Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Youths Earnestly Ask for Jonathan - By Simon Kolawole

Nothing ever changes in Nigeria, isn’t it? The more things seem to change, the more they remain the same. The country is currently littered with mushrooms of associations asking President Goodluck Jonathan to run in the 2011 presidential race; all sorts of groups with names so similar you would be forced to suspect that they are being created and co-ordinated from the same source. They are singing the same tune – PDP must dump “zoning” (that is, power rotation) and let Jonathan run. Northern youths. Southern youths. Movement for this. Movement for that. Alliance for this.

Alliance for that. They all claim to be doing us some good and fighting for justice and equity and fairness. The impression being created is that the president does not know anything about it. It is Nigerians who are trying to exercise their freedom of speech. But haven’t we been here before?

Yeah, it looks too familiar. Youths Earnest Ask for Abacha (YEAA). That was in 1998 when the epidemic swept through the country. Gen. Sani Abacha, one of the finest dictators the world has ever produced, had held Nigeria by the throat for nearly five years, killing as many people as he could, looting as much as he could and doing all he could to push Nigeria into the abyss.

Mortuaries and prisons were filled with his victims. He embarked on a transition programme designed to ultimately produce him as the president. The five political parties he created all adopted him as their presidential candidate, even though he was never a member, never picked their nomination forms and never fulfilled any of the requirements for aspirants as prescribed by the law. We were told that Abacha was the best thing. At the million-man march organised by YEAA for him in Abuja, many prominent Nigerians – some of whom you would ordinarily expect to be sane – endorsed the project. Abacha died suddenly, effectively killing YEAA.

We had a similar project in 2002 when over 20 PDP governors stormed Ota, Ogun State, to “beg” President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for second term. Obasanjo, they said, was the only man for Nigeria. A bigger version of the project was launched a few years later. You guessed right: third term. Obasanjo organised a political conference, ostensibly to work for a new constitution, but surreptitiously to extend his second term in office. When it didn’t work, a full-blown third term project was launched. We were told Obasanjo was the only one that could solve all our problems. Indeed, everything seemed set for Obasanjo to get his third term as the constitution was about to be amended to accommodate his ambition. In a flash, the third term project collapsed. Obasanjo would later tell us that he was not interested in third term. As if we were born yesterday.

An amazing fact is that there are characters that have always been on the “tazarce” (“carry on”) scene. I will mention just two names here. Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu was heavily involved in the Abacha project as the publicity secretary of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) – the party of choice then. Mantu, representing the North-central, moved the motion that Abacha should be the presidential candidate of UNCP at its Kaduna convention on April 16, 1998. Others who moved the joint motion were: Ebenezer Babatope, Josiah Odunna, Saminu Turaki (who later became governor of Jigawa State), Sergeant Awuse and Ali Modu Sherif (current governor of Borno State). In 2005-6, Mantu, as Deputy Senate President, organised a similar project for Obasanjo, co-ordinating the failed attempt to amend the constitution to accommodate third term. Dear readers, Mantu is now one of the co-ordinators of the Jonathan 2011 project. “Tazarce” runs in his blood.

There is also this character called Greg Mbadiwe who, unfortunately, hails from an illustrious family. He was neck-deep in the Abacha project. He wrote an interesting article to justify the ill-conceived “tazarce” project. In the article, which was published just around the time Abacha died, he declared: “The UNCP must not renege on the decision to present General Abacha as its flag bearer. For, contrary to the utterances by a few people who have access to the press, the masses of the people are in support of continuity and General Abacha. They are in alignment with his regime’s efforts and are eagerly waiting to give him a stronger mandate come August 1, 1998.” Mbadiwe, it must be recalled, was also the one who moved for the extension of Obasanjo’s second term tenure to six years at the political conference in 2004. He was also well involved in the failed third term project. That’s his stock-in-trade.

I don’t know much about Mbadiwe’s involvement in the Jonathan project, but I recently stumbled on an article he wrote to campaign for the president. He first condemned zoning and power rotation and then began to talk about how God had ordained Jonathan and how the man is the best person for the job. Read him: “Jonathan appears to be the bridge of unity and national integration which has eluded Nigerians for a long time.

We were closer to the attainment of that goal in 1993 when Nigerians overwhelmingly voted a Muslim-Muslim ticket, only for the military through an ill-advised action, to annul that election. The opportunity has presented itself again and history beckons on us to, in the spirit of Nigerian unity to formally elect a man from the minority tribe as our president in 2011. That would not only confirm that we have come of age, we would be giving a practical expression to the letters of the constitution which guarantees us the right to aspire to any position in the country.”

Let me be clear about something: I am not comparing Jonathan’s obvious ambition to the self-perpetuation plans of Abacha and Obasanjo. The two were clearly involved in something illegitimate which could only be achieved by subverting and manipulating the laws of the land. Jonathan, on the other hand, has every right to run for office next year as enshrined in the constitution. The power rotation argument is not about law or constitution – it is about a “gentleman’s agreement” as they call it. It is a PDP problem. ANPP does not have power rotation. AC does not have power rotation. So when I talk about the roles of Mantu, Mbadiwe and their ilk in the Jonathan project and similar projects in the past, I am talking basically about this malignant tumour called AGIP – Any Government in Power. I am also talking about the unseen hands behind the scene, patting the boot-lickers on the back while pretending not to be involved in any way. You know what I mean.

In a way, I do not blame Mantu and co. In Nigeria, real economic productivity yields little gain, so it is political sycophancy that rewards bountifully. Hard work hardly pays. How much would you make working your head off 24/7 in your office compared to what you would make practising AGIP? A fresh university graduate with a decent job would need to work for at least five years before he can afford a new car. If he chooses sycophancy, he can buy a 4WD after just one “contract”. The budget for sycophancy is normally in billions of naira. Furthermore, those who get the biggest appointments in government are not necessarily those who want to contribute to the progress of Nigeria. They are mostly those who play the right politics – those who carry the bags of the right people; those who wash the feet of the right people; those who utter the biggest flattery. You don’t need to do too much research to discover why Nigeria is so backward. Those who have been holding us hostage for decades are the same people holding us hostage today. It’s a brood of vipers. They reproduce themselves. They are from every part of Nigeria. They are ever present in our national life in one form or the other. I am therefore not surprised, at all, that the Jonathan government is turning out to be like the previous ones. This government is proving not to be different from the others. The signs are there for everyone to see. In Nigeria, the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same.

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