Yar’Adua’s Legacy of Tyranny
Now that the Yar'Adua presidency is effectively over, a preliminary sketch of his legacy is in order. Under Ya'Adua, tyranny was nurtured anew in Nigeria. First, the head honcho yielded himself to personal insecurity. Then he supplanted careful
deliberative action with paranoid, impulsive reactions. Debates on public policy — if they can be called that —became monologues on the techniques of identifying threats and challenges to the state. This was Umaru Yar'Adua's Nigeria, where the serious businesses of governance and statecraft were downgraded into exercises in the consolidation and projection of crude personal power. Governance, or pretension to it, was practiced through an elaborate system of state intolerance.
The denial of the passport renewal application of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and memos preempting a similar application from Nuhu Ribadu pointed to a new escalation in Yar'Adua's war on dissent. The tragic memos were the latest in a series of fascist actions by Yar'Adua's Aso Rock. The actions carried more than a whiff of an evolving police state designed to merge the ruler and the state in one fearsome system of tyranny.
My American hosts have a poignant saying that captures the sneaky advance of authoritarianism and fascism. It also underscores the necessity of citizen vigilance in the face of seemingly benign exhibitions of executive power. When tyranny comes to America, they say, it will be wrapped in an American flag.
Yar'Adua's fits of paranoid fury came with prepackaged justifications that invoked threats to the state and insisted on defining patriotism for the rest of us. Because the Nigerian state was no longer recognized as a stand-alone national project but as a personal asset of Yar'Adua's, critics of his failures were labeled enemies of the state. This label authorized repercussions fitting crimes against the state.
Democratic ascendance is no firewall against tyranny. It has never been. Adolf Hitler, the greatest tyrant of all, came to power in a democratic election that, at least in its transparency, provides a blueprint of electoral conduct for Maurice Iwu's INEC. Democratic pretentions sustained the Third Reich, the prototypical tyrannical state. The pseudo-democratic structures that sustained the Yar'Adua charade similarly provided the perfect camouflage for tyranny.
For what it was worth — which was not much in the political climate of disillusionment — the symbolic capital of the Nigerian state was mobilized to address what was a sickening propensity to equate critique with malice. With Yar'Adua we went over a dangerous threshold. We slipped into a new zone of action and discourse in which differentiating the existential imperatives of the state from the mundane desires of those who tended to it on behalf of the Nigerian people was no longer possible.
It was an irreversibly explosive territory to tread. Pyrrhic, brutal victories piled up for Yar'Adua and his men in the near term. But the erosion of civic liberties, rights, and privileges has left a deep mark that the authors of that tyrannical order would not themselves escape.
For Nigerians, the damage may already be done. Long after Yar'Adua is gone, Nigerians will realize that they acquiesced in the politicization of the most sacred, yet elemental, obligations of a state to its citizens: the issuance of a document proclaiming one's national citizenship. It was not just El-Rufai and Ribadu who were the victims of that act of tyranny. Nigerians may come to rue the ramifications of this precedent in the future.
For all their betrayals and for actively participating in the conspiracy that imposed Yar'Adua on the nation, the two former government insiders deserve more than the inconvenience of passport-less travel. But this was ultimately beyond the two flawed men; they were guinea pigs in a much longer script with a much more elaborate plot and timeline. Strident criticisms from foreign-domiciled Nigerians were the intended target of this novel assault; virtual critics that are out of the physical reach of Abuja's power are its future casualties.
Yar'Adua's regime of repression was not altogether a shock; not to those familiar with the circumstances of his ascension to the presidency. After coming to power in the most corrupt electoral event in Nigerian history, Yar'Adua's legitimacy-challenged presidency was troubled by a perfect storm of inherited baggage and self-created calamities. The abiding theme of that presidency was incompetence, which attracted universal criticisms. Criticisms in turn fed into paranoid fantasies, especially since the critiques were known by the critics and the criticized alike to be anchored on truth.
This underlying footnote was so ingrained in Yar'Adua and his inner cycle of James Ibori, Tanimu Kurfi, Abba Ruma, Michael Aondoakaa, and David Edevbie that there was a cottage industry in the manufacturing of national threats. The obsession with Mallam El-Rufai and Ribadu as irreconcilable adversaries of Yar'Adua's government was the first product to roll out of this assembly line.
So obsessed was Yar'Adua with the politics of personal survival that even James Ibori, a man sandwiched in multiple, and multinational, allegations of corruption was able to cobble together an infantile tale about the threat posed by Mallam Ribadu and El-Rufai, sell this tall tale to Yar'Adua as an urgent national threat, and trade this, Mafioso style, for subtle and not so subtle acts of presidential protection. No one was sane enough in Aso Rock to remind Yar'Adua that these two divisive has-beens were in self-imposed exile, living in the impotent fear of the same regime that consecrated them as supreme national threats!
For his part, Mr. Andoakaa profited from this escalation of regime insecurity. He managed to convince Yar'Adua that Mallam El-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu and other critics were greater threats to the regime's political survival than he was. In this universe of comparative threat, Yar'Adua's paranoia, which assigned less danger to corruption and incompetence than it did to dissent, ensured that Andoakaa had his way. It bestowed immunity on the former Attorney General and other administration insiders who were undermining the regime from within.
Time and again, Yar'Adua's baggage of insecurity and illegitimacy trumped the need for self-examination, reflexive acknowledgement, and patriotic denunciation of a questionable mandate and its tyrannical outcome.
By: Moses Ochonu