In Search of Politicians with Integrity

By Umar Sa’ad Hassan

I often begin with a quote. Today I choose to quote Edward Kennedy who said, “Integrity is the lifeblood of any democracy; deceit is a poison in its veins.”

Contrary to what many people think, William Shakespeare was not the original author of the words, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. It was William Congreve. And if Congreve were still alive and living in the present-day Nigeria, I bet he wouldn’t have borne any grudge if he heard anyone say, “Hell hath no fury like a Nigerian politician scorned”.

Every politician has a right to choose the party he wants to belong to. That right is constitutional. It is the reason I frowned at the APC making all presidential candidates sign an agreement to remain in the party no matter the outcome of the presidential primaries. Apart from the fact that it is unconstitutional, it is not enforceable in a court of law. What is the point when you can’t actually stop anyone who wants to leave?

This is defection season. A typical Nigerian politician isn’t any different from the little kids we see around who hate you when you don’t give them what they want and choose that time to remember just how bad you are. Many have defected after the primaries and many more will defect after the general elections. People who lose primaries in one party move to another with tales of how they just woke up to the fact that they had been in bed with a gang of thieves, glorified militants or fraudsters. It was all good a week ago and even yesterday until they lost the primaries! This category of politicians is the most annoying because they seem to genuinely believe they would sway you with their arguments. They never realized they had bad company until the primary election results were announced. The honourable path beckoned after they suddenly realized what an unjust and cheating bunch they had been playing with.

There are some who leave on a peaceful note, and you respect them for not offending your sensibilities. They are the non-hypocritical few who are proud products of their environment. They are desperate and don’t owe anyone an excuse.

We also have the category that got bullied out because they had lost power and influence in their old parties. Their stories, in a nutshell, depict an image of those who, regardless of what they did to those before them, bowed out “honourably” and with their “integrity” intact rather than be lorded over by people who see politics as do or die. Such people, in almost every case, have acquired a decent level of experience as far as our politics is concerned but come across as deliberately naive and suffering from self-inflicted amnesia. These people ought to know more than anyone else that money and power are the “weapons of mass destruction” in our politics. Today, an Obasanjo has to live with the fact that he can do nothing about Buruji Kashamu being the leader of PDP his zone. Whatever power and influence he wielded in the region has long left him. Most people in this category rose to their former positions themselves because of the two “WMDs”, and, when a new kid on the block emerges, they rant about how they are being side-lined and aren’t being accorded due respect. Usually, nobody bothers to remind them of what transpired between them and the former leaders or elders whom they “disrespected”.

Then, the last category – the ones who strategically position themselves for great things, ones who defect to a bigger platform, knowing they are better placed to acquire power or hobnob with those who have it and acquire the attendant benefits of doing such. Their excuses depict their old parties as being petty and non-progressive. To practise genuine democracy, “you have to be in the midst of true democrats” becomes the mantra. This class, in my humble opinion, ought to spare everybody those long lines about not being able to do what is right in the wrong place. A good excuse which, quite frankly, only a few give is that they need to be in a place where they can get to serve the people in the fastest possible time. In other words, they want to be strategically positioned!

One thing both sub-categories have in common is desperation. The poster boy for the latter context is Nuhu Ribadu. He left APC for PDP peacefully without falling out with anyone. He spared us a long sermon and, in return, the objective ones among us kept mute. They have taught me to regard every Nigerian politician as guilty until proven innocent – to be on the safe side. Even Gen. Buhari’s CPC substituted candidates and staged controversial primaries, some right under his nose in Katsina.

These are what we wake up to every day: politicians who themselves wake up to certain facts at the most convenient time and expect us to believe them. In most cases, we know the real reasons even before hearing what they have to say. But we all would be better off if we were spared some convenient tales about the friends they kept.

I have said, time and again, that anyone who regards a party as being better than the others only chooses to deceive himself. What is the difference if anybody could stroll into any fold at his own convenient time? Why fight with each other and argue over moral high grounds when they keep ‘trading’ members to each other?

Sometimes I wish Obasanjo had taken up Tinubu’s offer to join the APC. I would have loved to hear Lai Mohammed’s excuse for all the atrocities they had accused him of at one time or the other. Would they say he had “changed” or was misunderstood?

Clearly, Nigerian political parties lack ideology. If they had ideologies, then, they must be hypocrisy-centred – they always swallow their vomit. You can’t call people thieves and admit them into your fold. In the great words of Malcolm X, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

So I am still searching for that one man who would decamp to another party for none of the aforementioned reasons: the one man who would jump ship not because he can’t stand the heat or was scorned, the one man who wouldn’t because he has something to gain. I am still searching. And I hope we find him soon, for our own good.


Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano.



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