The Atiku Revolt

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The Atiku Revolt
 

By

 

Reuben Abati

 

 

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, April 7, 2006

 

 

The details of what was discussed by the 200 anti-third term campaigners who were barred from holding a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, on Wednesday, April 5, have now become public knowledge. When this is placed beside the motives of their traducers masquerading as state agents, it is safe to conclude that it is indeed a sad moment for Nigeria. The third-term gang included Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Alhaji Ghali Na'Abba, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Audu Ogbeh, former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji M. D. Yusuf, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, Governors Bola Tinubu, Boni Haruna, Orji Kalu, and Senator Uche Chukwumerije.... It was in one word, a gathering of well-known opponents of the Obasanjo administration - many of whom have had cause to criticise the government openly on issues of policy, and in the cases of Ogbeh, and Ghali Na'Abba, and former Governors Bisi Akande, Segun Osoba and Niyi Adebayo, these are bold critics of the ruling PDP and its methods.

 

They and their associates had paid for the use of the Ladi Kwali Hall at the Sheraton Hotel. But the FCT Police Commissioner, Lawrence Alobi and the Director-General of the State Security Service, Kayode Are personally led a contingent of security agents to prevent the meeting from taking place. Their reasons: the politicians did not have "police permit"; they, the security agents, were also acting "on instructions from above". So, the SSS director walked up to Buhari and told him: "Sir, you can't enter." In case anyone had any doubts about the seriousness of this directive, such doubts were soon laid to rest when the security men descended on Francis Amadiegwu, a member of the House of Representatives who had stubbornly tried to enter the Ladi Kwali Hall. He was wrestled to the ground in the presence of his colleagues and reportedly beaten "black and blue". When Amadiegwu was eventually released, he could only mutter a few words: "This is the darkest day in the history of democracy in Nigeria." He obviously did not enjoy the beating!

 

There have been many dark days in Nigerian democracy, and if present signs are anything to go by, there may well be darker days ahead. What transpired at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja between security agents and the anti-third term politicians last Wednesday, is yet another illustration of the flowering of a culture of dictatorship that is being imposed on the present process by the Obasanjo government. It is reminiscent of the old days of Abacha and Babangida, of crude intolerance and abuse of public institutions. In recent times and as opposition to the third term agenda continues to grow, the Obasanjo government has displayed greater intolerance for ideas or any form of opposition. It is a disturbing antithesis: a government that was ostensibly elected democratically is now in the vanguard of an assault against some of the pillars of democracy itself namely the right to choose, the right to differ, the right to associate freely, and the right to express opinions as free citizens under the rule of law. Any government that breaks the law so brazenly threatens the very foundations of society itself, and the objectives of an open society and the common good. Nor is this the first time that the Obasanjo government will behave in this manner.

 

Other instances include the disruption, last year, of a rally in Osun, that was organised in honour of Chief Bisi Akande, the 2005 open attack on a group of women led by Mrs Jadesola Akande who were expressing solidarity with women who lost their loved ones in the famous Sosoliso air crash, the March 17, 2006 attack on a meeting of the Advanced Congres of Democrats (ACD) in Dutse, Jigawa State, and the March 20 arrest of Alhaji Lawal kaita, a chieftain of the ACD. Even more telling is the arraignment in court of Miss Funke Adedoyin, Mrs Kofo Olugbesan, Lawal Abba, Musa Garba and others for belonging to a so-called illegal group, the Turaki Vanguard. The accused persons, it is alleged, belong to "a society which is dangerous to the good government of Nigeria". And what did they do? These are friends of the Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, (closeness to the VP is a major crime in the corridors of power these days); in addition, these members of the Turaki Vanguard had the effrontery to describe the current Federal Government as "corrupt". The case is in court. It will be interesting to know what the court will come up with.

 

But so far, what is indicated in all these instances of repression, is sheer blackmail and abuse of fundamental human rights. The "police permit" that security agencies continue to insist upon has since been upheld by the Court of Appeal in the case of Lewis Chukwuma and 2 ors v. Commissioner of Police (March 2005). Nonetheless, the conduct of the police and other security agencies in these matters amounts to a violation of the right to the dignity of the human person. Of what use is the brutalisation of Francis Amadiegwu? The fellow should go to court to enforce his rights under the Constitution. The job of the police and the SSS is to ensure security, not to act as an attack dog against perceived enemies of the President. If the politicians who gathered at the Sheraton Hotel had been friends of the President, definitely they would have been offered state protection.

 

There is a creeping absence of civility in the conduct of public officials at the highest levels. "Instructions from above?" Who else could have given such instructions to brutalise members of the National Assembly, a former Head of State, former Governors, former Inspectors-General of Police, former Ministers just because they dared to differ? If Major-General Muhammadu Buhari had defied the SSS Director, and tried to enter the hall, would he also have been wrestled to the ground and beaten "black and blue"? If the Governors had organised a rebellion, would they also have been beaten "black and blue"? Whoever gave those "instructions from above" cares very little about civility. There is only one way to describe what is happening: it is bad.

 

Defiant, the anti-third term protesters moved their meeting to the Niger State Governor's Lodge, where with Governor Abdulkadir Kure as their host, they met till 12 midnight. Curiously, the security agents did not go to that other venue to disrupt the meeting. Was there a police permit for that second meeting? Or the police and the SSS did not consider the logic and consistency of their action? Anyhow, their point had been made based on 'anti-democratic instructions from above". But the main significance of the meeting hosted by the Niger State Governor was the presence of the Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The relationship between the President and his Deputy collapsed a long time ago. But the Vice President has been fighting quietly, while the President has done whatever he can to make him redundant and to ridicule him. Note: Atiku's supporters are in court for opposing the Federal Government; the "Turaki Vanguard", the VP's political machinery has been labelled a dangerous society, and yet this was the same machinery that facilitated the President's election in 1999.

 

But we have now reached a point when the Vice President is fighting his boss publicly. The President had once accused him of disloyalty: he is now affirming that disloyalty by declaring, once more, his opposition to the transformation of the PDP into a one-man estate, and the abuse of Presidential office. At the meeting at the Niger State Lodge, Atiku openly called on members of the National Assembly to oppose President Obasanjo; he also invited more persons to join the anti-third term campaign. Atiku is an insider, even if his boss has labelled him a leper. His open revolt confirms the existence of a third term agenda.

 

Atiku's words bristled with anger and disgust. He holds his boss in extremely low esteem. He even called on Nigerians to stand up and protect democracy. And he pledged his loyalty to the struggle; "I want to assure you I am always available and I will give you any support that you need, I will be with you, look when I begin to talk, you will know more". Without any doubt, the Nigerian Presidency has collapsed. The feud between the President and his Deputy has brought that exalted office to great ridicule. With Atiku coming out in the open to organise a rebellion against his boss, it is doubtful if any real governance can take place henceforth. What the Vice President has done is to stage a moral coup against his boss. President Obasanjo may not know it, but his Deputy has proven to be a master politician, he has dealt him a deep, retaliatory cut.

 

There are some moral questions. If Vice President Atiku is so disgusted with his boss, the PDP and the character of government, should he continue to remain in office? Shouldn't he just walk away and build up the opposition? Does he not see a contradiction in the dual role he now plays as an insider and outsider? If he openly identifies with "enemies of the government and enemies of the President", would he not feel uncomfortable sitting at the same table with the President? I once wrote that there would be injuries on all sides in the Atiku-Obasanjo feud. I also predicted that the "body bags would soon begin to arrive, and we shall start counting....." ("The long knives are out for Atiku", The Guardian, September 2. 2005, p. 51.) We have now entered that season of the swords! Femi Fani-Kayode acting on "instructions from above," has asked Vice President Atiku to resign. You see the kind of government they are running in Abuja: a Presidential Assistant abusing the Vice President? Surely, Atiku is not going to resign: his strength lies in the fact that he is an aggrieved and well-positioned insider. As Vice-President, he is covered by constitutional immunity. He will hold on to that until his fight with the President is resolved: the battle has gone so far now...The Vice President can only be removed in four ways: if he suddenly dies, if he is incapacitated, if he is impeached or if he chooses to resign. The emergent dilemma is that he will not resign and the National Assembly has already been put in a difficult situation where it cannot afford to take sides in the Presidential debacle.

 

Whichever way it all goes, Atiku's revolt is bound to become another major event in the history of Nigeria's Fourth Republic, in more or less the same class as the crisis in Anambra, Plateau, Oyo, and Bayelsa, except that for now, it is difficult to predict the end of this particular battle. What can be safely surmised is that President Obasanjo may soon discover that he is about to receive another lesson in the intricacies of power politics. Abacha taught him that lesson once. The second lesson may come from Atiku. Why, to start with, did the Niger State Governor agree to host the anti-third term campaigners? Why was the Niger state Governor so defiant? The long awaited "bloodshed" in the Presidency has begun...Poor Nigerians.

 

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