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Putin’s tribal war by Dare Babarinsa

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The Ukrainian conflict may prove to be the most consequential war of the 21st Century. It may also signal the end of the Vladimir Putin era in Russian politics and the reduction of the once-mighty Russia into a glorified Third World country armed with nuclear weapons. That may be the ultimate oxymoron, but it is not far-fetched.

On Monday, Russia and China denied America’s allegation that Russia is seeking military help from China. That this allegation could be made, at all, is a pointer to the terrible straight Russia had found itself under Putin. Without its oil export today, Russia cannot even compete with China not to talk of its old Western Allies with whom it fought Germany during the Second World War.

The Ukrainian War may also signal an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), in its old form as a military alliance. Faced with serious challenge from the catholic economic muscle of a resurgent China, the NATO alliance needs to reconsider itself as a military body.

Economics and diplomacy may dominate future conflicts without counting the army divisions of each side. The Western powers may be thinking that it is time to seize the initiatives from the Chinese factory workers who are dominating the world. They have even surpassed the Japanese as the ultimate economic rival to the Western World.

In 1987, I had joined a team of 15 distinguished visitors to Capitol Hill, the home of the American legislature, The Congress. On the corridor were many television monitors broadcasting live on C-Span network, the proceedings of The Senate. All the television sets that we saw were Japanese-made, mostly of the Sony brand.

A female Senator, who hosted our team in her office, complained that Americans were surrendering to the economic aggression of the Japanese.

Few years after our visit to the Capitol Hill, Japanese automaker, Toyota, surpassed General Motors as the number-one automobile manufacturer in the world.

Now both Japanese and the Americans are facing the competition of their lives from the Chinese. These were the Chinese that were so beholding to the Russians in the first half of the 20th Century.

During his 25 years in power, China’s Supreme Leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, travelled outside his country twice. On both occasions, he journeyed to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders.

During the Chinese Civil War that lasted for almost 30 years, the Chinese were the clients of the Russians, beholding to them in every way. Mao knew the Chinese Revolution would have been a non-starter without the help of the Russians and their leader, Comrade Josef Stalin, the famed Man of Steel.

Today, there are not enough steel in Russia to arm its troops and change the map of Europe. Putin’s gamble in invading Ukraine is nothing but a reckless attempt to force the world to reckon with him. Russia still has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Its military is still ranked as second only to America’s.

By igniting another tribal war in Europe, Putin is making a bad situation worse. His victory, if it ever comes, would be very costly and unsustainable in the long run. Instead of having Ukraine as a buffer zone between his country and the West, he is turning almost all former satellite states of the old Soviet Union into anti-Russian countries.

Putin has rightly gambled that the West would not want to confront Russia militarily on the ground or in the sky. Despite the repeated request of Ukraine and its leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that America and its NATO allies should declare Ukraine a no-flying zone, America declined to do so. Ukrainians know that if America declares Ukraine a no-flying zone, Russia does not have the capacity to confront America in the sky. The Russian air force is second-rate compare to the air-muscle of the United States and its allies. Though it might be tactically effective to create a no-flying zone over Ukraine, it would be strategically suicidal.

Russia is not just another country with a second-rate air force. It is a nuclear power, the greatest in the world after America. It has enough nukes to destroy the world 10 times over. Russia is also a dictatorship where one man rules. If Putin is humiliated in the sky, he might be tempted to use chemical weapons or even reach for the nuclear button. A thermonuclear war with Russia may not last more than one week, but all the major cities of the world; New York, Moscow, London, St Petersburg, Paris, Washington DC, Rome, would be destroyed. Humanity may be reduced to ground-zero and civilisation returned to where it was 5,000 years ago.

It is evident that the Ukrainians are the losers in this conflict. The young Ukrainian president, who came to power on the wings of anti-Russian rhetoric, refused or was unable to acknowledge the strategic importance of Ukraine to Russia. In recent past, Ukraine had joined NATO forces in staging an elaborate joint military exercise on Ukrainian soil.

Zelenskyy had also upped his rhetoric against Russia by saying he was ready to defend his country’s territorial integrity by all means. He thought his NATO allies would go to war to defend him. He was wrong.

Putin has done enough to provoke Ukrainian hostility. First he seized Crimea, the rich resort of Ukraine. He is also promoting separatist agenda within Ukraine in provinces that have substantial number of native Russians. In truth, Putin was acting as an arch-tribalist, promoting only the interests of his kinsmen. Yet despite these provocations, a more mature leadership would have handled Russia differentially.

There are many things for Ukraine to protect. Its citizens live better than the Russians; they are richer, healthier and have greater access to the good things of life. Ukraine has the best health system in the old Eastern Europe, certainly better than Russia’s. This week, the United Nations Secretary General described Ukraine as the food basket of the world. If the truth must be told, the Russians envy their wealthier cousin, the Ukrainians.

With a more experienced leadership, Ukraine would have avoided this new tribal war. They could have done less with Russian baiting despite the heavy breathing of the Russian bear and the reckless ambition of Putin. By their ceaseless dalliance with the West, they provoked the anger and belligerence of the insecure Putin. It is no consolation that this war is most likely to end badly for Putin and his corrupt and inefficient oligarchy.

There is a lot to learn from the Ukrainian experience. One, war does not give sufficient notice. Two, no one, no matter how much he loves you, will fight your war for you. Three, it is always better to be prepared for war if you want peace.

Nigeria is not at war, but we have seen how unprepared we are even to maintain a semblance of peace. Few weeks ago, some well-fed billionaires imported bad fuel for us and for weeks, queues have resurfaced at fuel stations. No one has been sanctioned or considered culpable. Let the people bear the brunt. There is no strategic reserve for our oil in case of crisis, war or natural disaster. Mere wrong importation by some fat blokes had disrupted the national balance.

Even our trains cannot run its schedule course without running out of fuel and passengers get stranded in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it is normal and no one it to be blamed. How then can we be surprised that a suspected killer had the presence of mind to become the queen of Kirikiri Prison? One wisecrack declared: “If you are living in Nigeria and your BP is normal, then you are not normal!”

 

Strictly Personal

Direct or indirect primaries: The uniting factor is moneybag politics by Afe Babalola

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THE Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) provides for the system of nomination of candidates by political par ties through primary elections ahead of presidential, state governorship, and legislative houses elections. Section 84(1) of the Electoral Act provides that a political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the Commission. Subsection 2 provides that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct, indirect primaries or consensus.

Direct primaries, as described in subsection 4 of the Act, connotes that the members of the political party will be given equal opportunity to vote for a party member of their choice as the nominated candidate of the party. It involves the participation of all registered members of a party in the selection of the party’s candidates. Indirect primaries, on the other hand, is a system whereby members of the political party democratically elect delegates at the party’s congress and, in turn, the delegates elect the party’s candidates on behalf of the members of the political party. Sections 5-8 of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended) generally stipulates the procedure for the conduct of indirect primaries in Nigeria.

The third category, and perhaps the least commonly adopt ed, is the system of consensus candidacy whereby all aspirants in the political party will voluntarily and expressly withdraw from the primaries and endorse a single candidate; and where there is no such express withdrawal, the political party will mandatorily proceed to conduct direct or indirect primaries. Section 9 of the Act provides as follows: 9 (a) A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate; (b) Where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective positions. (c) A Special Convention or nomination Congress shall be held to ratify the choice of consensus candidates at designated centres at the National, State, Senatorial, Federal and State Constituencies, as the case may be.

Over the years, the choice of whether a party should adopt direct or indirect primaries has been the subject of debate by political pundits, commentators, and aspirants. The system of indirect primaries which most political parties adopt has been criticized for being easier to manipulate by party lead ers, and on their part, the delegates are expected to align with the party leadership. Another inherent defect in the conduct of indirect primaries includes some instances of the dubious manner of appointment of delegates. For instance, where a sitting Governor or President’s political appointees are made the party’s delegates, it is not in doubt that their nominations will ultimately favour their appointor’s political interest. Be sides, it is not uncommon to find dissimilar delegates’ selection at party congresses, conventions and primaries. On the other hand, the criticism of direct primaries is that it is a lot more expensive to operate and requires much more planning and organization. It is also more easily manipulated. For in stance, a strong contender in a political party can sponsor the members of his own political party to purchase membership cards of the opposition party en masse in order for such members to deliberately vote for a weaker candidate in the said opposition party to win the primaries, thereby giving him an edge in the general elections.

Notwithstanding the obvious differences in the conduct of direct and indirect primaries, there however exists no real difference because of the association of Nigerian politics with godfatherism and moneybag politics. Though it is easier to bribe fewer delegates to support a faction of the party as op posed to the reduced propensity to tilt the votes of all members of the political party to one candidate if direct primaries were held, it still does not change the fact that the underlying factor is the ability of a candidate to sway the few delegates, or the larger party members, with money.

In an interview published in the Punch newspaper on 19th June 2022, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party rep resenting the Ilaje/Ese Federal Constituency stated the im pact of money on politics. He reportedly said: “Except some are lying, it is real. Our politics is monetised. The process is monetised. Some will just come and tell you that they never pay money. They paid money. We paid money to delegates. There is no way you can survive that hurricane without effectively and efficiently releasing resources for those people (delegates). Whether you have served them for seven years and you have been their perpetual or perennial friend, it is not going to count. You just have to do the needful at that point. Again, if you don’t do it, they will not vote for you. This is because it is not just one aspirant or candidate that is doing that; it is a system. You will give what the system is asking for. There is a stimulus that the system is pumping and which the electorate will have to react to. It is not the fault of those who are currently in power or those that are seeking to come to power, it is not their fault… If you are the best (among the aspirants), you will pay; if you are the worst, you will still pay. It is just a systemic thing. Those who eventually won, it is still the same. In my area, we had three very strong contenders. We paid equally and people made their choice on who they wanted. The three people (aspirants) paid equal amounts of money. They (delegates) collected money from the three of us and made their choice on who they wanted.”

The bold admission by the honourable member of the House of Representatives excerpted above is the reality of the Nigerian political climate today. The influence of moneybags in Nigerian politics continues to hold sway in dampening the hopes of the nation in achieving true democracy. After all, the whole idea of democracy is the free will of the people in electing their political leaders, and where such “free will” is manipulated through the influence of political juggernauts, the country is further pulled away from the attainment of the best democratic policies. It accounts for the corruption and violence which have characterized many elections in Nigeria. On the day of the election, the politician who owes his nomi nation to his huge investments will naturally seek a win by any possible means. Where his reliance is placed on a political godfather, he can count on his godfather’s ability to deploy enormous wealth in a bid to corrupt electoral officials and the electorates and where these fail, violence will be deployed to bring about the desired result.

Consequently, the politician who wins an election based only upon the backing of his political godfather will feel no ob ligation to the electorate who in any event might have been disenfranchised in the whole scheme of events. He will there fore devote the entirety of his tenure of office to the promotion and satisfaction of himself, his cronies, and his godfather. There is an unhealthy synergy between godfatherism, money bag politics, and poverty. It is the entire citizenry who suffers the effect of political office holder’s obligation to recoup his investments and/or satisfy the whims of his godfather who, more often than not, are the actual persons in power.

AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, OFR, CON, LL.D (Lond.)

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Strictly Personal

Genuine politicians must die by Kenneth Amaeshi

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I often one wonder why people go into politics in Nigeria, because the challenges of the country are massive. Poor health systems. Low quality education. High youth unemployment and low skills. Hunger, poverty, and famine. Weak infrastructure and institutions. In addition, the politics appears dirty and bitter.

The usual but superficial reason people often offer is that they are keen to serve. If the lure of politics is to serve others, why would one subject oneself through the tortuous process of democratic elections in order to serve? Sleepless nights. Odd meetings. Very strange companies. Painful compromises.

A cynical view might suggest that whether a career in politics is pursued to serve or lord it over others, it is simply a quest for power. Of course, it is human and natural to seek dominion over others. But even at that, what then is the purpose of power and is politics the only means to exercise such powers?

Another view is that politics is simply business – in the sense that politicians financially invest in it and expect worthwhile returns on their investments. In such contexts, they may use money to influence votes. When politicians make such investments, they obviously expect some gains, and the higher the risks, the more the expected returns. However, politicians come in various shades.

Some politicians do not pretend about money politics. It is as clear as it can be. It is what it is – a very transactional engagement. It is all about their self-interests. This understanding makes it easy to attract like minds and to agree on expectations and outcomes. They often portray and pride themselves as the real masters of politics. Many people tend to agree with them, and they are unashamedly transparent about their strategies and aspirations. That’s how it is done. Anything short of this is naivety.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Other politicians prefer not to be very overt about their crude intentions and strategies. They rather mask them in some nebulous and grandiose cloaks – often packaged as a form of progressivism and intellectualism. However, beneath this garb of elegance and decency is a constantly warped and treacherous display of self-interest and greed packaged and sold as enlightenment. The main difference between the two categories is their strategies. While the former is overt, the latter is covert. Nonetheless, their goals are the same.

A third group is made up of politicians who are very idealistic and puritan in their approach. They have something to offer and truly want to serve, but they either do not understand the rules of the market for votes or they think they can change things by ignoring the rules and in most cases swimming against them. However, they hardly win elections because they rarely make any financial investments in the business of politics. As much as some voters may like what they represent, they rarely have sufficient incentives to patronize the politicians in this category. In the end, the politicians become cases of good products but unrealized potentials.

Unfortunately, the business of politics and pretentious service leadership are the bane of democracy and good governance in many countries. Sadly, too, they are often normalized and taken for granted. This normalization and taken-for-grantedness could be as a result of helplessness – because people – i.e., the electorate – do not know how to unravel and dismantle them.

However, no matter how they disguise, they can be unmasked effectively. In Nigeria, for example, where the elections season is simultaneously booming and looming, genuine politicians can be assessed by their preparedness to sacrifice and die for the good of Nigeria. Given where the country is today, especially with her challenges, it only needs politicians who are in it, not for their own sake, but for the growth and development of the country – i.e., politicians who are both competent and ethical. Anything short of this is simply an entrenchment of the status quo, which has not done the country any good.

Nigeria needs genuine political leaders who can literally take the proverbial bull by the horns. This will entail a lot of discomfort, political risks, sacrifices and even death. As scary as it may sound, genuine politicians are rarely deterred by it.

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

But how do we identify genuine politicians, given the confusion and obfuscation of personalities and personae in the system? One way to decipher genuine politicians is to look at their antecedents and ask some very pertinent questions. What have they achieved outside politics? What comforts and luxuries are they leaving or setting aside to serve? What sacrifices are they willing to make and or are making? Are they willing to die for Nigeria to thrive? As much as these questions may sound unrealistic, politicians who fit this mode are truly the sort of politicians Nigeria needs now.

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, offered an excellent idea of what genuine political leadership looks like in practice when he said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (emphasis, mine).

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

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