by Nathan Uzoma
Few weeks ago, I was at a high profile meeting and one renowned elder statesman made a statement that appeared abnormal to many elites who were present at the political get-together. The statement he made was that “there is no morality in politics…” The said assertion from a well placed Imo leader kept me awake for many hours at night. I reflected on it and the article you are reading now is the outcome of my profound rumination cum cogitation on the assertion.
Few days thereafter, I visited a fellow Professor at Imo State University, while we were charting very friendly, another Professor of Political Science joined us and the discussion became very interesting and intellectually intertwined. At a point, the Professor of political science inferred thus, “there is no morality in politics…” We had it hot with him following the fact that both of us are of the same (Philosophy of Religion) discipline. But I became more worried that our various attachments to different religious denominations are not making any good impart on our various system of thought. As you read on, we shall further find out if it is truly in order to trust leadership into the hands of those that are not morally sound or not.
Life has taught me that good sense about trivialities is better than nonsense about things that matters. Progress in life is man’s ability to complicate simplicity. A man who desires to say the truth about our society today (as the Reformer does) is a radical with both feet planted firmly in the air. When you are more successful is when you become vulnerable, and that is when you make your biggest mistakes in life. Politics is the same story told many years by the same but different people.
Nelson Mandela’s experience made him to infer thus “In my country we go to prison first and then become president”. If in South Africa, according to Mandela (we understand what he means) people go to prison before becoming president; in Nigeria, a politician therefore is a person who may have nothing to say but says it anyhow. In Nigerian democracy, you can say what you like as long as you do what you are told. When you consider the depleting level of our values which is hitherto in tandem with our political system, one will be compelled to conclude that democracy in Nigeria is like four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Our political leaders have not been able to offer yesterday’s solution to today’s problems and are as well creating future problems to our teaming youths. This abnormal political behavior has made the modern youths to think that politics is a game of deception bereft of values as Maureen Potter would say “Politicians are like nappies. They should be change often-and for the same reason.”
The reason for proper application of Maureen Potter’s philosophy in our Nigerian society and especially the case of Imo is so obvious. Politics is a reality that touches almost all aspect of human existence. It pervades much of human life: family life, social, religious, economic and cultural life. Also national and even international activities belong to its proper domain. It is to be noted however that political ethics has to do with the moral principles at the basis of the political society. The Christians who are in politics ought to be guided by Christian political ethics which is a set of ideas derived from Christian principle in connection with the way to enhance the realization of the goal of life in a political society. To David Konstant, this ethics is “more like a set of signposts, suggesting the way forward, or a set of question by which we can examine the way we live in a political society”.
In Nigerian and Imo state in particular, the need for political ethics is obvious. The careless abandon with which our modern youths in politics go about their assignment and the consequent nonchalant to things political on the part of the masses are causes of concern to many of us. It was consequent upon the above that made Mel Brooks to conclude, “If politicians don’t do it to their wives, they do it to their country”. Could the various misunderstanding of the word “politics” have its negative effect on the psyche of our modern youth politicians? Besides the common concept and meaning of the term, there are also etymological and socio-philosophical notions of the term which varies from one scholar to another. Pope Paul VI confirms the above in his Apostolic letter “Octogesima Adveniens” (1997) to the said various meaning of the term when he said, “It is true that in the term “politics” many confusions are possible and must be clarified”.
Today in Nigeria almost every youth sees politics as a dirty game to be practiced by dirty people. The Nigerian modern youths are not alone in this assertion. Leonardo Boff stressed this point in the observation that not a few people regard “politics (as) something dirty, a lie, demagoguery.” C.I Ejizu makes the same point that some Christians see politics as “dirty, devilish and only fit for crooks, cheats and liars”. Why this obnoxious notion about politics? I may be forced to conclude that this obnoxious view is informed by the undesirable attitudes of our politicians. The answer to the above question was given by Leonardo Boff thus, “… a prejudice that results from bad political experiences involving corruption, manipulation and struggle of special interest groups”. To Fredrick the Great, “The said obnoxious notion of politics is traced to “deception and misuse of power which is an accepted practice among politicians”. In the words of Cardinal Arinze, “If, however, the politician takes and gives bribes, assassinates other peoples characters… exploits women and embezzles government and party funds, then it is he (or she), not politics that is dirty.”
The above distinction by cardinal Arinze only suggests that it is the task of the well-meaning citizens of our land to cleanse and sanitize our politics. Therefore those who are morally fit should be allowed to effect the changes that everybody is yarning for. Among many great scholars that have various views about politics (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, John Lock, Karl Max, Jaen Jacque, Rousseau, Carl Schmitt, and Max Webber) Niccole Machiavelli singled himself out from the long list by separating politics and morality.
For Niccole Machiavelli politics is purely a mechanical play of forces without ethical values. What counted for him was success at whatever cost and by whatever means. The great scholar Jacque Maritain after studying the political philosophy of Machiavelli wrote, “politics became by definition non-moral and successful politics: art of conquering and keeping power by any means whatsoever-even good, should an opportunity offer, a rare opportunity-on the sole condition that they be fit to ensure success”. Adebayo Adediji the former executive secretary of the Economic community for Africa like many others agrees with Jacque Maritain’s evaluation of Machiavellianism when he wrote, “The tactics of governance which combines the artfulness of a fox with the savagery of a lion and which put in the forefront, as overarching governance objectives, personalized power and fame; and moral political expediency instead of justice, temperance, wisdom, courage and the promotion of public good”.
The above is a total rejection of Machiavellianism. Machiavelli’s political philosophy is unhealthy to the principles of morality and can conventionally be called ‘Okorochaism’ which in my term is a political philosophy that erodes morality and true political ethics and values. The practice of this ignoble philosophy is the anti-thesis of Aristotelians view that the true purpose of politics is the achievement of the common good, thus it is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. To the adherent of this ignoble ‘theory’ Man is for the state and not state for man. To sacrifice all that the human person stands for on the altar of success is to have ones priorities right. It is the philosophy that promotes immediate success no matter how and therefore should be regarded as an animalistic approach to leadership.
The Bible upholds politics as a good thing willed by God for the well-being of humanity. It was for this good reason that St.Paul affirms that “all government comes from God” and that “The state is there to serve God for (peoples) benefit… (Rom. 13:1-7). It is hitherto obvious that the Christian concept of politics is founded on the common good and is opposed to separation of politics from morality. This is further confirmed by a South Africa Theologian T.S.N Gqubule thus, “The Christian religion teaches that God is lord of the whole life and the lord of all creation. There is no sphere of life such as politics, economics education which is not under his lordship.”
The decayed value system is affecting our growth. Values give direction and firmness to life and they bring to life the important dimension of meaning which adds joy, satisfaction and peace to life. Values identify a person, giving him a name, a face and character. Without values one would be floating like a piece of driftwood in the swirling waters of a river. Values bring quality to life. The philosophical study dealing with the nature of value and the types of value, as in morals, aesthetics religion, and metaphysics is known as axiology. Morality which is part of our value system is gradually eroding away thereby making politics a do or dies affair. All hands must be on deck to resurrect our values to enable us stand the taste of future civilization.