So, What's Next


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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So, What's Next?



Reuben Abati



culled from GUARDIAN, May 19, 2006



Now that the third term issue has been laid to rest, can we move on with Nigeria? Our collective engagement with the politics of tenure extension and constitutional amendment drew attention away from other equally important issues which may affect the future of Nigeria as much as third term.

The on-going construction of the event in terms of victory and defeat would seem to reduce it to a commentary on personalities: heroes and villains. The Sun published a rather intriguing headline- "R. I. P" (The Sun, May 17). The Comet wrote a declamatory front-page editorial tilted "Third Term: the collapse of a gamble"(The Comet, May 18). Nigerians have been busy exchanging very creative text messages. But whereas these may serve psychological purposes, and provide instant entertainment, we should remain focussed on the future of our country, and use the opportunity to direct attention not only to melodrama but to a deeper reflection on the cost and implications of an abstruse competition for power.


This is not to underplay the importance of some of the lessons that have been learnt from the events of the past few weeks, and it may be necessary to outline these. The point has been well made for example that Nigeria is bigger than any and all individuals. This message is useful to all men of power in general. There are too many conquistadors in low and high places who suffer from the "third term" syndrome, slaves of power who would attempt anything to hold on to advantages. The limits of party supremacy, sycophancy, obstinacy and civilian dictatorship have also been exposed. That message should be useful to those in the corridors of power who provide false information, make wrong choices, adopt tactics of deception and by so doing, help to create an environment around the man of power that facilitates a resort to delusions of grandeur.


The value of morality in politics has also been underscored. The will of the majority, the sub-text of democracy has been re-affirmed. The people, supported by the media have shown a determination to defend their democracy and take their destiny and that of their country in their hands. By standing up, parliament has rediscovered its potential. There have been lessons as well about power, leadership and character; in all, this has been a useful expiatory process and a significant moment. But can we raise the tenor of public discourse above mere triumphalism to remind ourselves of the battles that lie ahead?


The first is the battle of succession, which to state the obvious, has begun. In the face of the "body language" from the Presidency about the plans of the Obasanjo administration to remain in power beyond May 2007, groups and persons who were interested in political office including those who had already expressed such interest publicly had to withdraw into their shells. It became expedient to hide any form of political ambition lest the office-seeker stepped on sensitive toes. Potential political candidates had to opt for discretion when it became clear that any keen interest in the Presidency in 2007 could attract an invitation from the security agencies. Conversations about personal ambitions had to be conducted in hushed tones. Nobody wanted to be seen as being disloyal to the President, the party or certain powerful Godfathers who wielded the powers of life and death in the public arena.


The uncertainty that subsequently arose from the restraint of the political elite helped to strengthen the assumption that there is no person in Nigeria who is good enough to succeed President Obasanjo. Now that the outcome of the deliberations in the National Assembly has laid that assumption to rest, Nigerians must now embark on the task of identifying candidates for the elections in 2007. Interested persons must step forward and present themselves to the people. Such candidates must be examined and discussed, and if they include the present set of self-proclaimed beneficiaries of the abortion of the third term agenda, those persons must be told that they cannot take anything for granted.


Nigerians must resolve that only persons who are prepared to prove their worth will be allowed in public office in 2007. To achieve that, public discourse must target the country's leadership creation and recruitment process. One of the major omissions in our politics is the readiness with which men and women of unknown worth find their ways to positions of authority. In seven years of civilian rule, we have seen that the people have a great responsibility in appointing their own leaders, lest they vote into power those persons who may end up misrepresenting them.


The Presidency is particularly important. It is a very powerful office. Where should the next President come from? Who will that person be? What kind of leader do Nigerians want? What do we want that leader to do when eventually he gets into office? Certain persons are already proclaiming themselves President on the pages of newspapers. They are already riding on the populism of the anti-third term wave to claim advantages and favour. One or two fellows have even indulged in the easy farce of delivering "state of the nation" addresses on third term! Nigerians should know better. The scrutiny of the political elite that has now begun must be sustained. The Presidency cannot and should not be handed over cheaply to anyone whose only claim to relevance is that he or she (or they) opposed third term.


There is also the battle of Constitutional amendment: This is an issue to which Nigerians would still have to return. It is an unresolved aspect of our politics that remains central to the future that we speak of. It is really a pity that the third term controversy defeated the original goal of amending the1999 Constitution. The amendment process was originally flawed in design and execution. But a richer and broader debate could have provided Nigerians an opportunity for forging a consensus of sorts on such details as fiscal federalism, the creation of states, the electoral process, institutions, immunity for public officials and so on. To arrive at those 115 issues listed for amendment in the 1999 Constitution, so much money was spent, time as well, but all that has now been wasted simply because one issue about power and ambition became the main substance. We must remind ourselves that we have in the end postponed the evil day. With the Constitution Amendment Bill thrown out and killed by parliament, the task for amending the 1999 Constitution would have to be undertaken by a future government. When that moment comes, we would have to go over the process all over again. And this is one point about Nigeria: our politics is necessarily wasteful because it is not driven by ideas. Those who want fiscal federalism, or more states, or internal sovereignty, or a re-examination of citizenship would be disappointed that their fears and concerns have not yet been addressed.


The third area of concern is the electoral framework. There is so much that has been left undone because virtually everyone was fixated on third term. All of a sudden, Nigerians now have to prepare for the next elections, and both the parties and the candidates are at best in a great state of confusion. We have not spent enough time to scrutinize the electoral law as proposed; there are persons going about proclaiming interest in 2007 who do not even know what the relevant law says about elections, campaign funding, INEC and candidacy.


The danger is that history is about to repeat itself. INEC has been insisting on an electronic voting system that nobody knows anything about. The political parties are yet to organise their affairs internally. This is a comment on the state of our political parties. Elsewhere, political parties are continuously in existence as functional civil society units, promoting ideas and engaging society. Here, political parties except when they are in power go into a state of suspended animation as soon as election ends, to be re-awakened whenever it is election season again. The ones that are in power are too pre-occupied with booty-sharing to organise themselves properly.


Beyond the parties, critical institutions such as INEC and the police also need enough time to prepare for the 2007 elections. They have less than a year to do so. There will be challenges of logistics and funding. The Obasanjo government has a critical role to play in this respect. It is important therefore that government moves quickly beyond the hurt of the third term affair. The President owes Nigerians an obligation to organise free, fair and successful elections in 2007.


If he does so, it would be the first time that a civilian to civilian transition would be successfully conducted in Nigeria and President Obasanjo, in spite of present circumstances can legitimately claim credit for that. To get to that point, he must act as a statesman, not as a commandant whose troops have been routed in the field of battle. In 2007, the key battle would be how to protect the integrity of the vote. In virtually every election in this country since independence, the voter had been discounted. Figures are fixed and announced and the people merely nurse their frustration and often accompanying cynicism. If the people element must be central in 2007, then the people themselves need to be conscientised to realise that the battle for Nigeria's future has only just begun.

There is also the need to restore confidence in government and politics. The grave disadvantage of the politics of the moment is that public confidence in government and politics has been further shaken. The average man watching the political arena has suddenly been told again that not much is discussed by polticians that has a lot do with him. What has been projected to him is that the public arena in Nigeria is all about the sharing of money and contestation for power between opposing camps on issues of personal ambition. Government nonetheless remains a potent force in the lives of the people. Our democracy can only be truly participatory if the people develop a sense of ownership of government itself and of its processes. It can hold meaning for the people only when the leaders of the people stand on a higher moral pedestal. We must return government to the people, and insist that the substance of politics must be the common good.


What we must fear however is the inevitable clash of the political masters. In the struggle against third term, key political masters emerged who championed one side of the struggle or the other. We can preach that they should all eschew bitterness, and that the gladiators should allow Nigeria to move forward. But can anyone guarantee that these political masters would not soon graduate into warlords in the corridors of power? Already the Chairman of the PDP has been raining curses on the heads of some people! Something tells me that we have not yet reached the end of this movie...



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