Let the Kite Perch…And the Eagle Too
The kite and the eagle are two ferocious birds of prey. Almost always, they are both looking for the same thing: stray chicken, sunbathing rabbits, snakes, grass-cutter, name it. If because of their colliding interests they begin to fight each other, or one
begins to devote too much time to warding the other off target-preys, they may just find, in the end, that they are both losers. And would they go hungry!
So, in Igbo folklore, the kite and the eagle are urged to often accommodate each other for their own sakes (egbe belu, ugo belu—let the kite perch and the eagle perch…). The more I look at the conflicting signals in the nation's political space, the more I am convinced that the only solution to the muddle is for us to decide to play the kite and eagle game: let the environment be right so that every man who has ambition can run for whatever office.
Last week, I argued in this column that as confusing as PDP's stand on zoning and President Goodluck Jonathan's right to run seemed, it might just have shown the ruling party's misgivings about denying any of its members the constitutional right to seek to vote and be voted for. For, although this does not detract from the wisdom in any contrivance by which men seek to make it less acrimonious, the quest for leadership is the inalienable right of every man and nobody, for whatever reasons, should seek to abridge that right.
As the argument for and against zoning rages, I beg to submit that the challenge for Nigeria at the moment is not whether Jonathan, a minority Ijaw, runs on the PDP ticket or whether Babangida or Atiku benefits or fails to benefit from zoning. I posit that Nigeria will not be any better simply because an Ijaw is President, however monumental we may consider such development to be. Neither would the country become any more peaceful just because a northerner has been 'allowed' to finish Yar'Adua's tenure. For me, such argument is only about form rather than process and that makes it nothing but a distraction.
Even at the risk of belabouring the obvious, I insist that the challenge for this country at this moment, more than anything else, is how to ensure that we can freely choose our leaders, that we no longer have to contend with one devious leviathan sitting down somewhere and deciding for the rest of us who should be our leader and who should not.
Therefore, we must now advance the ongoing debate about how to move our country forward. We must change the topic from such debilitating argument as the 'inevitability' of Jonathan running for the presidency or the desirability or otherwise of Babangida or Atiku giving the President a run for his money, to what, given the nature of current politics, can be done to ensure that we also have elections that international observers can once again adjudge to be free and fair.
I am afraid we have gone through this path before—the path we are towing now. See what Atiku Abubakar is going through at the moment. It reminds one about our immediate ugly political past when some leaders who arrogated to themselves ownership of the ruling party deliberately de-registered thousands of members, forcing some of them to challenge such brazen assault on their constitutional right of free association in the law courts. It is as if nothing has changed. Let Abubakar run without hindrance, for Christ sakes, since he is neither a convicted felon nor an insane man. It seems to me that some big man somewhere has just decreed again that Atiku must not be in the race and the party leadership appears merely to be following orders. A reforming PDP, if I should advise, must stop erecting hurdles that make it difficult for people to realize their ambition within its fold.
Similarly, I find all the talk about Babangida being legible to run or not quite unnecessary. It is high time we stopped all these endless moral arguments about this man! If, like Atiku, he is not as yet a convicted felon or pronounced insane by the Surgeon General and, therefore, unfit to seek public office, let him exercise his right to vote and be voted for. Fredrick Faseun founded the dreaded Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), a group that, for obvious reasons, should be the most implacable foe of Babangida and the one to be most offended by his presidential ambition. Yet, despite his obvious dislike for the man, not least for the annulment of June 12, Dr. Faseun has argued that if, indeed, Nigerians hate Babangida and his ways, as it seems, then they should go to the polls and reject him unambiguously. That is the only way to do it, to put the former military President forever in what may well be his place. Anything short of that is witch-hunting and that can never advance our democracy.
I am really surprised that after Obasanjo's disastrous experiment in leadership by imposition—imposition of candidates, imposition on the polity of his personal will and ego masked as government and party policies—some Nigerians could still sit somewhere and hope to unquestionably decide for us who should be our leaders and who should not and, therefore, whom we should associate with and whom we should not and, for us reporters and editors, which presidential aspirant we should cover his electioneering and which we should not. If I am not mistaken, the only institution that can ab initio decide whether or not a man is of good character to stand for an election is the judiciary. Once an aspirant is without any such legal encumbrances, it is up to us the electorate to decide whether or not the man is good enough for us as leader. That is the way it is done elsewhere where democracies thrive. So, if we hope to advance the cause of our democracy, I urge that we stop this tendency to blackmail others whose only sin is that they dare to shake hands with those with whom we do not agree politically (an Internet tiger said recently that some editors were given N10m each just for covering a media chit-chat called by General Babangida to declare his bid for the Presidency come next year! Haba!).
It means, in essence, that what should occupy us now is how, within the limits of what is possible between now and the general elections next year, to make the system work so that the votes of all those who want or do not want Babangida, Jonathan, Atiku or Buhari, can count. Why, for instance, are we seemingly unbothered by the party jettisoning virtually all the reforms being proposed by the new PDP leadership to enhance internal democracy in the ruling party? Why should the debate be about Jonathan or Babangida or Atiku or Buhari running or not running when we should be worrying about the obvious impediments to Jega's INEC conducting free and fair elections next year: the non-release of funds to enable the commission prepare for the elections, the controversy over contract for the purchase of the data-capture machines for voter-registration, the doubts about the possibility of credible voter registration exercise being conducted before the elections in January, the possibility of a sitting president in Nigeria with partisan interest conducting free and fair elections, among others.
So, let the debate change: let Jonathan run, let IBB run, let Atiku run, let Buhari run, let even Ribbadu, Saraki, Goje and several others run…let the system accommodate every man's ambition. But, let us ensure that, in the end, it is we the electorate who will decide which of them is best for us. That is what democracy is all about. No more, no less. By Felix Abugu