Perspectives On Nigeria's Political Evolution

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ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES ON NIGERIA'S POLITICAL EVOLUTION

 

By

 

Muhammadu Buhari

 

Presentation by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, Former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Presidential Candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the April 19, 2003 Elections, at The Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Ronald Reagan Building, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, U.S.A. on Wednesday April 7, 2004.
  
 


Mr. Chairman of today's occasion, Congressman Howard Wolpe

Members of the Board and Management of the prestigious centre named after a Great American Humanist and Internationalist President Woodrow Wilson of Blessed Memory

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I wish on behalf of my delegation, my party, my movement and the teeming millions of our supporters back home in Nigeria to formally express our gratitude to this great American Institution for this invitation.

In particular our thanks must go to an old and loyal friend of Nigeria and Africa, former Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee, House of Representatives International Relations Committee, our chairman this morning, Honorable Howard Wolpe.

 Congressman Wolpe's interest in Nigeria goes back a long way, to his student days in the early 60s.  In fact his doctoral thesis was on the complicated politics of Port Harcourt City, the pre-eminent city of the restive, but oil rich Niger Delta Region, and centre of Nigeria's oil industry and home to Nigeria's first and oldest refinery.

 To understand the arcane, intriguing and sometimes troublesome politics of Port Harcourt, so well as to write a doctoral dissertation on it takes an incredible commitment to scholarship, a tenacity of purpose and sheer guts.  I must congratulate you, if only decades after the fact.

 This invitation from Congressman Wolpe is also another testament both to his character and is in keeping faith with the guiding philosophy and internationalist mission statement and traditions of the Woodrow Wilson Centre.

 Nigeria, like many countries, institutions and individuals, very well understands the meaning of true friendship.  In our hour of need, when confronted by one of the most debilitating crises of our political existence, we are learning to differentiate between true friends and fair-weather friends, and appreciate those who are working for the vital abiding and multifaceted national interests of our two great countries, the United States and Nigeria.

 Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

 You are perhaps not all aware of the current state of affairs in Nigeria, characterized as they are by a failure of political leadership and failed governance.  Nigeria, the largest and potentially the wealthiest country in sub-Saharan Africa, is today a basket case, confronted by problems that threaten not only its nascent democracy, but its very existence.  The country's sheer size and complexity, its rich human and vast material endowments, provide both an opportunity and a challenge, depending on the attitude of Nigerians and their friends and partners, especially the U.S.

 It is worth observing that ignoring Nigeria and Nigerians by the U.S. or the world will have far-reaching negative consequences for the region and beyond.  An unstable Nigeria driven by internal wars, insurrections, or other manifestations of a failed state has the potential to destabilize the whole continent of Africa. The common symptomatic phenomena of internal disarray by way of civil wars and refugees and internally displaced persons have been dealt with by the world with varying successes in the past.  The two world wars in the last century and developments in their wake, the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans, have produced millions of refugees - which were and still are unacceptable.  But the break up of Nigeria with a population of 130 million will produce a refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions. African countries will be overwhelmed and both Europe and Asia will be under severe strain.

 The highest number of refugees the world has had to deal with has never exceeded 25 million, with another 30 million or so displaced persons.  This is about one third of the refugee potential of a war torn Nigeria. The international community, especially the U.S. will see it in their interest to forestall this major tragedy for Africa and for the world.

 Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has gone through many crises including a bloody civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970, and cost nearly a million lives, with attendant destruction, hunger, disease and massive population movements.  The Nigerian military has, like its Turkish and Pakistani counterparts, deemed it prudent to intervene in the politics of Nigeria for reasons I will not want to delve into, in this submission.  As a rule most of such interventions, even when adjudged necessary and or appropriate, have done permanent damage to the military's espirit de corps, professionalism and preparedness, and have more often than not, done permanent damage to political institution building and emergent consensus creation and articulation - so necessary to security, progress and prosperity, in a nation with such diverse and multifarious socio-economic and political constituencies.

 The Nigerian military have been compelled to surrender power and return to the barracks by the imperatives of political reality and the heavy, definitely unbearable toll on the institution.  

Nigeria is once again at a crossroad, at a defining moment in its history and the history of Africa.  Once again the country is thrown into chaos by actions of an earlier elected but failed government that refuses to accept the verdict of the very electorates who put it into power in the first place.  The present government was ushered into power in 1999 with considerable help from a departing military government that paved the way by openly mobilizing resources, international goodwill and tinkering of both the constitution and the laws to enable the departing military government remote control the ensuing succession in favor of a retired colleague.  Four years after, it was time for the incumbent government to renew its populate mandate.  That was when hell broke loose.

 Nigerians, full of hope in their new democracy, had wanted only to see some improvement of their lives - even one or two. Instead, they saw none of the urgent problems tackled with more than words. The government, contrary to its election promises, presided over the accelerated decline of our social services, especially health and education.  It aggravated the simmering crises in electricity generation and distribution, land and water transport, roads, telecommunication and water supply. 

To date no one city in Nigeria can boast of a reliable water supply system.  Education from primary to tertiary institutions is in disarray with the government permanently at war with teachers.  From 2002 to mid-2003, nearly 80% of Nigerian university students were not receiving instruction because the colleges were closed down.  Collegiate courses that normally last four years, sometimes take 6 to 7 years to complete.  The largely public funded health system has collapsed and the private paying facilities grossly inadequate, too rudimentary, and largely urban based, to have any meaningful impact in the rural areas where the vast majority of Nigerians live. 

The greatest damage visited on Nigeria by the government in Abuja is in the area of public security, and ethnic and religious  harmony. 

  The tragic track record of the current Nigerian government, as captured in this year's U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights practices of February 25, 2004, demonstrates how in Nigeria, as well as in many other countries, democratically elected governments, often ones that claim to have been re-elected or re-affirmed through referenda, are routinely ignoring constitutional norms on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedoms.  It would be a tragic mistake to ignore serious economic and political malfeasance in Nigeria on the grounds of, so the argument goes, teething problems of fledgling democracy, the legacy of military intervention, or the new threat of terrorism elsewhere in the world.   

It is my understanding that democracy means first and foremost the rule of the people by way of an electoral mandate, freely given.  In the words of the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, in his book The Third Wave "Elections, open, free and fair are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non".  According to Professor Huntington "Government produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, short sighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. Democracy is one public virtue, not the only one".  If a country holds competitive, multiparty elections, it is regarded as democratic.  When public participation in politics is enhanced, for example through the enfranchisement of women and minority groups, such a system is evidently more democratic.  What I submitted above needs very serious caveats and qualifications because as the case of Nigeria graphically illustrates, for elections to be meaningful in a democracy, they must be OPEN, FREE and FAIR, and this in turn requires security, credibility, the protection of freedom of speech and assembly, without which democracy becomes a tragic farce and a costly indulgence. This is where we are now. 

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

For the last nine months, we have been engaged before the Court of Appeal in a legal battle to challenge the travesty of the 2003 elections. For seven of these months we have been making our case through the testimony of 139 witnessess from states all over the Federation. We concluded our case last week with a presentation in evidence of a copy of a radio signal sent by the Police Headquarters to all State Commands directing them to favor the ruling party during the elections. 

The government will open its defense on another "4-19", this one in 2004. Because the respondents failed to plead any case, their defense cannot last more than a couple of weeks. We may thus expect the Court of Appeal judgement in a month or so. 

No doubt whichever side loses will appeal to the Supreme Court, where we presume the final judgement will be given six weeks from the date the court commences hearing the case. 

Should the Supreme Court judgement be in our favour, the least we expect is the re-run of the Presidential election. We can discuss what will follow in the question and answer session.  

Your Sate Department Human Rights report is full of references to serious electoral malpractices, violence, violations of all manner of human rights, corruption, abuse of power and wholesale abuse of public trust by the government in power in relation to the 2003 elections.   In the words of the authors of the State Department report and the international observers from the EU, US, the Commonwealth and others, the elections "were seriously flawed", and cannot be regarded as reflecting the wishes of the Nigerian majority.  The Nigerian armed forces, the police, and the paramilitaries, were pressed into partisan service in support of the governing party.  The report noted a feeble growth in the economy (3.2%) and absence of foreign direct investments (FDI), due to the endemic corruption and general economic mismanagement by the government in power.  "Much of the country's wealth remained concentrated in the hands of small elite.  Corruption, non-transparent government contracting practices and other systems favored the wealthy and politically influential. Wages and benefits have not kept pace with inflation.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 91 million citizens lived below the poverty line and were subject to malnutrition and disease". 

The State Department report continues:

"The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit serious abuses. Elections held during the year [2003] were not generally adjudged free and fair, and therefore abridged citizens' rights to change their government.  Security forces committed extra judicial killings and used excessive force to apprehend criminal suspects and to quell some protests. The government at times limited freedom of speech and press. continued placing limits on freedom of assembly and association, citing security concerns.  Inter-communal violence remained a problem." 

According to the country's top police officer, Inspector General of Police Mr. Tafa Balogun, from March 2002 until November the same year, the Nigerian police under his stewardship killed more than 1200 "criminals," and arrested more than 2800.  What these grim statistics show is that for every three persons "arrested" by the largely untrained Nigerian police, one was killed! 

Up close and personal, my own running mate in the April 19, 2003 tainted presidential election, an American trained political scientist, a presidential advisor to two presidents and one time president of the Nigerian Senate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, was recklessly gassed to death with some chemical substance, while attending a lawful political rally in the northern city of Kano.  Other leaders of our party were assassinated.  To date nobody has been charged.  

On July 10, 2003 armed anti-riot police abducted the governor of Anambra State, Mr. Chris Ngige, forced his resignation and held him for five hours. Only three days ago, the governor of Lagos State who is a member of another opposition party, was briefly detained. The same fate was visited on the former governor of another state, in Nigeria's south west.  

Two days to our departure out of Nigeria, the army engaged prison warders in a bizarre but bloody shoot out while trying to abduct one Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, who had been in detention without trial for six years for murder.  This army major is alleged to be planning to topple the government from his prison cell! 

Harassment, beating and public humiliation of journalists in the course of duty have become routine, involving police and other security personnel attached to the president and vice president, governors, ministers and other ruling party notables.   Editors were arrested and charged with sedition or libel. The ruling party itself is riven by murderous factionalism so much so, that its leading notables publicly accuse one another of threatening to assassinate them. A divided party cannot provide meaningful leadership to a divided and crisis ridden country. 

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am a soldier by training and thus a firm believer in discipline in all aspects of life. I am also a convinced democrat and see no contradiction in the two identities. Whatever I or my generation of military officers believed in the past, as regards the problems of multi-party democracy and or its converse, some kind of authoritarianism, in the form of a one party or non party state, was brought crashing down before our very eyes, and the eyes of the rest of the world, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European empire. The implosion of the Soviet Union and its empire shows graphically, how counterproductive, deadly and economically irrelevant the precepts and dogmas of Marxism are. Ideologically driven regimes are by nature insecure and unstable. This is true whether the dogma is economic or religious.  The apparent economic development they facilitate comes at a price too high for the people, and almost always, their prosperity is transient and unsustainable. 

My program, on coming to power in a credible election therefore, presupposes the existence of a democratic space as indispensable for its realization. National consensus carefully negotiated with all stakeholders and constituencies will be the indispensable underpinning of such a project. The project we envisage on attainment of power will be based on the following fundamental principles, in continuous consultation with other tiers and branches of our government, other democratic institutions and stakeholders. They will include vigorous commitment to: 

1.    The existence of a united, democratic, strong, prosperous, peaceful, socially just and egalitarian Nigeria, that is at peace with itself internally, respected and admired in Africa and the world. 

2.    Recognize as basic principles of governance, the historically overwhelming imperatives of democracy, firm but fair rule of law, and the acceptance of human rights and civil liberties. We commit ourselves to genuinely and openly accountable and visibly transparent government, not as a matter of sloganeering and sound bites, but because we believe our people, who have endured corruption and bad governance for so long, have a right to it. Democracy without respect for the rule of law in my view will be a contradiction in terms, and a costly indulgence. 

3.    We accept the inalienable right of every Nigerian to live peacefully and pursue his or her legitimate means of livelihood, in any part of Nigeria, without let or hindrance, and subject to only the provisions of the constitution and laws, properly enacted by bodies and agencies recognized for such, by the constitution. 

4.  Our government, being a product of a genuine popular movement and grass roots party, we shall identify with the yearnings and aspirations of ordinary Nigerians and relate to the concerns of the masses of Nigeria. 

5.  Ours will be a listening government. We intend to involve fully all forces of civil society, especially the organized middle class and NGOs, professionals, small and medium scale traders and businessmen, owners of small and medium enterprises, small and medium contractors and suppliers, as well as all manner of decent people, working to earn a living or the self-employed, whose energies, labor, ingenuity, common decency, integrity and initiative, provides the potential foundation for building a new, better and greater Nigeria. 

6.    We intend to redefine the role of government in our economy and national life, so as to determine the appropriate mix of involvement and inter-relationships, that guarantees maximum growth with equity (i.e. human development), and creates the optimum conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI), and subsequent job creation for our people. Accordingly, we shall revamp our national security and invest massively in creating and maintaining our national infrastructure with special emphasis on water supply, roads, electricity generation and distribution, telecommunication and steel. 

7.  We intend to pursue a dynamic and sincere process of diversification of the national economy, by deliberately and purposefully committing a reasonable fraction of our earnings to the whole hearted development and modernization of our agriculture and solid minerals sectors, such that these two areas of our economy are enabled to compete with oil and gas as foreign exchange earners, always bearing in mind their enormous multifaceted job creating potentials, which have never been fully recognized and or duly encouraged by current or preceding government policy.

 Our government, if elected, will rededicate itself anew, with sincerity and vigor, to the uncompromising pursuit of human development in its entirety, limited only by resource limitations on government, the recurrent constraints of renegotiated debt servicing obligations, and other inherited commitments.

 Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

My colleagues and I have no illusions about the state of affairs in Nigeria presently. These are today other people's responsibility, but hopefully with a positive outcome of the petition before the law courts, fresh, credible elections and new, legitimate, responsible government, these problems will become automatically and immediately our concern.  

      Some of the problems are of recent vintage. Others like corruption, economic mismanagement, institutional immorality in public life, manipulation of religion and primordial sentiments, human rights abuses as highlighted by the recent U.S. State Department report; have been with us over the years, but NEVER on a scale we are now witnessing. We are all aware that democracy as we know it is impossible in an atmosphere of intense ethnic and other primordial preferences.  

Our next elected government in Nigeria, hopefully to be run by our party and movement, will among other challenges, have to cope with the issues of legitimacy and corporate existence of the country. Nigerians and their psyche have been so savagely assaulted; some are beginning to question the very existence of the country itself. I have no doubt in my mind that Nigerians will once again rise to the challenge of defending their country and solving its multifarious problems, the moment the current regime is defeated in a free and fair internationally supervised credible election. 

      Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Earlier in this address I had cause to describe our government, if elected in a free and fair election, as a listening government. 

 We make no claim to a monopoly of knowledge, wisdom, virtue or truth. We intend to forge a special relationship with the labor movement, trades associations of artisans, peasants, voluntary organizations, NGOs, self-help groups, etc. We will be open to ideas from progressive individuals and concerned citizens, including concerned professionals in medicine, law, engineering, architecture, public administration, the broad spectrum of practitioners in law enforcement and security community, the social sciences, student unions and university lecturers, their counterparts in the natural and biological sciences, etc. We shall identify, sensitize and cultivate conscientious individuals who are acknowledged leaders, respected movers and shakers in their communities, their trades, professions and or social groups. 

Nigeria has many problems far and beyond what I have elaborated above. I have no doubt , however, that with a legitimate government and committed leadership of integrity, these problems can be solved. Indeed, they must be solved. 

The international community, especially the U.S. has a supporting but indispensable role to play. The first, and in my view essential step, will have to be  genuinely free, fair and transparent elections. If as we believe the Nigerian judiciary in its higher echelon will live up to the high standards of their noble and exalted positions, the way will be opened to the resolution and closure of this crisis with a re-run of the elections. 

The international community under United State's indispensable leadership, must be engaged in seeing that both sides honor the legal outcome. In the uncertain weeks and months ahead, Nigeria will need imaginative understanding and practical assistance. Initially this will entail technical assistance, but subsequently a significant infusion of trained international observers for the duration, to ensure that the Nigerian public will accept and embrace the election results. 

In the mid 1980s El-Salvador, with a population, then of 5 million, attracted 1300 international observers to facilitate internal legitimation and international recognition of its post civil war elections. I sincerely hope that Nigeria, with a much bigger population, land mass and greater complexity, will attract a proportionate interest and practical engagement by the U.S. and the rest of the world. The stakes in Nigeria are high and the consequences of failure so dire, they are best not contemplated. 

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I wish to express my profound personal gratitiude, and that of my delegation, and the millions back home who voted for change only to experience frustration. This invitation could not have come at a better time. Recall the remarkable words of late Robert Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful change impossible are making violent change inevitable". A word is enough for the wise.

 Much obliged, thank you for your attention.  

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