Dream No More, Just Act!
I was pleasantly surprised when I recently read Dr Iyorchia Ayu, the onetime Nigerian senate president and three time minister. Ayu mildly criticised his former boss and former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for calling for a coalition movement against the incumbent president. Ayu is saying that Obasanjo does not have the moral fibre to condemn President Buhari because he probably didn’t fare any better in the 8 years he was civilian president. Although I do not agree totally with Ayu’s observations and comments, I think he was being frank to himself and to the nation. He had that intention.
There is no doubt that many Nigerians and foreigners have considerable respect for Chief Obasanjo because they see him as a successful, somewhat fulfilled person, especially after he bagged a doctorate degree at the age of 81 years. They like him as a Nigerian son, as a father and grandfather and as an elderly statesman.
Because of this fact, my inclination is to share in Dr Ayu’s bitter observation that Chief Obasanjo had the opportunity to salvage Nigeria from the economic and moral degradation that it is today. He had the opportunity when he became the country’s president in 1999. But he bungled it. Yes. He did.
However, the point we do not have to neglect here is that although the military had been totally subdued and kept under the control of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces by 1999, Obasanjo was still one of their own. He still had his course mates and friends in the armed forces. And as they say: once a soldier, always a soldier.
I expressed that view in one of my articles where I argued that if Chief Obasanjo had tilted the democratic dispensation he kick-started in 1999 towards state welfarism – like his townsman Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have loved to do were he alive – perhaps Nigeria would have been far ahead of so many nations that are today looking down with disdain on both the citizens and governments of Nigeria as an example of a failed state.
I also suggested, as Dr Ayu has done in his brief, that if Dr Jonathan ever failed as Nigeria’s president, it was because Obasanjo failed. Indeed, I am minded to take sides with Dr Ayu in his postulation that the possibility Obasanjo was the architect of Nigeria’s problems should not be ruled out completely. He had a great opportunity to set in motion genuine policies that could put Nigeria on a sound footing for the long march towards true democracy and true independence. But he wasted the opportunity.
All the same, I don’t agree with Dr Ayu when, for instance, he singles out Obasanjo and labels him as an opportunist. That, I think, is quite uncharitable. Which of Nigerian politicians is not an opportunist? Just name one. And what is wrong with men aspiring to always be on the correct side of history? Should they rather aspire to be on the wrong side of history? I don’t think so.
Yes. Obasanjo may have planned to perpetuate himself in power, which is the obsession of many African leaders. Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Paul Biya of Cameroon are typical examples. Mugabe was the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe for 7 years, from 1980 to 1987 and President for 20 years, from 1987 to 2017. He never wanted to relinquish his position to another, even when it was widely touted that his wife, Grace, was being considered to continue from where Mugabe, her husband, stopped. Mugabe waited to be disgraced out of office at 93 years of age, when he was the world’s oldest ruler. Biya has been President of Cameroon for 36 years. At 85, he is yet to make any move to even suggest relinquishing his office or mentoring a younger person for the office.
I would say it is natural for anybody aspiring to come into a high office like that of a country’s president to dream and even feel that in dealing most appropriately with the country’s major problems, he is or would be the solution. I am pretty sure Dr Ayu must have felt that way himself, at least, by the time he was elected senate president in 1992. He must have felt that somehow, within the vast terrain called Nigeria, he would have to secure or contract the man who has a magic wand to fix all the problems that are likely to come the way of the hallowed Chamber. But when problems practically arose following the appointment of Chief Ernest Shonekan as interim president of the country, and when Ayu literarily found himself alone, he opted out as senate president. It is human nature to act.
In the same vein, it wasn’t necessarily that Obasanjo planted Yar ‘Adua as presidential candidate because he wanted to use Jonathan whom he saw as a weakling as his puppet after ‘Yar Adua must have “come and gone!”
What I think actually happened was that at some point during Obasanjo’s presidency, insurgency in the Delta region became a very big problem for the federal government. Respected personalities from the area, like Ms. Briggs, kept drumming up the need to rectify what they saw as the prevalent anomaly in the formula for sharing revenue accruing from oil exploration between the federal government and ethnic minority groups of the Niger Delta region – an agitation that gave birth to armed resistance in the Niger Delta area.
Many Nigerians still vividly remember November 20, 1999. That was the fateful day Nigerian military officers, allegedly acting on the orders of the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, invaded Odi. Odi is a predominantly Ijaw Community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The soldiers wreaked monumental havoc on the community that day. The attack was described as a pogrom by many observers and it happened when there was deep conflict in the oil-rich Niger Delta region following widespread agitations for oil resource control and environmental protection.
Before the incident, there had been reports of some armed bandits murdering some 12 police officers near Odi. Unconfirmed reports claimed that military personnel deployed in the community were ambushed near the town. The alleged ambush wildly fuelled an already tensed atmosphere in the area. Deployed soldiers broke through the ambush and exchanged gunfire with the armed bandits in the town, which escalated the tension.
In retaliation, the military, allegedly acting on the orders of President Obasanjo, invaded the town and levelled the community to rubbles. In the course of the invasion, many people were killed and most of the houses in the community burnt. The Federal Government put the casualty figures at 43 but some reports were that about 2,500 civilians were killed. The rest of the story is now history.
After Odi, many militant groups dramatically metamorphosed in the area. They engaged themselves in a spree of wanton destruction of oil facilities. They burnt oil and gas installations and refineries. They stole oil from pipelines that passed through their lands and secretly refined it in makeshift refineries in the creeks, far away from the scrutiny of the government. They took to kidnapping both indigenous and foreign oil workers for ransom and in some cases killed their victims.
At that stage, the expectation of many Nigerians including Chief Obasanjo was that a President who hailed from the Delta region would be in a better position to effect a balance between the desires of the northern oligarchy to benefit from the enormous oil wealth that came from the Delta region and those of the southerners in whose land the oil was situated.
Obasanjo felt that he had to salvage the nation from an impending danger. The country had just come out of a fratricidal conflict. And if the leadership roles in the administration of the country and its resources were not properly articulated, there might be trouble. Nigeria could not afford another war so soon. Obasanjo had to do something.
On the leadership level, there was need this time to try out leadership by a pair of academics. There had been pure military leadership in the past, where the president and his vice were both military officers. Military-civilian leadership had also been tried out. Where these experiments failed the nation, perhaps pure academic leadership may succeed: who knows? For this reason, Obasanjo sponsored two dons as presidential and vice presidential candidates in his ruling party, PDP.
Obasanjo remembered his prison mate and friend, Shehu Musa Yar ‘Adua who was Nigeria’s vice president under him. Yar ‘Adua had been incarcerated in prison with him when General Abacha struck. Yar ‘Adua died in prison but Obasanjo survived to become the next civilian president in the fourth Republic in 1999.
Obasanjo wanted to secure justice for the Yar ‘Adua Family. He also wanted justice secured for the people of the Delta region from whose land crude oil which had become the mainstay of the country’s economy was explored. He then sponsored the younger Yar ‘Adua as the presidential candidate for the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party and Dr Jonathan as the vice presidential candidate. Both Yar ‘Adua and Jonathan were university dons.
Everyone knew that Yar ‘Adua was a sick man. Twice, as governor, he had gone to Saudi Arabia for long periods on medical grounds. And either by design or by providence, it was hoped that if the pressure of work as president eventually killed Yar ‘Adua, then Jonathan would move in as the new president and help restore peace among his people of the Delta region.
Yar ‘Adua died in office. Jonathan became president. But Jonathan's rule could not see an end to the violent social conflicts that prevailed in the Delta region. In fact, tension appeared to have escalated during his tenure, especially when twelve northern states determinedly embraced Sharia laws in their entirety in a robust attempt to contain the power shift from the north to the south, represented by the election of a Delta man as president.
So, it was far from the truth for Dr Ayu to say Obasanjo picked up Jonathan because he saw him as a weak person who would dance to his tune and make it possible for Obasanjo to remote-control the country from the comfort zone of his home in Abeokuta.
Amore crucial concern is that many Nigerians do not seem to realise that building up a nation always takes generations. Look at Israel. Look at Palestine. Look at even England and America. Building is still ongoing. But because this is Nigeria where nothing is seen from the right perspective because people are always in a hurry, many cannot even see the big, beautiful and rich country the future portrays.
Nigerians must recognize the need to slow down. Every organisation in human nature has its limitations – its good and bad qualities, its strengths and its weaknesses. No human organisation is perfect. No political organisation or a country can be perfect. It is natural to be imperfect. And that is why in a democracy, the people involved aspire towards perfection. They aspire to become better people living in better environments. That is also why the politicians who control the affairs of the country should give the people opportunity to better themselves.
If the politicians fail, the next election results will decide if “changes” are necessary. For instance, Nigerians voted for change in 2015. And half way down the tenure, they have seen change. In fact, they have seen changes. And whether those changes were for better or for worse they are now in the position to know.
So, I think that what should really concern citizens like Dr Ayu and my humble self should be the system that produces bad or unscrupulous leaders. The Nigerian system needs a total overhaul. A system where traffic lights are never obeyed; a system that exposes its teenage children to grave dangers by allowing them to hawk; a system that has criminally refused to fight bribery and corruption by enacting the most important law that will penalise employers who fail to pay their workers as at and when due, must be bad enough. And if we all agree on that, how then do we get about overhauling the system?
Along that line, I have taken the liberty to study many forms of marriages that exist today – not because I was thinking about Nigeria when I studied them – but because I was hungry for the knowledge which I felt was necessary to tackle the challenges I was personally experiencing at the time. And I found out that arranged marriages were about the most stable, because siblings are always in them. It is not like one individual marrying another. It is one entire family marrying another. Such marriages last longer and are the most unlikely to call for a divorce because siblings are involved. Contrary to the opinion many Nigerians hold, there is absolutely nothing wrong with arranged marriages. I had mine, and I am still enjoying it, nearly 40 years after the “contract” was signed and sealed.
By extension, I now believe that the various ethnic groups that make up what we know today as Nigeria fall into the group we can call “arranged marriages”. It was not that the Hausa or the Igbo or the Yoruba as the major ethnic groups saw themselves, liked themselves and decided to “marry” themselves into one country. Their “marriage” was arranged by their colonial master, Britain. It is also important to always remember that Nigeria’s colonial master, Britain was itself once a colony of Rome. Even as we speak, Britain has never found it necessary to totally shrug off all the vestiges of its colonial past. That is why the mottos of most of its important institutions like its colleges and universities are still in Latin. A few examples will suffice.
The University of Aberdeen has as its motto “Initium sapientiae timor domini” which means “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” Birkbeck University of London’s motto is “In nocte consilium” meaning “In night is counsel”. The University of Birmingham’s motto is “Per Ardua Ad Alta” which means “Through efforts to higher things”. Bournemouth University’s motto is “Discere mutani est” which means “To learn to change”. University of Buckingham’s motto is “Alis volaris propiis” meaning “Flying on our own wings”. The University of Kent’s motto is “Cui servire regnare est” meaning “Whom to serve is to reign”. Imperial College, London has its motto as “Scientia imperii decus et tutamen” which means “Knowledge is the adornment and safeguard of the Empire.” Kings College, London has its motto as “Sancte et sapienter” meaning “With holiness and with wisdom”. Queen Mary University of London’s motto is “Coniunctis viribus” meaning “With United Power” and London School of Economics and Political Science has its motto as “Rerum cognoscere causas” meaning “To understand the causes of things”. Even the Royal Stool of England has its motto as “Dieu et mon droit” meaning “God and my right”.
What I am saying in effect is that while many Nigerians hold what can now be seen as erroneous views that Britain lumped together the various “incompatible” ethnicities that make up modern Nigeria for its own economic benefit, they can still take the liberty today to compare modern London with its former colonial master, Rome. When they do that, they will be left in no doubt that given good and focused leadership, Nigeria stands a fair chance of comparing favourably with Britain tomorrow, just as Britain compares with Italy today. The vestiges of colonial experience are never so easy to shrug off and instead, countries with wise leaders capitalise on the experience. In the case of Nigeria, there are just practical things to do to set the country on the right path to true democracy.
- Make the Nigerian passport and the Nigerian national anthem the symbol of One Nigeria because they don’t recognise ethnicity. They don’t know who is from Edo, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba.
- Make the three major languages compulsory in all primary schools. In two generations the ethnic gap would have been closed as every Nigerian child would understand every other Nigerian.
- Pass laws to pay all categories of workers as at and when due – as it is done in developed countries. Nigeria has got the money. What it seems to lack is the political will to prosecute or proscribe any company or labour employer who defaults.
- Set up employment tribunals in every local government area of the country to follow up defaulters and penalise them according to law.
- Abrogate party politics and allow those who aspire to public offices to test their popularity as independent contestants. For so long after independence, incompetent moneybags have been shielded by political parties as they perform shoddily in public offices.
- Give the six zones a level of autonomy that will enable them control their own resources, manage their own schools, sports, airlines and airports, ships and sea ports, police force, infrastructure, medical services and so on – and pay a percentage of their annual budget to the federal coffers for the maintenance of the Central Bank, Immigration Department and the Armed Forces.
I have heard so many Nigerians recite the famous Dr Martin Luther lines: “I have a dream...” No more of that. We need to get back into the classroom, and do proper paperwork. We need to work hard and plan well. We need to dream no more. We just have to act.
- Chief Asinugo is a London-based journalist and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)