aficionado, wrote from Lagos.