There appears to be no agreed definition of a politician. Some said it is one who seeks or holds public office; others said it is a person who is in politics to gather personal gains; yet some people said it is a person who is engaged in the business of government etc. The means of engagement is either through personal appointment based on merit/qualification or election via political party membership. Independent candidates could also be engaged in politics to hold public office and be described as politicians. Whichever way, there are three perspectives to the concept of a politician; these perspectives are derived from the purpose for being in politics. Ideally, a politician is one who serves the common good. Such a person may be talented or passionate about being a political leader. It may also be a person who wants to achieve personal gains through politics even though the person may have the in-born passion for providing thoughts and solutions to common problems. It may also be someone who wants to be famous by influencing public policy and decision making processes of the state.
Consequently, a good politician is one who at all times serves or would like to serve the common good. A bad politician is one who at all times would always like to serve more to achieve selfish interests or just to become famous by influencing government decisions: caring less about the effects of those decisions on the people. So, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), a former Head of State in Nigeria, is a politician by all definitions; but he is more of a bad politician because his interests must come first before considering the common good and he is a person who would always like to influence government policies and decisions not minding the consequences of such decisions on the people.
It was about 1987, as an undergraduate at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, when the Students Union of University of Port Harcourt (Uniport) organized her students’ week (and I would normally go for the guests lectures) and Professor Nzimiro as a guest lecturer, was asked how Babangida could become a lecturer at Uniport. Prof. said Babangida must show that he has the WASC qualification, passed his JAMB with very high scores, and had a first degree with at least second class minimum plus a Masters degree. We all shouted: “He can never become a lecturer” and thinking that that was probably the reason he was not able to effectively manage the relationship between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government then. So to us, the logic was that Babangida was such a “small” man, after all he was not an undergraduate knowing that he never sat nor passed JAMB talk of graduating and holding a Masters degree. Students’ yabbies you know naw!
I think this opinion had lasted in me since then but seriously interrogated recently when President Jonathan declared that “ Nigeria won’t break up”, see The Guardian of Monday, January 14, 2013 and reports from newspapers indicating Babangida’s response to the same issue. Vanguard page 9, Friday, February 1, 2013 appeared to have done a most detailed report of Babangida’s prognosis on the issue. To Mr. President, Nigeria will not break up as predicted by few selfish individuals and groups because Nigerians are not mad people, Nigeria’s size and diversity are strong factors against disintegration. But Babangida was more analytical looking at the issue from its historical essence to the politics and sociology of the topic. He informed us that even Lord Lugard who formed Nigeria proposed that it will last for 100 years (that is 2014) and the United States of America (USA) strongly feels that Nigeria would go in 2014-15. These were probably based on the facts that Nigeria is made up of too many different peoples with different aspirations that had never been discussed nor wielded together for the formation of a true federal state. He also said that Nigeria is precious enough to be saved, which of course supports Jonathan’s people and size theories. Yet, the fact that Mr. President and a former Head of State were worried about how sacrosanct is the unity of Nigeria points to the possibility of the existence of unresolved issues acting to tear Nigeria apart.
To Babangida, leadership of Nigeria must identify the problems, provide the means and fix them. This is as usual, the essential Babangida and we should always give credit to his ability to know and understand national issues and thinking (though bourgeoisically) of solutions. Babangida is not the type that will see a national problem and look the other side, no. He will always think about it and have an original solution or opinion. He is never naïve or daft! He is smart and ever thinking. Most times, it is his implementation that could spoil Babangida; definitely not his initial inclination for intellectual input to resolving society issues. He loves theory, but hardly sincere in using suitable principles garnered from theory to resolve practical problems. Thus, it is his implementation or practice of leadership which is always aimed at satisfying his private needs first that defined him as not a good politician. That was why when he was Nigeria’s Head of State, he was nicknamed Maradona: on an issue, he will listen to and tell Nigerians very analytical sweet theories and sound processes on paper, but will go ahead and adopt a different implementation approach. That is not a good politician!
A good politician is like Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Chairman Mao, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, etc. A good politician would always seek political power to first and foremost achieve common good by being sincere and less greedy in the process of implementing public policies. This is where Babangida has some huge challenge and shortcomings. This was why he couldn’t fix Nigeria’s critical problems as Head of State.
Nigeria would have gained a lot from the politician in Babangida if he had not been a soldier and had gone to school up to the university level, studied Political Science and gone into politics to serve Nigerians, not himself. The army spoilt him by providing him with the opportunity of easily achieving his greed. His ambitious nature was fundamentally directed towards achieving his greed, thus he became too compromised to pursue his talent of being a politician. This was where Nigeria and indeed Africa lost the talent God gave to Babangida: politics. So, how did this affect Nigeria?
Let us use the issue of the unity of Nigeria to assess how Nigeria lost the talent of political leadership in Babangida. He believes that Nigeria must celebrate her centenary because the country, despite its problems, had remained one country and the only way Nigeria can move forward was to fix those problems affecting her development and make sure she remained an indissoluble entity. Good talk! But what are those problems? From his analysis, he knows them. Very well! So what did he do during his eight years political leadership of Nigeria to resolve those problems? The fact that those problems are still unresolved (that was why Mr. President and Babangida are afraid of Nigeria’s disintegration) means that Babangida failed as a political leader of Nigeria from August 1985 to August 1993. He failed not because he did not know the problems or that he did not know the right thing to do to solve the problems; no, he failed because as Head of State, he circumvented his talent for his greed and went about doing things to satisfy his lust for money, material possessions, fame, sycophantic loyalty and its control, influence, self aggrandizement and the elimination of whoever and whatever that stood his way in achieving these glamorous and transient things. But as at then, only a forcefully united Nigeria (go on with one Nigeria, no victor no vanquished Nigeria, indissoluble and indivisible Nigeria etc) could guarantee him with the quantum of money needed to achieve these small things, and at that, he lost focus from resolving the real problems confronting Nigeria. This was where and how Nigeria lost Babangida’s talent for political leadership.
You could easily see his talent come to bear whenever he is in any intellectual exercise about Nigeria. So talking about the forced unity of Nigeria is one thing Babangida holds in very high esteem because it always would afford him the opportunity to show his talent and achieve his greed. Those items of his greed he achieved when he was Head of State are fast disappearing; hence he needed to have political power again within a forcefully united Nigeria, surely not in a true federal Nigeria. Babangida may not be interested in leading Nigeria again if Nigeria cannot avail him with sufficient funds to oil his items of greed. So, to do this and given that talks about 2015 is around the corner, he had jumped into the intellectual discourse about the unity of Nigeria. This ever present ambition in Babangida is too late to come to light again because Nigerians of the 21st Century are looking for a leader who has both the talent and the courage to deliver common goods. Babangida cannot; this way again Nigeria has lost Babangida’s political leadership talent.
The essence of this analysis is to point to what Nigeria had been losing in not properly raising her children through a good educational system that can discover the talents in her children, train these talents, equip them and develop them along their talents. Imagine what Nigeria would have gained in political leadership if great minds like Murtala Ramat Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, etc. had properly and fully gone through civil education and become doctorate degree holders in Political Science (the Science of political leadership)? There is no doubt that the only one close to this, Obafemi Awolowo, would always be remembered in the political history of Nigeria as a great and good politician. Awolowo gave Nigeria Western Nigeria which became the most sophisticated nation in Africa, the concepts of True Federalism and Egalitarianism, Opposition politics, Operation weti, two-third of nineteen and all culminated in the June 12, 1993 election whose troubles led to the current democracy Nigeria had been enjoying. Indeed Babangida should have been a greater and better politician but for greed.