5th June, 2012
Whatever his intentions were(are), President Goodluck Jonathan deserves more kudos than knocks for renaming University of Lagos (UNILAG) after Chief MKO Abiola, a democratic icon whose blood paved the way for this fourth republic. There were many who would rather see MKO’s name confined to the dustbin of history, chief among this pack is Olusegun Obasanjo, who out of self-conceit does not want any Yoruba leader, past and present, to outshine him. All entreaties to get him to immortalise Abiola in his eight years as President fell on deaf ears. Today, in his bid to dry-clean his bad image, he seizes every opportunity to decry the massive corruption in Nigeria and describe National Assembly members as rogues. Irrespective of whatever international acclaim Obasanjo may have now, he would go down in history as the man who did the greatest harm to this nation’s political growth. Rather than allow the system to self-evolve, the Owu high chief arm-twisted and stifled it to satisfy his chauvinistic deficiencies.
It is on record that the worst election in this fourth republic, and probably, in the whole of Nigerian history, was planned and mid-wived by Obasanjo. He became the proponent of do-or-die politics which brought in all sorts of shady characters into our political life, most of whom he now tags ‘rogues’. Being the godfather and political benefactor of most of these people, it may not be wrong to call him the Father of Rogues or the Chief-Rogue. Though he expressly denied the third term ambition as his idea, the likes of former Senate President Ken Nnamani has come out with facts to the contrary. It was under OBJ’s watch that a Senator was rumoured to have said that no money ritual could prove as potent as the National Assembly membership. His government was synonymous with Ghana-Must-Go politics.
Whatever deficiencies Nigerians may today chastise Jonathan for, the blame should be laid at the doorstep of Obasanjo in Otta. Had he allowed the system to throw up his successor, maybe Nigeria at this time would have shred the Obasanjo toga of round-about politics that leads nowhere. Typical of a maximum ruler, he foisted Umaru Yar’Adua who was not even ready for the presidency on Nigerians and picked Jonathan as his running mate. There were those who alleged that Obasanjo made this choice to retain his hand in the pot of soup, from far way Otta. Having worked with these two characters as Governors, Obasanjo would be a bad administrator if he claims not to be aware of their abilities, capabilities and state of health. But he was more interested in politics than the well-being of this nation. I remember how in Abeokuta during the 2007 presidential campaign he called Yar’Adua: “Umoru, are you dead? They say you are dead.” He made sure thereafter that the election was won at all costs.
The first action of the gentlemanly Umaru Yar’Adua as president was to extricate himself from Obasanjo by declaring that the election that brought him in was fraught with irregularities. Though challenged health wise, he did a lot in terms of enhancing the rule of law, more than a healthy Obasanjo could ever do or hope to do, and for this, Nigerians would kindly remember him.
The death of Yar’Adua threw up Goodluck Jonathan as the substantive president. And so the journey started again. Today, we are still on that journey, unsure of when it would terminate. Obasanjo mid-wived the Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidency; he should take the knocks for its shortcomings. Had he allowed PDP to freely choose its candidate, had he allowed Nigerians to freely choose their president, perhaps we would not be stuck today.
If Jonathan has any inadequacies, blame Obasanjo who placed politics above the nation’s well-being. If Jonathan is not living up to Nigerians’ expectations, blame OBJ who probably wanted a president he could spoon-feed so as to remain ‘eternally’ relevant. The ultimate success of a leader is seen in the successor he anoints, likewise his failure. As Deputy Governor and Governor under his watch, Obasanjo must know GEJ, likewise Yar’Adua. Nigerians should,therefore, blame him for bringing us to this point. In climes where honour still counts for something, OBJ should give himself to more sober reflection than talking. Surely, posterity will judge him!
Forgive the digression, I was saying that President Jonathan deserves commendation for doing what the likes of OBJ failed to do. I would have expected, though, that monuments like the Abuja National Stadium would be renamed after MKO to show that he was not just a Yoruba hero, but a national democratic force who laid down his life for what today’s politicians now gobble at. Renaming University of Lagos after MKO makes one feel as though it is “everyone to thy tent”. Imagine the impact the same gesture would have had on Nigerians if the monument had been in Abuja or Kano, or Enugu. Also, the hurried way it was done made it look like an attempt to pacify the opposition, especially the ACN. It sounds like: “Look, I have honoured your Abiola now. At least, show me some support in return.”
Having a physical structure to remember Abiola by is a beautiful idea, but the best way to honour him, which would make his sacrifice meaningful, would be to fully entrench democracy in this clime. MKO fought and died for democracy. At best, what we currently have in Nigeria is civil rule. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States of America, defined democracy as the “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Can what we have at present qualify as government of Nigerians? Even though it is run by Nigerians, is it for Nigerians? Is it run in the best interest of Nigerians? Though in English sense, those who run the government can be called ‘people’, are they our people? Do they feel what Nigerians feel? Do they patronise the same hospitals? Are their kids schooling here in Nigeria? NO!!! These people are not our people because they have alienated themselves from us. They can no longer feel what the bus conductor in Lagos or the woman that sells ‘boli’ along my street feels. Some of them consider it a lie or a bad joke that in this country there are families who for days go to bed hungry. They don’t think it should be so difficult for us to afford N97 for a litre of fuel. They are no longer with us. They are not our people. They are their own people!
Mr President, in your 2012 Democracy Day speech, you stated that: “We have together demonstrated that the government of the people is an ideal that the people of Nigeria cherish.” In this you are right. Nigerians love democracy, only that they do not have democracy. Democracy is all-inclusive. A democracy where achievements are only seen on paper and witnessed in long boring speeches is not the kind Nigerians want. We want a democracy where the ruling class will live, talk, act and conduct themselves like one of us, in words and in deeds. If you go around with anti-bomb equipment and scanners, what does the tomatoe-seller in Maiduguri go about with? If you can afford to send your kids to the Ivy Leagues, would it be fair to let the roasted corn-seller in Ado-Ekiti send her children to the downward-plunging institutions that dot our countryside? How lovely it would be to have a Jonathan Junior or a Sambo Junior, or a Diezani Madueke junior in our universities?
It is not a crime to be poor. It is not a crime not to belong to the ruling class. But it is a crime for our leaders to send their children to be educated abroad while the children of ordinary Nigerians are confined to the ill-funded higher institutions back home. This, if you ask me, is to permanently ensure that the children of the poor serve the children of those whom their fathers have served and have begged for crumbs at their tables. This, Mr President, is reprehensible.
Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, besides democracy, loved education and contributed immensely to its flourish. What better way to honour him than to fix the education sector, not by establishing more universities, but by putting in place all those things the affluent pay for in foreign universities.
Mr President, where I come from, there is a saying that we eat what we sell. As a sign of goodwill, apart from ordering that only local delicacies be served at government functions, issue a directive also that every member of your government must ensure that their children attend the same universities as the common man. Only then would we know that you are serious about repositioning the education sector.
MKO Abiola is dead; he would always be remembered for braving the odds to open the door for civil rule, not by any university renamed after him.
•Daniels writes in from Ado in Ekiti State.