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IBB campaign model and ethnic politics

MONTHS ago, around mid-August, I expressed my displeasure with General Ibrahim Banbangida (rtd) for throwing his hat into the 2011 presidential election ring. I am afraid I have to follow that up with more comments on his style of campaigning, which not only unexpectedly but also unjustifiably has gone personal and in bad taste.

It is a style that is a bad model anywhere and therefore must be repudiated with all the moral, material and legal force available, by all well-meaning people, in the interest of Nigeria’s nascent democracy in particular and for world peace and security in general.

In this campaign it has quickly become obvious that IBB sees Nigeria only in terms of a North-South divide and has appointed himself the un-acclaimed, unsolicited champion of the North’s cause, in a sweeping assumption that serves no one’s interest but his. This must not go unrequited. It must be neutralized.

In order to put subsequent discussion in its proper context I think it is in order to provide a small background information.

The horrific events of 1966 destroyed genuine democratic leadership countrywide but in particular in the North, notably Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (MBE) and Sir Ahmadu Bello (MBE). Thus after the Civil War in 1970 there was a dearth of genuine political leadership in the North in particular and for that matter in other parts too. This vacuum was filled by charlatans and pretenders to the throne, consisting in detail of military officers and hordes of cheerleaders from all works of life, including the academia, civil servants and business people. Some of the big, established business families in the country today were effectively launched at this time.

It was an opportunity for them to make the political connections that are always important in business and at the same time exploit the business vacuum created by the population and political shifts the crises precipitated. Without effective, experienced and responsible oversight the civil service lost its innocence, its discipline and professionalism, and was overtaken by graft and corruption.

The line between political heads of institutions and professional civil servants became increasingly blurred. The academia in particular provided predatory and opportunistic intellectuals who in turn provided necessary rationalizations for triumphal, divisive, politically insular and ultimately dangerous (think time bomb) policy making.

Not surprisingly, from around 1976 and increasingly thereafter mainstream politics in the North lurched from the center to the right, sometimes far right. The rise of religious fundamentalism in parts of the North has to be seen as a consequence of the conduciveness of the new order. Some of the predatory intellectuals of that period remain in positions of power and authority today. For example, in the Senate where they control important committees such as foreign affairs.

There were a few survivors of the 1966 troubles but they were a precious few who were clearly outnumbered, endangered and easily overwhelmed. Think Alhaji Maitama Sule, the late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the late Mallam Aminu kano and the more recently late Mr. Sunday Awoniyi. Men like Alhaji Shehu Shagari, although a First Republic politician was not among that era’s stronger characters.

It should therefore not be such a surprise that the military leaders of the late seventies found him amenable to work with. It should also not be such a surprise that beyond generally favouring exclusivity in government and smoke–room politics, Shagari didn’t seem to have much control over events in his own government, a strategy that was a recipe for policy paralysis and consequently instability.

Men like the late Dr. Bala Usman, although a member of a hereditary ruling family was far too intellectually honest to be brought into the fold. He was studiously marginalised and isolated. Until he died he suffered and endured what can only be described as political ostracism.

It can be argued that this era was a necessary part of the nation’s political evolution but it was also nevertheless an aberrant one, at least politically. The United States of America came out of its civil war stronger, bigger and better. Why should Nigeria’s case be different? General Babangida perhaps, more than anyone else, played a leading role in defining the post-civil war political leadership in Nigeria.

Having ruled for eight years, during which he weathered both civilian and military opposition, some of it violent, and cheered by pliant hordes from around the country, IBB could be forgiven for imagining himself a political hero. But what I find intolerable and inexcusable is his deployment of the enormous resources at his disposal, resources that he has so far failed to account for before the Nigerian people, to scuttle the emergence of a virile, modern and authentic democratic leadership in the country, some 40 years after the civil war.

Men like IBB would not understand that exclusivity in the Nigerian government after the Civil War cannot be sustained indefinitely. He and his cohort would not understand that the legitimacy of an insular and exclusive governance, even without the repressions of the eighties and nineties, will come increasingly under question as time goes by after the Civil War.

In other words, the pressure on such a state for equity and inclusiveness, from subsequent generations, who do not have a proximate connection with the crisis can only intensify with the passage of time. That intensity has become palpable now and will probably be decisive for the outcome of the 2011 elections.

It would be a mockery of our nationhood and an illusion of historic magnitude to imagine that IBB in any way singularly qualifies to deliver Nigeria into the twenty–first century. That is why I would humbly take this opportunity to warn those managing the Jonathan campaign against making any concessions whatsoever to the IBB team. Like I said before, IBB and his cohort belong to a past era. They should have nothing to do with either the present or the future of Nigerian politics.

Today, it is now 40 years since the Civil War ended and we are beginning to see the sprouting in the North of a new generation of liberal political leaders. Dr. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, the home state of IBB is easily the most visible of such leaders. He thinks of Nigeria first before any of its divisions.

The irony is probably fitting that the power state, all by itself, is home to both a major force of illiberalism and liberalism in Nigerian politics. There are of course many more leaders like Dr. Aliyu. Though they may not be as visible but they are there. Their numbers can only increase with time and that gives hope that in a few years they will take their rightful place in the nation’s political firmaments and Nigeria will be launched into the progressive trajectory it has been denied since 1966.

Lt-Col Peter Egbe Ulu (rtd)


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