By Abdul Mahmud
Our politicians present an interesting spectacle one hardly finds elsewhere. The way they work the dynamics of power to their advantage, reduce other competing players caught up in the middle into mere spectators, proves that politics is a spectacle, a blood sport, driven by the desire to acquire political power for self-serving ends.
That our politicians, as poor students of Harold Lasswell, define and shape politics in a manner different from the way the late cerebral scholar conceived it in his brilliant seminal, ‘Politics: who gets what, when and how’, offers little comfort to the ordinary people of our country who bear the predetermined and intended effects of power grab.
Last week, two epochal developments – the public presentation of my brother and friend, Nasir El-Rufai’s memoir, ‘The Accidental Public Servant’ and the birth of All Progressives Congress (APC) – harped on our public space and centred the subject of power and change in our public discourse.
Both developments, much as they map out new perspectives to our understanding of power politics and shape the boundaries of party political engagements, are about public accountability and questioning dominant understanding of what goes on in the corridors of power and changing our country for the better.
It must however be stated that the critical Nigerian public welcomed both epochal developments with applause and knocks. Abubakar Atiku, in particular, described El-Rufai’s memoir as ‘’pass off fiction for self-gratification at the expense of truth… a collection of fiction, half-truths, exaggeration and reflection of selective memory’’.
But, before El-Rufai is slayed by some of his ardent critics, it is important to examine memoirs generally and what makes them what they are; and also examine El-Rufai’s contributions to public discourse.
Let me make a point or two on Abubakar Atiku’s response which indicates a partial, if not substantial, admission of El-Rufai’s metanarratives. ‘’A collection of fiction, half-truths, exaggeration and reflection of selective memory’’ points to the fact that somewhere between fiction and exaggeration lies the other half of truth that El-Rufai selectively shied away from. Here, Abubakar Atiku misses the essential nature of all memoirs.
Through the ages memoirs have remained the selective rendering of the stories of lives, the past and events that make vivid and compelling reading. My emphasis, here, is on ‘selective’; the adjective that discerns prudent and careful presentation and representation of events of the past that fit into the memoirist’s own life. And, here, too, is the rediscovery of those striking moments of the memoirist’s life, meanings that overlay those moments. Simply put, memoirs are the memoirist’s account of their public exploits. Abubakar Atiku would serve truth and the Nigerian public better by rendering his own account of the events he alleges El-Rufai fictionalised in his memoir, even if to make up the whole that is greater, or truer, than the sum of El-Rufai’s parts.
From my reading (I must confess it is a slow read so far) of ‘The Accidental Public Servant’, I discern three significant contributions of El-Rufai.
Firstly, he highlights the fact that governments must be open to public enquiries. The opening up of governance and public policy environments entails the transmission of transparent information to the public, public engagement (the kind that allows the public to have free and unfettered engagement with governance and policy processes and personages, in order to influence public policies and service delivery programmes) and, more importantly, accountability. What El-Rufai has done is rip the lids off the whitewashed sepulchres of governments for us to glimpse rotted skeletons.
El-Rufai holds himself out as the quintessential ‘medical examiner’ who exhumes reputations to cast and examine them in new lights.
Secondly, El-Rufai extends the frontiers of our national discourse by placing in the public space his interpretation and reinterpretation of events with the sense of courage one finds among public intellectuals and in a manner that accentuates the truth Edward Said expressed in his now famous Reith Lectures, ‘Representation of Intellectuals’: “the ultimate function of the public intellectual is to speak truth to power. Speaking truth to power is no Panglossian idealism. It is carefully weighing the alternatives, picking the right one, and then intelligently representing it where it can do the most good and cause the right change’’.
For Said as for El-Rufai, ‘’the public intellectual’s role is to present alternative narratives and other perspectives on history’’.
Thirdly, El-Rufai invites us to understand our country better, think critically about our leaders (including him) and judge them for their actions and inactions.
Away from El-Rufai, I welcome the birth of the new party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The All Progressives Congress provides a veritable political platform to challenge the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). And beyond the challenge the new party provides, it lends itself as a platform for change.
It must be conceded that the new party remains one birthed in hope, hope that it can deliver on its promise of change, drive public service reform, establish new framework for social and political engagement, introduce a new governance environment founded on openness and accountability, re-dress the trust deficits that mark leadership and public service in our country, enthrone a new economic order that promotes inclusiveness and the wellbeing of every citizen, provides social and economic growths as shorthand for progress, in real term. And with our polity, under-developed and undemocratic, with impunity showing itself off as the poor outward sign of our governance environment, our task is to insist on the foregoing as irreducible minimums and demand that politicians of the progressive hue sacralise the politics of issues, ideas and principles.
Countries of the world that are today witnessing real leaps and human progress are ruled by men and women with vision, leaders who encounter the limits of power by helping citizens recover their role in fashioning the way forward.
Many sceptics who received the news of the birth of the All Progressives Congress flayed it as more of the same, as is the Peoples Democratic Party, lacking ideological verve, driven by the same set of politicians who have made our country what it is today.
I make two quick responses to the sceptics, here: first of all, that modern politics is civilised by three distinct elements: personalities, parties and programmes. The progressive way the three elements act and interact on a routine basis invariably allows for the emergence of participatory politics. The birth of the All Progressive Congress no doubt evidenced the presence of the other element: personalities.
What is expected as the new party settles down to its mechanics, nuts and bolts’ dynamics is the fashioning of programmes, fleshed by ideology. And with the Peoples Democratic Party occupying the right of our politics, the All Progressives Congress would have no choice but to contest and occupy the centre left and steer an ideological, catalytic and nationalist course that seeks to promote the Nigerian state as the embodiment of the nation.
Secondly, for all the scepticisms, the contest for political power can only take place within the formal and mobilising structures of political parties; and it is only imperative we engage the new party in a way that enhances its capacity to achieve what is ordinarily the second nature of all political parties: acquiring political power.
The All Progressives Congress isn’t a perfect party; but it is perhaps one of the many catalysts of the change we desire.