Morality in Politics: Obaseki’s Diagnosis

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By Tonnie Iredia

In underdeveloped societies where primitive accumulation of wealth is attractive, it is not difficult to locate thousands of followers of Machiavelli’s perception of ‘no morality’ in politics.

Over the years, other notable leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, a foremost Russian revolutionary politician, have found cause to lend credence to the self-serving slogan.

But many leaders who often draw inspiration from the slogan don’t seem to remember that its original initiators never subscribed to democracy –today’s most popularly accepted form of government. Just as the world has several political theorists who defend the crudity of politics, so are there worthy persons who denounce dirty politics.

For instance, George Washington, America’s first President, disapproved of dirty politics because to him, ‘the most enviable of all titles is the character of an honest man.’ As the Nigerian-born Cardinal Arinze once argued, what is dirty about politics is not politics itself, but its corrupt practitioners who embezzle party and government funds.

The debate which ignited this piece was reopened last week by the re-elected Governor of Edo state, Godwin Obaseki.

The summary of Obaseki’s treatise was that comradeship should be premised on shared values. Speeches during his thank you visits to those who helped his re-election or at the presentation of certificate to him by INEC or indeed, his interviews on Channels and Arise TV programmes illuminated his differentiation of Pastor Ize-Iyamu from Adams Oshiomhole.

He told his interviewers that while he was ready to embrace Ize-Iyamu, he would be circumspect about Oshiomhole because with the latter, he doesn’t “share the same values or trust at all.”

A common saying in many places including Nigeria is that there are no permanent friends in politics, instead what defines politics is permanent interest. In other words, a politician can betray a friend or relations just to achieve a political goal.

President Muhammadu Buhari himself once disclosed how in 2003 while he was in the election tribunal to protest electoral malpractices, which made him lose that year’s Presidential election, leaders of his party the ANPP withdrew from the case in exchange for ministerial appointments from the government leaving their candidate in the cold.

There are scores of governors and their deputies who fall apart on account of the ambition of one or the other.

While some deputies work against their principals, some governors do not relish handing over to their deputies, so at a crucial point they arrange to impeach them to give way to their preferred successors. Kogi and Imo are the most recent examples. But this did not happen in Edo where Philip Shaibu reportedly declined all entreaties to be used to dislodge, Godwin Obaseki.

The argument of Shaibu that he couldn’t be part of such betrayal shows he believed that politics and morality are not incompatible. Obaseki has since testified that “my deputy governor and I share the same values, that’s why through thick and thin, he was there for me. For him it’s not about money, it’s about belief, truth, honesty, and human values.”

This posture in addition to other factors strengthened Obaseki’s resolve to respect morality in politics. His instructive admonition is that “you don’t have to be a crook, a fox to be a politician; you can be a noble and straightforward person and still be a politician.”

The popular rumour about an alleged deal by governor Obaseki to later return to the ruling APC has since been clarified by Obaseki who says he had no such plans.

In his words, it would” be immoral and unfair of me to have any other consideration at this point about leaving the platform that gave me the mandate; there must be morals in politics. At this point in time, I don’t think it’s right to jettison the platform, particularly when I have no issues with the party.”

Those who are expecting the governor to embrace the saying that what matters in politics is permanent interest may have to look towards another state, not Edo notwithstanding that the man was virtually dehumanised by his party and forced out by those whose political lexicon has no room for values.

Lack of values brings forth other vices such as unending ambition. Many Nigerian politicians are always wanting to remain in office; as one term or office is ending, they are heading to another.

For this to succeed, ample attention is deployed away from governance to plans for the next position. In most cases, this starts from the first day of a tenure.

A typical governor starts plotting his re-lection while waiting to pick the certificate of election for the first term. At the point of re-election, a team is formed to work out strategies for moving into the Senate after the second term or aligning with a team for some other positions like Minister or a Vice Presidential slot.

Going to the Senate has become more popular because it is the easiest to attain making our Senate now the retirement home of former governors. How this adds value to Nigerian politics is unclear to Obaseki hence it is not within his contemplation. Rather he says he “would go to teach and impact knowledge.”

The opportunity to teach politics would be quite fulfilling. Those who teach it now spend all their time on theory and at best admonishing their students that politics in Nigeria is a dirty game.

Obaseki would probably counter that notion and indeed unveil the political gains accruable to persons who are committed to ethical values and how many things can fall in place as a result of the posture.

No one can better illustrate than him, how adherence to ethical values can propel a leader to embrace good governance, and how that can turn such a person to an instant hero.

His preference to serve Edo people rather than share public resources to party hawks led to a gang up against him but he won’t forget how the populace recognizing his determination to genuinely develop society organized a mass movement dedicated to operation vote Obaseki which saw him back in office.

On how a politician can remain strong in the face of aggression, he would find delight in recalling the support he got from Nyesom Wike, the fearless, considerate and committed governor of Rivers state; a man Obaseki observed ‘no one can bully or stop from what he is convinced about.’

The story would probably end with a recommendation that in all human endeavours, politics inclusive, there are values which people must hold-on to,otherwise one may commit the sin of ‘politics without principle’ which is now philosophically recorded as one of the seven social sins.

The other six are: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. The purpose of government is to develop society and improve the living standards of the people.

We all have a duty to insist on that. The movement has begun in Edo and never again shall our people be misled to follow those who unite to fight a governor whose conscience is offended by the agitation for the sharing of public resources to party gladiators.

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