Dr Kayode Fayemi, the defeated governor of Ekiti State, is becoming a national icon by the way he has so far handled his defeat.
He lost the governorship election in Ekiti but won a landslide victory in the hearts and minds of most Nigerians. In climes where dishonesty is banal, telling the truth is regarded as a revolutionary act. Dr Fayemi did the unthinkable: for an incumbent to concede an election to an opponent without whining that he has been rigged out is a very un-Nigerian act. It is an act capable of revolutionizing our electoral politics. Many of the briefcase contestants in the election, who were in the race in the hope that they would be ‘mobilized’ (in Nigeria-speak) to play a role during the inevitable court processes, may not find Fayemi’s action funny.
The larger victory of the Dr Fayemi in Ekiti, holds the promise of turning our politics away from its present character of zero-sum-game (winner takes all) to a relative gain situation (a win-win situation). The fear of vindictiveness by an opponent is one of the factors that animate ‘sit-tightism’ among African leaders. It also explains why many Nigerian governors and presidents want to impose on the electorate a candidate they handpicked.
Though I do not personally know Dr Fayemi, watching him read his concession speech on TV I felt tears swell in my eyes because he is one of the few governors I really had very strong empathy for. The way he handled his defeat made him even a greater hero in my mind. Without any show of bitterness on his face, he declared that “election by its nature generates tension and hot exchange of words, but to me, once the whole exercise is over, all those involved should take such with calmness and stop all acrimony.
“It is my belief that we must all start imbibing attitudes that will make us avoid activities that can threaten our peaceful co-existence. We must also avoid the bad loser syndrome. I believe we need to build this democracy to a mature end, rather than pull it down.”
Dr Kayode has done his bit. He has extended a hand of fellowship to the winner, Ayo Fayose and has been rewarded by the public for doing so. For the Fayemi effect to take root will however now depend on whether Fayose will find the strength of character to resist the temptations of being triumphalist or vindictive – like virtually all the other Governors that succeeded in unseating incumbents (and even those handpicked by a former President and Governors to succeed them).
Fayose is most likely to come under pressure when he is sworn in as governor from his cronies, favour-seekers and the PDP to ‘rubbish’ Dr Fayemi in order to make himself look good (every governor creates the impression that before them there had been no governance in their states). Such provocations sometimes force people who have already accepted defeat to reverse themselves and challenge their defeat in courts as a way of fighting back. Fayemi must resist the temptation – despite any provocation.
It should be the duty of Nigerian media and Nigerians to take on both the sore loser and the triumphalist victor if we are serious about sanitizing our politics. Both the sore loser and the triumphant victor must be seen and treated as problems to the democratic processes in the country. We must begin to find answers to the question of why the phenomenon of the gallant loser has not become entrenched in our political culture despite the fact that Obasanjo became a global statesman by merely handing over power to a democratically elected government in 1979.
A very important issue raised by the Ekiti election is the role of intellectuals in politics. Many analysts believe that one of the reasons Fayose won was because he was a ‘grassroots person’, a man of the people, so-to-say, while Dr Fayemi, with his PhD and polished diction, was too much of an aloof intellectual. People who buy this thesis find support in the dictum by the former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill that “all politics is local”. The expression is often used to mean that a politician’s success is directly tied to the person’s ability to understand and influence the issues of their constituents. In other words, politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elected them into office. In Ekiti, Fayose, who rode on ‘okadas’ was said to mingle with the people easily, attending to local burials, while Dr Fayemi, was aloof – as most intellectuals are wont to be.
I have problems with this type of analysis.
A starting point may be to pose the question of who is an intellectual. There is no consensus on the definition but I always find the definition by Professor Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan public intellectual, very illuminating. According to Mazrui, an intellectual is someone who is fascinated by abstract ideas and has acquired some academic capacity for handling such ideas. Mazrui’s definition means that one needs not be a Professor or PhD to be an intellectual. It also means that one can lose either his fascination with abstract ideas or his capacity for handling such ideas (such as through lack of refurbishments via readings and attending seminars and workshops). Mazrui called this category of intellectuals ‘ex-intellectuals’, suggesting that the possession of such honorific as ‘professor’ or ‘Dr’ does not make anyone a perpetual intellectual. Quite a number of our intellectuals who dabble into politics quickly get engrossed with the politics of ‘stomach infrastructure’ and in the process either lose interest in abstract ideas or allow their capacity for handling such ideas to become obsolete (or both).
Following from the above, a Nigerian intellectual in politics is someone who, despite being involved in politics, retains his or her fascination with abstract ideas and also his or her capacity for handling such ideas. This often includes polished mannerisms and a belief that a vision of society he or she had before joining politics, is actually realizable. The intellectual in politics resists the system dynamics that try to turn him into a ‘man of the people’ – that is to say, a hypocrite that does things for expediency or simply to win elections. Unfortunately aloofness tends to be part of the definition of intellectuals (perhaps because they need their space to be themselves or to dwell on their abstract ideas). This is not the same as not caring about the needs of the people or being out of touch but a belief that leadership is not a popularity contest, that a leader should show the way, and that while the short term needs of the people are important, it is often the greater vision of the future that should be the driver of policies. In Nigeria, being ‘a ‘man of the people’ (or ‘grassroots’ man) often means being a sort of Robin Hood who steals from the state and redistributes a tiny part of the proceeds to the people. I have no issue with people who are genuinely folksy. But to imply that going into politics means that everyone will have to acquire a ‘man of the people’ identity seems to me a fraud. I don’t feel that I need to ride on okada to prove that I am not out of touch.
One of the lessons from Fayemi’s loss therefore is for intellectuals planning to dabble into politics to start creating new narratives that will drive political discourses. Grassroots politicians in Nigerian parlance tend to be short-term oriented – they build new universities even when existing ones are not well equipped because it is what the people can relate with; they prioritize the building of roads over investing in qualitative education because the voters cannot immediately see the effect of the latter and the impact may not be felt before the next elections. Grassroots politicians may know how to win the votes with ‘amala’, ‘tuwo’ or ‘garri’ politics but it is not certain they know what it takes to build a society that will be competitive in the 21st century. Therefore the danger of glamorizing ‘grassroots’ politicians is not only the unacceptable subtext that we need to lose our individual identities in order to thrive in politics but even the more dangerous innuendo that the gratification of the immediate physical and sensory needs of the masses is the only way to be a good politician. What then happens to the age- old adage that leadership is not – and ought not to be – a popularity contest? In a largely illiterate and poor society like ours, both the visionary leaders and the grassroots politicians have complementary roles to play: we need the ‘grassroots politicians’ to remind the visionary leader (intellectual) that in the long-run the people will be dead if their immediate needs are not gratified; we also need the visionary leader to remind the grassroots politicians that a society that is not driven by a big vision will forever remain ordinary.
Jideofor Adibe firstname.lastname@example.org (08112661609 texts only)