THE EX-SOLDIER'S RED EYES
The first time I met him was at the Abuja National hospital. His deposition and banishment was still fresh. He was taken ill there from somewhere in Nassarawa State where the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had banished him after his dramatic dethronement as the powerful Emir of Gwandu, Kebbi State, North-West, Nigeria. Mustapha Jokolo, a retired Major of the Nigerian Army and former aide-de-camp to former military head of state, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, sat on his bed with a cocktail of medication by his side. A couple of his aides sat close by. We [myself and a couple of my reporters] had successfully beaten the security cordon to chat with him after a tip off that he was likely to be driven to Abuja preparatory to the further torture of a solitary confinement.
Jokolo's eyes brightened as soon as he beheld sun reporters, wondering how we beat the impregnable security woven around him at his private ward to be by his side and hear his story. And it was a heart-rending tale of victimisation, harassment and hounding by the Obasanjo administration which felt the old soldier had a loud mouth which he wasn't ready to keep shut. At the different meetings in Aso Rock, the seat of power, Jokolo was one of the few men with balls who dared look the emperor in the face, calling him to order whenever they felt he was going off track or was beginning to take decisions as if he was presiding over his Temperance Farms at Ota.
Jokolo told us of how Obasanjo orchestrated his dethronement, using the then governor of Kebbi State, the recently fired do-nothing minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Alhaji Adamu Aliero, as a willing tool. He told the story of the hellish condition he was going through since his banishment, how he had been forcefully separated from his family, children and wives. Even though it was largely a tale of lamentation about his ordeal which he felt dripped with vendetta and a premeditated plot 'to cut the troublesome Jokolo' to size by the powers-that-be then, one quality stood out in his narrative: his indomitable spirit. His head, even though bloodied, remained unbowed. His tongue was still as caustic as ever, even with his travails and the forces arrayed against him. He was never one to call a dog, a monkey or hide behind the ambivalence of 'no comment', which lily-livered and gutless leaders often engaged in to mask their timidity.
In a country where many people are afraid to speak up for fear of annoying their powerful friends and brothers and of course, for largely pecuniary considerations, people like Jokolo, the combative but rational ex-soldier, have continued to give the nation hope that all hope is not lost; that at critical moments, we still have a few people who will continue to hit the ball hard as we battle for the survival of our nation and our democracy.
Don't ask me why I am in this effusive adulation of the retired army officer. In the last two weeks, Jokolo has been in his elements, firing on all cylinders. When Jokolo agrees to grant an interview, he pulls no punches. He goes for the jugular and shoots his arrow straight to the marrow. In the explosive interview conducted by Ismail Omipidan, a crack reporter to watch out for in the future, and published in the SUNDAY SUN, Jokolo dealt extensively with the country's leadership problems, the current jostle for power, the men angling to replace the ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua in 2011 and what he believes is the way forward for a nation trapped in motion without movement and arrested development; a nation of self-centred and egoistic leaders who believe if they are not in the race for presidency then no one must be president.
Jokolo first took a swipe at the returnee National Security Adviser, NSA, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, a man he describes as 'a green snake' out to always feather his political nest, rather than diligently serving the nation. In the present power calculus, he sees Gusau and the new cabal around acting President Jonathan as wanting to bury the ailing president alive. He advices Jonathan to thread softly even while consolidating his hold on power.
Jokolo is right. From the composition of the new cabinet, Jonathan has left not a few people, including this writer, disappointed. We have seen many tired hands and a few bright heads, which has left genuine patriots flustered as to whether the acting new helmsman has not been totally hijacked by forces evidently beyond his control. As also correctly pointed out by Jokolo, the return of the spy master earlier shown the exit door by Obasanjo could only be interpreted as confused policy direction or the birth of a sinister plot.
Even the fiery pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Tunde Bakare, has been quite concerned about the drift of the Jonathan administration as evidenced in the composition of his cabinet. Bakare's words: 'If the likes of those we think are part of our problems are in it, we should know that we are going to turn the heat on the acting president because we are not going to open our eyes and let them squander our wealth any further.' He further added: 'We need performance-oriented people. We do not need a cabinet of political patronage. If Obasanjo is still the one handpicking the ministers that Jonathan is approving, then I am welcoming Nigerians to another era of failed third term, but we will truncate it before it takes root.'
Lagos human rights activist, Festus Keyamo, has been no less critical of the 'wrong direction' the acting president seems to be dangerously drifting in the choice of many of those he has decided to bring on board the executive council . Festus says in an interview with the Abuja-based Summit newspapers: 'The country is heading in the wrong direction. By appointing mostly politicians and political jobbers in his cabinet, Jonathan has shown that the country is heading in the wrong direction.'
If I were Jonathan or his advisers, I will definitely be worried by the apparent no-confidence vote[in his cabinet composition] by a large section of the country, including leading opinion voices like Bakare and Keyamo. He also must hearken to the advice of the Senate President, David Mark, who has asked him to throw out bench-warming, non-performing ministers. The question is: will Jonathan have the balls to kick out passenger-ministers? I doubt it, going by the yo-yo way he has been swinging since he came to power as well as his inclination to serve many masters[Danjuma, OBJ, IBB, Gusau] at the same time. This precisely is also the fear of many Nigerians even as they want the country to get out of the doldrums.
Jokolo's fears are not only about the seeming hijack of the acting president, the gutsy officer also took time to dissect what he thought was the major problem and hindrance to the growth of the nation. In his considered opinion, recycling of past leaders remained the greatest bane of our country. Old men who have been ruling the country since the 60s are refusing to quit the stage for younger, vibrant men. Old men who have had the best of our glorious past and made a mess of our lives are still strutting the stage as colossus with no clear idea and vision of how to lead us out of the woods unto the land of plenty which we all yearn for. Old, tired, men who have refused to retire have become the cog in our wheel of progress. And the nation has been the worse for it.
Asked if he would back the return of his ex-boss, Buhari; Babangida and the other Generals who want a go at the presidency in 2011, Jokolo thundered: 'I have no hope in anybody whether Buhari, Babangida, Gusau, Obasanjo, Danjuma or anybody. I have no hope in all these people. I believe they should retire and go and sleep. They should allow young men to come in and take over. Look at America; Obama, I think I am older than him. I am 58 years. How old is Obama? Why do we want people who are 70 to come and rule us? Danjuma, for example, came into limelight in 1966 in the coup that Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi were killed. He took over the government and handed over to Gowon. This guy was in power from that time and he is now chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee. Look, Ahmed Joda was Permanent Secretary during the time only God knows when and he's still chairman of the National Communication Commission. What is he chairing? He is one of
those holding meetings to go and be in PAC or whatever. What has he got to offer? He is like my grandfather and he's still active without beards. I have put on beards, my son has beards but he has no beards, and he's supposed to be my grandfather. For God's sake!'
Indeed, Jokolo's postulation sums up our collective tragedy. We have a cabal of old men who have refused to let us have a breath of fresh air. In a country of over 50million cerebral youths, isn't it a shame that we keep seeing the same faces? Isn't it something to weep over that people who became Generals in their 30s and retired at the highest level of governance are still the ones remote-controlling our lives and forming a dangerous cabal round our country? Isn't this the time for the youths of this country to unite and truly say enough is enough and mean it? Jokolo has drawn the first blood and belled the cat, it's now left for all of us to take it from there. And God help us!