In two previous articles (April 27, 2020 and May 8, 2020, (SundiataPost), we discussed some aspects of COVID-19 and politics. In today’s focus, we want to discuss further the negative impact of politics generally and more particularly on the efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This further discussion was inspired, by happenings at both the national and international levels with respect to the negative influence of politics on the fight against the pandemic. Unlike in the previous articles, we are not going to assume a common or general understanding of what politics means, but we will rather provide an understanding of the meaning of politics from an academic point of view.
Prof. Okwudiba Nnoli (an accomplished international scholar of high repute) in his book (Introduction to Politics, 1986, London: Longman) provides us an authoritative starting point. According to him, politics refers to ‘all those activities which are directly or indirectly associated with the seizure of state power, the consolidation of state power, and the use of state power’ (emphasis ours). As he rightly pointed out, ‘politics is power, but not all power is politics’, hence it is state power that is of interest to political scientists. It is in this context therefore that some other distinguished political scientists much earlier defined politics ‘as the authoritative allocation of values for a society’ (by David Easton, in his book A Framework for Political Analysis, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1965), and as the science and art of ‘Who gets What, When and How’, (by Harold Lasswell, in his book Politics: Who Gets What, When and How’, New York: Meridian Books, 1958).
The interest of political scientists has however not neglected the struggle for power within non-state actors, or neglected conflict as an essential underlying element in the struggle for power either by state or non-state actors. Going further on this, we will draw briefly from a chapter titled ‘The Scope and Methods of Political Science Research’, (by Obasi Isaac in his book Research Methodology in Political Science, Enugu: Academic Publishing Company, 1999), where the ubiquity of conflict in the struggle, acquisition and exercise of power by either the state and non-state actors was underscored. Conflict is present in the struggle to acquire power and also in the exercise of power or simply in sharing the benefits accruing from power so acquired.
All said and done politics as Obasi pointed out is ‘the process of acquiring and exercising power by state and non-state actors for utilitarian purposes’. With respect to politics within non-state actors, we can talk of student’s union politics, religious politics, ethnic politics, church politics, politics among actors in the entertainment industry, politics within football federations, or trade union politics even in private sector organisations.
Proceeding from these theoretical viewpoints, we can now properly understand why the illegal movements of people from the North (suspected to be Almajirai, Herdsmen or members of Boko Haram) is simple act of bad politics in a COVID-19 emergency period in Nigeria. It is a pursuit for advantageous power or supremacy over others in the domain of non-state actors. But this illegal movement can also have links with state actors for instrumental purposes. There is no reason whatsoever for people to be concealed in truck load of cows or trucks conveying cement if they do not have less than noble intensions. The latest one (just reported on May 21, 2020), even involved the forging of the signature of the Rivers State Governor Barr. Nyesom Wike. The also confessed that that they paid money to security personnel (among other fraudulent things) for them to be able to get through to Port Harcourt. This has been the pattern since the ban on inter-state movements for which we have had time to comment in some of our previous articles. In Abia State for instance, as many as 40 persons in this category were intercepted at a time. Many more were reported in other states across the country.
Politics as an aspect of domination in this country is more destructive to our development efforts than corruption. I have argued elsewhere that if we do not kill bad politics (not corruption but which must also be killed), bad politics will kill Nigeria. How? It is bad politics that turns everything upside down in this country. It is bad politics that has been the driver of grand corruption. The psychology of political appointees (across states and geo-political zones) is that they have been given the opportunity to enrich themselves and not to serve. That is why looting as alleged by critics thrives regardless of the political party in power.
Furthermore, it is bad politics that is behind how COVID-19 palliatives have been shared (or is still being shared) lopsidedly without any remorse. It is bad politics that determined how the conditional cash transfer has also been lopsidedly driven as alleged by critics. It is bad politics that has sustained the unfair revenue allocation system in this country for a very long time. It is indeed bad politics that was behind the unfair (lopsided) creation of local government areas in this country. It is absolutely bad politics that has continued to marginalise the South-east and South-south geo-political zones with an air of impunity, satisfaction and self-congratulations for a long time now.
It is again bad politics that has sustained the unfair implementation of the federal character system without qualms. It is out-rightly bad politics that sees nothing wrong with provincialism and nepotism in federal government appointments. Politics is in everything, it is everywhere, as it is killing everything, and thereby killing the best in all of us. But unfortunately, and in an unintended manner, every section of this country suffers its debilitating effects, and everyone becomes a loser. We have all suffered what Prof. Gabriel Olusanya (former DG of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, and our former Ambassador to France) called poverty of imagination long time ago with specific reference to the implementation of the federal character principle. Brian Stelter (Anchor CNN Reliable Sources) has also called this kind of situation collective failure of imagination.
Politics through the right leadership can build a nation, and has actually built great nations. But then bad politics can destroy a nation so badly beyond redemption. Think of what has happened in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraqi, South Sudan, Somalia, among many other places. Yet, it is good politics (through great leadership) that built the United States of America and made it GREAT, and it is the other side of politics (the bad side) that is bringing America now to its knees and destroying it under President Donald Trump. Right now, the US has left a huge leadership gap on the global scene (particularly in multilateral organisations) that is being taken over and filled happily by China.
Bad politics under President Trump is systematically eroding (within just four years) America’s greatness achieved over centuries. The president has been sacking professionals/technocrats in the American bureaucracy because of his political interests. He has the unenviable record of having the highest turnover rate of political and administrative staff in American history. He is not allowing the scientists and professionals hold sway in the fight against COVID-19. Then after failing, he will still blame China for it.
As a result of politics, President Trump wants to reopen the economy in a manner that may lead to an unprecedented rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 infection. In spite of the fact that the number of infections is still very high and that many people are still dying daily, the president has made up his mind even to intensify his political campaign. Good politics I can say improves life, but bad politics causes death. President Trump should not use bad politics to send more people to an early grave even beyond the shores of the United States of America.
And in Nigeria, people should be stopped from spreading the virus in the name of transporting cows, agricultural products or cement. It is very bad politics that has made the Police and other security personnel on our roads ineffective in stopping the illegal movement of people at a time when a presidential order banning such is still in existence. Good politics would have decentralised the Police in our federal system, but our very bad politics has sustained this unproductive centralised structure. Bad politics should be taken out of the war against COVID-19 pandemic, before it consumes everybody.
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org