Fiddling While Nigeria Burns


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Fiddling While Nigeria Burns




Simon Kolawole




culled from THISDAY, February 26, 2006



Ever since the third term "bogey" started, I have never been as sad as I was last week. While the country was on fire, with religious fanatics killing innocent Nigerians and Niger Delta militants tightening their grip on the hostages, the apostles of constitutional manipulation were busy perfecting their plans without any human feeling, without any compunction for the nation. It is a confirmation of what we have often known: that Nigeria is ruled by a bunch of heartless, greedy felons who will go to any extent to pursue their self-centred ambitions. While millions of Nigerians were weeping and wailing for their beloved ones cut down prematurely because the state could not protect them, the authorities did not think it wise to postpone their ill-conceived, immoral and ultimately doomed life presidency plot. As far as they are concerned, Nigerians can roast and decompose - nothing would deter them from their ambition.

While there was not enough security to protect the lives of innocent Nigerians in Maiduguri, Bauchi and Onitsha, the constitutional mutilation venues had more than enough policemen. When DSP Alamieyeseigha was to be impeached, there was enough security. When Rashidi Ladoja was to be unconstitutionally swept out of office, there was security in excess. These stage-managed public hearings were safe-guarded by more than enough policemen, such that legitimate protesters were arrested for making their voices heard against the third term bogey. One of the fundamental duties of the state is to provide security for the lives of its citizens. Any state that cannot guarantee this is nothing but a sham. It is amazing that the ambition of one man is considered to be more important than the sanctity of the lives of millions of Nigerians. It is incredible that security agencies funded with state money will become a tool in the hands of one man.

To my mind, it is a further confirmation of the doom that awaits those who are toying with the future of this country. The Chinese say "whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad". There is no better explanation for this bogey. The trouble in Zimbabwe today started with the ambition of Robert Mugabe to die on the throne. He found a ready excuse in land reforms, while manipulating a constitutional reform to keep himself in power. We can all see the difference between the Zimbabwe of 1986 and the Zimbabwe of 2006 - the degeneration of a country from the envy of developing countries to an outcast among nations. Mobutu Sese Seko is a classic example of a self-appointed messiah who, like our own emperor, thought he was the only one who could rule Zaire. We all saw the consequence. We know his place in history. Even Uganda, a country that has made considerable progress in recent years and had become a model in Africa, is paving its own way to perdition with the selfish decision of the president to use the powers of incumbency to perpetuate himself in power.

Many of those supporting the Mantu Constitution are still oblivious of some facts. It is currently being geared towards third term, but the actual scheming is for life presidency. Many Nigerians have not woken up to this design yet. The Mantu Constitution, if adopted, will provide for three terms of four years each. Obasanjo will run for office in 2007 ostensibly for four more years. However, when the 'third term' tenure is about to expire in 2011, Ojo Maduekwe or Kanu Agabi or one of the other Aso Rock hangers-on will come out and lecture us that the Mantu Constitution only became effective in 2007; that the two-term tenure between 1999 and 2007 was covered by the outdated 1999 constitution; and that, consequently, Obasanjo can contest for two more terms under the new constitution. It would be legal, of course - a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 allowed Governors Abubakar Audu, Segun Osoba, Jolly Nyame and Bukar Abba Ibrahim to run for office for the third time because the first time they were elected was under the 1989 - not 1999 - constitution.

Suddenly, IBB is beginning to look like a saint. What was his sin? He did not want to leave the "ogbono" soup in Aso Rock. He was eating it with both hands, with his sleeves permanently rolled up. He enjoyed it too much. He kept shifting the goalpost of his transition programme until the goalpost, in the words of Professor Adebayo Williams, finally "collapsed on his head". A transition that was supposed to end in 1990 was shifted to 1992, then to 1993 and ultimately annulled. He had also groomed a band of sycophants who took Nigeria by storm, telling us only IBB could rule Nigeria. Is history not repeating itself today?
Suddenly, too, Abacha is beginning to look like a decent guy. What was his sin? He wanted to hold on to power by any means possible. This obsession turned him into a reputable terrorist. He pummelled the opposition to submission, using, misusing and abusing state power. He used the police, the military and the SSS to harass, embarrass and traumatise his perceived opponents. He played one section of the country against the other, and, as we all know, nothing works better than ethnic and religious cards in our polity. He too humiliated his deputy, Gen. Oladipo Diya. Just like Obasanjo, Abacha resorted to indiscriminate arrest of perceived opponents, stopping them from holding meetings and striking terror into their hearts. Is history not repeating itself today?

But, if we may ask, why does Obasanjo want a third term at any cost to human lives and common sense? Let us hazard some guesses, based on the intellectual pollution being emitted by the third term bogey think-tank. One guess is that Obasanjo sincerely thinks he is the only one who can rule Nigeria. He fancies himself as Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and Mahatir Mohamad of Malaysia combined. But Yew and Mohamad did not manipulate or amend constitutional provisions to stay long in power. They abided by their constitutions till their last day in power. And even if they did manipulate their constitutions, we say this is Nigeria, not Singapore, not Malaysia. The role models Obasanjo's sycophants should compare their "Baba" with are Mobutu, Mugabe and Museveni. These guys brought or are bringing misery to their countries because of this megalomaniac obsession. Mobutu once said he would rather be a dead president than an ex-president. Today, he is both ex and dead.

My other guess is that inasmuch as Obasanjo would love to go in 2007, he is unsure of his legacy. He wants history to be kind to him but, so far, he is not sure if Nigerians would remember his "wonderful achievements". They may only retain the predominantly awful memories. I sympathise with him, honestly, for two reasons. One, despite the legions of sycophants around Obasanjo who keep telling him he is God in human flesh, I have a feeling that the man, in the deep corridors of his heart, knows the truth - that he is an ordinary mortal like the rest of us. Two, can Obasanjo withstand a probe of his tenure when he leaves? If he is called to account for all the misdeeds of his government, will he come out unscathed? Can he account for the way and manner NNPC has been conducting its business? Can he account for all the billions given to NEPA? Can his boot-lickers who have committed all sorts of atrocities, from ports authority to works ministry, be shielded from prosecution? Three, when Obasanjo leaves power, will he still command any followership?

I have often contended that Obasanjo does not have die-hard loyalists. Most of his followers today are with him because they know that the alternative is not palatable. Many of the governors are backing the third term bid because of the consequences of not being seen to be in the forefront. You dare not fail to worship at the feet of his imperial majesty. It was the same scenario under Abacha. Immediately Abacha died, those who ate his food and used his toothpick started denying him one after the other. I believe those who are doing Obasanjo's bidding today will start talking like parrot as soon as the man leaves power. That is Nigeria for you.

Obasanjo would rather stay behind in Aso Rock until he draws his last breath than to be called an ex-president without all the state machinery of intimidation and coercion at his beck and call again. I can't imagine Obasanjo living an ordinary life in Ota again, after eight years of junketing in presidential jets and bestriding Aso Rock "like a colossus", (cliche purists would add). His post-1979 experience was not exactly a pleasant one. Any good observer should compare and contrast the photographs of Obasanjo pre-1999 and post-1999. "Ogbono" soup is sweet. I don't blame him at all. I feel for him instead. It is only human to want to lick the plate until "Made in China" stares you in the face. The most attractive thing, naturally, is for Obasanjo to hang on to power until he joins his ancestors, probably at the age of 90 or more, God willing.

But will history ever be kind to Obasanjo? Indeed, how will Obasanjo rate in the category of Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo despite all the years he has spent in office - the longest by any Nigerian ruler? What does he have to offer in terms of charisma, team spirit, consensus-building and political sagacity? Will people talk fondly about Obasanjo the same way they still talk about the Great Zik? Will people idolise Obasanjo like Awolowo who, many years after his departure, is still a symbol of brilliance and self-discipline and whose name is constantly invoked by even charlatan politicians for legitimacy? Will memories of Obasanjo ever invoke the kind of passion that Northerners flaunt when talking about the late Sardauna? Can the name Obasanjo market any politician when Obasanjo is no longer the Lion of Aso Rock? What does Obasanjo stand for? What are his leadership virtues worth teaching others? What are his quotable quotes?

In any case, why can't Obasanjo simply thank God and pack his things and leave Aso Rock honourably in 2007? Do we need to remind him of his history? Obasanjo claims he became head of state in 1976 without breaking a sweat. He did not plan any coup. He was just going his way quietly when General Murtala Muhammed was killed and he, as the next in hierarchy, was called upon to lead Nigeria against his wish. Never one to forgo an opportunity to slight, Obasanjo would later ridicule Awolowo by saying that what the late sage sought for all his life, he (Obasanjo) got on a platter of gold. At least, Obasanjo acknowledged the fact that he did not do anything to deserve to be head of state. His life history took a new turn in 1995 when he was arrested, tried and jailed by Abacha over a so-called phantom coup plot. Obasanjo would have died in prison going by Abacha's masterplan. Major General Musa Shehu Yar'Adua did not survive his own imprisonment for the same "offence". Obasanjo went to prison and miraculously came out alive. Again, we should be grateful to Obasanjo that he at least acknowledged the fact that he was not the one who kept himself alive in prison. His survival came to him also on a platter of gold.

In 1998, the winner of June 12 election, Chief MKO Abiola, drank hot tea and died in cold blood. Obasanjo rode on the corpse of Abiola to become president again. Lucky man, the opportunity fell on his laps on a platter of gold again. He knew nothing about how Abiola was killed to pave the way for him. He knew nothing about how the funds were raised for his election or how the political machinery was oiled and set in motion. He did not know how millions of votes were recorded against his name all over the country. He simply walked into a prepared place, characteristically reaping where he did not sow. Therefore, what should we expect of someone who claims to be a born-again Christian? You would think he should simply thank God for these unmerited favours and go home in peace when his tenure expires on May 29, 2007. To begin to manipulate for another term is to be ungrateful to God. He has always enjoyed unusual favours without manipulation. Now, he wants to "use his own hand to do himself", as Yorubas would say. That is very dangerous for him. He should go home with honour and grace. He should respect himself. This is fair enough.

Lest I forget, do these third term mobsters think that if they eventually succeed in rubbishing the constitution to fulfil their conspiracy, Obasanjo would preside over a peaceful, stable and united Nigeria? Do they think that we will all keep quiet and live happily together ever after? As for me, the mere thought of having Obasanjo as the president of Nigeria after 2007 is very scary. I can't bring myself to imagine it! More years of intimidation, harassment and persecution of perceived opponents? More years of authoritarianism and disdain for democratic ethos? More years of self-righteousness and playing God over our lives? More years of new breed sycophancy? I just can't bring myself to imagine it! God forbid!!
For now, I wish Mantu and his accomplices all the luck in this world. They and their Grand Patron and the PDP mobsters should keep their blood-stained flags flying. They should keep fiddling while Nigeria burns. But nothing lasts forever. Every day for the thief...




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