Friday Discourse (121)
2003: A Pharaonic Order?
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
We are forced by recent political developments in the country to draw strong analogies between our incumbent leaders and the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The analogy is not in the sense that 'they slaughter our children and let our women live,' as did the Pharaoh of Moses, but in the way all of them are working hard to strip us of our freedom of choice which we used to elect them into power three years ago.
In After Mugabe, Obasanjo readers will recall that we have listed the efforts of the President to hold on to power beyond 2003, and possibly 2007. They include his tight grip on the ruling party, pouching on other parties, appointment of resident electoral officers who are loyal to him, forging of the electoral law, under-funding the independent electoral commission, etc.
The Arrogance The governors have adopted the same strategy regarding local government elections. They boast that it was they who determined the outcome of recent court verdict which confirmed the powers of their assemblies to dissolve local government councils by May 29 and conduct new elections. They governors has over a year now constituted their respective state independent electoral commissions (SIEC). But instead of appointing members with independent minds who would ensure that the forthcoming elections are fair to all parties and contestants, they filled their SIECs with people who owe them 100% allegiance. Most of them are were jobless members of the ruling parties of their states, and, in some states, over 70% of them cannot even write half educated.
Given these developments, the conclusion that any dispassionate mind would reach is that INEC and SIECs are a syndicate designed to deny the majority of our citizens the right to exercise their democratic rights. Every Nigerian has the right to stand an election once he has fulfilled the constitutional rights to do so. Likewise, every one of us has the right to vote, and the essence of his voting is to express his opinion on the candidate he would entrust with the office of leadership. The beneficiaries of this democratic right that we exercised three years ago are the President, state governors, local government chairmen, and legislators at various levels. Others include thousands of members of various cabinets, advisers and friends.
We knew the decision we have taken then. Once in office, as their appreciation of our decision to place them there, these elected officers could reward us with either good or bad governance. In addition, they may also decide either to allow us continue to enjoy our democratic rights or seize them from us.
As far as the history of the last three years is concerned they have chosen to punish us by exacerbating the ills of our society: corruption, poverty, illiteracy, crime, and so on. They are also determined to deprive us of our democratic rights by walking every distance necessary to ensure that our votes are meaningless. Today many of them boast that whether we vote them again or not, they will win because they are the government, and government is more powerful than any one of us.
Kash. In my opinion, though the statement is true, it is wrong. It is true that government, with its control over the forces of coercion, is more powerful than any individual. No one can deny that. Such politicians cite examples of how Yaradua and Abiola, despite their enormous wealth and influence, were incarcerated and finally killed when they contended with the government of the day.
For those of us living in rural areas, agents of government have already succeeded in injecting fear into our minds. They make us feel that our votes are useless since they can overturn election results and declare whomever they want as the winner. It is pitiful. This is a clear case of breach of trust. However, we will transfer our trust to God and He will take good care of it.
This arrogance reminds me of Nimrod who, as the Qur'an puts it, "disputed with Abraham about his Lord, because God had granted him power. Abraham said: 'My Lord is He Who giveth life and death.' He said: 'I give life and death." To prove the validity of his statement, Nimrod ordered two prisoners to be brought to the Palace.
He killed one and let the other free. Yes. It is true: Government is more powerful than any individual..
Consequences But the statement is wrong because any government that survives on infringement does not endure. Putting aside the correctness or otherwise of their jail terms, what was the fate of the government that jailed Yaradua and Abiola? Where is it today? Or aren't the President and our governors afraid of the consequences of injustice? I urge them to look back to the fate of Nimrod. Pharaoh acted the same way: "And Pharaoh proclaimed among his people, saying: 'O my people! Does not the dominion of Egypt belong to me, (witness) these streams flowing underneath my (palace)? What see ye then?" In the end, when he could not heed to the call of justice, the streams were made to flow above him.
A student of politics may accuse me of being naïve about power. He would argue that it is a game; you either win or lose. If you do not hold on to it tightly, someone will seize it. I accept this propositions but I fail to understand why they should be applied to democratic dispensations is so brazen a manner as our leaders are doing today. They forgot that we are running a democracy where the only way one should legitimately hold on to power is by keeping a strong link with the electorate through good governance. Once he betrays them he has no right to impose himself on them after the expiration of his tenure by manipulating the electoral process.
To condone malpractices in the name of power game is to risk losing democracy all together. Our readers will bear witness that we have emphasized this time without number in this column. There is nothing as certain as death in the politics of Nigeria like the effort of the incumbent to rig elections and the resultant loss of the republic.
The experience of the Second Republic is still fresh in our minds.
The NPN was certain of its control over the machinery of coercion. It felt that nothing would happen. Not contented with its lead in the previous election, it set out to win every vote and bring under its control every inch of our political landscape.
The Second Republic election did take place in 1983. Each party did its best to determine the results of the election in the area under its control. The NPN emerged the winner with what journalists described as a 'moon-slide' victory. In some states it got votes more than the population of the entire state. In many villages, more than 500 people per household voted for it, as we once cited from the Economist. It was only logical that they lost everything in the end.
Most of the prominent politicians of that era have suffered dwindling political fortune. They have, despite many attempts, failed to rebound.
One may ask: why did people rejoice over the sacking of that republic? It was because of corruption and election malpractices. It must be recalled that, in spite of the widespread waste and corruption in their government, President Shagari and governors of various states during the Second Republic had put a good performance in terms of projects. Yet when they denied people their basic democratic right everyone forgot the projects they executed and rejoiced over their incarceration.
The PDP regimes especially are repeating the same mistake. They want to control every inch of our political landscape. They are confident that nothing will happen because they have a firm control over power and the electoral commissions. The electorate is no longer relevant, they claim. It should look back at the NPN, the SDP and the UNCP.
Reasons What is there in power that people want to acquire and retain at all cost? The surprising thing is that power does not impose itself on anyone. It does not walk into his bedroom. People go out of their way to look for it, with promises to people and prayers to God. How comes that they suddenly, after acquiring it, become its slaves? It immediately consumes them to the level of destruction. I am surprised because public office, in my view, is a liability. I wonder why a person should seek it in the first place, let alone fight hard to retain it after four gruesome years of sleepless nights and busy days.
The reasons it appears are many. First, some would say it is the ultimate in self-actualization. For people that have amassed unbelievable amounts of wealth, power is the ultimate goal before death.
Secondly, for others, they come in innocently, many times invited or begged to take the mantle of leadership. As soon as they come to power, they have to work with ministers, advisers, commissioners, etc. The stars of these people and of thousands others will shine.
They will become billionaires overnight. It is this group of people that are the most dangerous. They are responsible for exaggerating to those in power the degree of their popularity or to which they are indispensable. And since man is more given to stupidity than to wisdom, the leader easily fall prey to the survival instinct of this gang.
We have heard plenty of them recently: Kashim Imam, Sule Lamido, Mukhtar Shagari, Lili Gabari and many others. They claim that Obasanjo has performed well,; he is the only person that can lead Nigeria; he is indispensable, and so on. Solomon Lar and other champions of ethnic and sectarian chauvinism are telling the President that the people of their region are 100% behind him. The 19 governors are not left behind in persuading the President to run for a second term even though some of them have earlier mandated Bafarawa to say exactly the contrary at the last ACF gathering.
Each of these groups has economic or sectarian reasons for why they must support Obasanjo in 2003. What do you think will happen to the billions they have stolen through inflating contracts if they would allow someone to defeat the President? What will happen to the master plan of some of them who have boasted that they will ensure that members of their religion dominate Nigerian politics forever? What will happen to the officers they planted in command positions? What will happen to privatization, its prophets, followers and beneficiaries? What happens to the Yoruba agenda? Is that supreme race to return to allow sheep and goats to return to power? These groups will come under threat were Obasanjo to vacate his seat, for one cause or another. They must turn him hostage.
Much of the problem with power lies in its ultimate position. It lies at the peak from where you cannot go beyond. Once there, you are forced to choose between remaining in your position and coming down to ours. If you choose to remain there, then you must do so either by doing the good or employing the wicked. Few people, and certainly Obasanjo and most of our governors are not among them, would decide to step down after the writing is clear on the wall that the electorate is disappointed with them.
I wish the President would have the wisdom of the Queen of Sheba in dealing with his advisers. King Solomon once called on her to submit to his rule in a letter dispatched by a bird. She wondered at the extent of his power, that he could even use birds as messengers. She immediately returned to her court and sought the advise of her ministers. "She said: 'Ye chiefs! Advice me in (this) my affair. No affair have I decided except in your presence." Like our ministers and advisers today would say to Obasanjo, they replied: "We are endued with strength and given to vehement war: But the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command." But unlike Obasanjo or our governors, the Queen cautioned her chiefs, saying: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest. Thus do they behave. But I am going to send him a present, and (wait) to see with what (answer) return (my) ambassadors." The third reason is greed. The Prophet was reported saying that if someone has a whole valley of gold he would wish that he had two valleys. People would naturally like bounties and advantages to last forever. Power is one of them, for it accords them and their followers quick access to enormous influence and resources. The mind will quickly remember King David, when he adjudicated between two disputants. One of then complained: "Certainly this man is my brother: He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have (but) one: Yet he says, 'commit her to my care,' and is (moreover) harsh to me in speech." One wonders how could the owner of 99 ewes seek to seize the only one belonging to his brother. But David gave us the answer that greed is the tradition of men: "(David) said: 'He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?" I often wonder why the PDP, like the NPN of yesterday, are working out the arithmetic that will ensure their victory in every local government, including the ones they lost out to opposition parties in the last election. We wish them a 'moon-slide' victory, as the NPN did in 1983.
The fourth reason is propaganda. Some people supporting the second term of Obasanjo are doing so out of the belief that no one can defeat him. If Kashim Imam and his group would say so, one can understand them within the context of self-preservation. But for people like Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa to also claim that no one in the country now can perform better than Obasanjo in 2003 elections, as he did in a recent BBC Hausa Service interview, can only be the result of strong propaganda. Balarabe believes that northerners should allow the south full eight years tenure. Who told him that the south would be satisfied with two terms? Where in the constitution or in the concept of democracy has zoning become a criterion for electing a leader? Or has Balarabe himself become a member of the PDP. Certainly not. We nevertheless expect people like him to defend democracy from the ravages of bad governance. The issue is not about north or south.
Fair enough that a southerner was granted a chance by northerners to lead this country. Quite a lot of us would have been glad had Obasanjo performed well. But he has failed, to his own confession and that of his people. Why the insistence that he must continue? Oppression usually goes with propaganda. People have to be brainwashed to accept that the incumbent is another god. Pharaoh did exactly the same. He condemned Moses not on the basis of any demerit but on grounds of wealth and power: "Am I not better than this (Moses) who is a contemptible wretch and can scarcely express himself clearly? Then why are not gold bracelets bestowed on him, or come (not) with him angels accompanying him in procession.' Thus did he make fools of his people, and they obeyed him." We thought Malam Balarabe will join us in fighting against the recurrence of the mistakes that led to the demise of the Second Republic, namely corruption and election malpractice. In endorsing Obasanjo or trading in archaic and undemocratic concept like zoning, the Malam is lending support to people who are hell bent on denying us our most fundamental democratic right. Like Pharaoh, these people are saying that we have no right to any view except theirs, by virtue of their power: This was precisely the undemocratic principle that Pharaoh employed. He said: "I but point out to you that which I see (myself); nor do I guide you but to the Path of Right." So for Balarabe to argue in favour of a regime of corruption, ineptitude and waste while the majority is suffering from poverty and disease, simply for the sake of barren concepts like 'powershift', is a clear indication that the sun of politics and reason has finally set on our most resilient doyen of socialism. He has fallen victim of propaganda by the southern press.
Conclusion I wish the President and all the 36 governors will have the courage to allow free and fair elections especially during the forthcoming local government elections. They have ruled for three years. People should be allowed to speak freely through the polls. It is a challenge both to them and to the people. I wish they would not listen to bad advisers who are only trying to protect their personal interests.
If they fail to accept my advice, one is safe to conclude that their government is a Pharaonic. We need someone bold enough to look at them in the eye and put across our demand: let my people go.