Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Re: Dissecting Ray Ekpu’s vituperation against a former President, by Usman Okai Austin

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tiamin rice

I recently told us that Nigeria’s political landscape is currently throwing up a number of interesting developments that at least provide most Nigerians some comic relief from the pervasive and debilitating poverty, hunger, insecurity and misery in the land. How did we get here in the first place if I may ask? Had a soothsayer told most of us that rooted for President Muhammad Buhari while aspiring to occupy Aso Rock in 2015 that things would take a turn for the worst in Nigeria the way they are now, I particularly would have doubted it with the last pint of my blood. But here we are, ‘suffering and smiling’ as our own late musical Sage, Fela, once sang, while awaiting yet another Messiah, like we did during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s time. Nigerians became fed up with former President Jonathan’s weak leadership amidst rabid corruption by his Ministers and appointees while many accused his government of pandering to the greedy indulgences of a particular tribe and geo-political zone of the country. Most Nigerians including some frustrated members of Goodluck Jonathan’s (former) political party, the PDP desired a change that would usher in a more courageous, competent and experienced leadership.

However, former President Goodluck Jonathan failed to read the signs on the wall and, instead, used the power of incumbency to entrench himself. Needless to remind us how the former President conceded defeat to President Muhammad Buhari and his ‘assembly of strange bed fellows’ of a party called the APC. President Buhari and his APC contraption no doubt read the mood of the nation at the time correctly and so hyped the effeminate and incompetent leadership of Goodluck Jonathan and tapered it with loads of empty promises that they did not intend to keep in order to get elected into office in 2015. Now, have our lot both as a people and as a nation improved under President Muhammad Buhari and the APC? Without mincing words, the answer is a certain No! If anything, Nigeria and indeed Nigerians are the worse for their decision to vote massively and unquestionably for APC as the majority of Nigerians have become more impoverished while the country came to be dubbed ‘poverty capital of the world’. Just like 2015, Nigerians are groaning once again under another incompetent and corruption-infested government. As usual, they are looking for yet another Messiah. The tragedy or should I say bad luck of the current situation is that, there is no new alternative political party or contraption to seize on the opportunity like the APC did and give us a glimmer of hope; even if with false or hollow promises. Rather, the polity is vibrating from the rabble-rousing noises and cacophony of amorphous Presidential aspirants. Some of them are known to Nigerians based on their naked antecedents. A few are strangers without any familiar political rhythm. Yet, fewer of the Presidential aspirants present a sort of comic absurdity beyond any rational contemplation. Take the case of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for example. An incipient rumour about the possibility of the former President being drafted into the fray by APC as the party’s Torchbearer began like a spark of fire in a grassland during harmattan season. It soon spread like a wildfire, making curious Nigerian journalists sniff around for confirmation or disavowal. And they were lucky to corner the former President somewhere to ask him to confirm or disprove the rumour. Did Dr Goodluck Jonathan do any of those? Not really, as he rather spoke in parables.

However, Nigerians were not fooled as his words and body language betrayed his intention even if overtaken by events somehow now. But it defines the character of a man whose fortunes in Nigeria’s murky political terrains over the years bear allegiance to his first name. His actions, utterances and body language depicted a former President that was not only willing to abandon the political party that made him, but also someone that has been in some nocturnal deals with the ruling party. Only a few days ago, a bunch of jokers claiming to be members of the Fulani socio-cultural group came into the open clutching a copy of what looked like APC’s Presidential Nomination Form that they claimed to have bought on behalf of former President Goodluck Jonathan. From all indications, President Muhammed Buhari’s APC has turned our polity into a circus of comedy of some sort where every clown can aspire to the leadership of Nigeria. Many Nigerians were disgusted to say the least by both the former President and the APC which by that contemplation alone, proved that indeed he lacks vision and the party that he intends to incestuously relate with has nothing new to offer Nigerians after despoiling them for close to 7 years. No doubt and expectedly, the decision and rumour both generated enough furor in the polity and within APC. Although the APC has kept mum over the issue and Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s camp has been making a feeble attempt at rebuttal, Nigerians know better now that all the people claiming to be leaders in the country are mere opportunists.

This however is not the crux of this piece as it appears that our revered statesman and one of the best that journalism in Nigeria has produced thus far, Chief Ray Ekpu is chiding his fellow Niger Deltan, former President Goodluck Jonathan for another reason other than his willingness to be used by APC to survive in Nigeria. What worried me was the erudite senior Journalist’s political calculus by which his soreness with the former President appears to be the shortchanging of Southern Nigeria by a whopping 4 years Presidential tenure in the event that he becomes President of Nigeria under APC. According to the Sage, Northern Nigeria has ruled our country longer than Southern Nigeria since the foundation of Nigeria. I can’t disagree with his position on that because he may have woven the regrettable eras of military aberration in governance into his equation.

I for one do not wish to remember those locust military years, especially under Generals Babangida and Abacha. To me, those eras are worse than slave trade and they represent Nigeria’s real starting line of retrogression into our current predicament. However, my point of divergence with the senior Journalist cum Statesman in counting how many years the North and South ruled Nigeria, in turn, is 29 May, 1999 (commonly referred to as 4th Republic) when we reset the nation politically with so much hope and enthusiasm after hoarding our military back to the barracks with the sweat and blood of some patriotic martyrs of Nigeria’s democracy. May they find eternal rest wherever they are and not be saddened by what some Nigerians have made of the democracy that they paid for with their innocent blood.

The commencement of our 4th republic to date translates roughly to 23 years or thereabout. Of those, Southern Nigerian Presidents superintended over our national affairs for 13 and a half years approximately. Northern Nigerian Presidents were at the helm of affairs for 10 and a half years over the same period. Nigeria’s military did not allow us the luxury of such comparison during first, second and third Kangaroo republics because of its incessant incursion into governance. So tell me, on what basis did our journalistic maestro arrive at his conclusion that the North had ruled Nigeria longer than the South did? In any case, how long a broad geo-political zone governed our dear country is immaterial now because the sum of the misadventures in government by both political divides is the current sorry state of our nation that is in dire need of redemption. Therefore, rather than dissipate energy on any sub-national political bifurcation or arrangements, let us go in search of our very best from all nooks and crannies of Nigeria to lead us to the promised land.

I dare say that our indefatigable and erudite senior Journalist, Chief Ray Ekpu is among Nigeria’s best that have remained in political oblivion. We should focus on removing all the clowns and jesters that are shamelessly parading our political landscape in the name of politicians and that has been leeching on our dear country from our political space permanently. It does not matter to me if all the Presidents of Nigeria come perpetually from one village, one Local Government Area and same State where people seeking to be in power are taught to be incorruptible, shun nepotism and apply Nigeria’s God-given resources to develop the country evenly and equitably. Let our untested best in terms of politics not join in the empty and divisive rhetoric of these seasonal politicians otherwise we risk repeating old costly mistakes. I have often said that Nigerian politicians are a unique stock. They have uncanny ways of manipulating any event, situation or circumstance to their advantage.

Take the issue of zoning which has become a contentious and divisive issue among the major political parties in Nigeria for example. For the PDP it was agreed that its Presidential candidate shall emerge from the North at the expiration of the second tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That was how the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua emerged. The late President of blessed memory was to be in the helms also for 2 terms amounting to 8 years just as former President Obasanjo did. However, death disrupted the arrangement before the expiration of the 8 years in favour of the South through the former Vice President, the same Dr Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded his late Principal. Trust Nigerian politicians, some Northerners and not necessarily all members of PDP would not have the former Vice President succeed our late President because according to them, North was yet to exhaust its tenure. If they had their way they would have breached all Constitutional provisions to install a Northern replacement since, by their calculation, they were yet to exhaust North’s 8 years at the time.

This generated a lot of tension in the polity and it took the goodwill of people that believed in Nigeria (both Northerners and Southerners) to resolve the imbroglio through the National Assembly based on a ‘doctrine of necessity’. The former Vice President completed the tenure of his late Principal and went ahead to win a fresh term of his own accord. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was however unlucky in his second term bid as the Northern plot that had at the time thickened and enhanced by a Southwestern conspiracy ousted him from power. The rest, they say, is now history.

Consequently, and on the basis of PDP’s rotational arrangement, it became the turn of the North to present its Presidential candidate and expectedly, another former Vice President in the person of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar won the party’s Presidential Primary to contest with incumbent President Muhammad Buhari of APC in 2019. Again, President Muhammad Buhari defeated another PDP candidate to secure his second term of office under the APC. Therefore, many people like me keep wondering why the vociferous clamour by some Nigerians especially those from the South East that PDP should zone its Presidential candidate to South in the particular interest of that Zone. The argument of this category of Nigerians is that, if contesting and losing election once was the ground for shifting presidential candidature to North, it should be the turn of South, former Vice President Atiku having lost twice to former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammad Buhari in 2011 and 2019 respectively.

Just imagine how lowly some Nigerian politicians can reason. To them, failure also has to be ‘turn by turn’. It’s a shame that at a time when Nigeria requires a crop of visionary leaders that can redeem it from the dungeon of poverty, pervasive insecurity, corruption etc., some Nigerian politicians had plunged it since the beginning of the fourth republic so-called, all that we have currently parading the political space are ethnic and religious chauvinists, political clowns, charlatans, conmen, traitors, kleptomaniacs and what have you. Having an impoverished and emasculated majority of Nigerians politically, they have laid siege to the nation’s political space for their singular benefit. As it is currently, Nigerians are helpless in the hands of the country’s political class that is currently busy scheming and orchestrating plans on how to win elections come 2023.

Many Nigerians had thought that the PDP would have learnt some valuable lessons since the time it was humiliated out of power by the APC up until now and has emplaced a better plan for rescuing the country from the dangerous precipice that it hangs loosely from currently. Unfortunately, the house of PDP appears to be in tartars and disunited as there is a latent fight going on for its soul between the old order represented by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and an emergent new order seen in PDP Governors. The PDP Governors are laying a kind of arrogant claim to the party stating shamelessly that they had sustained it over the years since the APC swept it apart. Sustained it with whose money; theirs or money from public coffers? ‘Abegi make we hear words jare!’ Similarly, other political parties in Nigeria aside the APC and PDP exist mostly on ballot papers and hardly has any of them got a formidable base anywhere in the country. If anything, they have become ‘batchas’ for political prostitution that ‘kalo-kalo’ politicians use for pecuniary bargainings.

This, therefore, leaves the Nigerian electorate in the lurch without creditable alternatives when it comes to elections. Even as we speak, some of the unscrupulous politicians that kept swinging from one to the other of the two main political parties like pendulums have decided to form a new political movement in order to continue to remain relevant politically. It’s doubtful if the new movement has anything new to offer Nigerians other than their old ‘politricks’ with which they hoodwink large numbers of fanatical and more often than not, illiterate followers, into deifying them perpetually.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is currently in dire need of socio-politico and economic redemption. But none of the persons jostling for Nigeria’s Presidency seem to fit the role of a leader of the redemption vanguard. Not the State Governors that have stolen their respective States dry and are ready to use their putrid financial might to procure Nigeria’s Presidency at all cost. Neither are the Ministers and heads of Extra-ministerial departments that have severally drained off the coffers of their Ministries or agencies or departments for their personal benefits and those of their allies. Even the youthful pretenders in the Presidential melee hardly know the procedure for emerging as a political party’s flag bearer beyond payment of N100m or N40m or other amounts quoted by other political parties that are equally in tens of million Naira.

So, Nigeria is at a crossroads and any missteps that take us back to the kleptomaniac days of PDP, especially under former President Goodluck Jonathan or the current inept APC government of President Muhammad Buhari will spell doom for our nation. The old order may not have brought desired progress to Nigeria but it at least ensured normal political traditions, focused on the economy with the common man in mind and gave room for only serious-minded Nigerians with proven track records to aspire to political positions. The old order is unlike the current arrangements where roguish governors in cahoots with ‘419ers’ hijack political party types of machinery for their selfish aims. Where the legislatures have become appendages of the executive arms of government and the judiciary has become a center of ‘money for judgment’ in Nigeria. Let me be clear on this before I let you know my conclusion of this matter. I was not exactly a fan of former Vice Principal Atiku Abubakar especially because of the inglorious role that he played during the bid of his former Principal for the second term of office. That singular act opened my eyes to what political betrayal looks like even though his Principal was to later show me what grandeur retaliation in politics means.

I was equally peeved with the way his office supervised the privatization of some of Nigeria’s public enterprises including the alleged and famous international bribery scandal involving his person. All these however pails into insignificance when weighed against the brazen monumental corruption that we have witnessed in government from the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan to the current APC government that succeeded him. For me, former President Atiku Abubakar is a successful businessman of international repute and a philanthropist that has built bridges across Nigeria’s broad socio-political and cultural landscapes.

Even if he stole money from the government to build his business empire as being alleged in certain quarters, he at least invested in Nigeria’s economy and employs thousands of Nigerians as workers. Show me the personal investments of those claiming to be the new political order in Nigeria other than the stolen monies that they starched away in offshore accounts and shell companies? Again, and unlike most of the other contenders from across Nigeria’s political parties, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been around Nigeria’s political scene the longest and knows how Nigeria’s democracy works outside the foreign and dictionary definitions of the term. I read somewhere where he was quoted recently as saying that he is not seeking Nigeria’s Presidency for personal gains because at his age and what God has enabled him to achieve personally, there is not much to aspire to again in terms of material things. The account alluded to the former Vice President saying that he is in the race to redeem the party that he helped to form but which fell into wrong hands along the line and to redeem the nation that has given so much to his generation but which the same people have bastardized.

I hardly believe politicians but those words resonated with me in no small measure this time around. Unfortunately, the younger generations of politicians that are shouting ‘time to quit’ to the generation of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and citing the performance of President Muhammad Buhari as an example have shown us glimpses of what to come if power is entrusted to their care without first clearing this ugly Augean table of ours. If you take a peep at Kogi and Niger or even Lagos where the State is actually governed from Bourdillon Street, you will know what I am talking about. For me, unless people like Chief Femi Falana SAN, Chief Peterside Ateodo OON, High Chief Ray Ekpu or Sheikh Muhammad (incidentally a namesake of our President), just to mention a few out of our few unsoiled names, join Nigeria’s Presidential race, I will stick with former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for now.

Usman Okai Austin CCA, Public Analyst and a Social Critic. He contributed this piece from Abuja.

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