The Machiavellian Nature of Democratic Politics in Nigeria By Tam Kemabonta

To be Machiavellian means to be cunning. It describes one with a penchant for manipulating people and feeling no remorse. In politics, a Machiavellian could be seen as an individual who buries moral sentiments and handles situations in practical terms. In other words, such an individual does not see right or wrong but only circumstances.

The term “Machiavellian” was derived from the 15th century political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli who penned down his ideas and principles of politics and statecraft in a small book called The Prince. The book contains maxims like: “And here it has to be noted that men must be either pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries but not for grievous ones. So any injury a prince does a man should be such that there is no fear of revenge…”*

And “One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you, risk their property, their lives, their sons, so long, as I said above, as danger is remote; but when you are in danger they turn away…” These maxims gave the book a sinister image at the time it was published, a reputation that still waxes strong 500 years after.

Even though at that time politics in Europe was absolutely treacherous; with lecherous popes, megalomaniac kings, obsequious courtiers, and docile peasants – all of which Machiavelli made observations of and documented – Machiavelli’s book was seen as diabolical. In fact his name became synonymous with the anti-Christ.

At that time in Europe and other places of the world the axiom “the end justifies the means” was God’s word. Men would kill, steal and destroy to achieve any goal, if they thought it possible and worthy. Systems over the centuries were put in place to curb these excesses of human nature, that espoused “might is right” and “only the strongest survive” principles. The beacon of modern civilization grants the state a monopoly on violence and gives its citizens the equality of opportunity free from force and fraud. For Machiavellianism to survive it had to find way to express itself within the law – no exception. But in Africa, especially Nigeria the case is different.

The political arena of 21st century Nigeria has a deadly resemblance to that of 13th century political Europe. It is the order of the day to kill, steal and destroy to achieve one’s goals with absolute impunity. High profile killings go unpunished, because the law enforcement agencies are structurally too crippled to undertake any meaningful investigation. Policemen are paid to act as personal bodyguards to anyone who can afford it. State treasury is looted by the political elite on a daily basis. Basic infrastructure like roads, electricity, healthcare and shelter are unavailable and in areas where they are, they are decrepit due to the lack of a maintenance culture. Politicians arm thugs to attack their rivals and cause mayhem when things do not go their way. What is amazing is that all these acts of debauchery and treachery are done publicly with complete impunity.

Even Medieval Europe was not malevolently wanton as 21st century Nigeria is. The Knights had unwritten codes of chivalry and nobility. In Nigeria there exist institutions of government that include the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, structures non-existent in Medieval Europe – where such powers most of the time rested in the hands of one man – and still Medieval Europe presented a better system of handling state affairs than 21st century Nigeria. The Nobility and the political elite during this period in Europe were known to contort deceptive grand schemes against their rivals in a time where the realities of man were dire. These men were required to use their intellects most of the time in handling matters of state internally and externally – especially with invasions from foreign powers, which at that time was common place.

But in the 21st century when human realities have changed for the better, with effective international laws and treaties, that prevent invasion of one country by another no matter how powerful it is; with laws that state how armed conflicts should be conducted and the global acceptance of human rights, Nigeria has still decided to conduct its political activities like it is in the dark ages.

Between 1999 and 2014, there have been over a 100 attempted and successful political assassinations.** Till date no arrest has been made on any of the cases. “Investigations are underway” the Nigerian police are always known to say. According to Dapo Olorunyomi, a former Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a bulk sum of more than $20 trillion has been stolen from the state treasury by members of the political elite from 1960 till date. These men are known criminals and are still allowed to move around freely, some of them are still practicing politicians – such impunity.

It is time for the educated social elite to stand up for justice. We are the ones that would not succumb to demagogue, so why then do we remain cynical political illiterates? We first need to understand the functions of a state, and then the structures of our institutions of Government. Once these fundamentals are done, we can then begin to engage ourselves politically and demand that things be done accordingly, instead of resorting to violence and causing chaos when we have had enough. And this is the major problem of Nigerians generally. We transition rapidly from political passivity to political violence, eschewing political engagement.

Everybody wants to put an end to corruption especially when he or she is not benefitting from it. The cankerworm of vested interests eats the nation up. We want to stop corruption but we don’t want to lose the short term benefits. What stops the people from writing an anti-corruption bill and a bill of “recall-ment”? Then we demand that if any member of the house of assembly does not support the bill, we would not elect him. The only real power we the people have is to vote in and vote out. We would demand that only the people who support the bill get elected by us. If after being elected some of the individuals stops acting accordingly – to the terms of agreement made with the people that voted him or her – then we the people demand for the machinations for a “recall-ment” of these individuals to be set in process. Once they are recalled, their positions become vacant, elections are held within their consistencies for other individuals who are ready to take up the positions on our terms – we the people.

Public office is a burden, because it involves individuals putting their own interests aside and representing the interests of a group of people. It should not be a place where unscrupulous men carouse and revel in the perks of power. It is a burden and we the people should ensure it remains so.

Published with Author’s Permission…