You have to read this honest to God article by one of the leading intellectual democrats in Nigeria and an accomplished writer I have been reading since the early 1980s to date.
Let us Re-launch Nigeria on the Path of Democracy
February 23, 2007
Posted to the web February 23, 2007
By Pini Jason
It will not be an exaggeration to say that Nigerians are getting inured to the fact that virtually everything we thought were impossible has happened to Nigeria . Years back, it was common to hear Nigerians say, this cannot happen in Nigeria . They looked at Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu of Congo DR, Emperor Bokassa of Central African Republic and such other clowns in the continent and declared they would have no place in Nigeria. We prided ourselves as the beacon of Africa , the giant in the sun too big and too sophisticated for one man to mess with. We actually held our heads high. We had a robust economy and could not imagine ourselves going into exile for menial jobs. Well, well, well!
We were at it when the military captured our nation and made a mess of it. And that lasted for 37 years and included such tyrants as Gen Sani Abacha. Before we knew it we were economic refugees all over the world, doing odd jobs with strings of university degrees! But even at that, didn't we say that it would be impossible to be nostalgic about the Abacha days? Well, that too is happening already! Didn't we believe that Abacha's would be the only time Nigeria would be reduced to a pariah state? Or can you not see the cloud gathering? That it will be a matter of time before we once again are classified as political refugees? If in the next few months we don't get kicked out of the Commonwealth that will be double standards.
In December 2003, during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments conference in Abuja , Britain and Canada pressured President Obasanjo not to extend invitation to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe . What was Mugabe's crime? He was accused of overstaying in power, tampering with the constitution to extend his rule indefinitely, suppressing opposition and forcefully grabbing lands from white minority farmers and redistributing to the Zimbabweans. For these charges, Mugabe had come under sanction by the West. Obasanjo who was mediating the conflict in Zimbabwe could not even put in a word in favour of Mugabe, let alone call the bluff of Britain . It was more important to him that he was seen sitting next to Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England ! And did he lap it all up!
Today, if there is a Commonwealth conference, will Obasanjo qualify for invitation? He has broken more codes of conduct of the organization that Mugabe did. He started by seeking ways to close the political space to the opposition. So desperate was he that he organized the tampering of the Electoral Act 2001after the National Assembly had approved it. He even encouraged his confederates in that felony to explain that it was printer's devil. Failing to shut out the opposition, thanks to Chief Gani Fawehinmi, he went into the 2003 election with a mindset that made it the most blatantly rigged election yet in the history of Nigeria . The next agenda was to mastermind a constitutional ojoro that was to extend his tenure in office. But since that attempt to extend his rule indefinitely failed, he has continued to lash out at the opposition.
Today, there is no more pretence about it. He has banned the opposition and has done nothing in the last four years except try to get rid of the Vice President and disqualify him from contesting the April election. And he has been doing this illegally. If the Appeal Court did not stop him last Tuesday, he would have dragged the Vice President through the streets in chains. He boasted of it. In his bid to stop the Vice President from contesting the April election, no depth is too low for him to drag the office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic down to. He has seen to it that All Progressives Grand Alliance was disqualified from presenting candidates in the April elections. Mugabe must be smiling that he has a great company!
When Mugabe was fighting the opposition led by Morgan Shvangerai he hid under an otherwise worthy cause, the redistribution of land to Zimbabweans and invoked the bogey of fighting neo-colonialist agents. That got him some sympathy in some places. The world was clapping for Obasanjo for fighting corruption before it dawned on everybody that he was fighting the opposition. An otherwise good policy of anti-corruption has been put to sinister use. It seems the President cannot live down the fact that he has lost the fight to rule forever. He seems recklessly determined to drag the nation down with him. He has obscured the few good works he has done with his anti-democratic behaviour. No matter how much you reform an economy, if the political environment is not conducive, you would have just dragged the nation through needless pain.
Only a fool still lives under the illusion that Obasanjo cares about what you call democracy. He has never been a democrat and never pretended to be one. If democracy is not about his wishes and command then it does not exist in his dictionary. When he was out of office, he formed or attended several political groupings, one of which was the National Unity Organisation. Nobody withdrew his entitlement as a retired General as a result of his political activities. While he was in Abacha's gulag, many retired officers risked their freedom and business to engineer political groupings that fought for his release and restoration of his rights as a retired officer. And I am not sure that anybody withdrew his retirement benefits in 1998 when he was contesting for the presidency. But see how democratic Obasanjo is! For aspiring to serve their country at the highest level, all the retired senior military officers that took part in the last primaries have had their retirement perquisites ordered withdrawn! Obviously, what is good for Obasanjo cannot be good for any other Nigerian! Nigeria is a lone star territory. And the lone star is Obasanjo!
When pro-democracy groups dislodged the military in 1998, Nigerians had a very high expectation for the prospect of democracy in Nigeria . Many thought that the inauguration of Obasanjo's regime in 1999 represented a return to democracy. I did not believe so, and I made my position clear that we had simply begun the real transition to democracy. It was only such transition from the minions and creations of the military that littered the political landscape that would eventually usher Nigeria into a democracy. Many people based their euphoric conclusion on Obasanjo, that having been a Head of State before, having been on the heckling side during Babangida's and Abacha's governments and having experienced unjust imprisonment under a military dictatorship, he would have been mellowed by the experience and humbled by the fact that the nation beckoned on him again to lead and work tirelessly to spare Nigeria the pains of autocracy in the future. What such Nigerians expected of Obasanjo was in the realm of statesmen. But unfortunately Obasanjo chose to be a politician, a vindictive one for that matter, not a statesman. And in my assessment of his second year in office I pointed this out as a grave error.
Since them, democracy has gone downhill under Obasanjo. Only some of his Ministers, not all of them, and favoured and used members of his party, sustain the illusion that the President cares about democracy. Everyday we wake up to find that our president has gone from bad to worse in his democratic record. He seems to have crossed the Rubicon. But we must save our nation and re-launch it on the path of democracy. The way to do it is simply to use our votes now to flush out Obasanjo and his people. Now that he has lost the case to remove his Vice President illegally, he is very likely to lash out the more. And such behaviour cannot serve the cause of democracy. It will drag the economy down with it. It is already so bad that we cannot have electricity for two hours a day, after billions have been poured into the sector by an anti-corruption government! It is no use expecting that Obasanjo will change or that a democrat can be made out of him.
I have many friends in the PDP. I speak up for them as a friend when it does not contradict justice and democracy. The embarrassingly dismal performance of Obasanjo and the PDP has meant that we hardly discuss their politics and in some cases it has meant a parting of ways. But the matter transcends the transient mundane consideration of the present. I am not in the PDP family. It is becoming clearer what the party had always meant when it reduced many national affairs to "family affair". The PDP national chairman presents his wife as Chairperson of a choice Board. The wife of the PDP national chairman is presented as senatorial candidate in Delta. Now the out-going Governor of Imo writes the national chairman of the PDP to substitute his name for Hon Osita Izunaso and that of the wife of the PDP South East Zonal chairman for Okigwe senatorial zone won by Chief Sylvester Anyanwu! The president is imposing Gubernatorial candidate in Adamawa! And every candidate that would contest against the president's daughter in Ogun comes to some peril! Haba!
We can only imagine what another eight years of Obasanjo will do to this country. His methods are beginning to acquire more adherents. Since he started fighting the Vice President so that he does not succeed him, have you seen any Governor that is helping his deputy to succeed him? Another eight years of Obasanjo (that is what it is. Forget these two babies he carries around in a pram) will make Nigeria unrecognizable as a democracy. We have credible alternatives now. Let us dump PDP and Obasanjo for our sake. Let us rekindle our democratic march.