Correction: Sunday, the earliest day we expect to start fasting is 27th of November not 26th as shown in our last article on moon sighting. Sorry, it was a typographical error.
I had no idea of Reception 2000 until a day to the event. I was listening to the BBC Hausa Service on Friday when I heard Adamu Yusuf reporting that many people have objected to the event. They complained that government funds should not be used for such an occasion and that it was intended to counteract the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). Then on the protagonists side I heard the voice of Dr. Usman Bugaje; it has been a familiar one for the past twenty-five years.
The strenuous effort exerted on the part of Atiku to improve his image here is very familiar to me. I have earlier canvassed for it in this column. They have been traversing the length and breadth of this country trying hard to convince opinion shapers and leaders of the North that Atiku is not anti-North, not anti-Shariah, but an ardent lover of the North, and protector of its interest, traditions and institutions; that his misconstrued utterances were made in good faith, out of concern for the dilapidated political image of the region.
It is natural that an image making process like this culminates in Reception 2000. Since I have accepted the fate that I am naturally not gifted with ceremony, I would have ignored the occasion but for a slip of tongue by Brother Bugaje, as we popularly call him. In an attempt to downplay the apparent parallel between the objectives of ACF and Reception 2000, he let the cat out of the bag. He said the ACF is an idea of Atiku. I suddenly rose from my bed and said Subhanallah…
Relating ACF to Atiku by one of his strongest aids and whom I know for long to speak veraciously developed a spontaneous interest in Reception 2000. I made up my mind to attend the occasion. On Saturday, I cruised the Jos – Kaduna highway – with the best of companies that my readers would like to enquire about – to have a first hand information of what I have decided to be the subject matter of my discourse today.
It took place at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium. Among several reasons that might have informed the choice of the venue, one is indispensable. The organizers expected a large crowd. They have printed nearly 100,000 invitations. It was an occasion designed to host the Vice-President, the second most important citizen in the country, and the first citizen in the North under the present dispensation; all northern governors together with the chairmen and councilors of their local governments; all traditional rulers; all members of the National Assembly that are sympathetic to Atiku or the government; all PDP chieftains at various levels of its political hierarchy; etc. Add to this list of dignitaries their supporters and well wishers of Atiku and his of aids from the North. And you know they are many, or at least expected to be many, given this tremendous effort of persuasion or manipulation, which ever suits your opinion.
I walked into the stadium hoping to meet this Gibraltar of expectation. To my utter disappointment, the attendance was very poor. The mammoth crowd was simply not there. I was interested in the speeches and wanted a good sight of the gathering as well. General Gowon was already delivering his address. So I went round to find a seat among the empty seats beneath the result board of the stadium that was opposite the pavilion. I listened to one speaker after another. While I was doing that, I was trying to figure out an estimate the number of people there. To my surprise, the most generous I could give was 5,000 people. Of course there were many drivers, petty-traders and political recruits outside the stadium who could not make any sense out of the speeches which were delivered in English. But less than one-fifth of the stadium was filled. I immediately concluded that the gathering, despite the public funds invested in it, was a failure. I will return to this later in the article.
Three things are worth mentioning in addition to the small size of the gathering. One was the pro-shariah demonstration carried out by a comparatively large group right before the seat of the vice-president and which lasted until the end of the occasion. The second was the apparent popularity of Ghali Na-Abba over that of Atiku Abubakar. Here was a group of people, men and women, wearing dresses labeled Reception 2000 but shouting “Sai Ghali...” On these counts again the gathering was a failure.
The third was the fact that some of the speeches were very indicting to the government, and by implication to the person of the Vice-President. Two are worth mentioning. One was that of Walin Katagum, Dr. Sule Katagum and the other was by Rev. Mathew H. Kukah. The latter ended his speech by quoting the late Emir of Katsina who said, “In ba za kayi don Allah ba, to ka bari don Allah.” I was already leaving, believing that I have had enough of the sun and enough of the disappointment.
What I said above sharply contradicts the claims of people like Hamza Zayyad who estimated the attendance to be at 30,000 people. He was also economical with the truth when he observed that it was the largest gathering since the Ahmadu Bello Stadium was commissioned in the 1960s. Zayyad was also reported by the Sunday New Nigerian as saying, “It might well be the crowning glory of the Vice-Precedent’s rising political profile, but the occasion symbolized an endorsement of Atiku as our son, and in whom we are very pleased.”
Zayyad is a representative of the people that attended the gathering. Within the first few minutes that I was at the stadium, it became clear to me that, apart from people like Ghali Na-Abba and the pro-shariah demonstrators that were conspicuously present, security men, drivers, traditional dancers, journalists and curious eyes like Tilde, the bulk of the people at the gathering was constituted by those whose interest fell directly under the official schedule of Atiku. All of them knew the implication of a failure to attend. As a councilor from Jigawa told us, “We are only here because of our subventions...” It was simply a reincarnation, in a disastrously poor way, of the sponsored rallies that we witnessed under the Babangida and Abacha regimes.
It is common knowledge as was reported by This Day newspaper of that Saturday that “a directive was last week given to all the local government chairmen in the North to ensure that they sponsored people to the reception across the party lines. Part of the directive is to ensure that all political office-holders in the North from councilors to local government chairmen state assemblymen, commissioners and Permanent Secretaries and advisers attended the reception holding the magnificent Ahmadu Bello Stadium, this morning.” In short, the gathering was stage-managed.
And that is exactly the problem. Clearly the directives were strongly worded, otherwise the Sultan would not have come down so low to attend it, going by the decorum of his office and its long-standing conservative tradition on protocol. But chieftaincy also falls under the office of Atiku just like states and local government matters. It was another abuse to Northerners. The Sultan and other traditional rulers are a symbol of our existence. They should have been exempted from the muzzling. There are other people with sufficient interest also. Consider Hamza Zayyad for example. If one knows that Privatization is under the Vice-President’s office, it will not be difficult to see why he was there and vociferously making the wrong observations in the New Nigerian. That might save him from a probe.
Now who is fooling whom? If I were a Vice-President and my region can gather only this handful of people for a so much publicized reception, despite the application of the coercive influence of my office, I would arrive at the conclusion that I am not popular and that my assistants are inept. To sum it up, I am only a dictator, not a popular figure. I will thus consider one of the following three choices: resignation, sacking my lieutenants, or giving up any political ambition, at least in the near future. If I do not have the courage to do any of the three, I must at least be honest with myself to note that the necessity of coercion and the disappointing turnout are pointers to the fact that the marathon of improving my image has ended in a woeful failure. I will, as a vice president, warn myself when I am alone and sober, away from sycophants and courtiers – either on my bed or when attending to the call of nature – saying, “Look Tilde, the surest way to disaster and disgrace is when a person refuses to be honest with his self. The writing is on the wall, read it; do not be deceived like those before you.”
Let’s go to the charge that Reception 2000 is meant to counteract the ACF. In his attempt to dispel the charge, Brother Bugaje in the BBC interview claimed that Atiku is the brain behind ACF. He said that the same leaders of the ACF are the organizers of Reception 2000. At any rate that is the opinion of Bugaje. He may be right, though we very much doubt it, going by the overwhelming public opinion and what one of the organizers, Alhaji Mohammed Abdulrahman said in an interview. Talking about political realignment, he was asked whether ACF is not in a better position to do that for the North. In his reply, he said: “The ACF like every regional group, is full of people who believe that there is need to redress few issues. We should shift from seeking redress to some elements of political reunification and reconciliation. Reception 2000 is positioned to achieve this. Reception 2000 and ACF should now relate to chart a course for the unity and development of Northern Nigeria in particular and the entire country in general..” I think there is enough premise here to conclude that Reception 2000 is an organization, not just an event, with a different structure and identity from the ACF. They might as well be running along parallel lines, which will by the law of mathematics meet only at infinity.
Based on pure logic, the same conclusion could be reached at, ignoring whatever the coordinators are saying. Reception 2000 could be seen as a reaction to ACF or a product of an ambition. The ACF has been so far clearly critical of this government, at least in its pronouncements. It will be difficult to conceive how Atiku could be behind that. Impossible. On the other hand, there is enough premise in reason to accept the view that the government must do something about the rising profile of the ACF. We do not expect it to sit back. And who is more competent to face the challenge than the Vice-President and his lieutenants?
On the lane of ambition however, it sounds both logical and natural to think that Atiku would like to succeed Obasanjo. They have revised their political arithmetic after it has become abundantly clear to them that Obasanjo has lost two regions: the Sudan North and the southwest. The rest are followers as far as the politics of Nigeria is concerned. But since the southwest has never voted a president into power, the North still remains the power broker of the nation.
Suddenly upon realizing that the North has made up its mind not to repeat its blunder in June 12 or May 29, Atiku could serve the interest of the regime come 2003. Unfortunately, both the government and Atiku have inflicted damages on the North, enough to court its permanent anger. They have abused our leaders. They did all they could to trump up charges against them and giving those charges the widest coverage possible in the Lagos media. They discontinued social projects from which the common man was benefiting a lot. They have attempted to balkanize the North through their selective preference of one section over another and by sponsoring Dan Suleiman and his group to breakaway from the North. They have retired hundreds of our officers in the military and the civil service for whom we cannot find replacement in the next ten or fifteen years. They have failed to provide protection to Northerners living in other parts of the country. Nay, they cannot even constitute panels to investigate the massacres of northerners in the East and the recent one in Lagos. They have encouraged the wasting of our resources by committing our governors and local government chairmen into wasteful purchases and economic ventures. They have failed to honor the debts of government and preferred to unilaterally cut them to ridiculous levels, and still refusing to settle them. They have failed to fulfill a single campaign promise.
How then could we continue to respect people who have desecrated our trust, abused our honor, tarnished our image and squandered resources? How then could we forget those who joined hands with others to call us names?
Why is the reception coming so late? Atiku and Obasanjo are already pregnant with political and administrative abominations. Now they have realized that the North is worth returning to. But in so doing, they have forgotten that some of the damages are permanent, and that while some could be forgiven, the North will be foolish to forget them even if all the local government chairmen, governors and traditional rulers in the world have come on their knees pleading. What Atiku and his group should note is what they know very well but forgot to put into practice. It is what the failure of Reception 2000 has reminded them of, the Hausa adage that says mutunci madara ne, in ya zube a kar, ba shi kwaso.
Northerners have spoken by failing to honor the invitation to Deception 2000. They have not failed me. It is Atiku that has failed to regain our confidence. My cease-fire with him is over.