BOLA IGE in Charcoal
There is a popular narration that when the President, General Olusegun Obasanjo (retired, but now recycled – as he once put it – as the politician ‘C in C’), was approached to run for the presidency, his reply was simple: “I am not a politician.” But subsequent events have shown that Mr. President was then underrating himself.
I will personally be sad to know, only as late as when I will be approaching seventy, that I have the potential of being a politician, a President of Nigeria for that matter. But for Obasanjo, there is no sadness. His performance in the game of power cannot be said to be bad, so far. The retention of power, like wealth, is usually more difficult than its acquisition. If Obasanjo was lifted to the throne, the same could not be said of about his survival there.
A lot has been said on how he took some people - and you can guess whom - by surprise. But I am more interested in his ability to transform the game reserve of Nigerian politics into an entertaining wildlife park.
It has been suggested, and perhaps secretly transmitted by the president himself to his political associated from the North who complained about the imbalance in his ministerial appointments, that he did so to buy over the political vocalists of the southwest.
He might have confided in some of such disgruntled northerners that the Action Group politicians of the southwest have always been responsible for the fall of democratic governments in Nigeria. It would therefore be a good investment in the tranquility of the nation and the tenacity of his regime if he would throw a flesh or two at their leaders. Some, like Bola Ige, pounced on it; others, like Abraham Adesanya, rejected it during the daytime; but at night they sent their daughters to pick it for them. The result today is fantastic, for Mr. President.
He has by this single act succeeded in silencing Bola Ige and the entire opposition of the southwest including that of its press. The people who condemned the transition program and educated us on the sins Obasanjo, the hidden and the plain, are now sitting always at his doorstep waiting for his command. And our President is indeed is a man of commands! Without any feeling of shame, these people have abandoned their stands on national matters and went on stampeding for positions in government.
First, they descended from a sovereign national conference, as the only condition of their participation in the transition program of Abubakar, to that of an interim government, forgetting that they have once scuttled its type in collusion with Abacha. Then when an interim government was not feasible, they peddled with the idea of a national government. That too was rejected, and the transition program continued like a hurricane.
A further step down brought them to the position of urging their electoral rival, Obasanjo, to please consider their losses and give them a position in the cabinet, something they called government of national unity. That was meant to be a government including all parties, winners and losers alike. Though the PDP did not allow that, he nevertheless formed a cabinet based on ‘merit’ of individuals from different parties. Never ask what were the parameters that defined his merit; everything was meant to fit into a political equation that would allow the President sleep soundly in the villa without any terrorizing roar from the wildlife park of Nigerian politics. That has now been achieved.
What is further interesting is how the president was able to precisely gauge the moral bankruptcy of such politicians and use that to his advantage. It was precise to the extent that he could attempt, with a good degree of success, to catch some of them on the descending summersault and throw them into destructive enclaves.
This is the popular version about Ige’s appointment. I was in one of the parastatals in Abuja the day when the posting of ministers was announced in the local radio. I heard two versions about the posting of Ige to the Ministry of Mines and Power. One said that the minister rejected the Ministry of Justice, for obvious reasons. Na book work, abi?. The second version was that the president pushed Ige to the Ministry of Mines and Power in order to destroy him politically, knowing fully that it is a black hole.
I bought the second version more than the first and kept it to myself. If the president has the wit to demystify ‘Cicero’, I thought, that will be a great plus for him. Though this may not be exactly what transpired between the President and Ige, history has nevertheless vindicated me on that choice. If the version was false, then time has credited the President with a political bonus. Ige is drowned by NEPA.
But the issue of Ige could be discussed from a different perspective that carries a greater degree of certainty, though here too we have to rely on the veracity of its narrator who happened to be Ige himself. He told the nation on an NTA program that the President, on posting him to Mines and Power, did promise to write his name in gold once he will succeed in solving the problem of electricity supply in the country. Ige, the competent – perhaps until now, was least impressed by the promise. So he replied the President saying, “I will write my name in diamond.”
Well, If Ige had known a bit of chemistry, he would have accepted the offer of the President because writing in diamond sounds strange, if not possible. Diamond, a crystal stone of pure carbon and the hardest substance known, would, unlike graphite or charcoal, hardly lend itself to writing. How Ige intended to ‘write’ his name in diamond would have been the eighth wonder of the world!
Time seems to side with chemistry than with ambition on this matter. Ige, eager to record achievements reminiscent of his days as a governor twenty years ago when the naira was stronger than the dollar, rushed to make extravagant promises. He promised the nation 50% of its electricity demand in six months and a series of other achievements culminating in solving the problem 100% in just 24 months. I remember the voice of a woman that called during the program. She said “Uncle Bola, these ambitions are laudable, but don’t you think that you need the Grace of God to succeed?” Suddenly, Ige conceded that he prays to God for success. My goodness! I knew that the coffin was nailed, there and then.
All the same, many people were impressed with Ige’s proposal. A friend, who until recently was wholly supportive of Obasanjo, asked me: “Did you listen to Ige’s program on the TV last Tuesday? Yes, those are the people we need. Achievers.” I just nodded, having learnt never to argue about a future that is certain. Head or tail, I will win. If Ige succeeds in solving the problem of electricity supply in the country, that is good for the nation, including myself. If he fails, I would then laugh last, saying, “shebi I told you, ‘Obasanjo has failed.”
I never bothered to know the performance of Ige, because in village where I live we have had regular supply of electricity for almost fifteen years now. But my attention returned to his promise the week Newswatch run a cover story on his failure at NEPA. From then I knew that our ‘Cicero’ was in trouble.
The failure was so clear that the President himself had to publicly dissociate himself from Ige’s promises. NEPA officials said they read Ige’s lips and went by his desire. Who were they after all to argue with the sacred cow of the day? At last the president had to play Machiavelli on Ige. He sought his consent to dismiss the board of NEPA, but did so in a series of humiliations to a person that sees himself as the most qualified person to lead the country. The humiliations might not have been intended, but they have nevertheless happened.
First, NEPA is now under the president. Henceforth, Ige would only be invited to a meeting on NEPA at the Presidency, passing through many checkpoints, sitting as a member of a committee among others, to discuss what was virtually his exclusive affair. He has certainly lost the confidence of the President. Ige has failed.
Trust the southwest media! They suddenly claimed, or was it Ige himself, that the man has threatened to resign, or indeed resigned in protest. The Presidency refuted it, asking, “to whom was the letter submitted?” It appeared that they were waiting for one. Then Ige, according to another report, called his friends, Soyinka and Co., to a meeting in Lagos to decide whether or not he should resign. Almost everybody called on him to resign. At last he did not resign because he could not. Where is the resolve to act? Where is the honor to protect? And lastly where is the shame to feel? What a pity!
Whatever happened, Ige did not submit a letter, because he is still the Minister of Mines and Power. The President is inviting Americans to do it. And then, the promises? Do they still hold? Ige is silent, dumb.
Then came another shocker from Mr. President, who by now has realized that ‘footballing’ with the toothless lion, Ige, is in itself an amusement in the park. That was the call by the president that anybody in his cabinet who harbors the “treasonable” idea of confederation should resign immediately. Many of us felt that the President was not lunatic, he knew what he was saying. Amma wanda yai zagi a kasuwa, ya san da wa ya ke. To whom was he referring, other than Ige? Still, Ige has not resigned. People blame Babangida and Abacha for attempting to succeed themselves. Power could be sweet, especially in the Ministry of Mines and Power. Sweet or not, resignation or dismissal, Ige must one day leave. Right now, we know what he is: tamed.
God save the President
In conclusion, it is important to say that the President is lucky to have tamed Ige to the extent that he could challenge him to resignation openly. Two, in the past two decades, we have seen the demystification of the champions of Yoruba chauvinism, progressively. The National Concord debunked the sainthood of Awolowo in the second republic; Babangida domesticated Tai Solarin and Wole Soyinka; and now Obasanjo has tamed Ige, for us, for the better.
Lastly, the president should not worry about his promise to write Ige’s name in gold. Time has proved that his name is not worthy of that anymore. Ige, on his part, has painfully known that diamond is not used to ‘write’ names. He has therefore settled for a cheaper form of carbon. Ige has already written his name in charcoal.
My worry is, by transferring NEPA management to the presidency, what will happen if the president fails too. In what substance should we write his name? Do not say mud, but pray that God save Mr. President!