Friday Discourse (118)
By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Buhari, please join politics now
It is a popular saying that politics is dirty. Therefore, people with sufficient integrity must keep a safe distance from it. This fact has prevented many people like you from participating in the game.
So entrenched is this fact in our democracy that it has turned into the belief that the province of governance during a political era is the exclusive preserve of people who have perfected the art of deceit and are ready to go to any length and employ any means to achieve their goals. Such people are contemptuous of competence and scholarship; and they are the least God-fearing. As a result, government has increasingly become subservient to their incompetence and corruption.
For democracy to succeed, it must be dissociated as much as possible from moral bankruptcy. People of aptitude and integrity must struggle to free their conscience from this fear that is habitually used to isolate the prudent from governance. Once they succeed to do away with the fear, they will re-energize politics such that it will become clear to the electorate that prudence can deliver in a year what delinquency cannot in a century.
This is what our country needs at the moment. It is in dire need of someone with considerable strength, indisputable integrity and clear conscience to sanitize its democ-ratic atmosphere. When this description is given, Nigerians, from experience, are spontaneously unanimous on the fitness of people like you. They cannot afford to wait any longer. You have, in particular, led the country before out from one of its darkest moments in history.
I know you are deeply concerned about the bad state of our nation. That feeling is a natural reaction of people who have in the past sacrificed everything their mind would wish, or their body would desire, of material luxury in this world for the sake of the nation. That also explains the frustration of people like Sunday Awoniyi, your one time federal permanent secretary with whom you set up the NNPC and undertook the construction of the Kaduna Refinery and a number of depots in the country. Such people have every cause to feel indignant when the country is held hostage by forces that have no respect whatsoever for anything except wealth and power.
But, sir, people like you should not bottle this frustration and carry it to your graves. It contains all the energy required for salvation. It is the potential energy that could easily be converted into a force that will compel you and many others to undertake reform. With it you can surmount every hurdle until the country regains its freedom from the firm grip of its captives.
That conversion is not new to you anyway. Though your tenure was brief, you were able, with sufficient resolve, to clear the mountain of mess piled by the miscon-duct of many politicians during the second republic in just twenty months. So effective were your pills that you had to be stopped by an alliance of interests within and outside the country.
You can repeat it today. There is so much dissatisfaction with the inequities of this government, which are not lesser in any way than those of the National Party of Nigeria in 1983. Apart from the poverty under which, according to the World Bank, over 70% of Nigerians are living, the corruption in government has deteriorated, according to United States Agency for International Development, to a point where the presidency is responsible for 56%. That is why no foreigner is coming to invest in the country, in spite of its being blessed with the most frequently traveling President in the history of nations.
The risk of losing our democracy is thus real, as it happened twice in the past. But since we now firmly believe that a coup is not the best option because it will perpetuate further the vicious cycle that is responsible for the situation, what the country needs urgently, like a critical patient, is an injection of a large dose of credibility into its system of governance such that it can survive long enough to prepare it for the inevitable operation. The role of that dose is what your participation in politics will bring to democracy today. It will return hope after it has been lost, and confidence where it was eroded.
There are many like you among the elders and the young who will be encouraged by your decision to join politics to do the same. That will bring fresh hands determined to sanitize the system. But they have been hesitant, in the absence of a leader. So please take note that your favorable decision will strengthen theirs, just as your refusal will worsen their despondency.
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It will not be fair if we press on you to join politics without addressing your misgivings and fears about it. You may not be comfortable with a democratic dispensation because its power, unlike in the military, is diffused rather than concentrated. Akin to this apprehension is the point, which will certainly be raised against you, that your performance in 1984/85 was only possible under military rule when the constitution was suspended. The assumption is that, as a soldier, you are most likely to be impatient with democracy since on many occasions you must bend over backwards to accommodate views opposed to yours from the legislature and other institutions supported by the constitution. You may also be afraid that, given the suffering inflicted upon you by the brutal betrayal of your closest comrades in the constituency you know best – the military – you may suffer a worse fate from politicians with whom you have interacted less and know very little about.
Let me assure you sir that your task will be made a lot easier under a democratic dispensation. I personally know that you are a man of consultation. That is why you were bitter when the wrong impression was given to Nigerians after you were toppled that you, together with the General Tunde Idiagbon of blessed memory claimed ‘monopoly of wisdom’. All decisions were taken at the Supreme Military Council (SMC). It was natural that those that took over power from you must concoct reasons to deceive the gullible among us, though it only lasted a while.
A second example is your performance as the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). While the board decided policy matters, the task of designing and executing jobs in pursuit of those policies were left free in the hands of professionals. There has never been in the history of this country when professionals were so much patronized and given so much liberty to function as during your tenure at the PTF. The competence of contractors too was acknowledged and respected. There is no basis to compare them with those awarded similar jobs by the present government. You often say, if you want a professional to succeed, you cannot help but give him a free hand.
Now extending this attitude to the realm of civil governance is what democracy is all about. The realization that other people also have brains, perhaps even better than yours as the President, is the best asset any democrat will have. This is the quality lacking in Obasanjo. In the past three years, he has gone whole hog to impose his views by all means possible. I will swear by my honor that you will be the last person to treat the National Assembly this way. You will never bribe them to topple their leadership. You will never deprive them of their salaries and allowances in an effort to get your bills passed. You will never change a law they brought before you for signature; you will suggest amendments to them, stating why it is not acceptable to you.
So I believe that you will practice the principle of separation of powers. Your integrity is what will make the legislature to censor itself and to live up to the standard that the Presidency will set. And since they trust that you are honest enough not to harm them, they have no reason for recourse to hostility.
If the legislature requires trust, the judiciary deserves freedom. As I argued in Obasanjo and the law, our state of insecurity and level of public sector corruption arise from lack of commitment by the leadership to the rule of law. The police must be given a free hand to investigate matters relating to crimes committed by any Nigerian, regard-less of his position or origin. I will be very glad if, as a good example, you will relinquish your immunity as a President.
With a judiciary that is rid of bad eggs, magistrates will be free under your tenure to decide cases impartially, including disputes between arms of government. Once the Presidency exercises restraint, interference will be minimized from other quarters. This will also bring down the spate of ethnic clashes. Violence is often perpetuated by the frustration of its victims who have lost any hope of redress. It will hardly be contemplated by citizens who are assured of the protection of a responsive leadership and the fairness of the law.
Independence of governors and local government chairmen will be a relief to you, unlike under the military where you had to shoulder the burdens of their wrongs. You will not be responsible for the decisions they take. However, where there is a manifest case of injustice or bad governance, the relevant institutions of the constitution al-ready in place will not spare them. Their cases will be investigated by the police and adjudicated upon by the judiciary.
That is how I see in you the potential of a great democrat. As usual, simply employ the principles of consultation, separation of powers and rule of law. Many Generals have done it before in the history of democracy, especially in America. I see no reason why you can’t do it here today.
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Having urged you to risk your integrity for the cause of the nation and having also proved that you can be a great democrat, the next issue to tackle is the mechanism of election. In Nigeria, under the present dispensation, when we talk about election, we are talking about money. It is used for election campaign and rigging.
However, a good product requires less pushing than a bad one. For example, though the sycophants around the President are singing the praise that there is none better than him in the country, he is fully aware that he has done considerable damage to his image. That is why he has voted N10billion to improve it according to Thisday. Do not ask me from where the money is coming. I do not know either. What he will use to campaign with and win the election must be multiples of that.
Your decision to join politics, let alone to run, based on the enormous strength of your renowned integrity will deregulate the influence of money politics in Nigeria. You will be surprised at the size of the vanguard that will be formed to ensure your success. Besides, if Nigerian masses, students, teachers and other workers would fail to vote for you simply because you cannot distribute soap and wrappers, you will stand vindicated.
Apart from your integrity, there are many factors that will help to reduce the indispensability of money. One, you do not need to found a new party, unlike Obasanjo in 1998. The APP will be the most suitable choice since, unlike the PDP, it is not under the control of the President, and it has, in addition, the national spread that cannot be claimed by the AD. It already has offices, nine or so elected governors, many elected local government council members and millions of supporters on which you can build.
Also, know that for an average child to achieve the same success as the intelligent, he has to work extra hours for months before the examination. In a similar way, your early registration will enable the party and your supporters more time for mass mobilization and consolidation of support through persuasion. A determined vanguard to carry out this duty will have to grow naturally over time.
Time will also be required to undo the maneuvers of your opponents on whom I will postpone discussion until a later date. But know that your decision to join politics will throw the Obasanjo–Atiku camp into confusion. They will not take it lightly. They will definitely leave no missile unfired – be it religious, ethnic, regional, material, whatever – to discredit you before the public. In fact if they are sure that you will contest or support a candidate of your caliber from the Southeast for example, they may rush, in connivance with other forces, to review the candidature of Obasanjo or recruit a certain General from the North to spoil your chances of success.
This early mobilization at the grassroots level combined with your integrity will contribute to your success better than the money that will be distributed on the eve of the D-Day.
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You may be at the eve of making a decision. Sir, if the above persuasion does not convince you, please take the following intimidation seriously.
As you already believe, the Day of Judgment is certain. Each of us will be called upon to account not only for his actions but also for any favor that he was endowed with in this world. Have no doubt that people like you will be asked about your influence in the society and how you used it to improve on the lots of the over 120 million servants of God living in Nigeria. It will be recorded that we have appealed to you to join the process through which the leadership quality of this country can be im-proved, even if you were to support another candidate whom you are confident of, from whatever region, tribe or religion. What we are after is good governance that is committed to social justice.
I doubt if the excuse of saving your integrity will be convincing, not to God the Most High, but even to our previous leaders, like Aminu Kano, Balewa, Sardauna, Zik and Awo, who you are going to meet there. They were also proud of their integrity but had to risk it by joining politics in order to raise people like you.
The life of Malam Aminu Kano is a good example for us to follow. He was never the president but he led the greatest liberation struggle against exploitation of the common man, especially in this part of the country. You have no option but to become our Malam today.
A rashin uwa ake uwar daki. The last time I wrote about 2003 based on your decline to join the race I was compelled to favor IBB over Obasanjo, if only the two were to contest. But if you would join politics as we continue to mount pressure on you, many Nigerians will be saved the agony of that ugly choice. That is my prayer in this letter. I hope God will answer it.