The 2003 Presidential Elections - The Militicians vs the Civilians
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Introducing the Would-Be President-Generals
As the saying goes, in politics, a day is a lifetime and a week is an eternity.
So imagine what the past two weeks have been, when Nigerian politics has seen the emergence of four former generals - Obasanjo, Buhari, Ojukwu and Nwachukwu - as presidential candidates in the upcoming April elections. In PDP, the incumbent former General Olusegun Obasanjo outmaneuvered former Vice-President Ekwueme by packing the party convention with his own self-appointed delegates; in ANPP, former military dictator General
Muhammadu Buhari outfoxed all his Southern co-contestants so much so that they all walked out from the convention, leaving him as the “consensus” candidate; in APGA, Biafran General Odumegwu Ojukwu was the “consensus” candidate from Day One, no contest; and in NDP, one-week-old former General and present Senator Ike Nwachukwu defeated Pastor Chris Okotie and the rest of the field from nowhere to wrest the party’s presidential candidacy.
It is as if we are in a war, and that only army generals - no navy, no airforce, please - need apply to lead the country.
It has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the defeated civilians.
Yes, in one corner of the presidential square, we have former General Olusegun Aremu Mathew Obasanjo, age 65, Yoruba, fixing to be the Chief Executive for the third time (the first as a military ruler), after four lack-luster years (1999-2003) as civilian president. During his ongoing tenure, ethnic unrest leading to thousands of deaths boiled over in the country. Sharia's promised 10-state fizzling-out
never came, finally leading to cut hands (of Jangebe and co), threatened judicial murders (of for example Amina Lawal), a cancelled Miss World pageant and a lost citizenship of "fatwa-d" Ms. Isioma Daniel, the hapless ThisDay reporter who speculated unwisely about prophet Mohammed's amorous predilections, triggering the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in Kaduna and Abuja. Odi and Zaki Biam killings of whole communities by military men became
disastrous reminders of past military excesses. Someone described president Obasanjo as a coward to the North (because of Sharia) and a thug to the South (because of shoot-at-sight orders against OPC and razing of Odi.) Yet, he comprehensively beat the helpless Dr. Ekwueme (PDP Chairman of Board of Trustees ) in a five-man contest in which President Obasanjo had strategically packed the delegates with his nominees and those of the state governors whose political fortunes are
tied to the president's apron strings.
Obasanjo, to many Nigerians, including some of his old friends who installed him in 1999 against better judgement, would be a truly repeat offender if he were to be returned come April. Yet, he is of all the militicians the most nationalistic and hard-working, and the least tolerant of the petty egregious financial corruption that has bedeviled our country.
In the other corner, we have former General Muhammadu Buhari, 60 years of age, a Fulani and former military tyrant of December 1983 - August 1985. He arose as presidential candidate from a rather dramatic primary in which all the Southern ANPP candidates, despite paying N10 million each to contest, were shoved aside to make way for the "consensus" candidate . With late General Tunde Idiagbon as
side-kick, Buhari was an equal-opportunity rigid enforcer, jailing in 1984 some then-recently couped civilian governors for sometimes ridiculous number of years for allegations of corruption. In fact, the late Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, who had been elected governor of old Kano State could not help laughing out loud after one of Buhari/Idiagbon's tribunals sentenced him to 250 years in jail. His regime put then Vice-President Ekwueme in prison detention while leaving the former President Shehu Shagari in confinement to his home. It successfully arranged to crate UK-fled Umaru Dikko but unsuccessfully attempted to transport him back to Nigeria to face allegations of corruption.
The tenor of Buhari's tenure as PTF Chairman (under Abacha and Abdusalami Abubakar, 1994 - 1999) remains debatable - personally, I think that he did his best - and he is currently battling allegations of an alleged public statement (quite incredulously to this writer) that Muslims should only vote for Muslims. Most arrogantly, Buhari refused (back in November 2001) to appear before the Oputa panel
set up by Obasanjo to answer simple questions about human right abuses during his (Buhari’s) reign, thereby disrespecting the Nigerian people who really wanted and had a right to know. And now he would be president over them.
Buhari to many Nigerians even in his Northern region is a "homo non tolerabilis" - a man not to be tolerated. Yet he is the most disciplined of the lot - Nigeria truly needs discipline - and the least corruptible, to my mind.
Next, we have Biafran general and pardoned Nigerian army colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, 69 years old, seeking the presidency under APGA. The most colorful of the lot and husband of former beauty queen Bianca, his hurdle is that his bearded face brings up emotions in non-Igbo Nigeria equivalent to what the Confederate flag does in the US: emotions about a 30-year-old failed secession bid whose wounds we have not sat down as a nation to heal.
Ojukwu to many Nigerians is also emblematic of all that is quixotic about the Igbo presidency project, a project unwisely talked about so vociferously that it makes the rest of Nigerians wonder what plans they have for themselves and for Nigerian when Aso Rock is finally attained by one of them. Yet Oxford-educated Ojukwu is the most visionary and educated of the lot, and were one to take away his other baggage, he is the one most
likely as president to move the nation forward through a bold and fundamental restructuring.
Finally, last but not the least, there is General Ike Nwachukwu, 62 years old, Igbo like Ojukwu, presently a Senator, whose best assets are suaveness, a handsome face, splendid carriage , a reasonably untainted past despite having held several offices, Nigerian loyalist even during the Biafran civil war despite being Igbo, speaker of five Nigerian languages and a very mixed and interesting geneaology - Igbo father, royal Fulani mother, Yoruba wife, Kalabari mother-in-law and all that light-weight jazz . Finally, for me on a personal note, as a good student of my father at Lagos City College in the mid-50s, General Nwachukwu can't be all that bad.
In the US, he would win a telegenic campaign face down - Obasanjo would lose in that department before he even started.
Nwachukwu to many Nigerians represents a good face of the Nigerian military, yes, military, but one who is always mindful of the fact that he was born a civilian, is overwhelmingly surrounded by civilians and will die a civilian. He is the most likely to make Nigerians forget that a former general is president were he to win in April, and the least likely to be president.
The IBB Factor
One of course cannot talk about military presidency past (1985 – 1993) or future in Nigeria without calling upon the name of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, ever-smiling gap-toothed general, ever-ready dispenser of largesse to the loyal and faithful, whose image hovers around all corridors of power in Nigeria. Despite his pledge not to run against his friend (or "friend") Obasanjo, he still has until February 10 to change his mind (as he did with his friend or
"friend" MKO Abiola) and be adopted either by one of the 22 parties that have not announced their candidates, or he might even shove aside one that has.
Personally, I do not believe that he will or should run, in 2003, 2007 - or for ever. It would be a tragedy for the nation - and a personal tragedy for him too - to do so. After an eight-year (1985 - 1993) run which ended in his disastrous annulment of the June 12 election of President Abiola, he studiously refuses to apologize. He invites too much passion that would destabilize Nigeria and set the country on severe
economic hold in the international community. Like Buhari, he too refused to appear before the Oputa Tribunal to answer for his alleged past human rights abuses. IBB should simply continue his lucrative power brokerage business from Minna, in order to ensure that his past is not visited upon him in a surprising manner by any powers-that-be in Aso Rock.
'Nuff said about that for now.
Military Characteristics Most Undesirable
And who of these fellows will be president come April 2003? Only God knows, but left to me, if it were only four of them contesting, ANY of them could be president, and I could not care a hoot. After all, when in 1998, it was suggested that Obasanjo would become a presidential candidate, I was beside myself, not because of his person, but because of his military background and a remembrance of the pains that that institution had inflicted on the country
since 1966, and particularly under Abacha. But four years later, I am still here: four years older, still breathing and kicking, professing my chemical engineering, writing Sunday Musings and Monday quarterbackings, and still enjoying my "iyan." The sky did not fall, and in any case, if it did, the earth would have borne it up.
Four years later, three other generals are asking stridently: if Obasanjo, why not us? And I answer, "Why not?"
Quite frankly, there are four things that worry me about the military in governance which they tend to carry into civilian life as "militicians" to varying degrees depending on who it is:
(1) they tend to regard opponents as mortal enemies to be crushed and possibly killed. That attitude is antithetical to civilian democracy. Remember Abacha.
(2) they use deceit to defeat the enemy. It is said that a nation that has a fox as a leader is in big trouble. Remember IBB!
(3) they tend to see all allies as potential enemies. This breeds distrust, again another negative in democracy. We recall all the coups and counter-coups, mostly by military against the military in Nigeria.
(4) finally, when the military conquer a nation - as our couping military did in "stealing" our Constitution or receiving it as "stolen" goods - they tend to loot and rape and steal the jewels of that country. Again remember the regimes of IBB and Abacha.
Thus for me, enemification, deceit, distrust and corruption are the historical hallmarks of military rule, and I am yet to be convinced that all of our would-be military generals have shed themselves of all of these tendencies and would not be repeat offenders.
But that is neither here nor there, and I am willing to admit that these four gentlemen are among the finest of the lot. That is not saying too much.
The Civilian Counter-Attack - Will it Happen?
In Nigeria today, there are two groups of electoral politicians: former military personnel, who we have called “militicians”, and civilians who have not tasted a day in boot camp.
If the elections were to be held tomorrow, it would be a straight contest between the militician tickets of Obasanjo/Atiku and Buhari/Okadigbo. At this stage, who would win would be anybody's guess, although the power of incumbency of Obasanjo and the heavy baggage that both Buhari and his VP, pardoned Senate President Okadigbo, carry would favor an Obasanjo repeat performance. Nevertheless, any mis-step by the Obasanjo/Atiku between now and April, would tilt the balance in favor of the Buhari/Okadigbo ticket in a free
and fair election.
Yet there are 26 other declared and undeclared hopefully all-civilian presidential candidates, watching and waiting and wondering what next to do in the middle of the generals' square.
One hopes that once and for all, these civilians will wage this presidential contest as one between them and the militicians, and force the electorate to make a choice between them.
My proposal is a rather simple one: if we a to have a change in governance direction, then:
(1) all the other parties should form a coalition of parties and present a strong and innovative ticket of thoroughly CIVILIAN CANDIDATES, advertised TOGETHER on TV and in print as follows:
(i) a President from the South;
(ii) a Vice-President from the North. For reference sake, let us call him the First Vice-President.
(iii) four co-vice-presidents one from each of the other political zones not represented in the Presidency or First-Vice-Presidency. This is an extra-constitutional step, but it is not illegal. There simply should be a commitment from the First Vice-President that he considers the others co-equal, and from the President that he will treat them equally -
to the greatest extent of the law possible.
This ticket would IMMEDIATELY signal a national sensitivity – a southern presidency for at least 8 years (including Obasanjo’s four-year term) as well as a need to restructure executive power in a more inclusive manner. A catchy and simple SIX-CARDINAL POINTS agenda based for example on Security, Infrastructure, Devolution of Government, Economic Diversification, Employment and Education, should be enunciated, with
each person of the ticket picking one theme as champion during the campaign, and having it as a portfolio thereafter IF the ticket wins.
What names would I suggest as members of this ticket? Let me hazard some, at the risk of receiving opprobrium from some readers:
(i) for President: choose from the list Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, John Nnia Nwodo, Olisa Agbakoba, Emeka Anyaoku or Harry Akande;
(ii) for Vice-President: MD Yusuf, Balarabe Musa, Lema Jubrilu or - surprisingly, Audu Ogbeh (who himself might make a good president some day.)
(iii) for co-vice President: John Nwodo, Cornelius Adebayo, Harry Akande, Pere Ajunwa, David Dafinone, Sarah Jibril, Olisa Agbakoba, Chris Okotie, Mala Kachalla, Idris Kuta, again Audu Ogbeh, Pat Utomi, Chima Ubani (see below), and yes - Wada Nas.
I would have thrown my name into the ring, but I am too busy professing chemical engineering!
A Ready-Made Coalition Party
What party would I suggest that this coalition cluster around? I have one presently registered and well-sounding name: not the Alliance for Democracy (AD) - which I believe should be a member of the coalition and should not waste time and money presenting its own candidate - but rather a twist in the acronym: the Democratic Alternative (DA), currently led by Chima Ubani. What we really asking for in my proposal here is a clear democratic
alternative to the military have-beens that have brought Nigeria to the present sorry pass.
Of Clashing Egos and Little Time
Would this desirable coalition be possible? Would a Wole Soyinka (like Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia or Xana Gusmao of East Timor) be able to bear the intense personal scrutiny, curtail his Nobel laureate perigrinerations or upgrade his organizational skills? Would Gani Fawehinmi be able to shed his dictatorial go-it-alone-and-be-damned one-may show mentality, and resist self-impeachment if elected president? Would Chairman Audu Ogbeh make a bold move and
jump ship from his PDP to any other party for the sake of the nation? Would the ever-esoteric Madame Sarah Jibril be able to resist the temptation to be called once in her lifetime a "presidential candidate", even if it is a predictably "failed" one? Would Olisa Agbakoba or Chima Ubani be able to get away from their activist instincts, Anyaoku from
his diplomatic niceties, and the intriguing and voluble Wada Nas from his current support for Buhari? Would many of them be able to suppress their egos and go for lesser positions?
Finally, is there enough time between now and February 10 (the new date for filing
candidates) to put together this coalition and raise enough money for April 19?
I don't know, I really don't know, but I don't think so. And that would be our collective tragedy.
So many questions, so few answers.
However, I believe that my plan is this is the ONLY PLAN that can RALLY the majority of Nigerians to contest against - and possibly beat - the "militicians" group of Obasanjo (whose parties war chest has just increased by N2 billion in one fund raising event), Buhari, Ojukwu and Nwachukwu in the forthcoming elections. The effort would however have to be coupled with a SCRUPULOUS pledge to ensure free and fair
elections by all the parties involved by strict monitorings at the polls, otherwise the contest is lost before it begins.
It may sound like a cliche, but Nigeria is once again at a crossroad, in which without a truly civilian alternative, the upcoming presidential elections will be determined solely on the basis of ethnic arithmetics and military chutzpah. Nothing would then have changed for the better, and the “Military Conspiracy Against Civilians for Ex-Generals to Rule Till 2050” would just
have been fostered. However, with a truly democratic alternative, the desirable outcome might be to begin to purge ourselves of the military overhang that continues to threaten us like a sword of Damocles.
I rest my case for now, as we all watch – and some hopefully participate - in this interesting political season and high drama.
Let us pray.
The Generals And The Rest of Us
The News (Lagos) February 22, 1999
Military Conspiracy Against Civilians: Ex-Generals to Rule Till 2050
Vanguard (Lagos) ANALYSIS October 9, 2000
Obasanjo: Will He Get Another Term?
This Day (Lagos) OPINION February 4, 2001
Babangida And The Rest Of Us
Tempo (Lagos) OPINION February 15, 2001
Why I Won't Appear Before Oputa - Buhari
Vanguard (Lagos) December 21, 2001
2003: Before the Babangida Candidacy
This Day (Lagos) OPINION January 25, 2002
Buhari Not a Religious Bigot, Says Awoniyi
Vanguard May 13, 2002
Obasanjo: the Scorecard
Daily Trust (Abuja) OPINION May 30, 2002
Discipline and Accountability under Democratic Leadership
By Muhammadu Buhari, text of address at ABU Zaria (July 20, 2002)
Rooting for IBB
Newswatch (Lagos) OPINION September 30, 2002
2003 Presidency: Top Ten Runners
Newswatch (Lagos) November 10, 2002
Why NDP is After Babangida -Habu-Fari
Vanguard November 17, 2002
Igbo Presidency: We Won't Compromise This Time - Ojukwu
Vanguard (Lagos) December 21, 2002
Can Ike Nwachukwu Scale the Obasanjo, Ekwueme Hurdles?
Vanguard OPINION December 25, 2002
APGA Adopts Ojukwu Presidential Candidate
Vanguard (Lagos) December 27, 2002
Former Biafra Leader Ojukwu to Run for President
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
December 30, 2002
Obasanjo Wins Party Nomination for Second Term
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
January 6, 2003
How I Intend to Rule Nigeria - Buhari
Vanguard (Lagos) DOCUMENT January 8, 2003
ANPP: The Fraud At Eagles Square
This Day (Lagos) January 8, 2003
Ojukwu, Sarah Jubril Emerge As Presidential Candidates
This Day (Lagos) January 11, 2003
Apga: Ojukwu Picks Bayero As Running Mate
Vanguard (Lagos) January 11, 2003
Ekwueme: The Anatomy of a Defeat
This Day (Lagos) COLUMN January 13, 2003
Buhari And the Burden of History
This Day (Lagos) OPINION January 14, 2003
Obasanjo Versus Buhari: The cracked mirror of power
Vanguard (Lagos) ANALYSIS January 15, 2003
PDP Convention: Random Musings
Vanguard (Lagos) January 16, 2003
Obasanjo/Buhari: Another Four Years of Mediocrity?
Vanguard OPINION January 16, 2003
Who'll Win in Nigeria?
New Vision (Kampala) COLUMN January 16, 2003
Obstacles Before the Obasanjo/Atiku Ticket
Daily Trust OPINION January 17, 2003
Ezeife faults choice of Generals as presidential candidates
The Guardian Friday, January 17, 2003
Ojukwu Will Ensure Igbo's Chances At Polls, Says APGA
The Guardian, Saturday, January 18 2003
PDP dinner raises N1.8b, 727 jet for campaign
The Independent, January 18, 2003