Back To The Trenches


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Back To The Trenches




Godwin Agbroko




culled from THISDAY, November 14, 2005


On the face of it, the dramatic formation of the Movement for the of Democracy (MDD) on the 7th of this month in Lagos would appear to be a product of mass hysteria. Apart from the rallying war cry implied in the movement's name, as many as 60 heavy-weight politicians (to use Nigeria's English) queued up to join. Among them were immediate past National Chairman of the Ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Audu Ogbeh, former Kaduna State Governor, Lawal Kaita, and political godfather, Yahaya  Kwande. The list is a formidable record of battle-tested politicians, men and women who cannot be brushed aside.
A closer look at the agenda of the MDD shows that the fears of the members are quite founded. With the PDP government, democracy has been under serious strain, and if left undefended, would inevitably snap. The MDD is a movement foretold. The only wonder in the  matter is that it took so long in coming. Infact, the MDD is a continuation of the unfinished battle between dictatorship and civil society when Gen. Sani Abacha died abruptly in 1998.
A little analogy might help our understanding of what happened at the time. Under Abacha, the  situation the country found itself was that of a people rendered immobile on a rail track while the train came hurtling down at great speed. Then within an inch of crushing the people, the train came to a sudden halt, all by itself.  The people, though happy to be saved,  were baffled and disoriented by the nerve-wracking experience. Upon recovering their sense of direction, they went to the opposite side of unthinking jubilation. In their happiness, they forgot that the  train (Abacha's military regime) only came to a stop and therefore never bothered to make the extra effort required to dismantle it.
In truth, Abacha was only the driver of the train; there were other persons responsible for its locomotion. In our haste to celebrate the new lease of life, we equally forgot the men and women behind the train. As a result, they refurbished the train,  and re-named it the Peoples Democratic Party. Now, the PDP, which is only a transmutation from a military to civilian dictatorship is back in motion, albeit slowly, since 2000. It now appears to be gathering the maniacal force associated with the Abacha era as it careers towards 2007. Nigerians have come to the grim realization that the battle is far from over; like the G.34 did before it, the MDD is now mustering the troops once more to return to the trenches in of democracy.
It is a painful irony that the group of 34 (G.34) was founded on love of freedom and democracy, but its offshoot, the PDP, thrives on the companionship of autocracy and might. The party didn't waste time displaying its disdain for the finer points of democracy and the rule of law. Founded in 1998 under the chairmanship of Solomon Lar, the PDP became the ruling party the following year. In 2000, it felt it must have  another brand new chairman.
When it was time to elect the new chairman, Nigerians could not understand why despite the overwhelming support within the party for Sunday Awoniyi, the austere, honest, knowledgeable and hardworking technocrat and astute politician, was being opposed trenchantly by the president and his cohorts. Worse, the president favoured Chief Barnabas Gemade, one of the chief mechanic of the Abacha train, to take over the chairmanship of the PDP under this our democracy. Placed side by side with Awoniyi in terms of service to fatherland, politics and democracy, Gemade was light years behind. Yet the president insisted that he was the right man.
The president's choice would have been regarded as a matter of taste if his men had not gone further to manipulate the electoral process  so brazenly in favour of their preferred candidate that the electoral authorities had to shout out that the PDP chairmanship election was massively rigged. The contempt with which the party, led by the president, treated the internal democratic process so riled  many of the founding fathers of the PDP that they left in droves, beginning with Awoniyi himself, Isyaku Ibrahim, Bamanga Tukur and others. Another highlight of PDP's democratic and legal perfidy was recorded in 2002. In the dead of night, the president huddled in a room in the villa with the leadership of the National Assembly, and proceeded to alter substantially, the provisions of the electoral act that had been passed by both Houses of the National Assembly, with the intention of passing off the cookery  as the handiwork of the federal legislators. This criminal conspiracy, so demeaning to the office of the president; so contemptuous of the saving grace called separation of powers; and so disdainful of the people's representation was somehow allowed to pass, just like that.
Since 2003, the cosmic break-down of law and order in Anambra State called a PDP "family affair" has served as the counterpane to the party's other numerous democratic and legal atrocities. As everyone knows, success in little things, whether good or bad, emboldens one to aim higher. Getting away with one atrocity here and another there, the PDP has over-reached itself to the point of being consumed by its own hubris.
In 2000, it was Gemade who was force-fed to party members. When the PDP puppeteers found him unsuitable for what he was brought into the party to execute, they dumped him and went for Chief Audu Ogbeh. When Ogbeh dared as much as cough over the officially-sanctioned villainy in Anambra State, he was  forced out of office, literally at gunpoint. From there, presidential henchmen dissolved the party's executive committee and hand-picked their loyalists to occupy the vacated offices.
In the president's efforts to seize the PDP structure and stifle all dissent in the name of discipline, the party has veered towards the lunatic fringe. For the first time, Nigerians and the rest of the  world, were treated to  the bizarre spectacle of a political party under a democracy, doing its utmost to force out a large chunk of its old members, and frustrating new ones from joining, all in the name of re-registration and party congresses. From the PDP, we have seen a situation where the governor and members of his cabinet, the state legislators, council chairmen and council lors, nearly all the serving members of the party executive in the state, not to talk of all the federal legislators from that state, were not present at their own party's state congress.
Chief Tony Anenih, chairman of PDP's board of trustees has described those forming the MDD as political failures who couldn't win any election. By this, I think he means that either themselves or their candidates could not get elected as delegates during the infamous state congresses of the party held two  Saturday's ago. the PDP has many wonders but the most wondrous I have seen was the state congress in Adamawa. In one camp was Mohamed Marwa, a political neophyte, though backed by the more relatively political Senator Jibril Aminu. At the other end was Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, political master strategist and tactician, ably backed by Boni Haruna, the governor of the very state in contention. In the supposedly two-conered fight, Marwa, the neophyte, worsted Atiku, the invincible, to the point of taking 29 of the delegates, and magnanimously leaving one for Atiku! The only charitable explanation I can put to this electoral upset is to be found in the philosophical song rendered by that Ikorodu musician but made popular by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It warns: "A community in which a dog kills a tiger is not safe to live in." It has become plain that the so-called PDP's democratic community, with all its strange inversions, has certainly become unsafe to live in. I suspect that the MDD people are rousing themselves to action before we get to that critical stage where an ant begins to kill an elephant.
There is no doubt that it is going to be a hard and bruising task. To start with, not everyone is in the fight  because of democracy. Many in the MDD are there because they lost out in Nigeria's cannibalistic politics. More than that, the ancien regime, as represented by people like Anenih, will put up a ferocious fight. In this, they would pull no stop, including using agencies of state in harassing, intimidating and blackmailing the democracy defenders. The faint-hearted will fall by the way-side.
Is hope lost then? I don't think so. What is set to be the undoing of the PDP is its over-weening pride as ably represented by its chief trustee, Anenih. At the south-south zonal congress of the party last Saturday, Anenih was his usual boastful self. "We in the PDP," he thumbed his chest, "will not lose sleep over the formation of the MDD because looking at the list of those behind it, it is clear that these are people who cannot win any election in the country." Typical of the man from his NPN days during the second  republic, Anenih boasted that all the parties in Nigeria put together would not stop the PDP and that the decision by MDD promoters to leave the PDP and float a new party is to their own disadvantage. His conclusion smacked of a man about to meet his hubris. "From what I have read in the newspapers," Anenih sneered, "those whose names have been linked to the new group cannot take the risk to leave the PDP."
Yet, they would leave and more are bound to follow. By next year, I can almost see a stampede out of the PDP and into MDD-like parties for obvious reasons. This is one party that has gone out of its way to hurt those it could, and to sideline the others it couldn't. And it has never made any virtue of reconciliation. Those who pull the PDP strings have since become blind to reality. They see themselves as omnipotent in Nigeria's political space. That is why they can't see the upwelling undercurrents right under their feet. What the MDD stands for resonates with millions of Nigerians. The personalities behind the idea, whether they can win elections or not, is not the issue. Nigerians know that Abacha, the Ali Baba, has left them but his forty political thieves are still very much around. My colleague on this page, Olusegun Adeniyi, demonstrated the over-arching presence of Abacha's men in this dispensation with his famous book launched this year and entitled, The Last Hundred Days of Abacha. it is these men who have revamped the Abacha train, and are now taking us to a better forgotten era.
In these times, I keep asking myself: "was Abacha's death all a blessing?" I no longer think so. Though it would have cost more lives and mystery, I now believe that it would have been better if we had fought Abacha and his men to a standstill, and established his case as a covenant  between Nigerian leaders and the people that tyrants are no longer welcomed here,  whether in uniform or mufti. Though we must give thanks to God, His divine intervention stopped us from making that point, once and for all.
And because what is easily got is not greatly valued, we failed to appreciate  what God did for us, at no cost. Now, we have allowed the forty thieves to re-group and we must now have to fight afresh to dislodge them.
In the battle ahead, I can already see signs that despite all the chest-beating,  the PDP is mortally afraid. Unlike its well-known approach, the party  has gone into serious truce talks with those Anenih is labelling publicly as political failures. Even the frequent excoriation of the MDD people is a testimony to the fact that they are people to be taken seriously. Which, I suspect, is the reason the party is threatening them with suspension and expulsion if they continued to fraternize with MDD. If they were actually political nonentities as claimed, the party would not be bothered about them. And they would certainly not be getting the unsolicited advice from Anenih that if  they left for other parties, they would meet empty houses as members of those parties are billed to cross over to the PDP.
And if  we may ask, why is the PDP excoriating their members who want to defend democracy? I believe that it is this very question, framed by the actions of the PDP henchmen, that will draw the battle line between the party of oppression and movement for freedom. In line with the global trend, the forces of democracy will triumph over the forces of autocracy in this country, if not now, than certainly later.



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.