Point of Order

November 1, 2009

The dilemma of a coin

By Tony Momoh
THE coin in issue is Nigeria. A coin is said to have two sides, a head and a tail. The head does not and cannot make the coin; nor can the tail. We then usually say two sides of the same coin, meaning the head side and the tail side. I saw the Nigerian coin at work on October 23.

Let me present the picture more vividly. I saw the coin that Nigeria is, in evidence on October 23.  It was right there on television, on two channels – Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Africa Magic on DSTV.

One side of this coin was political, the other side was cultural.  I would not be involved in the revelation of the coin, because it was indeed a revelation, if I had not seen the tenuous rope linking the political and the cultural.

That rope was Professor  Maurice Iwu. In the scenarios, he stepped right out of the political arena into the cultural. I was confused. Me confused? Yes, I was confused because Iwu was so eloquent I wondered if he was another part of a split character doing something so beautifully right in contradistinction to the other side of the Iwu coin that presents a most repulsive picture of indiscipline. Let us tell the stories and then draw the conclusions.

Let us look at the political side of the coin first because it is the political that comes to mind when we mention the name Iwu. But Iwu was not personally there although the negative impact on anything political in Nigeria is now debited to him even if he has no direct hand in the dealings. What was running on DSTV the same time another programme was on AIT was a film entitled Political Control, presented by Louis Merchandise Ltd.

You can say I chanced on both channels. I had been watching a sports channel when the lights went off. We put on the genset and as the DSTV channels took time to come on, I moved to the local stations and saw a live programme on AIT.

When the DSTV came on, I went to the Africa Magic channel and saw what everyone knows has been happening in our practice of money politics. As the participants left, Ghana must go bags were being carried into the car booths by their assistants with their security agents in attendance. What was being discussed was the removal of the Senate president because the president was not happy with his performance. Performance to him meant carrying out his instructions without argument.

A woman who had abandoned her husband and family in Lagos was the queen pin in making the rounds among legislators to ensure that the presidential scheme was effected. It did work, but the bubble burst when the president wanted a retired army officer to succeed him and the chairman of the party said that would not happen.

If you have facts on what happened between Obasanjo and Atiku which later led to Atiku’s revolt, then you have watched that film. The other evidence of exercise of power, at the National Assembly level, and between governors and those often referred to as Abuja politicians, reflects the political side of the Nigerian coin.

There is money at work in this film as in our political life; there are women, even those who abandon their husbands and families to be part of the action in Abuja; there are the young girls who would not hesitate  to pay with their bodies to be sent to Abuja to earn soft money from the fat allowances of members of the National Assembly; and there are vivid demonstrations of the facts of the life of the minister who believes he owes nothing to the constituency that votes but everything to that constituency of the godfathers to whom returns are made.

So powerful is this dramatisation of the power of the political side of the Nigerian coin that you feel yourself short-changed by the system we chose to walk our democracy highway, a system that has obviously been high-jacked by the so-called political class.

It is this group and the empowerment which our choice of processes for acquiring political power has infused on a platter that many do not want to attend to.

But it can be attended to and tamed.  And that is where the other side of the coin comes in. It is the cultural route to re-establishing control of the people in whom sovereignty resides and who have unfortunately failed to protect this right.

I say I saw that other side of the Nigerian coin on AIT on the same night of October 23. It came in form of a live programme entitled Songs of Naija Festival. It was meant to mark 10 years of our return to civil rule, and was dubbed 10 Years of Democracy. Whether that democracy is on the ground or in the air and even non-existent did not seem to have been part of the programme.

It didn’t have to. It was simply the celebration of the existence of democracy. If that democracy was on the ground, then we would have been said to be home and dry with what happens elsewhere. If what we were out for on that night was democracy as a song in the air, then there would have been a dream to download here in Nigeria, what would anchor Dora’s project that has meaning in the compartment of hope, that one day we would indeed have a great nation because it is populated by good people.

But if what was being celebrated, looking back in time to 10 years ago, is nonexistent because of abuses that defy analysis, then the battles to fight to entrench it are as challenging as the swampy creeks of the Niger Delta.

But there was a message loudly being trumpeted on the cultural side of the Nigerian coin. I told you Iwu was the chief host because the outing seemed to have been funded by Maurice Iwu’s INEC. There were national commissioners of INEC there as also the state commissioners of INEC.

The Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole, was represented by a member of the House who, rightly in my view, explained where we are on the rung of the democracy ladder when he said that democracy should be a government of the people, for the people and by the people, and not a government of the greedy, by the greedy and for the greedy!

I saw no senator in the audience or any of the political big wigs who would have seen the cultural side of the coin. Segun Olusola, the one we all have come to  regard as a major plank to hang cultural values on, was there.

He was speaking when I tuned to the channel. I know what he would have said because anyone associated with values, as Segun is, will tell you of what to do to sustain and promote values, and will advise that entrenchment of values is always heavily funded by those who value values.

Songs of Naija Festival (Sonifes) is being funded by INEC and this is what confused me. They were singing songs of praise to democracy.  Someone said it was songs that brought down the walls of Jericho. But in his brilliant speech in which he said he is Nigeria, and mouthed the great praises of a Nigeria that politicians are destroying, Iwu did one thing that baffled me.

He said he would not sing any song, like the one rendered by the gentleman who represented Dimeji Bankole. He had sung We shall overcome someday; and a Nollywood actor  adjusted the song to We have overcome.

Iwu said he would not sing! My wonder or confusion was whether he was afraid of the collapse of the political wall when the values are put into song and taken to all our 97,000 communities so that come any future election, the people would not accept that their votes be bought or that results or elections that were not held  be announced.

Oh yes, the walls of our political indiscretions will fall and we shall overcome. We pray that Iwu’s INEC imbibe the values which the songs of democracy trumpet.