“GOOD MORNING SIR, PLS sir I want you to introduce me to any politician you know sir, I want to join politics sir, have been looking for job for 5 years, and I can’t find one, so I need to know someone in the party first so that it will (be) easy for me sir”. Pls sir, I will be waiting for your reply sir.’’

You get the above text message from someone whom you owe a response, and surely your understanding of the pattern of Nigerian politicalrecruitment is put to the test. Well, those were the exact wordings of a text message I received very recently.  Never mind all the sirs which you may take as a sign of respect by the texter, or a sign of his desperation, and hope of a favourable response.

“I hear you. Let’s talk on Saturday”. I responded, hoping to buy time to reflect on this unexpected solicitation and to compose a sensible response. My response immediately generated another message laden with sirs; “Okay sir, thank you sir my best regards sir”. Thankfully, I had bought 48 hours to ponder on as helpful and as truthful a response to his request.

Thoughts about repeating to him, Billy Connolly who said, ‘The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one.” was attractive until I concluded that the Scottish comedian never met the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, or Nnamdi Azikiwe who desired politics as an avenue to advancing the lot of their people. Besides, I was not going to quote a man who once left the Catholic Church and whose return does not appear full.

Then I flirted with the diabolical strategy for which a local politician was famous; give the young man a reference to one of the politicians that I know, and then call that politician to ask him to disregard my request. I will be a good man, I will be left alone, and the politician will keep asking the young man to come back until he gets the message. God forbid, I will not compound his problems with false hope. Harbouring such thoughts caused me a few Hail Mary’s.

It was then that I came up with my approach; I would tell the inquirer all I know about politics and politicians as well as the mode of political recruitment. Saturday came faster than I imagined and we had our talk. I explained that I know of three parts in politics; the godfather, the candidate, and the cannonfodder. The godfather stays in the background pouring his financial and other resources in support of the party or the candidate; his rewards include access to the corridors of power, nomination of his cronies to political office, and economic patronage. Many politicians are beholden to him and to his whims. His is the unseen hand directing many political actions.

The candidate is the most visible. He is perennially in pursuit of elective or appointive office and bears a lot of the financial and emotional bruises of politics. He is in direct line of political brinkmanship, a gladiator of sorts.  He is either beholden to a godfather, or godfathers, or he has a deep pocket to fuelhis ambition. He is the one who often returns home broke, broken and brutalised. He could also return a conqueror, courted and celebrated. Patience, courage and wisdom all abound in his arsenal; and sometimes deception too. He is both the master and victim of the sport. His success attracts many to politics while his failure warns others away from politics. Love him or hate him, he is the public face in politics. His is the playground of politics.

The cannon fodder exists to safeguard the interest of the candidate in the belief that his, the candidate and the party’s interests are one and the same. He has limited money, limited influence and often unknown to him, limited stock in the marketplace of politics.  A man Friday, his is to do and die- the muscle of the party. He is theheaviest back on which the heaviest (riskiest) load rests.He is the party’s megaphone in his neighbourhood; the advance man at political rallies, the physical barrier blocking access to the leader. To him goes the littlest of dividends while he undertakes the most arduous of tasks.

Don’t think that he is totally without honour in his immediate surroundings. He wears the party t-shirt, and may even have acouple of extras for his wife and his teenage son; party posters adorn his house, unless his landlord forbids it upon the pains of eviction. He brings back fantastic tales of happenings within the party and a few plastic flags for his neighbours. Pardon my impudence in including among the cannon fodder another sub group; knowledgeable, ambitious, diligent and resourceful. They move up and down the ladder to be recruited into the ranks of candidates for elective or appointive office, or retained in the class of cannon fodders. Theirs is the joy of hope.

My requestor knows a few friends of mine who are in politics, so I proceeded to remind him that these are men who entered politics after distinguished careers in public service or the professions and have extensive business experience. They are fully equipped with knowledge and experience, andwith resources painstakingly garnered over a long period of time. They retain avenues for resource replenishment and for life outside politics. They are not in politics to construct a foundation for stomach infrastructure. I know others who went into politics less endowed; much as I would have loved that they are home and dry, it is not so.I hate that they are licking their wounds.

Knowing that my listener wanted an answer to his request, not an explanation or a lecture, I asked if he was ready to play any of the aforementioned roles, assuring him that I will faithfully refer him if that is all he wants of me, but that I felt obliged to share my insight with him. He has asked for two weeks to reflect on the matter.

Do you wonder how many of our politicians go into politics as an escape from joblessness? Does that explain the mindless graft that pervades the theatre of politics? Is that why a deranged office holder, bent on holding on to his escape from poverty would cast the Catholic Church among the den of tithe-mongers?

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