THE major difference between 1993 and 2018 is that we have a generation that has lost its sense of outrage. Whereas in 1993, I, as the top executive of a multinational, felt personally insulted by the annulment and wrote an op-ed piece in The Guardian titled We Must Say Never Again which forced middle-class professionals to rally and we founded the Concerned Professionals that mounted opposition to military rule; today’s people of my equivalence in 1993 are on Twitter and Facebook making jokes about happenings guaranteed to ensure that they and their children will have a more miserable experience of a future foretold.
I have conceived this book as the second coming of my op-ed piece of 1993, this time in the longer book form. No doubt influenced by Mahathir Ibn Mohamad’s writing of the book: The Malay Dilemma, in similar circumstances. As The Malay Dilemma triggered a revolution in Malaysia, causing the Prime Minister to resign and Mahathir Mohamad (who had been expelled from the United Malay National Organisation, UMNO, the ruling party at the time) to be reinstated, I have no pretence about my hope that this longer version of We Must Say Never Again will awaken the generation with a loss of a sense of outrage and ignite a revolution to save Nigeria.
I make this case in three volumes of which this is the first. I begin by challenging the perceived wisdom that politics in Nigeria is not for the decent or for people who are honest, hence the question, why bother! I try to provide evidence of the damage this phenomenon has done to the Nigerian brand and the Nigerian experience and offer a more appropriate poser: “Why Not?” The book takes its title from a recognition that citizenship is a gift with which comes duties and responsibilities. Noblesse oblige’, he who has privilege has obligations to the less privileged.
For me this is a compelling title and a fitting mission in a country where it seems the political class has a vested interest in the perpetuation of the poverty and misery of the people they claim to lead. Sure, it makes it easier for them to buy votes with peanuts, accomplish state capture with little effort, and be a big man in a country where servitude is writ large; but the results are there for all to see. All you have to do is watch the video of the remarks of the Emir of Kano at 100 years celebration of Union Bank of Nigeria.
The state of poverty in the land, remarkably among those who have had the longest and strongest hold on power in Nigeria shows the foolhardiness of the perceived self-interest that has driven a largely incompetent political class to repeatedly gang-rape their mother. This being done in pursuit of delusions of grandeur – private jets, siren-escorts, fancy automobiles and homes sitting empty most of the time in such places as Dubai, London and California, where the authorities regard them with contempt even though they welcome the funds looted from the looter’s mother’s bosom.
Citizenship demands a role, an obligation from the educated middle class in a manner that brings civility to public life and forces the common good on the agenda of society. The middle class, however, has generally chosen to flee from Nigeria and to provide spurious rationalisations for allowing such.
The chorus from close friends rose to a deafening crescendo as I considered yielding to persuasion of some that I consider running for Governor of Delta State: Why in the world would you consider such a thing? they asked. The logic of their views was strong. In a very Nigerian and personal peace way, they were right. There was so much to lose, it seemed, and very little to gain.
For some, the gubernatorial seat was a climb down. I had run for the office of the president twice. At the celebration of the 70th birthday of the wife of Dr. Thomas John, one of our favourite people, I met Chief Sonny Odogwu, Ide Ahaba, the nonagenarian tycoon who asked, “Is it true that you are running for governor?” It was almost by way of rebuke. “You are too big to run for governor,” he continued.
‘Why not?’ I replied. Pride was not a major offering in my packaging and brand. Could it lead to service to the people that could change the well-being of many? I politely told him that if it would make life better for many, I would serve as a Local Government councillor.
I was even more worried because my wife was within earshot. She was working hard at being the supportive spouse willing to encourage a loved one to pursue what will bring them fulfillment. But I knew she was very worried that I should be running for public office again. As we parted from Chief Odogwu I wondered if something was wrong with me.
Why did these people who were working so hard for me to run pick on me? Was I listening to them out of pride or out of a much talked about weakness that I have difficulty with saying ‘No’? I agonised quite a bit on the matter. Surely it should not be a matter of seeing a position as beneath me – after all, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of former French Prime Minister, Raymond Barr, who was then, Mayor of Lyons and President of Aspen Institute, France many years after having served as Prime Minister. And did I not have as campaign adviser, Joe Trippi (US Democratic Strategist Joseph Paul Trippi) who also worked with Jerry Brown who was Governor of California when I lived in the United States as a graduate student in 1979 and had become an Alderman, a local government official before dramatically returning to the seat of Governor of California more than three decades later.
Really, why was I inclined to respond to this effort to get me to commit? After all, similar effort had been made in 2015 and I went to Delta, took one look at things and walked away. What was different this time?
The other perspective on why I should not run was offered by Dr. Chris Asoluka, a very dear friend of more than three decades who has shared many of my social engineering dreams. He stated, “You have a flock of scoundrels in APC. The last thing they would like to see is someone with your values in a position of authority. They can humiliate you, use you when it is convenient and would not want true performance from you as this would show them up for who they are even though most young people and businessmen took to them because of you. Not only did they shut you out from the cabinet position even though the whole country was waiting for it, and it would have boosted their credibility, but they did not even bother to name you to some inconsequential Board.”
I teased him that his PDP mentality made him think in terms of compensation for contribution and that people tend to ask for or lobby for appointments. Maybe I did not get on the radar because I did not ask, I continued. But, Chris went as far as to suggest that the party chieftains may even deliberately encourage me to run so they can rubbish me by then pulling the rug from underneath my feet.
I recognised there could be plenty of truth in his worries. So why run? Not to run would leave me with my peace and reputation intact but it would also leave the scoundrels with their iron-clasp grip on public life, asphyxiating the polity, and draining Nigeria of the possibilities of progress as they loot the Treasury and incompetently manage what they have not stolen. Surely it should be citizen duty for some to sacrifice their reputation and challenge the status quo even in a failing effort that breaks down the wall and makes way for the future.
I further challenged Chris saying what value is there in my reputation being saved from being rubbished if, because of the way Nigeria is governed – every time I bring out the green Nigerian passport, as is the case today, shame precedes and overcomes me. Fear of reputation loss where there is rectitude of intent, was my least problem, I tried to assure Chris, just to make him less agitated about what decision I would make.