NSA: The New Frontier
A new political association has been formed last week. It is the National Solidarity Association (NSA). Another one is the National Frontier. There is no doubt that the two associations, jointly or separately, are on their way to becoming the dominant political parties in the near future. Both have a long list of political heavyweights.
Their formation did not come as a surprise to me because I have long predicted the demise of the PDP when I declared that it was terminally ill. It is a foregone conclusion that PDP, if it is able to loiter around, will most likely cease to be the overbearing party we know today.
So far it is the NSA that has made known its objectives. It sounds popular and I do not expect that others will say something much different in an era claimed to be post-ideological. We will therefore focus on the NSA hoping that other parties will find what we will say useful. As usual, we can only advise.
The association has the following objectives, among others. One is prosperity. According to its protem chairman, “never again will our people live at the fringes of their dreams or as spectators in the appropriation of the wealth of their land.”
Two, it aims at bringing the peoples of Nigeria together by checking what it called “recent divisive forces and tendencies which threatened our hard won national solidarity and harmony, while pursuing a comprehensive programme of genuine national reconciliation based on respect and the highest regard for the national interest.”
Three, it promises to advance the cause of democracy. Their party which, according to them, will be, as reported by Daily Trust, Pan-Nigerian, characterised by discipline, order, due process, a sense of purpose and so on.
Let us treat each of the objectives separately.
Poverty has pervaded the country. However, I strongly believe that it is artificial. It is imposed on the population partly by the mismanagement of our resources and partly by the policies of the IMF and World Bank. If the NSA is truly interested in bringing prosperity back to Nigeria, it must resist the two evils strongly. Unfortunately, most of the people on board the NSA ship have a record that does not look promising in this regard. Though they can hardly be accused of being the first to squander our resources, it is on record that apart from the squander, most of them served in the very first regime that made Nigerians “live at the fringes of their dreams or as spectators in the appropriation of the wealth of their land.” Some of them, like Chief Olu Falae, were the architects of the IMF-sponsored Structural Adjustment Programme. They convinced the then President, General Ibrahim Babangida, that the only way out for the Nigerian economy was devaluation of the currency. Before he left office in 1993 the dollar was selling at over N100.00. If that was their performance after taking over government when the dollar was equal to a Naira, what do we expect when the same group returns to power when the dollar is most likely to be between N250 and N500?
Prosperity will not be achieved amidst corruption. The present government and indeed others that came before it since 1995 would certainly be counted among the most corrupt regimes that Africa ever had. The President is so disenchanted with the situation that he openly berated local government chairmen, saying, “You are thieves”. If a probe were to take place, it will be made abundantly clear that in spite of his anti-corruption campaign, Nigerians have not learnt any lesson.
Accountability is another thing. Nowhere in the world are people entrusted with public funds and are not held accountable for them except in this country and perhaps in the few others that compete with it for the ‘enviable’ position it now occupies as the most corrupt nation on earth. For over fifteen years, except on some selected occasions during the Abacha era when he instituted the Failed Banks Tribunal, all public office holders were allowed to squander our resources unchecked. At a particular time, well known to the NSA, corruption was regarded as a virtue. How then could prosperity be achieved?
Among the main things that brought Obasanjo to power was the promise that he will fight the menace of corruption. But it is increasingly becoming clear that he has not got the capacity to achieve that goal. This is another area that the NSA and other parties to emerge should endeavour to make a difference.
It is clear that the country is not getting any closer. This has informed the decision of the NSA to make unity of the country one of its cardinal objectives. The reasons for our disunity, especially its aggravation recently, is clear. Many of us would blame the recent style of the President as the cause. I, however, strongly believe that many others have contributed in the past.
The Southwest has been the source of all the problems we encountered regarding our unity and the stability of our political regimes. This is clear from the role of Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the First and Second Republics and from that of his grafts recently. The greatest mistake of most of our leaders is their attempt to bring about national reconciliation through appeasing the Southwest. They were never steadfast.
When Gowon took over power in 1966 he freed Awolowo and other politicians who were tried and found guilty by a court of law. Gowon even went to Ikeja airport to receive him. At their meeting he stooped to solicit for what he termed Awolowo’s “wealth of experience.” Agreed that Gowon was desperate to get the East under his control, however, one thing that proved fatal to the future stability of Nigeria was the glorification of the ex-convict. What “wealth of experience” was it that advised Gowon to use starvation as a weapon in war and to rob Easterners of every wealth that they had?
General Ibrahim Babangida did the same. He walked every inch to satisfy the Southwest to the extent that he found it imperative to nationalize the Kaduna Polytechnic while Bank of the North and NNDC narrowly escaped the sharp edge of his sword. He banned all his potential successors from the North and cancelled every Presidential primary that they could win upon the slightest protest from the Southwest. He invited Abiola to contest and the whole thing ended in the June 12 blunder. Lastly, as atonement to his ‘sins’ against the Southwest, he invited Obasanjo to become President. Yet, that does not exonerate him from their blame.
All past elections have proved that it is possible to win the presidency without the support of the Southwest. It is time for our politicians to give up the penchant of soothing it. What is paramount is justice that can never be achieved by the pacification of one section at the expense of others. Unless the NSA and other political associations do this, national unity will remain as illusive as ever.
We expect any emerging political party to support democracy, whatever might be its definition of the word. The point however remains that whether any party in its quest to win election or once in power it will be ready to follow the dictates of the doctrine honestly. So far, history has shown that all our political parties have never been keen in doing so. Almost all means possible are employed to win elections. Money is used to buy the electorate and their votes; the election itself is rigged; and if all that fails, results are twisted at the dying minute in favour of a particular candidate.
Once in power, the winner becomes imperious as he attempts to muscle other parties in the second election using every government resource at his disposal. A winner remains in office forever by becoming the python that squeezes its victim to death. That was how the NPN, UNCP and now PDP became domineering to the extent that they could not be tolerated any longer.
The emerging parties should therefore display a greater degree of tolerance by allowing a room for a viable opposition. They must also tolerate the freedom of speech and association without restricting the parties to any figure as we once had during SDP and NRC.
The first reaction of people to the formation of the NSA was surprise. Never have they thought that a time will come when those who left office under disgraceful circumstances would one day return as heroes, singing songs of the very ideals that they bastardised when they once had the opportunity to uplift them.
But we were a bit oblivious. Nothing should surprise us because the return of IBB and his associates can easily be posited within the province of the tradition of power. First, IBB himself is too young to quit politics. If people like Sunday Awoniyi are still politically active, no one should find fault in IBB and his collection governors and ministers staging a return.
Two, he has the material and human wealth required to remain formidable in politics. IBB had the highest number of ministers and governors in our history. The swarm of such beneficiaries is enough to effectively devour the vegetation of the Nigerian political landscape. He can easily recall them to pay back the free lunch they once enjoyed under his roof, especially now that they appear to have exhausted what they carted away with from public office.
Three, as a free citizen he is not banned from active participation in politics. In the past, when a leader loses in the game of power, he is exiled or executed. Today, leaders are left to walk about freely once they are lucky to ‘step aside’ peacefully. In as much as IBB is free and the constitution does not bar him from contesting, we must acknowledge that it is his legitimate right as a citizen of this country to return to active politics whenever he wishes to do so. The issue of morality that many of us would like to raise does not fit into the equation of our power today and if it ever did so in the history of nations, it was only in few brief instances. Interest – personal, group or class – is the paramount motivator.
Four, we made the call, and he was among the first to answer it. For people with IBB’s record to contemplate of returning to the presidency, the country must be under a less auspicious state than when he was in power. This is the price it has to pay for Obasanjo’s deliberate misdoings. His desecration of the norms that ensured our fragile unity has equipped even the most incompetent with the opportunity to hoodwink the masses once again. If Obasanjo had not made the satisfaction of his kinsmen the goal of his administration at the expense of our political stability and to the disadvantage of other regions, a situation like the one at hand would not have arisen. I believe he can still make it but only if he would use money and apparatus of government at his disposal, as I mentioned some few weeks back. However, it appears that he is reluctant to go that far for whatever reason.
Five, despite their bad record, members of the NSA could claim that they have realized their mistakes; that this time around they will put the nation at heart more than ever before. They are entitled to repentance for nobody is laying the claim that the gates of God are closed; they remain forever open. What Nigerians would like to see however is that if they really need our votes, they should tender an evidence, a certificate if you like, of their repentance. But since He does not issue such certificates, no one should blame Nigerians if they decide to believe the records
PDP and Obasanjo
We must wake up to face a new reality. I have a new and strong belief that Obasanjo may not contest 2003 for two reasons. One is his recent public castigation of the PDP. This questions his interest to contest under its platform. Two, the emergence of the NSA necessitates a review of our earlier stand that if IBB would violate the existing accord between them, Obasanjo will also become a good student of Machiavelli. The president might now be ready to relinquish his position for the latter.
So another dimension exists which can be viewed from two angles. On the one hand is the validity of the claim made by IBB’s in-law that there is a secret agreement restricting Obasanjo’s tenure to only one term after which IBB will take over office. It is abundantly clear now that such a claim will not be out-rightly dismissed as a lie.
On the other hand, Obasanjo might have given up on 2003 knowing fully that he has lost the constituencies that supported him in 1999. To convince northerners to voluntarily vote for Obasanjo is tantamount to moving a mountain. But the problem goes beyond that. There is an urgent need for a person that will continue to serve the interest of the IMF and World Bank. From this angle I think the idea of IBB as a substitute came naturally easy.
From whichever perspective we look at it, the scenario with a receding Obasanjo and an advancing Babangida stands a high chance. What remains is to see whether the Northerners that have helped to create the situation will be thorough enough and persistent in their demand for justice. Will they be contented with the return of a northerner that destroyed their institutions and earned them so much bad name or will they look for a better substitute? Already some NSA members are claiming that the association is here to protect the interest of the North. However, before we jump to conclusions, we will allow time a chance to divulge more of what is in the minds of others. I doubt it very much.
The North should not lend itself to another manipulation, to be used as a stepping-stone for a second time. Its anger should not be exploited to bring down this government only to replace it with a worse one. After weakening the frontier opened by Obasanjo, a new one has been opened by the NSA. We welcome it. We will however remain firm on the course of social justice. That is the only condition lending for our support.