By Owei Lakemfa
ONE of the most memorable events for me in our 2019 Elections is the unearthing of one of the fossilised ancestors of military impunity. Some ethno-regional organisations had jointly endorsed the candidacy of Abubakar Atiku of the Peoples’ Democratic Party , PDP. The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, organised its own endorsement; Retired General Paul Chabri Tarfa was resurrected to lead a hitherto unknown ethno-regional body, the Kungiyar Dattawan Arewa Initiative (KDAI).
In the mid-1970s, when a rampaging military claimed to have come to rid the country of corruption and indiscipline, the fear of Paul Tarfa, was the beginning of wisdom. He was Provost Marshall General of the Nigerian Army. You will wonder what that has to do with the ‘Bloody Civilians’ as the military contemptuously referred to the hapless civil populace. A lot. The military was the law and Tarfa saw himself as Provost Marshall General of all Nigerians; civilian and military. He fully blossomed when the military regime additionally, appointed him head of the Task Force Charged with Reducing Traffic Congestion in Lagos. However, the idea of decongesting traffic was not to tackle its root causes including lack of mass transit especially railways, repairing bad roads or expanding existing network.
The military idea was to decongest traffic simply by decree; so General Tarfa poured soldiers into the streets to whip Nigerians into line. Motorists said to be violating traffic rules were not given the benefit of doubt, cautioned or charged to court; the soldiers were the accusers, prosecutors, judge and executing officers. They simply laid the allegedly offending motorists on the road and whipped them. It was not uncommon to hear the wails of adults as they were whipped by lawless soldiers. All these with a crowd watching. In those days, as it is today, there was shortage of public buses, and sometimes passengers hung from the buses. This was considered by the Tarfa boys as gross indiscipline; buses were stooped, and such passengers de-boarded and flogged using horse whips which had become part of the soldier’s uniform.
Tarfa, then a Lieutenant Colonel must have greatly impressed his generals with his unparalleled level of bestiality as he was appointed Military Governor of Oyo State to replace the far more civil David Jemibewon. Resurrecting Paul Tarfa to convene some elders from the North to endorse Buhari was not a smart move in a civilian dispensation. Perhaps, those who did were primarily concerned with his being from the same Adamawa State as Abubakar Atiku. They certainly were not concerned about credibility or the past of Tarfa. If they did, then they must hold Nigerians in contempt.
The politics of endorsement was not limited to the ethno-regional and religious groups. There is a general feeling that with the verbal attacks on the Buhari administration by his former military bosses, Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, the brigade of old generals including Ibrahim Babangida, are opposed to his second term bid. So on Monday, February 4, a group of retired younger generals led by former Lagos State Military Governor, Buba Marwa went to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa to endorse Buhari. Maybe this will open some window of opportunity for them; surely they could not just have gone for the traditional military ‘welfare’.
Not all endorsements went well; some like those said to have been made by Tompolo, the ‘GOC’ of the former Niger Delta militants, and the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, turned out to be fake.
Paul Tarfa is not the only fossilised ancestor on display, 81-year old Helen Eugenia Sirleaf of Liberia, is another. From 1972 when President William. R. Tolbert.Jr first appointed her a Minister, she was for 46 years, part of the problem with Liberia. She served as a Minister in the Samuel Doe regime which had overthrown and executed President Tolbert. She was one of the founders of the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPF, led by Charles Taylor which began the quite bloody Liberian Civil War. Sirleaf later fought the Taylor government, and as President of Liberia, betrayed Africa by handing over Taylor to the West years after he had, on the intervention of the African Union, relinquished the Presidency to avert another civil war. As Liberian President from 2006-2018, Sirleaf ran a very corrupt and nepotistic government in which one of her sons was the Governor of the Liberia Central Bank, a second son was the CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia, while a third son headed the Liberian National Security Agency. She was one of the African leaders used to create a pretext for the West to invade and destroy Libya. One of her last acts as President was an attempt to smuggle monarchical Morocco, a North African country into the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) as a member. Why ECOWAS will appoint Sirleaf its Head of Mission to observe the 2019 Nigerian elections, is not clear. Perhaps, the regional body was presenting a riddle to Nigeria.
A riddle I am yet to resolve is the Social Democratic Party, SDP, led by former Secretary to the Federal Government, and runner-up in the 1999 Presidential elections, Chief Olu Falae. In its Presidential primaries, former Cross River Governor, Donald Duke beat Ex-Minister, Jerry Gana by 812 votes to 611. The latter did not dispute the votes but claimed that both party chair, Olu Falae, and Duke are from the Southern part of the country which violates the party’s constitution. The High Court agreed, and replaced Duke with Gana. Then the Appeal court reversed the ruling and restored Duke. Then things took a bizarre turn; the party expelled Gana and suspended Duke for alleged anti-party activities. Having now ensured it has no Presidential candidate of its own, it endorsed the candidacy of President Buhari, while its National Chairman, Olu Falae, endorsed the candidacy of opposition leader, Abubakar Atiku. So what exactly is at play in the SDP; principles, power play or pecuniary interests?
One other seeming riddle is Ogun State where President Buhari and the ruling APC party leaders were pelted with stones and water sachet. The APC State leader, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, has his own private political party, the Allied Peoples’ Movement, APM, which was registered along with 23 new parties on August 14, 2018. He also has his own gubernatorial candidate, for APM, Adekunle Akinlade whom he publicly presented to President Buhari in the Presidential Villa. President Buhari in recognising this alliance, told the Ogun electorate to vote for him in the Presidential elections and for any candidate of their choice in the gubernatorial elections. This I think is consistent with his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 in which he declared: “ I Belong To Everybody And I Belong To Nobody”.