President Umaru Yar’Adua is dead. He died on May 5, 2010. An old chapter has closed and a new one opened for Nigeria, whose president he was from May 29, 2007. The path a nation threads can be altered drastically, one way or another, simply by a change in its leadership. Although Dr. Goodluck Jonathan assumed the office of Acting President of Nigeria, the tentative disposition of his office and the actions flowing from it, and the uncertainty shrouding the Yar’Adua drama all combined to foist on our nation a sentence of tense suspense.
The confusion that the drama created for our land coupled with the unholy abuse that people with no scruples inflicted on the nation as a result brought us ignominy before fellow citizens of the earth. We were urged by the contradictorily religious to “pray” for Yar’Adua. At the same time the common currency that denominated all related affairs was bare-faced audacious deceit. In such an atmosphere, some of us prayed, but the content of our prayer was different. When some of us saw how the sanctity of true religion became compromised in this carnival of deceit, and some religious leaders were made pawns in the hands of the then first family, we knew the end was at hand. The distraction must end, and the new must start. That has happened.
But what lies ahead, and what must we expect? Before we consider where we go from here, there are seven mistakes we must not make as a nation:
1. Misplaced compassion: There are times when out of confusion of propriety of conscience and weakness of human emotion we are given to misplaced compassion when we should be sober instead. “May his soul rest in perfect peace” is a common phrase in such circumstances. But then how much confidence do we really have in this wish? The times do not call for effusive emotions but reasoned pondering.
2. Misplaced jubilation: We must not gloat now that Yar’Adua is dead. Although the whole danger in which Nigeria was placed by Yar’Adua’s constitutional negligence was uncalled for, this is not the time to beat our chest. Rather, this end is a lesson to Dr. Jonathan and other rulers in our midst. Those who refuse to respect our constitution must be prepared to end up in ignominy.
3. Misplaced judgement: The death of Yar’Adua is not the end of Nigeria’s problems. It is the beginning of the end of obduracy and false professions. We shall judge every Nigerian president from this time going forward, not by fair speeches and flowery declarations, but by the results manifested in the quality of life of the Nigerian.
4. Misplaced entitlements: It is not any region’s “turn” to “rule”; no region rules over Nigerians. No region of Nigeria has any more entitlements than others. The individual Nigerian, who would serve us as President, Governor, Legislator, or Council Chairman must present before all their credentials, vision, beliefs, and strategies for assessment. No Nigerian president “rules” on behalf of his or her regional people. It is not a race for dominance in Nigeria. It is not about “ruling” Nigeria; it is about service. And if it is about service, then it carries with it pains, sacrifice, and humility, and not a sense of superiority or inferiority.
5. Misplaced hopes: Our hopes rest, not in promises made by President Jonathan or any president that shall come after him. There is no new lie that should seize Nigerians with ecstasy. If we must make our president to produce results, we must prove difficult to convince until we see results. We must not commit ourselves blindly to any president, for we must by our experiences so far acknowledge what is in a natural man—deceit; betrayal; greed; and selfishness. We have heard before of promises to “declare emergency in the power sector”; “increase minimum national wage”; “observe rule of law” (which became a sing-song of the late President Yar’Adua. I warned then that we were at the door steps of the worst era of corruption in the history of Nigeria) etc. We must not be overly excited by human excellence or completely distraught by human betrayals and let-downs. Persistent pressure must we pile on our presidents and governors to perform. For they may have good intents at the start, but there is something that tends to separate their actions from inner intents—sodomy of thoughts or narcissism, when they suddenly forget their humanity and pretend to be gods, and begin to co-habit with themselves and hate all heterogeneous intercourse of reason.
6. Misplaced identity: Nigerians, we are first members of our ethnic nationalities before we are Nigerians. But the survival and prosperity of Nigeria assures the survival and well-being of our ethnic nationality. If we must understand who we are, then any member of our community that corrupts our nation does not serve our community thereby. To defend members of our ethnic community only for that reason is to betray our common cause.
7. Misplaced perception: The clean-up of our politics is not just to achieve hitch-free 2011 general elections. We must look beyond 2011. It is more than what we may think.
After President Yar’Adua, I saw a serious discontent arising from the North against the aspiration of President Jonathan to be Nigeria’s president beyond May 29, 2011. He wants to run. But it is not about Jonathan running; it is about Nigeria running. How must we all run as a nation and people? We must run purposefully, not as one beating the air. First of all, the major political party in Nigeria will experience a re-birth. This re-birth will force upon the party three things:
i. There shall be judicial prosecution of many party leaders, both present and past.
ii. There shall be an emergence of a group of scholars who shall take charge of the constitutional and intellectual business of the party. A formidable ideological frame will be fashioned based on enduring postulations for national growth that many of us have written about.
iii. There shall be enthroned real internal democracy. Zoning of elective offices shall be abolished. Mediocrity shall be expunged.
The death of President Yar’Adua has visited on Nigeria an end to the forced political dichotomy of North and South, which was never a pleasant reminder of our history. It is an end to the era of ethnic and zonal politics. The beautiful ones that I wrote about some years ago are being born again. But where did we get it all wrong? We must clean up our politics. This act can be started with the major political party—the Peoples Democratic Party—reforming itself. Then, electoral reforms must be carried out side-by-side with constitutional review. All these have to happen before the next general elections. If these can be accomplished before the constitutionally described elections of 2011, so be it. But if not, we should not put the cart before the horse. Why must we conduct an election whose outcome stands in doubt?
Nigerians, let us hope, soberly and prayerfully. May this never be just a dream!
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is the President of the Nigeria rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ) and Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.
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