24th December, 2013
By Abiodun Ladepo
They are acting as if they have never seen this picture before – the picture of politicians behaving badly. And they are acting as if they never heard the “Fellow Nigerians” salutation before – the one that used to be preceded by martial music. They are acting, yet AGAIN, as if they are omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, our politicians, I mean.
Not too long ago, precisely December 31, 1983, our dearly beloved Brigadier Sani Abacha came on the FRCN air with his “Fellow Countrymen and Women” speech, to address us, as he put it “on behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces.” By the time Abacha was done, President Shehu Shagari was gone. Vice President Alex Ikwueme was gone. Lateef Kayode Jakande no longer governed Lagos State. Cornelius Adebayo no longer governed Kwara State. Omololu Olunloyo no longer governed Oyo State. Sam Mbakwe was gone. Jim Nwobodo was gone. Ambrose Ali was gone. Olabisi Onabanjo was gone. Solomon Lar was gone. Barkin Zuwo was gone. Senate Leader Olusola Saraki was gone. Minority Leader Jonathan Odebiyi was gone. In fact, from loudmouth party apparatchiks Uba Ahmed (NPN) and Ebenezer Babatope (UPN), all the way up to party leaders Adisa Akinloye, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Waziri Ibrahim, Tunji Braithwaite; all were gone just like that. Fiam! In one fell swoop! They went down and took with them all the ministers, the rest of the governors, senators, representatives, assemblymen, commissioners and special advisers. They also took with them all those local government councillors. On their way home, some of them took a detour through Kirikiri and other prisons across the country. In short, we were back where we started just four years prior, when the military voluntarily disengaged from Nigerian politics and civil administration.
Sani Abacha told us that the Supreme Military Council decided to sack the politicians because of the “…great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years.” Abacha went on in his speech: “Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged…our health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment…Our educational system is deteriorating at alarming rate…Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline…” Abacha ended his announcement thus: “Fellow countrymen and women and comrades at arms, I will like to assure you that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is ready to lay its life for our dear nation but not for the present irresponsible leadership of the past civilian administration. You are to await further announcements.”
The very next day, on January 1st, 1984, General Muhammadu Buhari (yes, the same one currently hobnobbing with Bola Tinubu in APC) told the nation that the crux of the reasons why the military struck was corruption and mismanagement. Hear him: “…The last Federal Military Government drew up a programme with the aim of handing over political power to the civilians in 1979. This programme, as you all know, was implemented to the letter. The 1979 constitution was promulgated. However, little did the military realize that the political leadership of the second republic will circumvent most of the checks and balances in the constitution and bring the present state of general insecurity…The premium on political power became so exceedingly high that political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means…The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties. This conclusively proved to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources (Emphasis mine)… The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society (emphasis mine also).”
And with those two speeches, Nigeria began another long military interregnum; one that saw us meander in a peripatetic manner through eight years of IBB, the return of Abacha (now as President), and finally, AbdulSalam Abubakar. Which of the current set of political leaders lived outside Nigeria when the colossuses of IBB and Abacha (especially Abacha) bestrode the Nigerian political space and took from us the basic tenets of human dignity? Who did not wish that they had a different country or a different leader when the military was in charge? Even when the self-righteous Buhari/Idiagbon junta called the shots, who did not wish that they were under a truly benevolent civilian administration? And now that we have civilian administration, why are we acting as if we lived on Jupiter when the military was in charge? Why are we acting as if we learned nothing from the follies and foibles that brought military tanks on our streets and at the gates of our radio and TV stations? Why do we want to fritter away what we sacrificed so much in blood treasure to achieve?
Some Nigerians with a sense of history and enough patriotic blood in their veins have tried to remind our power-drunk political leaders that at this rate, we may be inadvertently inviting the military to truncate our democracy. Rather than heed their advice, our leaders put their blinders on as if merely wishing away coups is enough to prevent one. Yes, I said it. Coup….that is the word they do not want you to utter. They have even gone further to threaten anybody who talks about coups with treasonable felony charges, as if the word is a taboo. Yet, the elephant in their living room right now is a coup; and they ignore it at their peril. Or what did they think Obasanjo’s lengthy diatribe to Jonathan mean? Do they really think this was a self-aggrandizing epistle?
Somebody had better wake up from their slumber and smell the gunpowder, sorry coffee. Since when did a former military ruler engage in hackneyed warning to a sitting “bloody civilian” president of dire consequences, and then admit publicly that he reflects the views and opinions of two other former military leaders, as well as a powerful and influential retired general? I am referring to no less a personality than Obasanjo, who had discussions with Babangida, Abubakar and Danjuma. Does anybody really believe that since these gentlemen no longer wear the uniform, they no longer share camaraderie with current officers who were their protégés and were beneficiaries of their professional mentorship? To whom do they think the current military leadership (regardless of their rank and ethnicity) owes its allegiance; former military heads of state or a “bloody civilian” head of state? If you think it is the latter, you are as wrong as two left shoes.
But this does not mean that I encourage the subservience of our political leadership to our military leadership; quite the opposite indeed. And to be perfectly unambiguous, I am not calling for a coup either. Quite frankly, I think a coup right now, like all the ones in the past, will only set us back many years as we try to grow our relatively nascent democracy. And whenever we do return to democracy, we would be learning to take baby steps all over. Better to solve our myriad teething problems right now.
Those apparently malignant teething problems are part of what OBJ highlighted in his letter. A lot has been said about the appropriateness of OBJ as the messenger: Was he not, for example, the president who forced Audu Ogbeh out of office as PDP chairman? Was he not the president who supported (indeed sponsored) the impeachment of Governor Rashidi Ladoja in Oyo State because the man refused to hand over the key to the state’s treasury to Lamidi Adedibu? Was OBJ not the same one who went to Ibadan to raise Adedibu’s hand at a rally, telling Oyo State people they should idolize the brutish politician rather than vilify him? Was it not during OBJ’s presidency that Chris Ubah lawlessly kidnapped Anambra State governor, Chris Ngige, and brought governance to a screeching halt in that state? Was it not OBJ that withheld Lagos State’s statutory budget allocations as punishment for Governor Tinubu’s effrontery to create more local governments in Lagos State? Was it not under OBJ that Bola Ige, Harry Marshall, Funsho Williams, Ayo Daramola, to mention just a few, were gruesomely murdered and no one was held responsible? And didn’t OBJ try to perpetuate himself in office by allegedly seeking to run for a third term? So, who is OBJ, many have asked, to now wear the toga of reformist imbued with self-righteous indignant venom?
And I ask the same question too. But I don’t want to fall into that same pit that swallowed the hopes of many of my generation when Abacha made his speech. I hope that our collective amnesia and stupor clear from our psyche so we can understand that our country stands yet at the edge of another precipice. If we fall again into another bottomless abyss at this time when the rest of the world, including some African countries, have left us in the wake of their developmental dust, our generations yet unborn will never forgive us.
But the parallels are just too scary to be ignored. We have a sit-tight national party chairman in Bamanga Tukur who has lost the trust and confidence of many governors in the ruling party. We have a president who is allegedly reneging on his promise to not run for a second term since he would have spent a total of 10 years as president and two as vice president. This was the same man whom providence made deputy-governor and governor before becoming vice president and president – all in sequential succession. What more does he want to achieve in the corridors of power if he is not power-drunk (no ogogoro pun intended here)? We have allegations upon allegations of brazen, in-your-face corruption – corruption of unimaginable proportions – to which the presidency has not responded, and which the EFCC CANNOT investigate. We have the education and health sectors, strongest sinew that binds our society, descend into decay and maladministration. We have airports, railways and roadways progressively deteriorating to the point of dilapidation. Food prices have gone through the roofs. Fuel and cooking gas prices are beyond the comfortable reach of whatever is left of the middle class. The poor is hopelessly more destitute than they were under the military. Things have retrograded so badly that a coupist today only has to dust up Abacha’s speech and read it to us verbatim. We are back to 1983! The presidency now looks to me like what Abacha described above as “inept and corrupt leadership.” (Don’t ask me if Abacha too had the moral right to accuse anybody of ineptitude and corruption. But the man had a gun and he got my attention.) Aren’t our politicians providing fodder to would-be coupists by revelling in “squandermania, corruption and indiscipline” like Abacha said above? And when our presidents and their family members (including their pets) and their entire cabinet seek routine malaria and stomach ache treatments abroad, doesn’t it mean that our health services are “in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment” like Abacha said above? So, who really is endangering our democracy?
Rather than berate OBJ; rather than threaten the rest of us with treasonable felony charges; rather than bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich pretending to not know what is going on around them, the smart ones in politics had better ignore the messenger and heed the message. I probably could have written a more eloquent letter than OBJ did. You could have written a better letter than OBJ did. But none of our letters could have carried nearly as much weight as OBJ’s did. Our politicians ARE NOT omniscient. They ARE NOT omnipresent. And certainly, they ARE NOT omnipotent. Let our politicians heed the 1983 Buhari’s clarion call and refrain from circumventing the checks and balances in the constitution. Let not the premium on political power become so exceedingly high that political contestants regard victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle. Those among them who have ears let them hear…”before it is REALLY too late.”
•Ladepo, an alumnus of the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and Towson University and University of Maryland (both in the State of Maryland, USA), is a former journalist with The Guardian. An extensively travelled employee of a US agency, he contributes from Los Angeles.