Nigeria’s leadership has never thrived on individuals’ aspiration, as the recruitment process veers off weirdly from normal. It has always been some mutative force casting aside whoever nursed the ambition to whoever they please. It is a nation that has survived on the blood of sacrificial lambs, to leave the country in the hands of who never wanted to rule, a classical case of conspiracy of an evil hue.
President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan has been a child of circumstance from the start, rising, politically speaking, from obscurity to become whatever any man alive or dead would wish. He confessed that he never dreamt of becoming the president of Nigeria. Awo, on the other hand, would have given a limb to be in Jonathan’s shoes. Or at the very least, wished for the same destiny for himself but it never came his way. Awo wanted to be Nigeria’s president. Some historians believe his betrayal of Biafra was part of his calculations to get there. Yet, everything ended as a daydream for the late sage.
Obasanjo derided the late Awo as an example of this sad Nigerian reality when he said many years ago: “A man whose life ambition eluded him deserves my sympathy”, further noting rather uncharitably that he achieved when he was barely forty what Awo laboured for life and failed to accomplish – to rule Nigeria.
Power is not like wealth, which they say chooses its own path and its entry a mystery as its exit in a man’s life. Some have mastered power in Nigeria and its art, thus appear to have conquered it of their own accord. That may explain why Margret Thatcher had to say, “Being in power is like being a lady; if you have to say you are you aren’t”. Great men and women court power. In Nigeria particularly, it has remained most elusive to those who needed it the most, forcing many to insist that the Nigerian nation has never had its own leader.
Indeed the bewildering inability of the late sage (Awo) to rule Nigeria even for 24 hours as he was known to have once begged may remain legendary. It denotes the unwavering ‘providence’ standing accused for taking it upon itself to select the nation’s leaders and what is more, making a mess of it. It has always saddled the country with the wrong kind of leaders and underdevelopment is the result.
It is indeed the Nigerian story: those who wanted to rule the nation never came close to power: Zik, Awo, Ahmadu Bello, and many more tired out trying and woefully failing, and may have all died feeling politically unfulfilled. Only reluctant leaders, both military and civilians, suddenly found themselves there without any vision and sense of mission for the nation.
Obasanjo remains the most incredible case study in any attempt to put this phenomenon in perspective. He holds a Guinness Book record as a 2 -era President of a country purely by accident, contributing nothing to each occasion to ascend the apex power except perhaps saying yes to this providential beckon. He was said to be crying when he was prevailed upon to succeed Ramat Murtala Muhammad when the latter fell under the hail of Dimka’s bullets. That was how the nation came about the double-barrel history of Murtala-Obasanjo regime in 1976.
Again, in 1999, the nation was saddled with another reluctant Obasanjo. He was asked by journalists when he was brought out of Yola prison if he would aspire to lead Nigeria again. Shocked, Obasanjo retorted: “How many Presidents do you want to make out of me?” But few months later, Nigeria was busy making another President out of a reluctant Obasanjo.
Today, the history is not different. President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan left it to be decided as usual. After all, like past Nigerian leaders, he never harbored any personal ambition all along, so it will be mean-spirited to suggest he should not have allowed himself to be goaded into it or allowing the force to sustain his presidency beyond 2015. The President is true to form for remaining at the mercy of the providence that has been producing reluctant Presidents for Nigeria.
The President became Vice President because an Obasanjo said so, and President because the constitution imposed it and likely to return in 2015 because the Ijaw nation insists. These are all forces beyond and outside the incumbent.
Historically, we can also say such unseen hands produced an Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister of Nigeria (1959 -1966) even when he was not the leader of his party (Northern People’s Congress). In parliamentary practice and tradition, for not being the leader of the NPC, it was unusual for Tafawa Balewa to become prime minister. The same force produced Generals JTU Aguiyi- Ironsi and Yakubu Gowon as heads of state, even when they hatched no coups. It nearly made a mistake with Murtala who really came with the ambition and desire to rule Nigeria and make a difference. But the force quickly corrected the ‘Murtala error’ by violently replacing him with a reluctant General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Then also, a certain Shehu Shagari printed his beautiful posters to go to the Nigerian Senate. But the same ‘providence’ said: “No, thou art Mr. President Sir!” One Muhammad Buhari came knocking with an ambition to rule and got knocked off quickly by one experimentalist I.B. Babangida who appeared surprised that power had been that close without knowing it even after risking his life to ease out Dimka and his weird dream. (IBB was said to be on a mission to rescue his own military career following a looming probe. His coming to power therefore could be the same way Eyadema of Togo and Samuel Doe of Liberia shot their ways to power to save their skins and career!)
Then came in one far more reluctant Ernest Shonekan in the interim who told ‘them’ to come for the mantle anytime they wanted it back since he was only a defacto head ab-initio. So, when Shonekan saw dark-goggled Sani Abacha escorted to his Aguda House by some young officers, he handed him his pre-signed resignation and prerecorded video tape from the window. Abacha, another providential head of state of Nigeria had emerged, anointed and planted as head of state-in-waiting, by an IBB that was stepping aside, and, courtesy of the same providence, as others, he went into power to represent the interest rather than nation. When he started getting ideas of his own with his transmutation plan with ‘the five fingers of a leprous hand’ (as Ige described our political parties then), same strange force took him out of the scene too.
Of course Abdusalami Abubakar wept profusely for the death of Abacha and ran scared for the 11 months he precariously hung on the throne before the second return of a recurring, reluctant Obasanjo. Obasanjo however wanted power by himself with his Third-Term gambit but the project, despite gulping billions, still collapsed like a castle of sand by the grace of the same forces.
Then, the same Obasanjo, acting God and electorates combined, singlehandedly produced a President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a sick man with well-known history of kidney dialysis, who had secured an appointment to teach Chemistry after his tenure as governor of Katsina, and an amazed Goodluck Jonathan became his deputy. But death came and good luck or providence or both smiled on Jonathan to become the President of the most populous black nation on earth!
The real problem is not whether or not the president continues beyond 2015 but what happens to a nation where its leaders have no vision and sense of mission. The Holy Scripture says that without vision a nation/people perish. So, even religion recognizes that a strong correlation exists between vision and progress of a people or nation.
Part of the fundamental problems of Nigeria is the fact that those to make the difference are never allowed to positions. Imagine where Nigeria would have been if Zik, Awo, or Ahmadu Bello had ruled. Instead, they were all brushed aside by the strange force forging past, present and future of the Nigerian nation and its destiny.
This force has colonial origin and was inherited and sustained by the military. It is a counteracting force the nation must shake off, through genuine democratic practice, if she will thrive and end her endless tales of woes.
• Law Mefor, author, forensic psychologist and journalist, is National Coordinator Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM), Abuja.+803-787-2893; email:firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters