Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cocaine and politics

For a nation that is apparently obsessed with its own unedifying history, it is very tempting to assume that the future of Nigeria will re-play its past if no serious effort is made to arrest the situation. Campaign for any elective office in Nigeria has become a cash-and-carry auction. Not only does the country understand this obvious menace, but for generations we all have come to accept it.

The reality is that politics is the only thriving business in the country today. A former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, alluded to this fact when he said in 2005 that politics was an investment, and that a politician could sell all his landed property to get elected into an office. The recent case of Mr. Eme Zuru Ayortor, a 52-year-old politician in Edo State, who is eyeing a House of Assembly seat in 2011, illustrates the desperation of many Nigerian politicians.

Ayortor, a United States-trained pharmacist, was arrested by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) while attempting to export 2.129kg of cocaine. He was about to board a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos when he was intercepted at the central screening area with the aid of a scanning machine. Ayortor's confession said it all: "I contested the 2007 House of Assembly election in Edo State and lost," he was quoted as saying. "I also lost all my savings as a practising pharmacist in that election. Now, the coast is clear and I am being favoured to run in 2011 in my party. That was how I got involved in this mess. I needed to reposition myself for the 2011 election financially. I thought that with my position and appearance, there would be no problem at the screening. I do not know where to start, from here."

It is not an isolated case, unfortunately. We recall that last year, Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, raised the alarm on the floor of the Senate that he could identify a handful of his colleagues in the House who had been involved in drug deals and whose cases he had personally investigated as a senior cop. His revelation provoked a furore in the National Assembly. Amidst threats and counter-threats, the senator was forced to eat his words. The rest is now history.

The truth, however, is that not many decent people, earning an honest living, can afford the cost of winning elections in Nigeria today. Given the obvious absence of ideology-based, articulate, issues-oriented campaigns, money is now virtually the only essential ingredient of electoral success in the country. Before the first vote is cast in a presidential or governorship primary election, the nation's moneybags and party financiers would have privately determined which candidate should receive his party's ticket. It is thus unrealistic to expect our elected officials to operate in a system that requires them to raise millions or even billions of naira in campaign financing, without powerful strings being attached to such 'investments'.

The price of sustaining such a blatantly cash-driven electoral process has been a worsening of official corruption in the system, since the return of democratic rule in 1999, and an increase of public skepticism and mistrust towards the government. Disillusionment about politics now runs so deep that the majority of voters no longer participate in the political process. The people now know, from painful experience, that elections in our country are a sordid affair, often involving fraud, robbery, drug pushing, banditry, assassinations, and official deceit. In this mercenary culture, where money is increasingly the sole decisive factor in choosing our leaders, the impression is unmistakable that the government goes to the highest bidder. The security agencies saddled with the job of discreetly screening politicians for moral suitability for public office have been sucked into the money-spinning game.

We urge the NDLEA to dig into the activities of the drug barons who sponsor other desperate Nigerians in this messy trade. Also, the security agencies should show more patriotism in screening prospective candidates for the 2011 general elections. There are so many Ayortors who want to win elections at all costs. The harsh economy also needs to be addressed by the Jonathan administration. A situation whereby credit facilities at low interest rates do not exist for people to set up legitimate businesses and generate employment will continue to breed public office seekers who see politics as the only source of high returns on investment. Besides, a return to the practice of fiscal federalism is required so as to curtail the present entrenched culture of looting 'free money' from crude oil exports.

Daily Independent

Related stories: Nigerian politician arrested with cocaine

Video report on the EFCC crackdown on corruption in Nigeria

Video report on Nigerian woman arrested for smuggling cocaine in stomach

CNN's video report on the Drug War in Nigeria


  1. Great article Chidi! It is fascinating (and scary) to see a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes in politics...

  2. Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous how messed up it's become. Looking forward to the 2011 Presidential elections...the fact that someone like Babangida is even thinking of running for office again is a testament to how bad it is...Good luck Jonathan!