By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Politics can be described as the pursuit of political power and competition for political power. According to John M. Pfiffner and Frank P. Sherwood, politics is the process through which political power is acquired and exercised. Politics involves the pursuit, acquisition, and exercise of political power. Political power, on the other hand, is the ability to shape and control the political behaviour of others and to lead and guide their behaviour in the direction desired by the person, group, or institution wielding the political power to achieve mutually benefiting goals.
Ideally, the ultimate purpose of political power is to shape and control public policy primarily for the betterment of the society. This viewpoint is reinforced by the conviction of American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader, Martin Luther King that power is a moral instrument needed to uphold justice and fairness in the society. To this end, Martins Luther King once declared: “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” By alluding to the moral perspective of power, King was simply emphasizing justice and fairness as the fundamental basis of true political power.
Since the attainment of independence in 1960, the procedure of acquiring political power in Nigeria has been through democratic process and military intrusion. Hence, we have experienced political leadership spearheaded by a combination of both civilian and military political power actors. It is, however, sad that most of these political actors, from their conducts, seem to hold the view that power is an end and not a means. In his famous book, ‘1984’, English novelist, essayist and critic, George Orwell was, perhaps, inadvertently referring to the power perception of the average Nigerian political power actor when he stated that: “the Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. Power is not a means; it is an end. The object of power is power.” How awful!
Without doubt, the picture of political power actors painted by Orwell, to a great extent, perfectly describes the power image of a typical Nigerian political power actor. Orwell’s reference to pure power could be interpreted to mean absolute power. In this clime, pure power stands for various things ranging from liberty to drive against traffic, in utter disregard for traffic laws, to cordoning off a whole city because of a ‘powerful’ political power actor. Ironically, lawlessness is one of the hallmarks of the typical Nigerian power actor. Of course, how does one expect a powerful political office holder to obey laws which are meant for the ordinary folks?
Here, most power actors use power to spite the people. Recently, we were trapped in a traffic jam for hours. It was so bad that nothing was moving. Nobody knew what was wrong. In the midst of the madness, there came the usually irritating noise of siren from the entourage of a ‘powerful’ man. We were all amused because we were sure that even the president couldn’t have manoeuvred his way through the crazy gridlock we were trapped in. How wrong! Like a scene from one of the James Bond series, the security men (who ordinarily ought to have been in Chibok or other boiling points in the country confronting terrorists) on the entourage of the ‘powerful man’, in a fashion that looked like the Biblical eyes of the camel riddle, riotously made a way for their principal to pass through the gridlock. And like the suckers that we have always been, the rest of us in the traffic were left bemoaning our fate.
This, of course, is the attitude of the average Nigerian political power actor to power. Sadly, many are attracted to political power for the wrong reasons. This eventually results in the reign of aberration and impunity that have since been part of governance in our society. Not a few of our leaders fumble while holding sensitive public offices because they are ignorant of the ultimate purpose of power. They are only interested in the grandeur and magnetism of power as opposed to the sacrifice and other selfless responsibilities which are basic obligations of power.
The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once revealed that he was always studying late into the night in search of solutions to the myriads of problems confronting the country while some of his contemporaries were partying away in the dead of the night. It is because leaders with adequate preparation for the rigorous demand of power are in short supply in the country that we have been moving in circles for long. A governor once complained that he couldn’t deliver democratic dividends in his state because of dearth of fund. Well, dear governor, part of your duties in power is to creatively device means of stepping up the revenue base of your state. Ironically, the same governor fought tooth and nail to secure re-election for a second term in a state where there was no fund to actualise his electoral promises. Despite being located in a desert, Israel remains self-sufficient in food production. This was achieved through the creative use of power.
Are our leaders seeking power for power’s sake? Or are they seeking it to make the country a better place for all? One component of power that is lacking here is love. According to Martin Luther King, “power without love is reckless and abusive. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” The main essence of political power is to serve the interest of the people by upholding the principles of fairness and justice to all.
Plato and Aristotle were Greek philosophers who both developed important ideas about politics, power and government. Two of the many political subjects that these men wrote about were tyranny and the rule of law. According to them, tyranny occurs when absolute power is granted to a ruler or set of individuals. In a tyrannical setting, the ruler or a group of people become lawless and live above the law. The rule of law is the principle that no one is exempt from the law, even those who are in a position of power. The rule of law can serve as a bulwark against tyranny, because just laws ensure that no individual or group in a society is permitted to be above the law.
This is the time for our leaders to uphold the right concept of power for the good of the society. This is also the time for the followers to ask questions of their leaders. Government does not exercise power, rather, it is the concept of government, upheld by law, which exercises power. Democracy will be endangered, when political power actors assume that they wield power, and not, that power wields them.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.