Twenty-one years in the life of an individual is usually a red letter day where the drums are rolled out to celebrate it. A child who is 21 is officially an adult with its attendant responsibilities for their actions.
May 29, 1999 was a great day in the life of Nigeria as it marked her return to civil rule after a 16-year military hiatus. This is the longest democratic spell that we have had in the country and so it is necessary to dig deep and see if it is really worth celebrating.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was the first beneficiary when he was sworn into office in 1999. Many Nigerians were skeptical about him as they saw him as part of the problems as a former military general, who was also a beneficiary of coups which ushered him into his first leadership in 1976.
The sceptics were bewildered that Obasanjo’s electoral victory was bankrolled by the likes of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who annulled the nation’s freest and fairest election won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola on June 12 1993 with a Muslim-Muslim ticket alongside Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma also played a key role in the coming to power of Obasanjo. The Taraba-born ex-military general played an active role in the counter coup of July 29, 1966 where the military government of Major-General Thomas Ummunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was toppled with him being brutally murdered alongside the then military governor of the Western Region, Lt-Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi.
Then came the composition of Obasanjo’s cabinet. The most powerful individual there during his first term was the late Chief Tony Anenih, who held the strategic Ministry of Works and Housing. Political pundits were alarmed that Obasanjo could appoint him in the first place since the Esan-born politician worked for General Sani Abacha as a roving ambassador. Could the Owu-born retired military general have forgotten so soon especially when he was narrowly delivered from the valley of the shadow of death?
Obasanjo lived up to the saying that “Once a soldier, always a soldier” in the way he ordered the military to move into Odi and Zaki Biam and level the places to the ground with the speed of light. He created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2003 and appointed the then Assistant Commissioner of Police, Nuhu Ribadu, as its pioneer chairman. Critics contended that the agency was merely set up to witch-hunt the then President’s political adversaries and not really to nip corruption in the bud. After Obasanjo left office, there was the mind-boggling $10.3bn power sector scandal but the investigations is gathering dust somewhere as Obasanjo Baba was never summoned by the agency he created to give an account to the nation on how the gargantuan sum was spent.
Umaru Yar’adua succeeded Obasanjo in 2007 but only spent two and a half years in office as he battled ill health throughout his tenure. He initiated the amnesty program for the Niger Delta youths and was noted for his anti-corruption stance as he left close to N50bn in the coffers of Katsina State when he handed over power to his successor. The program helped in no small measure to stop the criminal activities of kidnapping and vandalisation of crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta as many of the youth were trained abroad to acquire skills relevant in the oil and gas industry.
Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan succeeded Yar’adua after the latter’s demise in a foreign hospital. He almost didn’t succeed his boss as a cabal was ruling the nation on behalf of the ill Yar’adua and successfully kept the Otuoke-born politician from the administration of the country. It took efforts of many patriotic Nigerians including civil rights leaders to ensure that the dictates of the 1999 Nigerian constitution was followed. Shortly after, Jonathan stood for elections in 2011 and regaled the nation with how he went to school without shoes, which greatly appealed to Nigerians as they massively gave him their votes.
Jonathan’s government was riddled with corruption allegations especially that of his Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Maduekwe who was the first female to hold the highly exalted position. Billions of dollars especially at a time when the price of crude oil was at an all-time high in the international market was alleged to have been salted away into foreign bank accounts and through the acquisition of properties both directly and through the use of proxies popularly known as fronts in Nigerian parlance.
In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari upset the apple cart by being the first Nigerian politician to defeat an incumbent. He did this with an alliance he strategically forged with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor, and the South-West simply emptied their bowels in votes for Buhari, who rode to power chanting the ‘change’ mantra. He took nearly six months in 2015 to constitute his cabinet. Even his cabinet was far from being star studded as it was filled with recycled politicians, who had been in government for donkey years. His appointments into sensitive offices didn’t reflect the federal character as most key appointments were concentrated in the hands of Northerners. For most part of his first tenure, he played the blame game on his predecessor and nothing much was seen in terms of infrastructural development and in the improvement in the lives of most of the citizens.
His second term campaign was hinged on ‘The Next Level’ and the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day – a departure from May 29 when it had traditionally been celebrated. Nepotism has been the order of the day in addition to mindless borrowings which will be heaped on generations yet unborn.
I want to lend my voice to the clamour for restructuring as only true federalism when the centre is no longer viewed with the eyes of a feeding bottle can really save this nation. We recall with glee how Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to perform wonders as the Western Region Premier in only five years. He never ran to the central colonial government begging for bailouts as the resources of the West was sufficient for him to take governance to the apogee.
Sir Ahmadu Bello turned down the Prime Minister role and ceded it to his deputy party leader, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as he preferred to remain in Kaduna as the Northern Region Premier since the regions were stronger than the centre in the First Republic.
We are suffering from the change to a unitary government which Aguiyi-Ironsi gave us in 1966. The military hangover on our democratic experiment still hovers largely. It is high time we return back to federalism and make the states less dependent on the centre. Power should be returned to the states so that Abuja is less attractive and the practice of the governors going cap in hand to beg for crumbs will stop.
As Coronavirus ravages the world, this day should be reflected in utter solitude as we should restructure along federalism lines so that the dividends of democracy can be diffused to all and sundry.
This present political structure must be dismantled for our nation filled with immense potentials to grow.
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos