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It is commonplace to hear such cliché as, ‘he has no political experience,’ among political party contestants to political offices. In the majority of cases where this kind of statement is used, it’s when those making such condemnation are feeling threatened by the position and preparation of the one or the ones so described. It’s therefore, mostly used as a defence weapon as well as an instrument orchestrated at discouraging aspirants who are either new entrants into politics or had not been that active previously. Lacking experience in Nigerian political parlance connotes lack of knowledge in activities such as scheming, maneuverings, cheating, falsifications, falsehood, and the likes, which though unconventional, are brought into politics and these obviously add up to making the process chaotic, dreadful, unpredictable, and the players as selfish and greedy as possible.
Sometimes the phrase is used to distinguish the aged, sickly-looking, worn-out set of politicians, mostly bereft of ideas and independent opinions, from the younger and vibrant people who venture into politics for whatever reason. Meanwhile, people go into politics in Nigeria for either of these two reasons: to ‘make it big’, out of politics, as they see those who have been in it really living big, and would also wish to live big; or dissatisfied with the performance of these other older folks and wish to direct the state towards the part of even and sustainable development. However, such ambitious younger folks are usually disallowed entry by the older ones who constitute themselves into gatekeepers of a sort, determining as it were, who goes in and comes out of the community called politics. The older politicians feel that the younger ones are not mature, strong and experienced enough to cope with the enormity of whatever office they were contesting for.
Gbadebo, Rhodes-Vivour, the Governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 election in Lagos state was one of such people described obviously by his opponents and detractors as lacking political experience, and as such not fit to govern Lagos state. When his principal, the party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who also had at several fora been so referred or castigated, gave his own version or understanding of what Nigerian politicians actually mean when they use the statement, “he has no political experience”. According to Peter Obi, what people consider as political experience is nothing but the knowledge of the way and manner to be perfect in corruption and all forms of illegality that are perpetuated by Nigerian politicians. Although it is essential for anyone to train and master the rules of a game that he wants to play, the players in the game of politics in Nigeria seem to give the impression that it has to be played rough, breaking basic rules of decency and integrity.
Democracy, which is itself a widely interpreted concept, is dependent on universal participation and the ability of all adults to be represented in democratic systems. These systems are made up of institutions and processes integral to the democratic self-determination of different groups. The institutions and processes include but are not limited to electoral management bodies (EMBs), elections, constitutional bodies established to support democracy, constitution-making processes, political parties, parliaments and regular voters. Political inclusion guarantees universal participation and representation. Inclusion presupposes that every person, regardless of grounds such as origin, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, group, culture and ethnic or religious background, should have an equal chance to participate in or support the democratic process. Considered from the perspective of political self-determination, it is essential that groups within or categories of the population are able to collectively demand participation or representation, especially for the recognition and protection of the collective interest. This applies to specific population groups such as women, youth, people living with disabilities (PLWD) and refugees seeking to enforce compliance with the principles of participation and effective representation. Therefore, when issues of representation, participation and inclusiveness are stated as the ideal, the idea is to encourage people to belong and should not be barred with an unwritten law of lack of experience. Besides, what is seen as political experience had not really moved our democracy forward.
A former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki-moon made a declaration that, “Our times demand a new definition of leadership – global leadership. They demand a new constellation of international cooperation – governments, civil society and the private sector, working together for a collective global good”. The former Scribe of the world body here was advocating for a paradigm shift in the democratic leadership system among countries. We cannot continue to do the same thing the same way and expect different results. The so-called experienced politicians have not really advanced democracy in Africa’s most populous black nation. The present government had a captivating slogan –change – however, they couldn’t achieve it for the citizenry. The slogan can be reenacted by in-coming government and pursue it religiously. Part of the change should be to allow vibrant technocrats who can run the economy rather than recycling old, worn-out money bags who are ruled by the mentality that politics is a platform to amass wealth and achieve various other greedy, personal pursuits.
Indeed, Nigerian politicians sure need experience in the context of the political culture of the advanced democracies of America and Britain among others. The political culture propounded by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, two revered authorities on political cultures, is what they called ‘civic culture’. It is participatory, diverse and pluralist in nature. It is persuasive, characterized by a culture of consensus and diversity. Civic culture, according to Almond and Verba, promotes democracy and participation in civil affairs. Furthermore, civic culture permits change but moderates it, legitimacy is well established and has a relatively stable political system.
This is the angle from where political experience should be viewed. However, in the Nigerian situation, these tenets are never pursued by our politicians. Theirs is to create confusion in the polity, ensure they are returned to power during every election even when the people are fed up with them. They, therefore, do all within their power to prevent the ‘beautiful ones from being born’ in the Nigerian political space. They encourage corruption and break rules with impunity and encourage deceit, falsehood, violation of human rights and even criminal acts. If this is what our politicians know as political experience, and feel that those without this form of experience are not fit to come into the political space, it shows they are leading the country to a ruin.
Mokuye sent this piece from Ilesa, Osun state and he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org