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Friday, July 24, 2009

Discourse 258: Obama, yes we can

Discourse 258

Obama, Yes We Can

The popular perception is that Obama did not come to Nigeria two weeks ago. He only visited Ghana. I have a different opinion. Obama was here. We felt him. We saw him. We heard him. We received his message of hope, encouragement and support. As a side show, many of us were so happy that for the first time, Nigerian rulers got what they deserve. A fatal snub that expresses the non-recognition of their practices; that they are dealers, not leaders…

As we rejoiced in the import of his message, they anguished in the pain of his snub. They retaliated by not allowing NTA to cover the visit or broadcast its message that day. They just proved what Obama was accusing them of. Were it a vanity taking place there, millions would have been spent to give it a live coverage. But since it was an honest message of salvation from their claws, their screen went off. One of them, my mentor for that matter, even publicly said on the BBC Hausa Service that “it was a slap on the face of Nigeria.” Just imagine. Oga, na lie wo. Obama did not slap Nigeria. He slapped irresponsible dealers. And why did they feel guilty, anyway? Another said that “Nigeria does not need any stamp of recognition from any country.” Chineke! How could a former minister of foreign affairs so underrate the most fundamental demand of international relations: recognition?
Obama did not call for any civil disobedience, coup d’etat or the dethronement of any dictator. He called for transparency in the conduct of government, sovereignty of the people that is expressed through elections, and the rule of law. Only these three. Nothing else. And in line with his belief, he chose to visit and send this message from one of the few countries on the continent that have made honest effort to achieve them. He shook the hands of the leaders who helped Ghana chart that course: Rawlings, Mills, Kufor, etc. This measure of respect is something they earned. They suppressed the temptation to loot public treasury, guaranteed their people the constitutional rights to liberty and democratic freedom, and enthroned the rule of law. They may not be perfect, but their strides were honest, giant and purposeful.
To the dealers of African Obama chose the language of absence, which has now appeared to be as painful as an arrow. Were he to come here, for example, along with all the pastors and Imams of this world and preach democracy, human rights and rule of law to our rulers, it would have meant nothing. But by avoiding them, he revealed their status as part of the problem.
Our rulers were given to undeserved recognition, the ‘giant’ of Africa. They enjoyed the state visits of Presidents and Prime Ministers who, in defiance of its poor human rights and democratic credentials, included this country in their itinerary. They will rig elections here and go on tour overseas to enjoy red carpet receptions, wining and dining with any one that matters. They were told, impliedly, that the world did not care about your records.
In fact, what I still cannot figure out is how these characters failed to perceive the wind of change whose velocity is increasing by the day. They think the old order is here to stay, at least until the end of their lifetime; what happens thereafter is the survivors’ business. Their radar is so poor that Obama’s snub caught them by surprise. I assure them, this is 1-0. Unless they change their behaviour Obama will score more goals, some very devastating.
How could a country where rigging elections and looting public funds are celebrated think it deserves better recognition than another which is more transparent and give consideration to the voice of its people in the 21st Century? How could a country that cannot provide six hours of electricity nationwide for over twenty years now due to the preoccupation of its rulers with corruption claim a right of recognition over another that has celebrated its uninterrupted power supply nationwide for a complete year, simply because the former boasts of accommodating the largest number of Africans, 70% of whom shamefully lives under the poverty line? Actually, Nigerian rulers got what they deserve. Their expectations were misplaced in the archives of history. In private, though I believe, they will readily agree that we indeed have problems with corruption and holding credible elections. Why deny the obvious then? We are not talking here about the PDP cartel alone. Many of us have repeated the point that rigging elections is not limited to PDP; the ANPP and most other opposition parties are equally ruthless. They too rig wherever possible, as exemplified in the conduct of their state ‘independent’ electoral commissions. The insistence of governors that these commissions remain in place eloquently expresses their desire to continue rigging. In many cases, the PDP governments even perform better than the ANPP, who in most cases are preoccupied with looting the treasury in the most bizarre forms.
Yet, our rulers should better listen to Obama and act correctly. He is not joking. This guy has been consistent on his intention not to recognise any African government that sustains power through non-transparent electoral process or is corrupt in its practices. How Professor Jibril Aminu’s team was dismissed in the State Department recently when it went to PR for this government is a clear signal that it will not be business as usual. For us in Nigeria, 2011 elections are just by the corner, less than 20 months away. One thing that our rulers must know is that this time America, and by extension, Britain, will not recognize any discredited elections. The European Union has already been very vocal on this. Their monitors have consistently issued a disastrous scorecard on our elections.
America under George Bush has always persuaded other countries to tolerate our ignominious conduct. He did the same in Kenya last year. I am happy that he will not be there come 2011. It will be Obama, God willing, who put it so blunt in Ghana: “we have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” This is the greatest service that any American President would give to Africa. And no one could do it with a greater authority than Obama who is African. If isolation could bring down the Apartheid regime in South Africa, formidable as it was, it is kidding for anyone to think that it cannot cause trouble for the regime in Nigeria. The rulers know this very well. Their bravado is a farce. Let them attempt rigging 2011, and I assure them, the sky will fall on them.
I do not expect Obama’s cure to come from his warnings or threat, but from his actions. It will be a miracle if 2011 elections are not rigged. We have started seeing the signs already. The President’s heavy doctoring of Justice Uwais Committee’s most important recommendations did not send any signal of hope. Also, the sudden decision by INEC to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in 2011, certainly, smacks of the desire to defraud the electorate. INEC simply does not have the capacity or the time to deploy the EVMs in 2011 transparently. It is a simple truth. But I will handle this in a different discourse shortly.
What will take us forward, therefore, is yet to come. If 2011 is rigged, as it is most likely to be, the isolation of America will certainly precipitate a political crisis that will ultimately, if not immediately, lead to our political freedom. If I were Yar’adua, therefore, I will rather take Obama’s threat seriously and heed to his advice: conduct free and fair elections and, by so doing, gain glory. That is far better than facing the obvious crisis that will arise from America’s lack of recognition. Niger Delta is enough a problem.
Some may ward off this warning by citing Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. But we differ from those countries in that our citizens are poles apart from our government. Any external isolation will be readily interpreted by citizens as a permission to send the government packing through any means. It is this catastrophe that must be avoided. A word is enough for the wise.
The threat of Obama notwithstanding, we the citizens must be ready to also play our part of the bargain. He emphasized our role in reclaiming our rights and building a better future for ourselves and generations to come. Our conduct during and between elections is important. Now is the time for every one of us to fight corruption by exposing it, at least, mobilize people to know their constitutional rights and participate in the evolution of a responsible leadership.
Let us, therefore, keenly prepare for 2011, when the next elections will be held, and the story will be different, now that the world has promised to be on our side. Let us not gladden ourselves by waiting for Obama to carry out his threat if the elections are rigged; rather, we should prepare to sent the dealers packing or force them to change become transparent. We will then invite him as a special guest speaker at the presidential inauguration ceremony even if Yar’adua were to legitimately emerge the winner. Then only he would be glad to attend and rejoice with us in his victory slogan, yes we can.
23 July 2008

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