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Generals on the political turf

By Tony Momoh

I am not frightened by the presence of generals on the political turf.  There are many more things to be afraid of.  I am afraid of the way we do our businesses.  And the most lucrative business seems to be the business of politics.  But  what is the business of politics?

The business of politics refers to all that area of manifesting life (I almost said death)  in the Nigerian environment in which power is accessed and retained.  The accessing of power is the sole objective of those in search of it.  Wanting the generals or any other group of persons not to be part of that booming business is a marketing strategy by those who want to lessen the pain of competition.  The journey to now did not begin yesterday.  It is more than 50 years old.

Come over to the past and let us look at the picture unfold so that we can see all the answers roll out effortlessly, and then ask ourselves whether indeed we want the generals or any other group of Nigerians not to take part in sharing a cake no one wants to be part of baking.  Once upon a time, the means for accessing power did not include playing the ethnic card.

Otherwise we would not have had a situation in which Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe would support a Yoruba man in an election in Lagos, and Chief Obafemi Awolowo would support a Rivers man in the same election. This was in the early 40s.  But with the gradual disengagement of the British, we started to look for means to access power wherever it was available, at the local government level, at the regional level and at the national level.  Zik could contest elections to the Western House from Lagos, and win.

Before independence, the regional governments accepted self government, and it was obvious that those on the driving seats could thenceforth never come from outside the major groups populating the regions – the Yoruba of the West, the Igbo of the East and the Hausa Fulani of the North.  Having cornered the top posts in the three regions, the major groups prepared for the centre stage.

Zik, premier of the Eastern Region, left the East for Lagos; and so did Awolowo who was  premier of the Western Region.  But Ahmadu Bello remained as premier of the Northern Region, but sent his second in command, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to Lagos.

The moves, like in a chess game, that saw the coming together of the North and East against the West in 1960 point in the direction of the fast disappearance of the moral anchor that ought to have diluted our greed in the hungry search for power.

In elections, we manipulated the ballots.  Even before the elections, we strove to stop our opponents from filing their papers by kidnapping them and releasing them after the nominations had closed. Now, if those routes to accessing power had still been there, we would have killed them.  But our laws now say no single candidate can contest an election and so be declared winner because he was returned unopposed!

Many other means came our way.  We solved the problem of destroying our opponents’ papers by ensuring that we use one box.  But we resorted to pouncing on the boxes after voting and replacing them with stuffed ones.  Between 2003 and 2007, we had perfected the most blatant means of accessing power.

Having lost our sense of guilt, we watched our people stay in the sun to cast their votes, if we ever showed up with the materials, but we knew what the outcome already was because we had documented it!  All we have done over the years has been to access power because accessing power in the political field has been the fastest and safest route to acquiring wealth.

The chores involved in this business include the mobilisation of people, the manipulation of people and finally the marginalisation of people.  We cannot explain the three m’s  in this business of politics, but the players know that any able-bodied Nigerian can be part of this business.  You will be told that everyone has a price and if anyone is not ready to play ball, the end must still be achieved even if death is involved.

Correct me  if you have any other explanation for the do-or-die mantra we introduced into the simple way others have designed to choose those who will manage their limited resources for ensuring  their welfare and security.  Having shown, directly or indirectly, that every Nigerian, qualified or not, is there to be part of the business of politics, how serious or fair are we when we say that people in uniform, for the reason only that they had been in uniform, should not be part of the business of politics.

The urge to lead is right there in the make-up of man, and that urge to lead may be  understood by the mature to include the responsibility to grow and be a sun in the dark for others to find their way in life.  Others may see the urge to lead as reflectable only in controlling the means of livelihood they can reach out for, whether it is theirs or not.  The one we describe as the politician belongs in the second group.  If accessing power is the way to that treasure trove, they will use whatever means they have to access power.

In doing business, you are taught ways to compete, not the way to cooperate.  You are told to use your brains, but I tell you, when you use your brains, you are totally at that level where it is you before any other.  Greed is your motto; and taking, not giving,  is your mission.  It is in seeking the opportunity to take without much wahala that we start to move to disqualify or discourage those we think may be worthy opponents in the fight and haggling in the marketplace.

The generals are there because they are Nigerians.  We told them and other men in uniform that if they want to access power, they should do so through the route the world now recognises, the ballot box.  From age 18 and above, you can be what you want in this country in accessing political office.  Age, educational qualification, belonging in political parties and a record without crime are some of the qualifications.

Even as I write, there is an attempt to accommodate those who have criminal records to access office as long as they are declared winners of elections that may not have been held.  So who  is afraid of generals or men in uniform? Having discovered that going to the farm is less paying than accessing power through the vote, our men in uniform opted for the latter.

Let them join the luxury train and enjoy themselves, like the other Nigerian businessmen in the political market.  Time will come when the people will say enough is enough and call the bluff of those who believe that eating and not working is a divine ordinance.  It is not, has never been and will never be, even if for a long, long time, we think it is.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.