By Bisi Lawrence
*CFR?… oh please, no, no ,no
*equal but separate
It is doubtful that the forthcoming election for the governorship in Bayelsa State will give rise to “as much “palaver” or court as much interest, as its primary in the Peoples Democratic Party in that sparsely-populated, oil-soaked, but abysmally-neglected political entity to the South-south section of this country.
The militancy which was fostered by the desire for a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth along the lines of its revenues’ origins, first brought Bayelsa to prominence as one of the areas affected by the towering injustice meted through a system which sustained itself over the years, by a blatant imbalance in its pattern of national development. The people of the area were part of the movement and felt comfortable in such company.
The self-awareness thus created was further enhanced by the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan, one of their own, as the President of the nation. He, on his part, has thereafter consolidated the validity of his political standing by the success of the reconciliation, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for the former militants, who laid down their arms.
The power and prestige of Jonathan, both as the President of the nation and a former Governor of the State, naturally situate him head and shoulders above any other politician in this home state today. When aspirants for the oncoming governorship race began to square shoulders and flex muscles at the outset, the current governor, Timipre Sylva, must have felt that he was already home and dry, due to the influence and facility of incumbency.
His rivals, including formidable Alaibe and personable Ben Murray-Bruce, knew him for the man they had to beat. But then came the express disenchantment from within the party hierarchy. It first appeared like a storm in a tea-cup but gradually rose to assume the ferocity and viciousness of a veritable “tsunami”. Sylva didn’t. seem to know what hit him until he at last found himself on the ground, sitting bare bottom in the mud. However, before then, the indications were clear that the massive obstacle in his way was Aso Rock.
It is idle to speculate on why Presiderg Jonathan appears to be so adamant about seeing Sylva off after the first term of office. It has been said that it could be because he has not “performed” well, though not every Governor could be expected to be like Fashola of Lagos, or Fayemi of Ekiti, or Fashiomhole (beg your pardon, Oshiomhole) of Edo, to name one or two of the high-flying gubernatorial “performers”, the profiles of whose progressive achievements would stand sharply on the horizon of any competent evaluation.
But since no appraisal of a PDP Governor’s record in Bayelsa could be considered more competent than that of Jonathan’s today anyway, Sylva then has no leg to stand on. But there are other opinions about Sylva’s disenchantment bordering on working against the party which, on whatever grounds or for whatever reasons, is always indefensible. But rumours are now on the wing.
All of that only hangs on the fringe of the central issues, one of which is the qualification for standing for an election to any political post through the aegis of a political party in Nigeria. Granted that anyone who stands for election on the platform of a party represents that party, and therefore has to obtain the ticket of the party; should someone who wishes to be enter the race not have the freedom of presenting himself, or herself, for formal nomination through an intra-party election?
Whatever system any party adopts to select its representative is well known to be beyond the pale of the directive or influence from any source, other than the authority of the party itself. No other authority can change it or even interfere with the decision.
All the same, the system, the method or the process – if you like – should satisfy some acceptable norms that conform to the principles of common fairness. Each candidate ought to enjoy the exposure to the will of the majority in an open contest. That is a radical attribute of this thing called democracy that we are all so glib about.
In the Bayelsa episode, a committee is said to have decided on who gets a “clearance” and who does not. In fact, as it turned out, it was really a “committee of one”. There were actually two “clearances” – the one hysterically waved by Governor Sylva at a rally which was televised, and then the one that was not and so could not be waved anywhere. But it was the “quietus”, the one from Mount Olympus which put everything in its place.
It happens in every political Party, despite the age-old clamour for “internal democracy”. That has never happened, not even since the days of Awo or ZIk. The one just said, “That’s it!” and so it was. The other merely made his mind known to all, and that was all. There was, however, one relief in those days.
A citizen who aspired to a political office but was rejected by his political party at any level of nomination, or a citizen that might not belong to a political party at all, could yet stand for a political position on his own personal merit as an “independent” candidate.
There were several examples, some of who subsequently joined, or rejoined, a party from which they had resigned or were expelled, but went on to win an election as “independents”, and were even subsequently given cabinet positions in their former political parties. . But that is no longer possible. The 1999 tersely stipulates that such a person must be “a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party.”
This is one of the aspects of the constitution that need to be urgently reviewed. It tends to curtail the freedom of the individual in the exercise of his civil rights. With the opportunity to contest the election as of right as an independent candidate, Timipre Silva, or any aspiring candidate, would hardly have needed to hang on to the tail of a party that has refused to support him. Of course he still has the option of migrating to another party, But that would be so bothersome. It is all so wrong.
What cannot be wrong for anyone is to reject an honour he does not want. The decision of a mature person about what he wants for himself deserves respect. Professor Chinua Achebe says he does not want the accolade of a national honour at this time. He has expressed nothing derogatory about the idea of the award of national honours per se. He believes, rather, that it should be matched by certain aspects of governance which would make it of more” value, of more meaning, to him personally.
He is prepared to make the sacrifice of what would normally fill a citizen’s heart with fulfillment and gratitude, in order to direct the attention of the authorities to the path of rectitude. The recent offer of the nation’s third highest honour was the second time he had been chosen for the honour. His reasons for refusing it on the first occasion remain the same, as can be easily evaluated. So does his stand.
It has become important to put this matter into context. There is absolutely no cause for any peevish reaction about it. We are not out to defend the famous writer, but pettiness in high places must not be allowed to pass muster since the tone of societal behaviour usually emanates there from.
As it is, Professor Achebe is not the first Nigerian to reject a national honour. The first, as I recall, was Mrs. Winifred Audifferen, nee Onipede, a Social Officer, who seemed to have felt that she deserved a bit higher than the award of the Officer of the Niger, OON.
Even in the recent dispensation, the Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, kept to the high ideals associated with his lineage when he asked to be “included out” of the recipients’ list. Curiously enough, there was no song and dance made about what was, after all, no more than a personal position he was entitled to take. So why single out a particular case and distend it almost to the size ‘of a controversy?
But that apart, the quality of the nominations has been gradually compromised over time by influences of ethnicity and personality. The cases of serving officers, for instance, are almost pathetic. Dimeji Bankole was honoured with the award of Commander of the Federal Republic upon his appointment as the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives while David Mark was made a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger. David Mark, a retired military officer who became President of the Senate, had served both as a Federal Minister and State Governor at different times. But Dimeji could claim nothing resembling such antecedents. This page criticized the award as undeserving at that time. However, there were elements within the National Assembly in an overt agitation for the elevation of the House to be at par with the Senate.
They openly expressed their opposition to what they considered an inferior award. We attempted then to educate them that the appointment, noteworthy as it was, merited no award in itself, but a “Successful tenure could invite such recognition later. What if the man’s term of office was found unsatisfactory at the end? Well, as later events were to indicate, we should have been in the clairvoyance business.
It was widely reported that the session at which the issue of security was discussed in the Senate, earlier in the week, almost ended in a brawl. Sources ensconced in Aso Rock dismissed it all as a rumour. We believe otherwise. We further believe the “rumour” that a vote of no confidence was almost passed on the “executive” arm of government by the “legislative”, but for the intervention of David to save Jonathan such an embarrassment.
And it would actually have been little more than that, for the three arms of government, as we all know, are separate though equal. We also believe that the subsequent visit of members of the National Assembly to the President was a ruse to assuage the feelings of the legislators who, for all their Sango (god of thunder) histrionics, have done pretty little themselves in their position to curtail the terrors that assail us.
We believe that President Goodluck Jonathan is doing his best. He can hardly be expected to give more than that because no one has more than that to give than what he has. What he probably needs are ideas and worthwhile suggestions, and the will to heed them. It would not be amiss if such assistance came from the National Assembly.
The situation on the ground now cannot be affected by playing to the gallery, or attempting to shift the entire responsibility on the executive arm of government. Equally, even if separately, the burden must be borne by all. Now, let’s hear it from the National Assembly – what have they got for us by way ofa more protected and secure existence? What is their own contribution? We wait.
Time out. .