Monday Discourse 186
The Hidden Agenda of a Monologue
Last week Obasanjo inaugurated what he dubbed as National Political Reform Conference. In his inaugural address, the President, or his speech writer, to be precise, did his best to allay fears and reply his critics.
He has won some converts, one of whom is my brother, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, a delegate representing Muslims. The Daily Trust of 22nd February reported Tahir saying, “I am ashamed of what I’ve said in the past about this conference. I should have been silent on some issues because as you can see from the President’s opening speech, most of my fears have been allayed… I do not think any serious minded person should be afraid of the leadership composition or anything. People like me have no fears…” In rejecting the fears expressed by the North, Tahir was reported advising northerners to “maintain calm and sobriety we are known for and forget our fears so that we can have a good conference.”
Contrary to people like Tahir, I have been taught, like most other Nigerians, to believe what I did not hear, if what I heard is coming from President Obasanjo. That is because going by his performance in the past six years, Obasanjo has on most occasions proved to be very economical with the truth and, thus, Nigerians prefer to locate the truth not in what he said but in what he did not say, just as they did to all their leaders since 1985.
Pushed by the President to this brink of cynicism, I am compelled in this article to think like those Nigerians: to look for the truth by reading what the President did, not what he said. I am glad that there are other writers with whom I share this cynicism. Last week in his Wednesday Column, Muhammed Haruna eloquently reminded us of Obasanjo’s past by digging his archives and finding out what he said and did previously under similar circumstances.
From his speech last week, the President wants us to believe four things: one, that the conference is an opportunity “to reassess, refocus, redefine and redesign our political landscape in a direction that would strengthen the bonds of unity, enhance the processes of democratic consolidation, strengthen the structures so as to solidly those values that promote democracy, good governance and good neighbourliness; and open boundless opportunities for all Nigerians to be, and to feel that they are part of the evolving political process and socio-economic advancement.”
The above mission statement of the conference is a repetition of the rhetoric that we are accustomed to and which has been repeated by every dictator in this country. Which democratic consolidation can a person who rigged millions of votes during the last election talk about? This is a president who walked every path and length to ensure that he won the last election. He knew very well that the most important force that consolidates democracy is allowing the people to express their wishes through free and fair election. The President had the unimpeded opportunity to demonstrate this but he took every step in the opposite direction including forging the electoral law. His party did not campaign in most states but won moonslide victories by employing police brutality, the complicity of the electoral commission and the judiciary. (Meanwhile, what is going on about the N5billion which Tafa Balogun made from the Obasanjo regime?) Can the same person be believed if he talks now – when he is leaving at the end of his eight year tenure – about consolidating democracy? Are we the idiots to believe him, even in the aftermath of startling revelations regarding what was done in Anambra during and after the election where agents of the President used the police and bandits to forge election results, destroy every symbol of democracy and walk the streets and the presidency as free citizens? Not even after they and the President has confessed their sins?
What structures is Obasanjo calling us to strengthen? Is he not the same executive President who removed every Senate President and imposed on it, now, a person who even did not stand for elections? What has Obasanjo shown in the past six years to make us believe that he has respect for the principle of separation of power? The most recent of his abuse of democratic ethics and norms was the arrest of the Chairman of his party, at gun point, and forcing him, under duress, to resign his seat. Could such a leader has the temerity to call for strengthening any instrument of democracy? Should we not read Obasanjo as the leader who has abused the best opportunity to build a viable democracy after fifteen years of dictatorship?
Two, Obasanjo wants us to believe that there is no hidden agenda behind organizing the conference. He said: “The federal government has no hidden agenda in this exercise. This effort is the product of widespread consultations with salient stakeholders including the leadership of the National Assembly and the National Council of State. We have paid attention to and insisted on integrity, tract record, capacity and ability to articulate relevant issues. We are not at war with any constituency or interest group…”
Events in the past few weeks have completely refuted the assertions of Mr. President. Which National Assembly is he talking about? Is it not the National Assembly that declared to the world its complete distrust on the intention of the president regarding the conference and which passed a resolution never to support or fund it? How could the National Assembly be a party to the conceptualization of the conference and now turn around to query its Senate President for violating its earlier stand and attending the inauguration ceremony?
In the same vein, I cannot understand the President when he talks about the delegates as people with “integrity, tract record, capacity and ability to articulate relevant issues.” Except for the few members from civil societies I cannot see such qualities in most of the delegates to the conference. To begin with, they are ALL nominees of the President and governors most, if not all, of whom have shown sufficient contempt for merit. Let us look at the cabinet list of the President and of each Governor. Can we see merit? Has the president chosen the best material – people of integrity, tract record, capacity and ability to articulate relevant issues – from Borno, Kano, Benue, Anambra or Enugu to ministerial positions? And what guided the list of commissioners in states other than mediocrity and sycophancy in most cases?
Let us be honest on these matters. We know that one of the biggest problems impeding our progress in this country is the desecration of merit. The best way for anybody to reduce his chances of attaining any position of standing in this country is by proving his difference meritoriously; the quickest way of rising, paradoxically, is by falling into the abyss of sycophancy, incompetence, corruption and lawlessness. Once he can do this, even the house of the President will be open for him 24 hours as it is to Chris Uba.
And where is the merit, looking at the list of representatives from the states. Most of the nominees are above 60, and are people who in one capacity or another have contributed to the mess in which we find ourselves today. What suggestion will they give other than repeating whatever they knew or did previously? I wonder what new people like Jerry Gana can discover to benefit children yet unborn which they have not discovered in the past 20years of being in every regime, serving the terrible, the bad and the ugliest. And the state delegates are not better. While some states have truly managed to include one or two people of substance, many have patronized only their associates in the power game of their state, including those who do not even have the capacity or strength to say anything or follow the proceedings of the conference.
We better believe what Obasanjo did not say. His ‘no hidden agenda’ is an attempt to refute three accusations coming from three groups. The CNPP has accused him of organising the conference to realize his self-succession; the North is saying that it is a forum intended to find a constitutional legitimacy to Afenifere agenda; Muslims are accusing him of under-representation as they counted only 150 against 220 Christians. But if we read what the President did not say – his actions and the antics of his predecessors – it will become clear that Obasanjo is guilty of all the three accusations. It is like going to bed after listening to his assurances of free and fair elections and waking up to notice what happened on 419, 2003. The President needs to take his market women calculator and compute the statistics of the projects and monies he spend in the North and Southwest, how many of his policies have benefited the North and which, if any, have worked to the detriment of the Southwest? And let him also check the list of his appointments: how many are Muslim and how many are Christians? Nigerians should not allow themselves to be placated with rhetoric in the face of concrete statistics of misdeeds perpetrated by the new advocate of one Nigeria.
Thirdly, the President wants us to believe that he has parted road with advocates of a sovereign national conference. Reading through his speech, Wole Soyinka and the like will quickly feel that his diatribe is directed against them. On that the President became lengthy: “We must begin to see the Nigeria cup as half full rather than half empty and that the best way to express maturity, patriotism and relevance is not to stick to a culture of perpetual attacks, cynicism, aloofness, arrogance, ego-centricism and bad politics. Rather it is more profitable to join the process, make contributions, educate the public positively, and stop the unhelpful culture of attempting to throw away the baby with the bath water all the time. Our country has grown far beyond these opportunistic grandstanding strategies that rely on ideologies, methods, language and ideas of the past that have been transcended all over the world.”
To debunk the approach of PRONACO specifically, the President said, “Our goal is to strengthen the oneness and unity of Nigeria on the basis of the most important asset to our nation – the people who are the subject and object of all our endeavours.” Mhm.
“Fellow compatriots,” he continued, “we believe that the idea of representation at the conference solely by ethnic configuration is rather unrealistic, inequitable and unworkable. We do not need to and must not deny our ethnic origins because we do share more in common than we are often willing to admit. However, given that Nigeria has well over 350 ethnic or so-called nationality groups, how do we seriously balance the larger and smaller, even micro-ethnic groups? What are the guarantees that by some unexpected alignment and realignment of interests the major groups would not come together to preserve the status quo? What about those that do not wish to be represented on ethnic, but on other forms of identification – class identity, profession, and gender, for instance?
“It is my view that our country has gone beyond the antics and narrow interests of ethnic entrepreneurs. We have to move far away from those that do not want to face realities that most Nigerians may have a permanent address in their villages but survive on the basis of other identities at the places of work, business, leisure and other interaction and engagement. We should consolidate these positive webs and networks of solidarity, compassion, tolerance, inclusion, organization, mobilization and collective dedication to the common good rather than reifying ethnicity in a notion and world that is changing rapidly.” Nice talk. Believe him.
In contrast to the above assertions, I do not believe that Obasanjo is not working in pursuit of the ethnic agenda of Afenifere; also, his diatribe against the PRONACO camp is a mere gimmick aimed at buying our naivety and endorsing his hidden tribal antics. As we shall see in our discourse next week, the conference, I believe, has everything to do with the preservation of Southwest hegemony in the economy and Politics in the post-2007 Nigeria. The Southwest has sought for the presidency for four decades without success, until it was handed to it over a platter of gold in 1999. After messing up the economy and playing foul on democracy for six years, it is afraid of what its fate would be after 2007 before the presidency rotates back to it many decades later. The region is eager to secure constitutional guarantees that will retain its enormous theft it perpetrated and consolidate the gains it made during the eight years of Obasanjo misrule, knowing fully well that the mistake of 1999 is not likely to be repeated in history.
Well, we are getting short of space and must stop here before continuing next week. Until then, let us ponder more on what the President did not say through reading his actions in the past six years than believing the rhetoric he delivered at the inauguration of the conference last week.