I am writing this partly as a rejoinder to Prof Okey Ndibe’s piece, Obasanjo As Babangida’s Best Issue (http://www.saharareporters.com/column/obasanjo-babangida’s-best-issue-okey-ndibe ). I say “partly” because I am also using it as a springboard to propose what I think genuine patriots should be considering now that we have seen, writ large, the handwriting on the wall towards 2011.
This is because I believe that Prof Okey Ndibe’s article has inadvertently exposed the helplessness of the Nigerian people in the face of the political farce that is likely to result from whatever they conjure up as election in 2011. It is a well-trodden path. For instance, since the annulment of the June 12 election in 1993, it’s always been the case that the commentariat continues to describe the next election and the one after that and the one after that as the most important in Nigeria’s history – all based on the expectation that we are on the verge of having a free and fair election. Yet, looking at political arrangements and developments before these elections, any discerning person could have seen and can see now that there was and still there is no basis for such optimism.
The Nigerian people are always losing out because we have never taken our democratic rights and responsibilities seriously. We are always losing out because we let our mediocre and discredited rulers decide the agenda and run it without our own inputs. Or where we make such inputs, we still let them get away with their own failed ideas at the point of decision-making, because we never bother to insist on ours being part of the agenda. All the thieves have to do to get us recanting is to use the state instruments of violence or coercion (including bribery and corruption of supposed leaders of civil society) to get us off their back. I believe that if we desire to rid ourselves of bad governance, we must do what is required to get good governance, including exercising the discipline, honesty and long-term commitment required. There are no short cuts!
Clearly, what Prof Ndibe is talking about in relation to General Ibrahim Babangida’s attempt to juxtapose his record with that of General Olusegun Obasanjo as an argument for his qualification to return to power is what you get when the people themselves have low expectations of public service. For instance, it is not uncommon in Nigeria to hear people make the kind of comparison Babangida was making between himself and Obasanjo. The idea is to limit the circle of possible national leaders, contrive a criterion based on “experience” and then invite the unsuspecting public to make a Hobson’s choice from a depressing list of candidates for leadership. To make this much more difficult, the political space is deliberately asphyxiated to keep out genuine patriots. They do this by ensuring (as they have) that key elements of electoral rules and practice are stringently stacked against them, including heavily monetizing and institutionally corrupting the system. Once this is done, they present the choices of the devil and the devil and invite you to choose which you think is less evil. So, all we get thereafter in the form of political debate is one devil coming to public space to tell us how the other devil is more devious than him and how some of the evil we ascribe to him should actually be ascribed to the other devil.
Of course, Prof Ndibe is right to suspect that “Babangida and Obasanjo are locked in some vain psychological brinkmanship”; but the real problem is that such brinkmanship has cost and is still costing the nation dear. Babangida’s attempt to return to power is based on a historically sanctioned sense of entitlement and an unwritten agreement between members of the predatory industrial-military class (of which both are leaders) that they must support one another to always be in charge, because only members of their own class can protect their putrid interests and fend off any genuine attempt at good leadership that will necessarily call them to account. I say “historically sanctioned” because this is what we have historically accepted since the fall of the First Republic. I mean, we were all witnesses to how Babangida and his cohorts moved mountains to bring back Obasanjo in 1999. Thus, from Babangida’s perspective, Obasanjo should be the last person to stop him from coming back the same way in 2011 since he knows both their interests (and those of other members of the industrial-military complex) would be protected. He feels more so since it was the same Obasanjo that negotiated for him to back down in 2007. To that extent, Babangida’s present attempt to place his record side-by-side Obasanjo’s is not only a deliberate attempt to send a message to the latter for his supposed betrayal, but also to win over other members of the industrial-military complex that have a hand in instituting the kind of vile political control over the nation we have always known.
Babangida understands that Goodluck Jonathan is an Obasanjo acolyte. He knows that without the support of the industrial-military complex, the man will not “win” any election in 2011. His double-pronged strategy of ‘protecting’ the zoning formula for the North and impliedly attacking Obasanjo’s record is aimed at pulling the rug under Obasanjo (even though Jonathan is the latter’s political face today). The Nigerian people have no role in this type of fight, because most, including Jonathan, know that there will be no free and fair election in 2011. What Obasanjo, Jonathan and Babangida are all angling for is the blessing of the other thieves who rule the roost as part of the industrial-military complex. If Babangida gets it, he becomes President (despite our protests); if Obasanjo gets it on behalf of his minion, Jonathan, then Obasanjo gets it – all to keep us firmly on the road to Golgotha! Fact is there is nothing positive to come out of it for the Nigerian people!
So, really, this whole Obasanjo versus Babangida debate is of no use to Nigerians. I have always said our way to taking control of our nation under a democracy of any sort is through electoral activism; but we have already lost our ace the moment we allowed Jonathan get away with appointing the head of INEC supposedly because the appointee is a “credible” person. We forgot that the problem of elections in Nigeria is not dependent on the quality of persons put nominally in charge at INEC, but the institutional deficiencies in the whole electoral process. We are therefore once again lumbered with an unachievable expectation in terms of free and fair election. We are left to watch as the establishment monsters that are Obasanjo and Babangida (with Buhari on the sidelines) fight it out amongst themselves on who should lead the mission of running roughshod over Nigeria post-2011 elections.
Prof Ndibe and the rest of us can take a swipe at Babangida, Obasanjo, Buhari or Jonathan, but that will not address any fundamental question of leadership failure. For these predators, they know the extent they can carry their disagreements between themselves. Jonathan, Obasanjo, Buhari, Danjuma and all members of the industrial-military complex will not lose any sleep if Babangida, by hook or by crook, becomes President, just as Babangida wouldn’t be jumping into the next lagoon if Jonathan continues. The whole game-plan is to ensure that the Nigerian people have no space in the contest for power. Once it remains between them, they are safe, even if their safety means Nigeria is doomed.
For me, the answer lies in mobilizing the Nigerian people to reject the political process in place today by attacking the electoral process they have in place now. We need to take a fine comb to the Electoral Act and the so-called constitutional amendments with a view to presenting to the ruling class a people-powered alternative. Once they know that we are not ready to accept any result they give us in 2011, they will negotiate better access to power for true patriots at all levels. There would seem to be no time now, but that is only if we are looking at 2011 as some kind of definitive date. We don’t have to. True patriots and true leaders of civil society must begin now to think of a true democratic revolution. Again, the vehicle for that revolution is a Sovereign National Conference and there is no better time for this than now, considering all we have witnessed with our politics. For instance, the hobbling of the Jonathan presidency has proved that it is not about where the President comes from, but the quality (or lack of it) of people who perennially organise themselves as our leaders. Jonathan’s presidency is doing nothing for the Ezon or the South-South, just as Yar’Adua’s presidency did nothing for the Hausa-Fulani or the North. Babangida’s presidency will do nothing for Nigeria or the North, just like Obasanjo’s did nothing for the Yoruba, South-West or Nigeria. The reason is not far-fetched. Where leadership is based on a consensus amongst a predatory and criminal elite without due consideration of the people; where legitimacy and authority does not come from the ordinary voter but from nation-stripping godfathers, the state can continue to hold on while the nation dies. For the Nigerian people to get real access to power to effect the change they need in their lives, a Sovereign National Conference will need to be convened, so the basis of the nation be properly negotiated with a view to establishing viable structures for responsible leadership based on the rule of law.
So, if we are really serious about change, we must begin to educate our people on the fact that a Jonathan, Obasanjo or a Buhari presidency in 2011 offers us no hope. We must begin to tell them that the fundamental movement for change must centre around electoral activism and the convening of a Sovereign National Conference to decide on the direction we need to take our nation. Any other thing would be to postpone the evil day while still giving the thieves the control they need to continue ruining our lives in the name of leadership.