By Omagbitse Barrow
I was asked on a recent TV interview by Rev Fr George Ehusani how ordinary people who are busy working in their offices could ever find the time to get registered to vote and collect their voters’ cards, considering how difficult the process has always been. He was of the opinion that it was easier for CEOs like himself and I to find the time to do this, but the same could not be said of the people who work with us.
My answer was simple — if the CEOs understood the business case for a strong and virile democracy, they will have special leave days created to enable all employees to be registered as voters. The truth as we all know is that the private sector, rather than Government is the engine for economic growth of any society. The problem is that most private sector leaders have kept to this truism so much that they have completely ignored the role that Government plays in facilitating and providing a conducive environment for their enterprises to flourish.
If the Dangotes, Petersides, Otudekos, Rabius, Elumelus, Ovias, Otedolas and all the up and coming multi-billionaires think that they are making plenty money now, they should consider how much wealthier they would be if we had a better democracy, and how much they stand to lose if we slip into anarchy, chaos, military rule or civil war due to failings of democracy.
There is a linear relationship between good politics that creates good governance and ultimately economic prosperity. Unfortunately, our business leaders in Nigeria either sit back and watch while bad politics holds sway or are by themselves active participants in fostering such bad politics that leads to bad governance and ultimately a failed economy.
Over the years, I have observed that many bright and intelligent people in the private sector have participated in governance in one way or the other in Nigeria, and I must give credit where it is due. The challenge is that the quality and quantum of that participation has been “suspect’. For example, what difference can bright people from the private sector make when they join political parties run by godfathers and money bags and end up winning elections only to continue to serve the narrow interests of such godfathers and money bags.
Again, what difference does it make when our best talent from the private sector are queuing up to take on appointed roles as Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers and Technical Assistants to power-wielding politicians only to find out that appointees lack political power and only serve at the mercy of the elected (in our case ultimately serving the same god fathers and money bags).
Some private sector leaders have specialised over the years in courting as many sides of the political divide that exist, doling out millions of naira in campaign funding to the ruling parties and their most promising opposition to ensure that whichever way the elections go, their business interests are preserved. Since 1999, it seems like they have been perennially investing in the “devil” and the “deep blue sea” as if there are no better options beyond these. Sadly, like I shared with one of such business leaders – “how much has your financial support for the dominant political elite in Nigeria helped us make progress. If it had, Nigeria’s fortunes will not be in a state of perennial decline as it is.” I never got a response from him.
Others work hard for political rulers who do not share their values or ambitions as members of Think Tanks and National Committees. Well, it is always good to respond to the national call to service, but do you really think that all your intellectualism will make a big difference to a political class that is devoid of values and disinterested in the common good? Yes, the common good, because at the end of the day if success at business means just making money for ourselves and shareholders without caring to uplift the lives of the common man then we will continue to live in fear and insecurity in our urban prisons (bullet-proof cars and electrified 12 feet fences).
So, Fr Ehusani in that same interview remarked – but everyone cannot contest for elections? I agree, but certainly more people who have the talent, capacity and character need to if Nigeria is to make much progress. Unfortunately, many of such people are too afraid or to pre-occupied with their private businesses to do so.
The question is — what can the private sector do differently? Well, start from investing in political literacy (Politeracy) — the knowledge and skills for meaningful political participation. Encourage and support awareness and enlightenment amongst your staff, stakeholders and customers in this area. Encourage and even make it compulsory for all employees to go out and get registered to vote. Stop being too “bougie” to discuss politics and please stop saying that politics is bad and therefore a no-go area. It will remain bad so long as well-meaning and forward-thinking people refuse to #GetInvolved.
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