B en Murray Bruce is running for the Senate of the Federal Republic. That may not be news to many. He is a media icon whose profile is public property. But apart from hearing or reading of his race, have you watched any of his television campaign advertisements? If you have not. I suggest that you should. Ben Bruce is campaigning on what he calls common sense [something that is not always common in our land].
Let me quickly confess that Ben Bruce has been a dear friend for well over 30 years. And a professional colleague for a third of that time span. But this is not a tribute or public relations assistance to a friend – he has enough media machinery and goodwill to achieve that without a leg up from me. Rather this is a debt I owe to applaud something new, fresh and different in Nigerian politics, something I hope will some day become a model in Nigerian. Bruce’s political concerns go beyond his senatorial constituency, or his native Bayelsa State.
From illegal oil bunkering and refineries, pipeline vandalism and environmental degeneration in the Niger Delta, Bruce addresses wider issues like consumption without production. He will like to see a nation of shareholders and stakeholders. He is tired of seeing “our people living without hope, “ he is appalled by the level of poverty in a land so gifted by God as Nigeria has been, and promises that he “cannot and will not” stand idly by. And he is not talking about the people of Bayelsa alone but Nigeria as a whole. Bruce appears to understand what it is to be a senator of the Federal Republic as against being a parochial local champion. His breath of campaigning is pan-Nigeria and that is what makes Bruce’s race captivating. He has done what I can recall that in my entire political awareness, only Chief Obafemi Awolowo had done what Bruce has done in his campaign. In 1979, Chief Awolowo copiously calculated and costed the the wastage in Nigerian economy, including the amount of free coffee and tea drank in government offices and promised to ban these luxuries enjoyed at the expense of the taxpayer. If you must drink coffee and tea at work, bring your own. And if you must read newspapers, pay for it from your pocket, Awolowo was basically telling Nigerians at the time.
In his own time today, Bruce has done his homework unlike many Nigerian politicians. He has tackled the demography of our population growth and laid bare some startling and worrying statistics. With a population of 37 million at independence in 1960, Nigeria today boasts a population of around 180 million. Bruce reckons that this amounts to a rise of 2.8 per cent annually which he say will amount to a population of 914 million by the turn of the century. With a population of nearly one billion, Nigeria he says will need an unrealistic 15 per cent annual economic growths to sustain. What to do? Bruce offers a programme of action which I cannot go into here. But there is more to ponder.
I don’t know about you but I have not heard a single Nigerian politician mention the word Green with regard to the environment and the world drive towards cleaner energy. I have not heard anyone else address the environmental challenges of our nation, beyond the damage done to the Niger Delta by the oil giants. In a national election campaign characterised by mud slinging, character assassination and general inanities, a fresh voice emerges, with a clear brief and understanding of not just the problem of his constituency or state of origin, but the nation’s challenges and troubles. He addresses the embarrassment of our parlous infrastructure; he is unhappy with the way we consume our resources without concomitant production. He speaks action as well to addresses these issues…”I will bring a Bill before the Senate…”
Bruce has a plan, a programme of action, a road map from poverty to prosperity, such that you would think he is running for president of the Federal Republic and not just the Senate. He believes that the problem of oil theft, estimated by experts to amount to 400,000 barrels a day, and illegal oil refineries, can be addressed by licensing the refineries, with the added benefit of reducing pollution and creating jobs and generating tax revenue. This sweep of vision, understanding of the problems Nigeria faces, and proffering measurable and credible solutions is entirely the purpose of this intervention. It may be too late for some in a campaign that many feel has already gone to the dogs.
Some may say that the horses have already bolted because the stable had been left open for too long while politicians were spending more time introducing their chieftains and stalwarts, their men of calibre, timber and carterpillar, than they spend outlining their programmes and policies not to mention a road map. But my political instincts tells me that electioneering is like a football match. Teams tend to pull out all the stops and dredge up their last ounce of strength when they are in the last minute of extra time. Nigeria’s current campaigns are in that precious last few laps, thanks to the change of timetable. So there is still that precious little time for politicians to show some respect to the electorate by demonstrating that not only do they understand the problems and pains of the people whose votes they are seeking but also that they can bring about the necessary tools for solution.
It will be a good idea for other political aspirants to pay Bruce the compliment of imitating his campaign of issues as against persons, personalities and calumny. What is going on at the moment may wow the politically ignorant who cheer at every vacuous pronouncement, play music that extols the campaigners who have told them absolutely nothing that will make their tomorrow better. But the vast majority of enlightened electors are never at rallies. They follow the campaigns on radio, television and newspapers. They listen for messages. They look for answers. The by and large make their choices and from experience they are the ones who can influence their households especially in the villages, another major population who do not go to or understand rallies or who to vote for. In other words, the message you communicate to the enlightened voter trifles down to the rural populace. Indeed you will be surprised to know that a large number of urban elite who registered in their villages and would travel home on polling day not just to vote but to guide their rural kith and kin about who to vote for.
The last time I spoke to Bruce, I got a further insight into his political mind. He is as I gathered from his campaign messages, extremely passionate about the poverty of the mass of Nigerian people. He is pained by the level of consumption among the elite and the privileged few who can drink a $300 bottle of champagne . Above all, and considering the level of bitterness in our politics, Bruce is totally without bitterness, let alone animus towards his rivals even in the opposing parties. “I have friends in APC and they will remain my friends after the elections.” He oriented out that General Ibrahim Babangida overthrew the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari; Buhari overthrew the administration of President Shehu Shagari and today they are not enemies. “There is a lesson for all political rivals.
Reasonably I believe NIGERIAN politics suffers from what I call the “enemy syndrome.” Again I make reference to Chief Awolowo, the first Nigerian politician I voted for as president, even in preference over my own “tribesman” Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe because Awolowo understood Nigeria and her problems. Awo said that one of the problems of Nigerian politics is that in most Nigerian languages the only word that approximates rival or opponent even in politics is “enemy”. Many Nigerian politicians take that meaning literally, hence they are ready to deploy all manner of deadly weapons from guns, cudgels, machetes and corrosive acid agains their political “enemies”. Bruce makes that critical distinction between opponents and rivals and enemies, hence his campaign has been fully engaged on the issues of our time. It is important in my opinion therefore that Bruce should succeed in his senatorial quest. Not merely because he is my friend, but because I will like reason to win over the abnegation of reason and the descent into calumny and inanities.
I will like to see a politician whose victory is based on his understanding of the issues that challenge our nation, issues that have pinned us to the ground for nearly 55 years of independence. Indeed but for the turn-by-turn nature of Nigerian politicians whereby someone will tell us one day that after all the Niger Delta and Bayelsa have “had their turn” I would have said that I would like to see Bruce run for presidency of Nigeria one day. Bruce understands Nigeria’s problems and has blueprint for solving them. Even if you disagree with his blueprint you cannot dispute his analysis of the challenges, troubles and tribulations of Nigeria. Above all Bruce’s politics of common sense makes sense to me.
Finally I know that there will be some who may be tempted to dismiss Bruce as a mere celebrity, a creation of the media in which he is a high profile stakeholder. Such people in all probability will be among those who have not heard his message or bothered to. Because Nigeria is a country where people will attempt to review a book they had not read . The same people will conveniently forget that Bruce had managed the NTA, Africa’s largest television network, or that the man ran a media and entertainment empire of his own and therefore must know a thing or two about revenue generation and job creation. But I will simply recall that when the late Ronald Reagan ran for president of the USA in 1988, he was similarly ridiculed as a Grade B movies actor, not withstanding that he had been a successful governor of California. But more important Reagan went on to be a great president of the USA.
I believe that Bruce will make a great senator of the Federal Republic. And among his many assists, Bruce, like Ronald Reagan is a Great Communicator. I wish him success.