There is an ancient Chinese aphorism that says ‘may you live in interesting times’. Nigeria epitomizes this – never a dull moment. While we struggle with our individual dramas whether trying to rescue our pensions from the clutches of those who have better uses for it or navigating life without steady power supply (fridges turned cupboards and fried up electronics) the nation collectively moves from crisis to calm and pseudo- crisis all within a news cycle.
There is already a lot in the public space about the most recent political developments around the emergence of the current leadership of the National Assembly last week. We have heard the back stories, watched the replay on television and read the arguments and counter arguments for why who emerged, what is right, wrong or great for democracy.
While there are many unasked and unanswered questions there are structural and political lessons for those who wonder about the way things have turned out so far.
The first lesson is one that all half trained lawyers know: ambiguities will be taken advantage of. Order 2 of the Senate Rules provides that on the first sitting of a new senate, senators-elect shall assemble. The NASS Clerk will read the proclamation, call the Senate to order and proceed to roll call. Each senate elect called shall present the writ of election and receipt for the declaration of assets and liabilities. Order 2(1)K then says ‘all senators elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for President and Deputy President of the Senate’. If the proclamation was read at 10am and 57 Senators were present, and the process above was followed, it is unlikely that by 10.34am a senate president could have been sworn in even with an unopposed nomination. Is there a presumption that ‘all’ senators (except those incapacitated) would be at the chambers for the vote? Some think not and rely on Section 54 of the 1999 Constitution which says a third of the legislators form a quorum. If it ever comes up for judicial interpretation, the judges can tell us if the Rules and Constitution envisaged that something as momentous as electing the Senate President can be done with 38 senators.
Second, the enemy of my enemy is my friend but the enemy of my friend is not necessarily my enemy. This sums up the weeks of negotiations and horse trading which ultimately led to the results of Tuesday’s events and election. It also explains the cross party coalition to thwart what had been successfully framed as the battle to contain one godfather. This lesson may be captured succinctly by: “in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies; only permanent interests”.
Which brings us to the third lesson: godfathers; politicians can’t live with them and can’t live without them. Godfatherism in politics and governance is a hydra-headed monster and for every attempt to cut down one, two or three more are empowered. However, none may succeed in politics without having one or more – at least until they become godfathers with no need for others and that is precisely when they are ripe for felling. Yet despite betrayals of the ‘fathered’ and betrayals of the god-children, Lesson Two above prevails.
The fourth lesson in Nigerian politics is if it is okay when your friend/party does it; it must be okay when your enemy /another party does it (and maybe even expands on it).
Five, slight no one and overlook no one particularly those who feel they contributed to your success. Humans crave recognition and appreciation and just like some animals are more equal than others, so also do some need more recognition than others; give it to them. Ignoring them might make them disciples of Lesson Two. Study this lesson with ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.
Six, nature abhors a vacuum. Sadly not just air will rush in to fill the gaps, leading to ‘too many cooks’ and problems with the broth. There are benefits to sometimes letting things take their course, politics is not one of those things. No matter how well-meaning and above the fray one might want to be, a surprise you did not plan is the last thing you want. Unless. What you want is planned just so it appears as if that’s not what you want. In which case, this article is not for you. You are the ultimate strategist.
Seven, politics is not for the squeamish. Nor for the honourable or for those who balk at winning at all cost or rolling in the mud a.k.a saints. It is all or nothing and this lesson is best applied with the theory about success having many parents, preferably the types who ask no questions.
Eight, there is only one applicable definition of politics in Nigeria and it is ‘politics is a game of numbers/addition’. Forget Laswell’s ‘politics is who gets what, when and how’ or Easton’s ‘politics is the authoritative allocation of value’ or anything else. Look at the faces and tactics of winners over the years (true disciples of Lesson Seven) and take your cue from them.
The ninth lesson is linked to Lesson One. Be extremely thorough. Read the fine print and look for loop holes to exploit. As a politician be late for everything except the day of your expected coronation; then you get there the day before and hunker down. Don’t overlook anyone, especially not clerks (or people who technically don’t have votes but who have powers).
Ten – every cloud has a silver lining therefore turn every crisis into an opportunity and make sure you stock up on sugar, honey and water to turn your lemons into lemonade. Analyse: what are the lessons learnt from the events and the immediate fall out? What are the risks? What are the unexpected benefits and how can you ‘claim’ them? How you deal with an issue can define outcomes for longer than you would like. Take it (whatever) on the chin, move on (and keep plotting).
For those on the side lines, try not to get blood on your shoes and stay away from those most likely to tread on strategically placed banana peels. 2019 is already in play and we can only hope that the spirit of change will ensure that politicians refocus and keep their attention on delivering good governance to citizens who are increasingly aware and demanding. The competition between the parties and politicians should be on pleasing Nigerians, not pleasing themselves. Otherwise, we’ll be waiting for them at the polling booths…