It has come to light that two former presidents of Nigeria are having a feisty and open verbal clash. They are presidents IBB and OBJ. This public spat on the pages of national dailies would have been comical and highly entertaining were it not for the lamentable reality that one is forced to contemplate.
Former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came into power on the back of a coup against the Buhari government in 1985. He then ruled Nigeria with despotic tightfistedness for 8 years. Indeed, he would very much have wanted to continue his maladministration were it not for a widespread and seemingly national outcry against his continued reign. He finally surrendered power after having looted the country to her knees. In 1999, President Matthew Okikiola Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo took office; like IBB he ruled for 8 years as well. And much like IBB, his government was characterized by misappropriation, mishandling and wholesale plundering of the national coffers. Guess who bore the brunt of their administrative incompetence and malfeasance? Yes, you are right—the impoverished, desperate and struggling masses.
How lamentable it must be for these unvarnished brigands to strut around insulting the sensibilities of the long-suffering Nigerian by unashamedly claiming to have respectively governed Nigeria well! It is one thing for a pair of feuding septuagenarian erstwhile generalissimos of the Nigerian armed forces to rubbish their respective governments for their glaring incompetence. In that, I wish them well and I encourage them to highlight all their sordid past records for all to see and remember. If anything, it shows that these godfathers of Nigerian politics are altogether not oblivious of the pervasive rot and decay that has characterized their respective administrations—no matter how much they pretend to be disconnected from the cries and plight of the suffering masses. They know too well how they have pilfered to the tune of billions of dollars, and how that has manifested in the shambolic infrastructure, a culture of looting, and the incompetent institutions they bequeathed to successive administrations.
Nevertheless, it is an entirely different matter to brazenly claim their respective governments to have been beacons of progress, stability and excellence. It requires an amazing dedication to duplicity for them to present their myopic and niggardly records as though they were architects of massive economic boons. The unfortunate thing is that there are many downtrodden Nigerians who would undoubtedly find themselves unwittingly drawn into one of the two camps: cheering loudly for their perceived hero and lobbing vicious accusations at their perceived villain. The truth however is that these two feuding former Aso rock occupants are really two sides of the same ugly coin. While some are cheering on the national show of shame, there are already concerned former stakeholders and generals convening meetings to get these ugly fiends to sheath their swords so as not to unwittingly upset their stringent hold on power. As far as I am concerned, they could call themselves FOOLS till they literally turn blue in the face; they could expostulate against the perceived mischaracterizations of their respective tenures in office till the cows come home, alert Nigerians will always refused to be suckered in. How true it is that there is indeed no honor amongst thieves.
Politics, we have often been cynically reminded, is a dirty game. It is a game that participants have to employ whatever means necessary to win; sometimes politicians have to do incredible somersaults or reverse their principles for short term electoral gains. However, politics can also be an interesting game. When one dispassionately analyzes the actions taken by the key figures especially towards an election, one can’t help but smile at the intricate maneuverings going on. Yes, I am talking about the backroom deals; the bonds forged in secret places; a ‘convenient’ marriage of self-interests by sometimes radically different people for the purpose of securing a victory at the polls. Such scheming, wheeling and dealing is certainly familiar to Nigerian politicians—at least one expects such rather than the all-too-familiar bloodletting that happens whenever there are elections in Nigeria.
It is that time again in Nigeria: 2011 is a presidential election year.
For the uninitiated, elections are a particularly difficult enterprise in this 150 million-strong nation of disparate faiths, political views and ethnic nationalities. Routinely marred by violence and gross electoral misconduct, many Nigerians have gradually grown cynical and distrustful of the whole process. And they are not to blame—several times, the clear mandate and choice of the people are scuttled by dirty and compromised election officials, choosing instead to impose on the people a pre-selected favorite of the hegemon in Aso Rock.
There is also the issue of the superabundance of political party platforms, each one seemingly regional in design. For the country to make any meaningful progress past the familiar tribal or ethnic politics which has retarded the country’s expected exponential development, it is necessary to have stable political institutions and parties which are not only national in scope but truly perceived to be so. That has not been the case in Nigeria. Thus, what one observes is a hodgepodge of small and unviable political arrangements, usually on a regional or geographical scale, vying to win local elections, but at the same time pretending to have the capacity to compete on a national scale. On the national scale it would appear, there is only one party that truly exists and that is the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Having no credible or evenly matched opposition, the PDP has evolved into a vicious monster with ever-increasing taste for unchecked power. This, unsurprisingly, came with disastrous consequences.
After 16 years of military rule, President Obasanjo was sworn into power in 1999. When he left in 2007, he masterminded the ascension to office of one Alhaji Umaru Yaradua, then governor of Katsina state. I do not want to bother you at this point with the intricate political maneuverings that occurred when Obasanjo decided that he wanted to amend the constitution to allow him to run for the third time. He almost won that exercise were it not for principled opposition. Ironically, his own vice-president was counted amongst the ranks of a massive public outcry against Obasanjo’s self-succession plans. I suppose that ‘betrayal’ was never forgiven by Obasanjo; we can see from his actions that he swore that since his own VP was bold enough to kick against his political machinations, he would also go out of his way to prevent erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar from ever becoming the president of Nigeria.
Fast forward to 2010…