Tempering Idealism with Nigerian Reality: A Synopsis of My Recent Odyssey
Public intellectuals and thought leaders should know that participating in Nigerian public life comes with enormous drawbacks. A significant part of that drawback is that the same constituencies that ought to naturally be responsive to your message are the most cynical, untrustworthy and ultimately self serving. In my own case, it is ironic to note that the Chair of my former political party even chose to ridicule one of our fundraising efforts because we were only able to raise 25, 000 Naira in that instance – forgetting that those were genuinely hard earned money and his attitude – an affront on the small Naira donors who supported us against all odds.
But we face a dilemma in Nigeria: how do we transform this country of ours from low income status to middle income in a generation? That is an average of 25 years. This is one of the questions that keeps some of us up at night and has led us into political activism. This conversation is especially more important now given BudgIT’s Director – Seun Onigbinde’s acceptance of an advisory position in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Our progressive credentials run the risk of being called into question if we have always couched the argument about Nigeria’s development in absolute terms and have ceded the space to those with less than stellar grey matter.
There is also the vexing issue of a strong third political party that can effectively challenge the supremacy of the two behemoths within the Nigerian political space. My recent experience as a third party candidate shows that many of those who founded these third parties have their own agendas and as such, they are more interested in building a brand rather than a movement. This explains the reason why Omoyele Sowore was denied a platform on one of the emergent third political party simply because the founder was insecure. Omoyele ended up forming his own political party and got close to 34, 000 votes while the individual that denied Sowore a space in the political party he founded ended up with a miserly 4, 000 votes. In all, third force political parties in Nigeria wasted close to a million votes across over thirty political parties because it was more important for many of their founders to build their own brands rather than fight for the collective. It became clear to me that their egos were bigger than their brains.
Just imagine the possibility of all third force political parties coming together and queuing behind one single candidate? The visual of that and the kind of impact they could make. But as I have stated earlier, to many of them, it is more a branding effort than a real shot at Nigerian leadership. It was sufficient that they ran and perhaps use that exposure to get more clients for their consulting work. Heck, some of them may even end up as officials of the notoriously corrupt Nigeria’s Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC). It doesn’t matter that millions of Nigerian kids are dying daily of preventable diseases and many are roaming the streets instead of being in school. Those who are supposed to provide solutions to the most pressing issues of our time are busy grandstanding and building their own brands instead of being open and welcoming of diverse opinions and thoughts.
Back to Kwara and my experience therein; I went into the race clearly disadvantaged in the areas of finance and in a strong grassroots presence. However, I was optimistic that Kwara was ready for a message such as mine. Given the schism in the All Progressive Congress at the time, it was necessary for another voice to join the fray and own the progressive argument about change and economic inclusion. Beyond the need to elevate the discourse and allow other viewpoints, I also understood what the 2019 gubernatorial election was about in the state of Kwara. As a prominent member of the Kwara opposition family dating back to 2014, I knew sitting on the fence is not an option. It was and still is more important to win that historic election – which we won – and to jettison any self interest that may be in conflict with the overall opposition goal of a total victory over the former ruling hegemony. I believe firmly that if my message had triumphed over the APC message, the opposition family would have done the same in supporting me to finish strong. In the end, the need to win in 2019 and win decisively transcends any one political party and one individual.
It is in the light of the foregoing that we should locate Onigbinde’s acceptance of an advisory role in PMB’s government. Nigeria needs men and women like Seun Onigbinde because in their absence lunatics will be running the asylum. Now, I am not suggesting that one should jump at any given political appointment because of the willingness to serve; far from it. What I am suggesting though is that public intellectuals and technocrats must be willing to work for the Nigerian government at all levels because it is clear that a dearth of intellectualism in our public life has ensured that Nigeria with all its vast human and mineral resources continues to rank low in major categories in the United Nation’s Human Development Index.
My advice is that going forward we should refrain from absolutism because we run the risk of being called hypocrites even though we know we are only desirous of seeing significant change in our lifetime. For many a Nigerian public intellectual or technocrat, we know that most times, we will be walking into a thankless and less rewarding job (monetarily) but we give of ourselves not because we do not want to be appreciated, not because we do not want to maintain our previously high incomes but because we derive satisfaction from whatever policy initiative that comes to fruition as a result of our efforts. It is even more gratifying to our soul when we see those policy initiatives in action. In this instance, the NPOWER Scheme comes to mind. The young men and women behind the scheme must be proud of what they were able to bring to fruition. I have met many of the beneficiaries and I can attest that it has changed their lives.And this is why it is important that Nigerian intellectuals and technocrats must be willing to serve the Nigerian state because failure to do so would ensure that we continue to live in our present hobbesian state.
Dr. Abdulmumin Yinka Ajia was a gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 general elections in Kwara state and Chief Executive, Ilorin College of Advanced Studies, Ilorin, Nigeria