2007: So, What Are The Issues?


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2007: So, What Are The Issues?




Simon Kolawole





culled from THISDAY, November 10, 2005


The outbreak of the 2007 epidemic - you may call it flu, if you like - has reached a feverish pitch. A group of jilted or endangered politicians emerged last week, ambitiously named Movement for the Defence of Democracy (MDD). Not surprisingly, the Big Bully, otherwise known by its registered name as Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), says it is not bothered by this interesting development. The PDP attitude, which was very evident in the words arrogantly belched by Chief Tony Anenih in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, over the weekend, could be interpreted one way: no matter what anybody does, we have the police, the armed forces and the INEC professor in our pocket; to hell with democracy.
A glance at the list of the members of MDD (which, for record purposes, should not be confused with MD Yusufu's MDJ) will reveal a lot. I saw a name like "Jim Nwobodo"? on the MDD manifest. Could it be the same Jim 'Generator' Nwobodo? Tom Ikimi also wants 'to prevent the emergence of dictatorship'. Which Ikimi? The same fellow who served as Sani Abacha's foreign affairs minister and who went around the world to justify the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa? Isn't it interesting that Audu Ogbeh now wants to defend democracy after the way and manner he emerged as the PDP chairman some years ago? Can he, in good conscience, beat his chest and say that his ascendancy to the PDP chairmanship was one of the most decent examples of democracy in action? I won't be surprised if Ali Must Go also joins MDD next year to defend democracy - if he too ends up being dumped like every other PDP chairman before him. With this calibre of defenders of democracy, I'll rather have Anenih as the president of Nigeria so that he can mutilate and castrate democracy as much as possible.
I have nothing against the MDD, God forbid. I have always been of the opinion that if our democracy is to make progress, we must have a 'formidable alternative'. I will explain this shortly. Part of the tragedy that has befallen this democracy is what Mike Awoyinfa calls 'Babarism' - that is, the act of worship and adoration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, 'Baba' ('father') by the bootlickers that venerate him. This descent to 'Babarism' has done too much harm to our democracy. We stooped to a situation whereby governors were falling over each other to please him, begging him to visit their states to commission projects. Are we under a military regime? We know that military governors were all out to please their commander-in-chief who appointed them in the first place. But what is the business of Obasanjo assessing a state, as if the governor is his pupil? At best, it should be out of honour. But what we have in our hands are governors kowtowing to him as if they are answerable to him.
Obasanjo, relishing in his role as the 'headmaster' or 'class prefect', goes to a state and begins to assess the performance of the governor (who assesses Obasanjo himself?) “The governor, shamelessly, puts up adverts in the newspapers quoting Obasanjo's routine words of praise, as if God had just spoken. Having surrendered their constitutional freedom and autonomy to the whim of the president, the same governors now turn round to accuse the president of being a dictator. I can't help laughing myself silly. Who helped Obasanjo to become the dictator he is today? Who were the accomplices? Who were the people that sold their birthright for a mess of pottage?
I have often told whoever is interested in listening to me that there is no power that Obasanjo has today which President Shehu Shagari did not have in the Second Republic. It is fundamentally the same constitution. I have taken time to compare the two documents and I can confirm that there is little difference. The major differences are the 13% derivation principle and the number of states in the federation. So how did Obasanjo turn out to be a dictator? The regular excuse is that he is a military man - but this argument cannot successfully pass through the laboratory of logic. The most dictatorial and brutal governors we have in Nigeria today never served in the military. So this military argument does not hold water with me. One feasible explanation is that members of the so-called political class have sacrificed democratic norms and principles for the taste of 'ogbono' soup. You only hear their voices when they have lost out and their livelihood is threatened.
If there is one governor who has stood firm to fight civilian dictatorship in Nigeria since 1999, it is Senator Bola Tinubu of Lagos State - and I doff my heart for him. People can say he is too stubborn, but he is miles ahead of his colleague governors when it comes to resisting 'Babarism'. In 1999, Obasanjo threatened to declare a state of emergency in Bayelsa and Governor DSP Alamieyeseigha rushed down to Abuja to beg His Majesty. But when Obasanjo threatened a similar thing in Lagos, Tinubu fired him a letter, giving it back to him in full measure.
 The brigandage of FERMA in Lagos today is part of the price Tinubu has to pay for resisting 'Babarism'. Most agonisingly, Obasanjo decided to withhold council allocations due to Lagos ostensibly because of the creation of additional councils. This, again, is a clear case of political victimisation. When Niger, Sokoto and Ebonyi states created their own councils, they received their allocations in full without any eyebrow being raised. But as soon as Lagos State created its own councils, the president suddenly woke up and unilaterally withheld the allocations, without quoting a single verse in the constitution to justify this highhandedness. The other states were told to revert to status quo ante and receive their allocations - with a clear message that Tinubu was the target of the unilateralism.
'Babarism' was taken to another level when the Supreme Court ruled that 'under no circumstances' could the president withhold council allocations. The court ruled that the creation of the councils was in order and the conduct of elections into them were very legal, but the councils were 'inchoate' until listed in the constitution. Obasanjo's legal surgeons - in pursuit of the six-year-old political victimisation - went on to perform a plastic surgery on the Supreme Court ruling and interpreted 'inchoate' to mean 'the constitutional right of the president to withhold allocations due to a council'.
I know lawyers would say I am not competent to comment on the Supreme Court ruling because I'm not a lawyer (the same way the World Bank people say I can't comment on debt relief because I'm not an economist), but I have read that judgement, and as a layman, I just did not understand anywhere the justices used the word 'revert' or 'conduct fresh elections'. The best interpretation any sane person can give to 'inchoate' is that the new councils cannot be funded from the statutory allocations meant for the councils listed in the constitution. It would, therefore, make sense for the federal government to drag Tinubu to the Supreme Court if he funds the new councils with the allocations of the recognised ones. That, to me, is the decent thing to do in a democracy.
Of course, I am aware of the argument that Tinubu has changed the names of the councils and the president and the PDP were 'confused' on the names of the councils to release the funds to. Again, that is part of the bizarre hypocrisy. Where in the constitution was it written that the president should withhold allocations to councils if their names were changed? Where does he derive that authority from? Is this not the same president who attempted to change the name of Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police? Was he going to withhold police allocations because of change of name? It is only those who refuse to see that we have a full-blown dictatorship in our hands that support Obasanjo's unilateral and unconstitutional decision to withhold Lagos council funds.
When some states in the North declared Sharia, Obasanjo went on air to say it was unconstitutional. How come he did not withhold the allocations of Zamfara, Kano and the rest of them? Didn't he say he swore to defend the constitution of Nigeria? It's a simple logic, which we picked up in primary school: anybody that you can beat, please beat him very well. Obasanjo knows the people he can harass and he knows the people he dare not touch. And it is very sad that he has gone beyond his constitutional powers in trying to cripple Lagos State ahead of the 2007 elections. Whatever the case may be, our democracy will outlive him. It is only bad that this precedent has been set. We can only pray that the next president will respect the rule of law and not drag us along the line of unilateralism and naked dictatorship.
Ironically, some of the politicians who accused Tinubu of 'disrespecting' Obasanjo are part of the MDD today, trying to stop the emergence of 'civilian dictatorship'. Isn't that funny? This is political opportunism at its best. It doesn't sound to me like anybody wants to genuinely 'combat dictatorship'. It is all power play and intrigues. Which brings me to the point I'm driving at. We need a 'formidable alternative' if our democracy is to be deepened. Formidable in the sense that it will be based on concrete issues that affect the lives of millions of Nigerians. There are so many issues to discuss. We're not short of topics. Yet, from the look of things, it is only intrigues that seem to be motivating and exciting our politicians.
From the well-designed PDP crisis to the polygamous leadership of the ANPP, from the storm in a tea cup in the AD to the new congregation of broken-hearted politicians, anyone who has the interest of Nigeria at heart should just sit in one corner and shed tears. While Nigeria is rotting away - with retrenchment letters flying in the air like confetti - the number item on the agenda of our rulers and politicians is not the forward movement of Nigeria. It is intrigues, intrigues and intrigues all the way. It is all about personal ambition.
I have heard the story - Obasanjo wants to succeed himself; no, he wants to appoint his successor; no, he doesn't want Atiku Abubakar to succeed him; yes, Obasanjo is victimising Atiku's supporters; Atiku is fighting back; Atiku's supporters want to defend democracy; etc etc. God knows I have never trusted our politicians. I don't believe anybody wants to fight dictatorship or anything like that. In fact, many members of the MDD are dictators in their own right. I've observed enough, seen enough and heard enough to know that the issue at stake is self-interest and self-preservation. It is not about the beggars on our streets; it is not about infant and maternal mortality; it is not about food security; it is not about agricultural revolution; it is not about access to safe drinking water. When Obasanjo and his henchmen are disorganising the PDP in the name of re-organisation, I am not as stupid as to think it is for the benefit of the people of Nigeria. When Atiku's men say they are trying to defend democracy, I'm not so naive to believe that Nigeria is the number one item on their agenda.
Maybe I should stop this cynicism. Maybe I should become more trusting. The day I hear that the president and his 'technical advisers' like Jerry Gana and Anenih are holding an all-night meeting to tackle our collapsing education sector, that day I will become more trusting. The day I hear that the 36 governors have summoned an emergency meeting to discuss how to reduce the avoidable waste of human lives on our roads, that day I will become less cynical.
For now, I know that all the nocturnal meetings, all the emergency gatherings and all the lengthy telephone calls are geared towards determining who gets what position and who takes what contract. Other countries are discussing industrialisation, technological advancement, academic excellence, medical research and scientific inquests, but in Nigeria, we're discussing 2007 and 'it's our turn'. So sad.




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