WHAT SORT OF A NATION IS THIS?
What sort of a nation is this? What sort of a nation is it that permits this? What sort of a nation is this, within which I take my definition? Those were Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death-cry questions before he was hung by the military despot, Sani Abacha. The final questions of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer and crusader for social justice were beautifully captured in the masterful and remarkable book, ‘The Open Sore of a Continent – a personal narrative of the Nigerian Crisis by Noble laureate for Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka. Prof. Soyinka then added, “If Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death-cry does not prove, in the end, to have sounded the death-knell of that nation, it would be an act of divine justice richly deserved.”
Novelist and essayist, Professor Chinua Achebe, writing on the atrocities of Sani Abacha, declared that, “Ken Saro-Wiwa was not killed on the date announced by Sani Abacha’s regime, but on June 13, 1993, the day the nation’s democratic elections were annulled.”
Although this essay is not really about Ken Saro-Wiwa or even about Chief M. K. O. Abiola per say, however, their demise as hideous and suspicious as it may be, were crucial historical events of Nigeria’s sordid past during the reign of two military despots – Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and Sani Abacha. Their brutal regimes did not only decimate Nigeria’s economy and rubbished its social and political institutions but their repressive reforms exiled many Nigeria’s great minds and killed some Nigerian innovative thinkers of that time. And so, the ongoing revelations of Hamza Al-Mustapha, a former Chief Security Office of Sani Abacha, and how some imminent South-west politicians gained from the cancellation of June 12, 1993 presidential election won by their illustrious son, Chief M. K. Abiola, is simply one of those sad commentaries of the nation’s heinous past.
This is a nation that murders its attorney general in his own bed room and until now, no one has been arrested or punished for the crime. This is a nation that continues to exile her brightest minds, scholars, engineers, doctors, educationists, scientist, poets, writers and media professional, philosophers, social thinkers, human rights activist, pro-democracy activist, and its young citizens. A nation that fails to educate the young generation, a nation with institutionalized racism against its own people, discrimnating against the potential segment of its own people, and goes on rampage killing her innocent citizens. A nation that does not maintain its infrastructures or build new ones but prefers to embezzle and launder public money overseas, money destined for Federal projects, State programs, community and rural development. This is a nation that has disregarded education which is the foundation, pillar and engine of economic growth and prosperity.
A recent survey published by Webometrics, ranking 2,500 universities in Africa, showed no Nigerian university made the top 10 Africa universities, yet we pride ourselves as the giant of Africa. South Africa, a nation of about 65 million dominated the ranking with 8 universities among the top 10. The University of Ibadan is the leading university in Nigeria now and yet did not make among the top 10 in Africa. The survey clearly shows how Nigeria has degenerated as a society. The fact that South Africa is the leading economy and prosperous society than Nigeria and any other African nation is now clear.
Education is the pillar and engine for societal development and progress and any nation that ignores education is destined for failure and doom.
Currently, Nigeria is rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Nigeria has the lowest primary school completion rates in the continent. Also, Nigeria has a largest percentage of the 100 million children, mostly girls; who are out of school worldwide. An the annual meeting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2005, the following conditions: good governance, democratization, economic and political reforms, reduction of poverty, population explosion, fight against poverty and hunger, pandemic diseases, terrorism, conflict and wars and domestic peace, security, prosperity, and the rules of law were listed as key important challenges facing Nigerian and most of the African nations. Nigeria has negated in all the conditions.
By the way, let us fast forward the history of Nigeria’s political events, bypassing the British colonial rule, Nigeria’s fight for independence, the parliamentary system of Government and the political crisis that led to the military eras of Aguiyi–Ironsi, Nigeria-Biafra civil war, Yakubu Gowon, Murtlala Mohammed , Olusegun Obasanjo, and then the first second republic presidential system that led to Alhaji Shehu Shagari presidency in 1979, and come to the cancellation of 1992 democratic elections won by Chief M. K. O Abiola, and the political maneuvering of that period which eventually led to Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency again in 1999.
A review of the succession of civilian and military rule of that period clearly revealed how the Hausa-Fulani Oligarchy, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Kaduna Mafia and the Northern Jihadists reduced and rubbished Nigeria as a nation. So, let’s begin in December 1983, a palace coup takes place and Muhammad Buhari, a military general and a radical Islamic leader from the North ousts the incompetent Shehu Shagari, a school teacher also from the North of the Sokoto Caliphate. Buhari takes over the helm of affairs and accusing Shagari’s government of corruption and economic mismanagement, putting him only in house arrest, while the Southerners were put in prison, exiled or executed.
On August, 1985,another palace coup took place, this time, Ibrahim Babangida, also another Northerner and Buhari's chief of army staff , overthrows his boss and accused Buhari of being insensitive to the feelings of the Nigerian masses especially his 'War against Indiscipline' which was excessive and targeted to those who opposed him. Buhari was not even arrested. Ibrahim Babangida began his reign with a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and market reforms that eventually destroyed the Nigerian currency and economy. During IBB 8-year regime, there were two attempted coups – Mamma Vasta in April 1986 and Gideon Orkar on April 1990. Both coups failed and IBB managed to survive those two coups. He executed the coup plotters and imprisoned most of his critics.
In 1990, IBB began a process to return to civilian rule. In June1993, a presidential election was held in which Moshood Abiola, a business mogul, friend and a trusted confidant of IBB, overwhelmingly won. But surprisingly in June 12, 1993, IBB annulled the election and declared that the election result was fraudulent, an election that was perceived to be the first fair election in the history of Nigeria. The cancellation led to civil disobedience by several human rights activist, pro-democracy activist, media and thousands of demonstrators. When the pressure mounted, on August 27, 1993, IBB resigned and appointed a lame-duck civilian from the Southwest region, Ernest Shonekan, as head of an interim government.
Within 3 months into Shonekan’s government, on November 17, 1993, another military general, Sani Abacha, also from the North and defense minister of IBB, booted out the transitional government of Ernest Shonekan in yet another palace coup and took over the government. Sani Abacha did not also touch IBB. Sani Abacha was visionless and did not have any economic plan but a political agenda to entrench himself as a life president. He disbanded SAP programme and introduced a monetary policy that began the official pegging of the Naira against dollar and other nations’ currencies. During Abacha’s era, the official rate of Naira rose to nearly 200 Naira for a dollar. He destroyed the Naira and basically rubbished the Nigerian economy, which actually elevated greed, bribery, and corruption and enthroned most of the crooks, cronies and pathetic personalities we have today as political leaders in the nation. He looted the national treasury and left the Nigerian economy with a horrendous national debt. During his regime, most of the institutions collapsed.
Sani Abacha persecuted, arrested and imprisoned many notable Nigerians including Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, music icon Beko Ransome-Kuti and many others. He arrested and jailed those who criticized him and charged notable Nigerians like Poet Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in Literature and Ken Saro Wiwa, leader of the Movement for Salvation of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), for treason and punishable by death for criticizing his government. Sani Abacha carried out ethnic cleansing in Ogni, Okirika, and Adoni - oil rich Delta regions of River State. On October 31, 1995, Abacha’s civil disturbances tribunal found the writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders guilty and sentenced them to death by hanging. Despite appeal for mercy from the human rights organizations, statesmen, religious leaders, international governments and world leaders including the Commonwealth and Nelson Mandela, on November 10, 1995, all 9 MOSOP leaders and activist were hung.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer, playwright and environmentalist was hung because he called the government attention to the oil spillage and environmental pollution and degradation in his hometown, Ogni. The military despot, Sani Abacha and his cohorts were so ignorant and visionless, that they refused to listen to the world renowned environmentalist. Just this week, the United Nations (UN) confirmed of massive oil pollution in Niger Delta. The report from the United Nations Environment Programme, the first of its kind in Nigeria, was based on two years of in-depth scientific research. It found that oil contamination is widespread and severe, and that people in the Niger Delta have been exposed for decades – the report said. The report provided irrefutable evidence of the devastating impact of oil pollution on people's lives in the Delta - one of Africa's most bio-diverse regions. It examined the damage to agriculture and fisheries, which has destroyed livelihoods and food sources of the Niger Delta region and its environs. One of the most serious facts to come to light is the scale of contamination of drinking water, which has exposed communities to serious health risks. Amnesty International Global Issues Director, Audrey Gaughran, who has researched the human rights impacts of pollution in the Delta Region, said, "This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards."
The UN and Federal Government of Nigeria reported that it will take about a $1 billion and up to 30 years to clean. We know it may take as much as 50 years to cleanup and restore normalcy to the area devastated with oil pollution and ongoing oil spillage. The Niger Delta oil pollution is much worse than the 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil leak in the Gulf Coast, which affected the ecosystem and fishing businesses of those that live around the coastline of Louisiana State, USA. The business owners and citizens fumed and when it is all said done, BP paid out nearly $750 million to compensate businesses, fix the leak and cleans their mess. Until today, BP is still faced with litigation, lawsuits, reparation and compensation for oil spillage in the Louisiana coastline. Oil pollution has been going on in the South-south and some Southeast communities for years. The BP oil spill was rated the worst oil spill in US history even though it was just about 7 month’s oil leak. The Niger Delta region oil pollution is been going on for 50 years. The question is this, will President Jonathan find honest, skilled and capable Nigerians and professional companies to clean the Niger Delta region. Will the new minister for environment push for reparation from Shell as well as enforce stringent laws and policies on multi-national oil companies operating in Nigeria to protect the environment?
Let’s return to our nation’s sordid tales for a moment. Sani Abacha also imprisoned Olusegun Obansajo and other critics of his government. He accused MKO Abiola of treason for declaring himself president and in 1996, placed him in solitary confinement. This was when they were cooking the plan to murder him. After the 1994 arrest, one of Abiola's wives, Kudirat Abiola, launched a campaign for democracy and human rights. She held pro-democracy rallies, defied the military decree banning political associations, presented victims of military repression to international fact-finding missions, inspired many other people, especially women, and won the "Woman of the Year" awards in both 1994 and 1995. However, on June 4, 1996, she was assassinated in cold blood, and it is believed that this was ordered by Al Mustapha, CSO to the military dictator, Sani Abacha. On December 21, 1997, an attempted coup against Sani Abacha by Oladipo Diya foiled. In 1998, Diya and others believed to be co-coup plotters were sentenced to death.
Like IBB, Abacha set in motion agenda to return to civilian rule on October 1, 1998. However, in April 1998, Abacha became the only nominated candidate for the presidency. Even though many political prostitutes and visionless Nigerians supported him in his unbridled quest, many opposed him. Demonstrations and riots broke out, and many innocent Nigerians were killed. On June 8, 1998 Abacha surprisingly and mysteriously died of a heart attack. After Abacha died, Abdulsalam Abubakar, another Northerner took his place, and set up a transition program that would lead the country back to democracy by 1999. After a series of political wrangling and meetings with imminent Nigerians, statesmen and international leaders to release M.K.O. Abiola and restore his mandate, mysteriously MKO Abiola died in prison. Abdulsalam Abubakar government said, it was heart attack, but most Nigerians knew that was not the truth. Abiola’s demise in prison provoked more riots and pro-democracy activism and the return to democracy was non-negotiable. And so, on May 29, 1999, the nation returned to a presidential democratic system of government with the win, surprisingly, a prisoner of Sani Abacha and former military ruler, Olusegun Obasanjo from Southwest and same state with MKO Abiola. Many have written that Obasanjo’s civilian presidency 1999-2007 was compensation for Abiola’s mysterious death and denial of his rightful mandate.
And so, Al-Mustapha revelations as intriguing and fascinating as it may be are unfortunate and ill-timed. Why is he making these suspicious allegations now? He has been in prison for the past ten years or more, why has he not spoken out through his lawyers or is this failure of the corrupt judicial system of Nigeria? Nigerians should not be surprised of these revelations. Our history is strewn with dark and long history of injustice, evil, and wickedness. Most Nigerians are fully aware of our sordid past and the despicable acts of politicians in their quest for earthy power, position, and prominence. First Timothy 6:10 says, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Nigerian politicians will go to any length to make dirty money and gather material possessions. Just look at the Nigerian society and its political landscape, what you see is nothing but atrocities, destruction, and death. Politicians can be malicious, mischievous, treacherous, and self-serving. Politicians are always their worst enemies and are capable of such dastard evil against one another and even their own. Most politicians are envious, jealous, greedy and outright evil.
Let’s continue with the sad tale of the nation’s past. During the 8-year presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, corruption, political thuggery, godfatherism, political assassinations, Niger Delta militancy, armed robbery, kidnapping, religious intolerance, radical Islamic fundamentalism and lawlessness reached its zenith. Before he completed his two-term reign, he began to campaign for Alhaji Yar’adua, the then governor of Katsina State, and surprisingly handed the presidency to Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, another Northerner to be the president of Nigeria. President Yar’Adua took office in May 29, 2007 and in his inauguration messianic speech like sermon on the Mount, he admitted that Nigerians were going through hell and promised to create 40 million jobs within 10 years, lower interest rates, reduce inflation and achieve realistic exchange rate for Naira, yet he did not want to support CBN monetary policy which was the second phase of PDP economic agenda. He reversed most of the economic reforms and most laws of his predecessor and re-deployed Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the anti corruption czar to the Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Kuru, Plateau State, Nigeria.
During Yar’Adua’s watch, Nigeria entered into a state of hopelessness, until his demise in May 2010. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, his VP and a civilian from oil rich South-south finished the term and then in April 16, 2011 overwhelmingly won the presidential election, which has been adjudged to be the freest and fairest election in the nation’s history. However, since his inauguration on April 29, 2011, the country has been besieged with radical Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Hundreds of innocent citizens have been killed and thousand displaced in several Northern states.
President Jonathan rather than focus on the security challenges, economy and other social problems confronting the nation, embarked on constitutional amendment with a concocted six-year single tenure for the president and governors. Public opinion fumed against such insentivity and just this week, the National Assembly tossed out that part of the bill, saying it is untimely and suspicious. However, there are items in the Constitutional Amendment such as true federalism that should be vigorously pursued. President Jonathan should focus this year and next to provide solution to alleviate the suffering of most Nigerians by maximizing the technocrats he has appointed in his cabinet like Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof. Barth Nnaji and others. He should simply focus on the nation’s jobless economy and comatose power supply.
It is unfortunate that the advisers around the president, including the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, could not whisper to the president’s ear that he is making the wrong move with the so-called six-year single tenure. I’m glad that public opinion, including the call from former military dictator, IBB, compelled the president to abandon the idea for now. I personally feel that the six-year single tenure is a misplaced priority and really shows lack of trust leadership on the part of President Jonathan and the political prostitutes hovering around him.
This is a president who overwhelmingly won the trust of Nigerians, instead of him to humbly focus on the urgent issues confronting the nation; he is embarking on a of six-year single tenure constitutional amendment that could catapult the country into serious crisis. Nigerians are not really interested in single or multi tenure, but who can alleviate their sufferings. In the midst of a global economic uncertainty and financial crisis, this government should buckle-up so that Nigeria doesn’t run the risk of insurrection going in United Kingdom or the famine in Somalia. Jonathan’s government must come up with economic agenda, laws, policies and strategies that can turn around the nation’s jobless economy, generate power sufficiency, improve infrastructure, improve security, and protect the lives and businesses of Nigerians around the country. It is warped idea and disingenuous for this administration to push for six-year single tenure within three months of winning the presidential election. What sort of a nation and people are these?
C. Kingston Ekeke, Ph.D., is a theologian, a writer and author of several books. He is the president of Leadership Wisdom Institute.