The headline poses an intriguing question. A politician does not retire from politics. He merely changes political positions to continually reposition himself for relevance. However, with no condition being permanent, as the lorry owner in the Eastern Region once put it nicely, the Teflon wears off at a certain point and the emperor’s invisible silk robe necessarily admits tears. No man can stop the sun from setting.
In our system of government, an ex-governor has two options for holding on to the levers of power. One, he can train his sight higher and make a bid for the ultimate political office in the land – Aso Rock villa. Or two, he can head for the senate, the feeding trough of tired political egg heads.
Each position is, arguably, within his reach. He has the clout and he has what matters most – money – to pursue his next political ambition. The senate option appeals more to the ex-governors because it is easier to attain than the presidency. A state governor is the state leader of his party. Whatever he wants, he gets. If he nominates himself for the senate, his party backs him all the way. That is what all the ex-governors do.
An ex-governor who heads for Aso Rock Villa or the senate should expect to enjoy his last political hurrah, no matter how long his political sun warms his belly. Attrition is an ever present danger in longevity. Although power and politics being what they are, I would not rule out the possibility of an ex-president heading for the senate, I think that possibility appears remote at this point in time until at least, a political joker throws his hat in the ring. Keep your fingers crossed if you do not fear the attack of whitlow. This is Nigeria. We love surprises.
We can look at why the ex-governors head for the senate in droves from two perspectives. One, the upper legislative house of the national assembly is a house of political prestige. Anyone who enters those hallowed chambers can afford to be in politics without necessarily being a political activist. Meaning, it is a house that offers rest to those who have earned their stripes as elder statesmen.
Two, thanks to the role of godfathers in our national politics, some of our governors ascend the throne at a relatively young age. By the time they complete their two terms in office, they are still young. They must find the prospects of living in political limbo for the rest of their lives pretty unsettling. I would imagine that they fear too that the devil would not hesitate to turn the idle brains of a young but wealthy ex-governor into his workshop with predictable consequences for the land.
In real terms, senate power is more potential than actual. A senator is less powerful than a state governor. There is not much room for the individual senator to exercise real power. He cannot give contracts, an important and visible component of political power in Nigeria. With his signature, to borrow from former governor Chimaroke Nnamani, a school would not be built, a hospital would not be built and an old road would not be rehabilitated or a new one built. It should follow that in a sensible world not polluted by the lure and the allure of political power, no man who had held near-absolute power would opt for a position of near-zero power of less significance.
As I was saying, power is sweet. Its sweetness lies in the right to exercise it that is bestowed on the lucky few at the expense of the unlucky many. The interesting thing is that we do not really know what power is. Our best understanding of it is that it is defined by its manifestation. When it takes a governor’s signature for our village to have a motorable road, no matter how poorly constructed, we see the manifestation of power. When a newspaper report puts a state governor in a foul mood and he orders that the head of the offending reporter be shaved with a piece of broken bottle, we see the manifestation of power. When a state governor resorts to the me-first exercise of his power and freely helps himself to our common wealth in the sub-treasury, we see the manifestation of power. When a state governor wilfully detains his political opponent “just to show him,” we see the manifestation of power. When a state governor does something, not because it is right or even lawful but because he can, we see the manifestation of power. Perhaps these can be aggregated to define the essence of power. And for this, men kill and maim and destroy to get it.
Political power makes sense only when it gives one man or a group of men and women the right to dominate others. I suppose this is why we find it difficult in our country not to worship political power holders who, ironically, hold the power on the consent of the people.
Still, there is something patently immoral about the growing culture of ex-governors feeling entitled to their place in the senate as a retirement home. But, of course, there is no immorality in politics. We must not miss the point about the hoarding of power. A governor who has held power for eight years and goes into the senate is merely hoarding power. To put it another way, he is fencing himself in and fencing others out. He is not there essentially to help make things better for the country but to ensure that he would continue to be reckoned with politically at both the local and the national levels.
Power hoarding is against the spirit of democracy, a form of government that is popular because it abhors power hoarding. In our form of government, we are obliged to renew the mandate of all our elected men and women in both the executive and the legislative branches of government every four years. The purpose of that is to give others a chance to serve. That purpose, noble in its intent, is cynically defeated by the hoarding of power. What is happening now amounts to narrowing the political space. It should be easy for us to see that it would make political competition in our country even more brutish and nastier than it is now. I think the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would benefit more from men and women with fresh ideas about good governance than recycled jaded men from government houses who are not motivated to do well by the country and its people but merely to keep their hands on the levers of power. The fact that a whole of them are answering queries from EFCC on their tenure should give us some idea of how really useful they are as law-makers.Let me turn around the headline question and ask: Should the senate be a retirement home for ex-governors? Heavens, no.