By Douglas Anele
But like their counterparts in previous democratic dispensations, politicians of the short-lived Third Republic were like a house divided against itself. While those who lost out during the cancelled presidential primaries rejoiced that the June 12 presidential election was annulled because they thought Chief M.K.O Abiola was involved in the cancellation, others argued that it was a case of nemesis or karma catching up with him for conniving with his military friends both to enrich himself and to truncate the government of Shehu Shagari.
Overall, politicians showed once again that they had learnt nothing from the errors of the past. In a previous series, I discussed Abiola’s role in money politics during Babangida’s transition programme and how the entire process ended abysmally. Still, rather turn over a new leaf in their attitude to political power, our politicians still continued with the old bad habits characterised by egoism, megalomania, do-or-die and winner-takes-all mentality, such that after moving two steps forward, they take seven steps backward by using mostly ill-gotten wealth to sabotage and weaken democratic processes and institutions. Without a doubt, building a stable and viable democratic society out of a salad bowl of diverse ethnic nationalities, conflicting interests and centrifugal forces is always an arduous work-in-progress anywhere in the world. In our own case, however, the challenge is aggravated by politicians who are unwilling or incapable of appreciating the truth in Abraham Lincoln’s immortal definition of democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The return to civilian government in May 29, 1999, was heralded as a new dawn in Nigeria’s political evolution. In fact, retired Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Abacha’s successor, claimed that that very day ranked second only to Independence Day, October 1, 1960 in shaping the country’s destiny. Probably, Gen. Abubakar exaggerated the significance of the transition to civil rule midwifed by his government; but it offered another opportunity for politicians to prove that they can govern the country better than military dictators. Now, Abubakar’s transition to civil rule programme was carried out in a hurry, which made each stage of the elections easily manipulable by political godfathers.
This was more so at the presidential level, despite the clamour that Nigerian politics should be inoculated from the corrupting influence of military bigwigs and moneybags. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, serving a fifteen-year jail term for treason, was backed by retired army generals, including Ibrahim Babangida and Theophilus Danjuma. Ordinarily, going by educational qualifications, competence and character, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Obasanjo’s main rival during PDP’s presidential convention in Jos, ought to have emerged as the presidential candidate. But because politics and money are like Siamese twins in Nigeria, Obasanjo, hastily released from prison and bankrolled to contest in the election, was chosen instead. Obasanjo’s transition from jailbird to President, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting singularities of post June 12 Nigerian politics: its stands as a striking example of the overwhelming influence of retired top military officers in determining who gets what and when with respect to political power in Nigeria.
The problems of retrogressive politics we identified all along were also evident throughout sixteen years PDP was in power, and all the political parties were involved depending on their electoral strength. Admittedly, Obasanjo appointed some of the best and brightest Nigerians to top positions in government, and put in place several legislations and institutions to fight corruption. Unfortunately, his egoism made worse by the dictatorial attitude he imbibed as a soldier, tended to undermine his presidency. For example, he used the institutions of state, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to harass and intimidate those who disagreed with him both within his own party and in the other parties as well. Obasanjo also hijacked the PDP with his meddlesomeness, which led to the removal of Senate Presidents and impeachment of state governors he disliked.
Lack of ideological foundation also created problems for the PDP and other parties. Remember, PDP’s founding fathers envisaged a political platform that would champion the interests of Nigerians based on liberal democratic principles. But under Obasanjo’s watch, the party degenerated into an instrument for the capture of power and sharing of its benefits to power blocks and political godfathers who oftentimes behaved as if they owned the country. Even the Alliance for Democracy (AD), despite the Awoist pretensions of some of its leaders, mutated into a sectional party confined mainly to the south west. The APP was essentially the party of conservative northern elements, and remained so even after it changed its name to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Nigerian politicians have not been able to rise above the inglorious past of ethnic and religious politics. To address the ethnic problem, the PDP introduced a zoning arrangement such that power would rotate between the north and south every eight years, reminiscent of what NPN planned in the Second Republic. Unfortunately, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua’s death and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s election as President in 2011 destroyed the zoning formula. It has been argued that zoning enthrones mediocrity and jeopardises merit and excellence.
However, in a fractious and ramshackle political environment hemmed in by fear of ethnic domination, the system enhances the possibility of giving Nigerians particularly from marginalised parts of the country a sense of belonging. Besides, absence of zoning is not a guarantee that the best would emerge every time, which suggests that if implemented in such a transparent manner that the most qualified is more likely to emerge from the area to which a particular political position is zoned, then zoning can be a reasonable, albeit temporary, political engineering tool that could accelerate the emergence of mature political culture after which the zoning system will no longer be necessary.
Adoption of sharia law by some northern governors, starting with Ahmed Sani of Zamfara state, set in motion a cluster of events that brought to limelight the religious rift between the north and south, which sometimes threatened the very existence of Nigeria. In my opinion, it was an ill-advised attempt to exploit religion for political survival whose lingering negative effects are still with us today.
For all its platitudes and sermonising against alleged elephantine corruption during the years PDP was in power at the centre, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has taken retrogressive politics to an unprecedented level since it came to power in 2015. The failures of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration are legion – it would take at least several series to do justice to some of them. Aside from incessant nauseating blame game and inability to achieve up to twenty percent of his cloud-cuckoo-land campaign promises with respect to growing the economy, fighting corruption, and provision of adequate security nationwide, a toxic blend of nepotism, blind hero worship by presidency officials, squandermania, subordination of national interest to narrow personal interest, one-sided war against corruption, Geobbelsian propaganda and plain hubris has crippled the APC federal government.
As I argued some time ago, the party promised change, but the change we are witnessing is not what Nigerians expected. In terms of measurable corruption perception index, poverty level, unemployment and insecurity, only those mentally incapacitated and disconnected from reality by hero worship of Buhari or by what they are benefitting from the system will deny that more people are worse off now than they were in 2014. No amount of psychological conditioning through acrobatic propaganda or sanctimonious platitudes about “cleaning up the rot left by PDP” can alter the fact that more Nigerians have joined the class of the extremely poor, the unemployed, the insecure, the frustrated and disillusioned since Buhari became President. Yet, notwithstanding the increasing dictatorial tendencies of this regime, we must speak out against a government alienated from the suffering masses while pretending to care about them.
To be candid, all political parties that have emerged since independence are guilty of different forms of retrogressive politics, which largely explains why the country is struck in the mud of arrested development.