By Douglas Anele
Nigeria is not yet a nation in the real sense of the word, because the awareness of belonging to a community with shared history, common values and feeling of oneness and solidarity to shape the future together has yet to germinate and blossom in a significant number of Nigerians from various ethnic nationalities and religions across the country. Nationhood is not just about belonging to the same geopolitical space with others. Rather,it entails a dynamic psychic nexus, a glue of creative imagination and habitual feeling of unity-in-diversity with fellow nationals at both conscious and subconscious levels, including a shared strong belief in an ideal, dream and historical destiny that must be worked for – and, if necessary, die for as well.
Therefore, although Nigeria has existed as a definite geopolitical entity for over a century now, Nigerians are laboriously groping their way through the labyrinth that might eventually lead to the country emergingas the greatest black nation in the world. But the impediments are legion. They include the legacy of duplicitous and relentless pursuit of British economic interests by the departing colonial administrators, which ledimmediately after independence to the emergence of an incompetent and inept administration.
That administration, headed by a schoolteacher called Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and often referred to as the First Republic, was well within the gravitational pull of Britain. Additionally, failure by members of the ruling elite from different parts of the country to put aside their selfish interests for the common good has had a detrimental effect on our quest for a strong, virile, prosperous and egalitarian commonwealth. The late novelist, Prof. Chinua Achebe, rightly puts the blame for Nigeria’s arrested development squarely on the doorsteps of the leadership.
However, since the leaders are Nigerians, it means that the problem of good leadership should not be left in the hands of prominent politicians and retired top military officers alone. Every Nigerian is a bona fide stakeholder in Nigeria as a work-in-progress. Consequently, we must continue to ask ourselves and our leaders fundamental questions regarding what it means to be a Nigerian and the benefits and responsibilities that flow from it. We must be prepared to speak out against the President, governor, minister and so on, if we are not satisfied with the performance of the public officer concerned.
The tendency of supporting any public office holder blindly based purely on ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation has been exploited by unscrupulous politicians for private gain. It is time for meaningful change in our attitude to politics and politicians.
When retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as President, there were huge expectations from him by Buharimaniacs who see him as a leader with the iron will and determination to deal frontally with the mounting challenges of corruption, insecurity, unemployment, epileptic electricity and inadequate infrastructure among others. Some of us who were sceptical about the messianic pretensions of the All Progressives Congress (APC) concerning Buhari were subjected to incendiary and vicious obloquy simply because we refused to jump into the amorphous bandwagon of change deployed by the APC to demonise the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Of course, I supported the second term bid of Jonathan inspite of the unpopularity of his government in certain quarters, and after one year in office by the APC, I have not seen any good reason to change my mind on this issue. Press reports about corruption during Jonathan’s administration, if true, are troubling.
Yet, Buhari’s motive for concentrating solely on Jonathan, as far as I am concerned, leaves much to be desired. What about the gargantuan corruption reported during the military regimes that lasted from 1967 to 1975, and from 1984 to May 29, 1999, including the short-lived interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan? Was the period from 1999 to 2010 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua were in charge corruption-free? At any rate, I still believe that Buhari’s age, dictatorial background, strong Islamic beliefs and decidedly pro-northern outlook, create serious challenge. In a country serious about entrenching democracy, military officers who participated in coup plots, especially the ones that overthrew democratically elected governments, should not be allowed to contest any elections – instead they should be charged for treason.
Now, defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last year is a good thing for two main reasons. First, it is a just punishment for the party’s failure to provide responsible leadership for the common good, and a stinging rebuke of the arrogance of PDP chieftains who boasted that the party will be in power for sixty years. In my opinion, PDP’s heavy losses at the polls should have a humbling and, therefore, a sanitising effect on egoistic bulimic politicians who think that political power is their birthright either because they belong to “the biggest political party in Africa” or because our democratic experience and institutions have yet to develop to the level that a ruling party can be kicked out of office peacefully through the ballot. While in power, PDP leaders forgot Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s admonition that “No condition is permanent.”
The seemingly intractable and endlessly mutating crises in the PDP since the party’s electoral humiliation proves that it is a contraption dominated by agbata ekee politician who can work together only if there are positions and money to share among themselves. Second, Buhari’s emergence as President signals the beginning of his own demystification. Increasingly, people are suspecting that somehow APC bigwigs such as Bola Tinubu, John Odigie-Oyegun, Lai Mohammed and others exaggerated Buhari’s leadership credentials for selfish political reasons. Remember, the most effective trump card used by APC leaders and Buhari himself to package and sell the Buhari-for-President message to Nigerians was his reputation as an anti-corruption champion. Thus, during the presidential campaigns, the APC propaganda machine relentlessly reminded people of Buhari’s war against indiscipline, and skilfully downplayed his pro-north leadership style and abridgement of fundamental freedoms while he was military head of state, euphemistically projected to the public as war against indiscipline. Many voters who were of age when Buhari was a military dictator from December 1983 to August 1985 recalled with nostalgia his jack-boot war against corruption and indiscipline when lengthy prison sentences were handed to politicians by military tribunals “with immediate effect”.
To be candid, I also believed that his brisk and no-nonsense approach to fighting corruption was right. But after years of reflecting on the matter, I began to see flaws in his draconian methods, including the unreasonable attempt to stifle press freedom with the obnoxious Decree 2 of 1984. In addition, discriminatory handling of top members of Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s administration in favour of northerners indicated to me that Buhari handles national issues with the protection of muslim Hausa-Fulani interests uppermost in his mind. That is why, after the military coup that brought Buhari into power, Shagari was placed under house arrest in a cosy federal government apartment at Ikoyi, whereas Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was completely absolved of corruption by a military tribunal that investigated him, was put in the notorious Kirikiri prison.
The demystification of President Buhari is gathering momentum because about a year and half since he assumed office, it is becoming increasingly clear that Prof. Wole Soyinka and others who hurriedly endorsed him as a “converted democrat” could be mistaken. Since Buhari came into office, disobedience of lawful court orders by agencies of the federal government is rising, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has become more brazen in handling allegations of corruption against those that worked under Jonathan, while operatives of the Department of State Service employ Gestapo methods to arrest top judicial officials accused of improper conduct. All this, including the ridiculous detention of a man for naming his dog “Buhari”, creates an atmosphere of unease and trepidation in the country and discourages potential critics of the President.
Because thus far the federal government has not fulfilled a single promise he made to Nigerians, President Buhari and his cohorts still blame the PDP for our economic problems. He continues to proclaim the false notion that he inherited nothing from his predecessor even after launching some projects started by the previous administration.
It is very likely that Buhari and his team underestimated the enormity of problems awaiting them, which implies that they were not prepared for the challenges ahead. Not surprisingly, some prominent Buharimaniacs are beginning to speak out against the poor strategy of blaming Jonathan and demonising PDP for the sorry state of our country. Of course, Nigerians did not vote Buhari for him to make excuses and blame his predecessor: he was elected to solve problems. Therefore, the President must be told the truth that the suffering masses nationwide are tired of the blame game, that he should face squarely the duties of his office and stop behaving like an incompetent craftsman who blames his tools for the poor quality products fabricated in his workshop. Blaming Jonathan cannot end the current economic recession or rehabilitate our dilapidated infrastructure. To be continued.