By Dele Sobowale
Barbara Tuchman, Professor of History at Harvard University, and the leading expert on 13th and 14th century European history, has made the point that “History never repeats itself; man does.” Nigerian political history is witnessing a mind-numbing repetition of what occurred in 2009-2010 when late President Umaru Yar’Adua was in exactly the same position as Buhari finds himself now. The tragedy which Yar’Adua’s prolonged illness represents, ending in inevitable death, should have taught us how to handle such situations if they occur again. But, Nigerian leaders are once more demonstrating that they learn nothing from history. The Mugaberisation of Nigerian polity is now underway by those who profit from the sickness of the leader and the nation. Readers would, I hope, forgive me for recalling parts of the article written in 2010 when Nigeria was faced with the same issue. It was titled FROM PRESIDENT TO PROBLEM and it was a summary of how a President we elected in 2007 became the nation’s number one problem by 2009 until the Almighty mercifully took him away. Today, the President we elected in 2015 has become the country’s major problem two years after – just like Yar’Adua.
However, before that, permit me to define the word Mugaberisation; which exists only in my own dictionary. It is synonymous with the idea of the “indispensable man”. About such people late French President Charles De Gaulle, 1890-1970, had told us that “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Bear that in mind as you read excerpts from the 2009 article. It was about Yar’Adua. It teaches a lesson for us today – if we care to learn.
FROM PRESIDENT TO PROBLEM – 4
“A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists…..
Worst when they despise him.
Fail to honour people
They fail to honour you…
Lao-tsy, 16th Century Chinese philosopher
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p. 124).
Education is supposed to polish and edify the mind, but Nija’s first graduate president is behaving even more irrationally than Abacha! What went wrong?”
Indeed what went wrong, as the text message asked? Interestingly, that text message represents perhaps the mildest form of dishonour attaching to the person of Yar’Adua that I have heard people voice across the land since the man and his wife departed to Saudi 69 days ago today Sunday, January 31, 2010. Many of the other insults that have been hauled in the direction of the presidency are totally unprintable. Thus a year, after I begged Mrs Turai Yar’Adua to take her husband home to Katsina, the President had lost so much respect among a broad segment of the citizenry that it matters little now what he does. Whether he goes or not, it will not be with the dignity the office demands intact.
Late President John Kennedy, 1917-1963, the 35th president of the United States, in his own contribution to the everlasting concept of leaders and leadership, had said, “The worst thing that can happen to a leader is to look back and see that there is nobody following”. Today Yar’Adua had lost the followership of majority of the National Assembly, the general public and worst of all, virtually all his living predecessors in office as Head of State and Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces. The last is important because, even if his few remaining self-serving supporters can accuse the rest of us of ignorance about the burdens of office, they cannot say the same of those who have ruled us before. And his sponsor, Obasanjo, had deserted him; the less said about that the better.
Never in the history of this country, and most probably any other country where governments are elected, has a leader set so many stakeholders at each others throats as this one man has done in just sixty nine days. His party is now woefully divided; the National Assembly is at war; governors belong to different camps and even the National Working Committee and the Board of Trustees are at daggers drawn on account of Yar’Adua. The man who is supposed to be the symbol of our unity has become the rope in a tug-of-war that is becoming increasingly nasty.
Already, the whole episode has claimed several casualties; but let me point to only two for now. First, the Vice-Presidency which, John Adams, 1735-1826, the first Vice-President of the United States once described as “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived”; and which a less erudite Nigerian has called “a spare tyre” has just been turned into a political grave yard for aspiring presidents. After Obasanjo’s hostilities directed at Atiku from 2003 and now the ambiguities surrounding Jonathan’s position at the present time, it is unlikely that anyone with an eye on the presidency will again want to accept the VP job. Indeed, two governors now heading for second term have told me in private interviews that for them the VP is out of the question – even if it is offered on a platter of gold.
The 2010 budget, like all budgets before it, has become a hostage to the present “Yar’Adua Crisis”. With Senators and Representatives divided over the President, the co-operation required to work out the budget had flown out the window. Most committees of both houses are either on holidays or are going about the task at speeds that would make “Baba Go Slow” himself appear like Bolt. Some time in March, somebody will wake up and find that we have no budget for the year. Even when passed by the National Assembly, the budget might have to be signed into law by the President in camera – as the Supplementary budget reportedly was done. Then more legal controversy will follow.
Right now, it matters very little when and how Yar”Adua returns to Nigeria. The three options were listed last week – he could return completely healed; he could be sent back a vegetable permanently hooked to life support machines; and then he could be returned to “senders” (meaning Nigerians) in a box. The last has happened before. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader went to France for treatment; he returned in a flag-draped coffin. Oddly enough, the happiest outcome, meaning the first, might present the President with his biggest challenge because few will believe all is well – given his history of breakdowns. And, he will return to a country divided into war camps because of him.”
That was February 2010. It should be obvious to both the proponents of “Resume or Resign” and the pro-Buhari elements that we are back to where we were in 2010 in many respects – except now that the situation has become more serious. In 2010, we had no hate speeches to contend with and even if they existed there was no social media to boost them to millions and they could not go viral. Today, hate speeches have gone viral threatening the unity of the country. The political and opinion leaders might spend a lot of time arguing about the merits and de-merits of restructuring and what it means, the grassroots mind-benders are not waiting. They have unilaterally assumed control of the media space and are now setting the agenda. But, even the Kanus, Shettimas and the N/Delta Agitators might think they will lead the revolt in their territories. They are gravely mistaken. It is those who are jobless, homeless and “koboless” who might assume that they have been given their marching orders to evict those told to go by October 1, 2017, who might act first and then bedlam will be let loose on the land. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who has nothing to lose if a riot breaks out. We have seen them in action in communal and cult strife. Now they can pretend to be fighting for their people.
That is the danger we face and the only difference between now and 2010. “Men make history, but not just as they please” according to Karl Marx, 1818-1883. Was he talking to us?