Opinion

Dele Momodu: Before We Return To 1983

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Fellow Nigerians, once again I’m inclined to take you down memory lane. In a country that has become completely reticent to both ancient and contemporary history, it is pertinent to refresh our collective memories once in a while. The danger of collective amnesia is grave. It may send us back to where we were decades ago. Only the blind would not see where we are headed. Without mincing words, we are not too far from the abyss.

Those who delude themselves that all is well should continue to live in denial. I was glad when our President himself captured the mood of the nation in his most profound analysis to date. Day s ago, after the latest bomb blast in Abuja, Dr Goodluck Ebele  Jonathan said the Boko Haram saga was worse than the Nigerian civil war that killed millions of our own brethren. For once, I felt our President has now seen the light and all that is left is for him to be truly born again.
And what does it take to be born again? The Bible says you have to profess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. You must go beyond mere words and emulate Christ and walk in his ways. I do not have to tell our President what that entails. He probably knows more than me. We must love our fellow beings unconditionally. We must forgive our enemies. We must not steal what belongs to others. We must not covet. There so many other injunctions that we must strive to obey. If our leaders accept and heed some of these biblical injunctions, the world would be a much better place.

It is good that the President has made such a monumental confession. His supporters who have been treating this situation as a joke should wake up and encourage the President to do what is necessary without further delay. The reason the country is blatantly heated up is simple, our leaders have abandoned governance for politics. They are too desperately anxious to retain their jobs, and perks of offices next year, that they no longer give a hoot about what happens to the country. It is such a pity that they have refused to learn from our ugly past. So it behoves us to remind them of where we are coming from.
While I cannot contest the fact that Mr Peter Ayo Fayose won the Governorship election in Ekiti last week, we must still protest events that led to the victory. For the Federal Government, Ekiti was treated like a do or die affair. Everything and anything possible was thrown into executing that war. It was so serious that many Nigerians wondered if we would not have defeated Boko Haram by now if the menace was similarly attacked. The security in Ekiti was so water-tight that one wondered why same could not be achieved in other parts of Nigeria.

While PDP may continue to bask in the euphoria of that victory, they must try and resist the temptation of seeing themselves as conquerors. Now that their opponents have been alerted to what to expect in subsequent elections, PDP may not find it so easy to intimidate and harass with Federal might when next tomorrow comes. Instead of over relying on the use of brute and crude force, PDP should try to wear a new look and embrace a more responsible attitude. The recent all-out attack against the opposition in Ekiti should never be contemplated or repeated. To do otherwise is to push the people to the wall and invite their wrath.
This type of braggadocio led to the breakdown of law and order in 1983. The then National Party of Nigeria, at the peak of its infamous glory, had attempted to pocket the entire country in one fell swoop. They succeeded, or so they thought. The general elections of that troublesome year were recorded by political historians as a “moon-slide”, which was the hyperbolic description of what ordinarily should have been a landslide. The NPN was so self-conceited that it simply grabbed votes in broad daylight and dared anyone to challenge its open robbery. Prior to the elections, the Federal Government had armed the Nigeria Police Force to the teeth.   Headed by Inspector General of Police, Mr Sunday Adewusi, the stage was set for the Police to take on any recalcitrant politician. Everything seemed normal at first. NPN arbitrarily declared victory in most unlikely places goaded on by the enormous power of its security forces as well as street thugs. But they did not bargain for what happened in Oyo and Ondo States.
Dr Victor Omololu Sowemimo Olunloyo had managed to sack the legendary Governor, Chief Bola Ige from the Agodi Government House while Chief Akin Omoboriowo was also declared winner in Ondo State against his former boss and incumbent Governor, Pa Adekunle Ajasin. While Ibadan witnessed a feeble protest against the declaration of Dr Olunloyo, the people of Ondo State were incredibly ferocious. They attacked everything in sight and roasted human beings alive in an unprecedented orgy of violence. The mayhem was so widespread that the NPN hurriedly capitulated, dropped the stolen mandate in Ondo State like the hot potato that it had become and returned power to Pa Ajasin.

The dust of that election had not fully settled down when the fearsome duo of Mohammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon struck and brought Nigeria’s outrageous Second Republic to an abrupt halt. The cleaning up exercise that followed was blistering and pervasive. Politicians were hauled into prisons and many of them never recovered from that trauma. The country itself bled profusely and was engulfed in all manner of problems. It was obvious that the politicians had overstretched their luck through unbridled rascality. Had they managed their affairs very well, the stage would not have been set for a military take-over and there would have been no cast-iron alibi for the coup that swept everyone out of power. It took the intervention of General Ibrahim Babangida to relax the iron-grip of Buhari and Idiagbon on Nigeria. But the damage had been done.
One would have thought politicians would learn useful lessons from that unfortunate era but alas nothing seemed to have been absorbed. Exactly ten years after, in 1993, Babangida’s endless transition came to a crescendo. The election was so beautiful that we actually saw a glimpse of paradise. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, our people voted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket without anyone raising eyebrows. A Yorubaman, Chief Moshood Abiola received resounding votes from every part of Nigeria and no one cared to ask his birthplace. But tragedy struck when some co-conspirators sat on Babangida and forced him to terminate that handsome electoral process. Many could not believe the audacity of those who turned day into night.

A contraption called the Interim National Government was hurried packaged an assembled and the winner of that election was told to go to hell. Chief Ernest ‘Degunle Shonekan was handpicked to head the fragile institution. Our politicians thinking they had perfected their act soon discovered that what awaited us at the other side of midnight was not going to be palatable. Rather than deepen our democracy, it killed it again. And General Sani Abacha simply sauntered into power without firing a single shot in anger. Power was handed to him on a platter of gold. Nigeria would soon explode into another round of interminable suffering. This went on from 1993 to 1998. Some got killed, jailed or forced into exile. Both the military ruler, Abacha, and the winner of the wonderful election, Abiola, died within one month of each other under mysterious circumstances. No one bothered to ask too many questions not to talk of getting answers to what truly transpired. Life just moved on as usual.
General Abdul-salami Abubakar came on the scene and started his own sojourn in power. Unlike others, he had no plans to stay on permanently in office after the death of Abacha. The only problem was how Abiola suddenly died under what should have been his close watch. But life still moved on. Nigerians have infinite capacity to endure pain and insults. General Abubakar’s transition was apparently tailor-made to return General Olusegun Obasanjo to power. Before our very eyes Obasanjo became the first and only former military ruler to transfigure into civilian President. We expected Nigeria to become an Eldorado under the master of the game of power, Obasanjo. But our hopes were soon dashed again.

Obasanjo left in 2007 after an election that produced a critically ill President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his very quiet deputy, Dr Jonathan. Before we could say Umaru, the President had virtually collapsed and was hidden for months by his acolytes. He eventually died and Dr Jonathan was thrown up by fate. It was one of the greatest miracles of our time. Again we thought our President would work assiduously to douse tension and restore glory to our nation. But our optimism seemed to have been misplaced as we waltzed from one debilitating crisis to another. Today, Nigeria is at its lowest ebb. Our country has virtually taken over from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and others as the headquarters of terror. While this senseless killings are going on our leaders seem incapable of ever being moved by human misery. Politics and winning elections are much more important to them.  They have studiously ignored the dangers ahead.

I’m very worried like many concerned Nigerians that our leaders are once again sowing seeds of discord and setting the stage for enemies of democracy who litter our political firmament. It is a great pity that we have not learnt anything from our bizarre existence.
We appear to have come full circle again. This is very dangerous and I will go on to give my free suggestions and solutions again. I hope those who can take the necessary steps would not dismiss this patriotic act as coming from an interloper. I do not want my country to go down again. It is our responsibility to ensure that those beating the drums of war are not allowed to succeed.
I believe the President alone can kill this fire if he finds the courage to ignore his self-appointed warriors. The President should alter his body language by showing that he’s not desperate for power. The reason his enemies appear to be getting more daring is that they see that he appears ready to sacrifice the nation for his personal ambition. The President as a true Christian should embrace the spirit of true reconciliation like Nelson Mandela. He should work actively for peace. Under him, Nigeria has become endlessly polarised. He should urgently bring the Governors back under the same Forum like it used to be. He should recognise the faction that won and encourage his own side to do same.
A good statesman would ordinarily bring his nation together and President Jonathan can do this by rising above politics to unite the country. He should recognise The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in the spirit of the Muslim Ramadan and pay a visit to his palace. He has more to gain as the father of the nation and nothing to lose by offering this olive branch. The President should set in motion the process of identifying those who can force the leadership of Boko Haram to the table for dialogue. These irrational killings and kidnappings must be stopped by any means necessary. Nothing is too much to sacrifice for the sake of ending this bloodbath. Even if he needs to sacrifice himself by not seeking a re-election and supporting someone else, the President should seriously consider this. I know what the reaction of those profiting from the present arrangement would be but the President is the one carrying all the pressure and blame. He should not allow people to use his head to break coconut because those who did so in the past did not partake in the eating.

The President should concern himself more with the work he was voted to do. To whom much is given much is always expected. The responsibility thrust upon him is heavier than an elephant. He would not be remembered by how long he spent in power but by how well he governed. The President must restore peace in our Polytechnics. How can students be at home for nearly one year? The Education Ministry needs a total overhaul and urgently too. The future of our kids is endangered with the lackadaisical approach to incessant closures of higher institutions.
The President still has close to a year to prove his mettle and achieve something monumental. It is sad that he has allowed himself to be sucked totally into this incomprehensible rat race that would end up doing more harm than good. There is so much to accomplish and I have no doubts it is doable if the President can spend more time at his desk working for Nigeria instead of a privileged few who wish to retain power for themselves at all costs and not for the people.
Let us pray.

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Dele Momodu Write the Pendulum For Nigeria’s Thisday Newspapers, Email: [email protected]

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