Come rain or shine, on 14 February 2015 in the Common Era, we will elect either retired Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari or re-elect Dr Goodluck Jonathan president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. The two persons saddled with the chief responsibility of conducting the election, President Jonathan and INEC chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, have assured us, solemnly, that it will hold. Barring, of course, any legitimate cause for postponing it—an outcome no one really wants, Pastor Tunde Bakare’s impassioned case for a six-month delay notwithstanding.
Yet with so little time left for the most important political decision a nation is periodically required to make, the discourse that dominates the airwaves is outstanding for the wrong reason: it is best described, in my opinion, as driven by tribal, religious and ideological fallacies. The troubling state of the country—highlighted by systemic and endemic corruption eating the country alive, Boko Haram’s insurgency that is threatening to take over the north-east region and beyond, mass poverty and unemployment that has ground our human dignity into the dust, the electricity crisis that neither NEPA, PHCN, DISCOs and GENCOs (or is it Geckos?) can alleviate, a ruined educational system breeding illiteracy and blighting our future, a stone-age infrastructural base, etc. etc. — predating our nominal independence, demands a non-sentimental cast of mind if we are ever to begin in earnest the task of making a nation properly so-called out of the poor colonial misadventure behind our existence as one polity. A fallacy is a false notion, delusion or mistaken belief, which leads to poor reasoning and untenable conclusions. To illogicality and an inability to shed light on an issue, never mind solving any problem or problems connected therewith. It goes without saying that if we go to the polling booth under the sway of false presuppositions, then we would have lost again another moment of change, of electing a leader, and not a ruler, for a change.
Chinua Achebe famously defined “the trouble with Nigeria, as simply and squarely that of leadership. The polemical clarity of this formulation remains valid no matter the number of reasons one might adduce in support of the charge that it is perhaps too reductionist and so fails to recognise the complexity of Nigeria’s congenital disease. But no one can doubt the all-important place of leadership in shaping the destiny of a people, of any social grouping, whether it be a clan, a club or a country. If so, then each one of us should be asking him- or herself only one question: whom shall I vote for as president on 14 February and why?
The “why” part of this question is where the tribal, religious and ideological fallacies that threaten to lead us astray yet again come in. Tribal sentiments constitute an ideology insofar as they mediate or shape one’s way of seeing and interpreting the world, of understanding events and phenomena. By tribal fallacy, I mean simply the idea that one’s tribal or ethnic community has an epistemic, political and, or, moral privilege. That the said tribe or ethnic group has a more justifiable case of oppression, marginalisation, and, or, expropriation, than any other. And that consequently, irrespective of any evidence to the contrary, one must vote for one’s tribesman. Character, competence and vision, can thus have no place in choosing the nation’s leaders. For, blood is thicker than water; so my brother or sister, country be damned! With only the slightest shift of emphasis, everything that pertains to tribal fallacy applies to the religious: my religion or faith is more persecuted than others; my God is the only God, therefore I cannot vote for the candidate who professes a different faith, reads a different holy book, and observes different rituals when praying to the almighty.
The ideological counterpart, strictly speaking, to this primitive mode of reasoning lays claim to nobler motivation. In the name of adherence to a higher goal, that which does not admit of compromise or a “lowering” of the ultimate objective, such “little victories” as might be attained by electoral politics are derided. Even impeded. Another name for this attitude is “ideological purity.” It fosters the logic that damns all politics in a non-revolutionary context as bourgeois or petit-bourgeois and so unworthy of any true progressive democrat’s participation. There is never any difference between and among the “bourgeois and reactionary” parties, nor the possibility of individuals emerging from them who might actually do substantial good in the short term that would ameliorate the unspeakable condition of the masses. The question, What is to be done NOW, in this period and the foreseeable future, when a revolutionary party or other platform of all-sweeping change is not in sight, hardly engages their thoughts. Or if it does, it is dismissed in a shorter time than it takes to say “petit-bourgeois” or “reactionary.”
To think and vote under the sway of this strain of ideological fallacy is to vote, practically speaking, for incumbency and against change. Yet there is nothing Nigeria, and even the PDP, the self-vaunted greatest party in Africa (only? not the whole wide world?), needs more than change at this point in our history. For its own sake, the PDP needs to experience life in the opposition, to see itself out of the blinding garments of power, and so be constrained to undergo the reflection and self-criticism necessary for revitalisation and growth. There can’t be a proper democracy without the major parties in a polity periodically experiencing this moment of renewal. Anything short of that, however seductive the ideological fallacy, is to empower, actively or passively, the unbroken dominance of one party. And there is no such thing as a one-party democracy; that in itself is a virulent ideological fallacy. If we vote next month while still bewitched by this idea under any guise, we will have voted for stagnation and the continuation of all that has bedevilled the country for the past sixteen years. Change demands of us a more nuanced and sophisticated reasoning than “A plague on both the houses of the PDP and the APC.” My argument does not require that I say it but I might as well: I shall be voting for the All Progressives Congress and retired Maj-General Muhammadu Buhari. As an aside, if President Jonathan had had his way on the great idea of a single six-year tenure, then he wouldn’t even be on the ballot!