Reflections of an Observer

Forty years ago – on October 1, 1974 – General Yakubu Gowon made his famous broadcast in which he said that handing over the reins of government to civilians on October 1, 1976, which he had earlier promised at the end of the civil war, was “no longer realistic”. By that 1974, he was already eight years in office. In other words, he was trying to go for a “third term”, even though that was not the name then. On July 29, 1975, the Nigerian armed forces effected a change of government in a bloodless coup and replaced Gowon with a new military regime, the dynamic Murtala/Obasanjo administration. One of the major reasons for that change of government was to restore the honour of the military and the integrity of the nation by handing over power on October 1, 1979, which they eventually did faithfully as promised.

President Shehu Shagari who took over from the military was barely three months into his second term when he was overthrown by the military on December 31,1983. Gen. Buhari, who took over, clamped all the civilians into detention, started jailing them for outrageous number of years. In some cases, the civilians were found guilty of enriching their parties with some thousands of naira. Billions and trillions were not in vogue then. Gen. Buhari was more interested in economics than politics. He did not remember to even announce any transition programme before he was overthrown in a palace coup by his army chief, Gen. Babangida.

Perhaps no Nigerian leader had prepared himself to take over the leadership of the country like President Babangida. He had a strong base in his military constituency; he had a strong network in the political class; he had strong contacts in the business class; he had wide connections across the length and breadth of the country and beyond. In his maiden address to the nation on assuming power as president, he said, “We have witnessed our rise to greatness followed by a decline to state of a bewildered nation… My colleagues and I are determined to change this course of history.” And, for good or bad, they did just that.

Babangida embarked upon one of the most profound socio-economic and political engineering ever to be embarked upon in most Third World countries. In his eight years as president, he had cause to appoint hundreds of governors, ministers and other elective and appointive posts such that, today, there is virtually no single political actor on the nation’s stage who does not owe his or her pedigree to the Babangida era. He knew how to strike the right balance between blowing hot and cold. He knew the country very well and knew the psychology of the average Nigerian. He banned the old breed and introduced the concept of new breed to give chance to the young generation to participate in the political affairs of the nation.

Babangida’s was an endless transition programme that led to a cul-de-sac. He banned, unbanned and disbanded various generations of politicians. He dribbled everyone on the political field like his famed nickname, Maradona, until he had no one to dribble but himself. At the end of it all, by August 26,1993, when he cobbled an interim national government and handed over to Chief Ernest Shonekan, the political class was effectively in the hands of the late Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua while the military constituency was in the absolute control of the late Gen. Sani Abacha. In other words, Babangida couldn’t go beyond second term, if there was one then, and was lonely when he wanted to continue beyond his welcome despite some of the good things he did such as moving the capital to Abuja.

Gen. Abacha seized power from the interim government of Chief Shonekan on November 17, 1993. He dissolved the democratic structure that was in place, organized a constitutional conference and started a new transition to civil rule. Just like the copycat Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), who are organizing rallies and asking Jonathan to come out and contest for the 2015 presidential election and he is keeping quiet, the Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) were begging Abacha to come out and contest but Abacha kept quiet too. It is so similar because the characters are the same, including the characters behind Abacha who were controlling the process from behind the scenes, as others are doing now. The similarities did not end there.

In the case of Abacha, all the then five registered political parties adopted him as their sole candidate even though he never declared publicly that he was going to contest for any election. Everyone was cowed and the presidency seemed to be Abacha’s till eternity. In the case of Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) organs went into their conclave and… the PDP Governors’ Forum adopted him, the PDP National Caucus adopted him, and the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted him as the sole candidate of the party for the 2015 presidential election even though he has never told anyone he was going to contest. Here is an adopted candidate who publicly said he now has the “right of first refusal” but who has not accepted and is reluctant to come out openly to contest.

Before this, the first disciple of Abacha was Obasanjo, even though he loves to hate the late general. Obasanjo’s second coming brought out a different Obasanjo. He became Machiavellian. He was Babangida and Abacha combined in terms of power manipulation and influence accumulation. He wanted desperately to go beyond the constitutionally allowed two terms of eight years. Regardless of his denial, US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice has written about this in her memoir and even mentioned how Obasanjo was begging George Bush to support him, and that really damaged Obasanjo’s credibility.

Meanwhile, as they are adopting Jonathan as “sole” PDP candidate, it will be interesting to know what they will tell the Yoruba, one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, because, in this dispensation, in the first 15 elective and appointive positions, there is no single Yoruba! This is supposed to be a government headed by a Niger Deltan, but where is the real Ijaw or any other Niger Delta ethnic group in this dispensation? There is no serious position given to any important figure from the Middle Belt either. It is supposed to be a minority government but it appears to be a hardly disguised triumphalist majority dispensation.

If all these are not serious issues, then let us go down to serious business. What is the economic policy of this government? Where is the manufacturing and employment generation apart from unprecedented stealing of public money? What project has been initiated and completed in any of the states in Nigeria since this administration came to office.  What is the security and defence policy of this government and how far has it succeeded in protecting the life and property of the people? What is the foreign policy thrust of this government? All we see are actions based on impulse and quick succumbing to blackmail like the hasty convening of a national conference that is ill-defined and ill-conceived. In any case, adoption by rogue elements of the PDP with doubtful eligibility is not the same as winning a solid election in a free and fair contest. History is on the side of the oppressed.


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