OBASANJO’S LETTER GUNNING FOR THE SOUL OF DEMOCRACY
BY ALFRED ILENRE.
The open letter of appeal by General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerian president 1999-2007 to President Goodluck Jonathan has continued to generate public debates in the Nigerian media. There are several views, for and against, some sensible and some senseless.
One point that was made clear in the Obasanjo letter is the fact that Nigeria has a fundamental problem with a long history to resolve.
The fact remains that the societal maladies mentioned in Obasanjo’s letter as bad as they may be, did not start with the President Jonathan administration. To continue to blame the systemic failure of Nigeria caused by decades of military rule on President Jonathan is to deliberately choose the path of deceit and confusion.
Ever before and after independence there were opinions, observations, fears and predictions that the centrally controlled system imposed on the Nigerian nation state may not endure and survive against the overwhelming forces of ethnic and sectional loyalties.
Said, Sir Alan Burns, a British Administrator and historian in 1904, six years after Miss Flora Shaw a British lady journalist had created the label Nigeria meaning the area around the River Niger. “There is no Nigeria nation, no Nigeria language and no Nigeria tradition, the very name Nigeria was invented by the British to describe a country inhabited by a medley of formally warring tribes, with no common culture and united only in so far as they are governed by a single power”.
“Nigeria is a mere collection of self contained and mutually – independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, by difference of history and tradition and by ethnological, racial, tribal and religious barriers” – Hugh Clifford 1914 Governor General.
“Nigeria is perhaps the most artificial of the many administrative units created in the course of European occupation of Africa”– Lord Malcom Hailey 1955
“The Nigeria State is “a notoriously precarious lumping together of people whose separate identity is at least as real a matter as their acceptance of national unity” – Rupert Emerson 1960, A British Notable
‘There is no universally acceptable and understood rationale for the existence and functioning of a state called Nigeria and efforts at an artificial creation of a national mythology, a Nigeria ideology will be unproductive because of overwhelming forces arraigned against it from the side of tribalism, regional diversities and culture chasms. Neither the masses nor the elite can be expected under these conditions to develop the kind of perspective – durable, constant and in dept – requiring and bringing forth sacrifices, intense devotion and loyalty, discipline, dedication and faith. Henry Bretton 1960, a British Historian
“In nearly all the matters which concern the ordinary Nigerian citizen, it is of the regional government that he is thinking when he thinks of government at all. The most important functions for the federal government for the future are just defence and external affairs” – Henry Willink 1958
“I support the Biafran cause not because Nigerian leaders are corrupt, there are corrupt leaders everywhere. I support the Biafrian struggle for national sovereignty because Nigeria is too big and complex for one man to rule.
President Charles De’Gaule of France 1968, during the Nigeria – Biafra war.
It was in consideration of these geopolitical and ecological realities that the Nigerian nationalists agreed to a federal union with regional autonomy for the corporate parts, the policies which the military later abandoned on coming to power.
General Obasanjo made so many furious allegations against President Jonathan and his team, some which are: that the President surrounded himself with sycophants, that he is disloyal to his party and does not observe the P D P ground rules: that over 1000 people have been kept on political watch list: that there was a presidential assistance to get a condemned murderer out of jail; that the government is secretly acquiring weapons, hiring and training snipers at the same underworld venue where the late General Abacha trained his hired assassins; that there was a shady deal between the President and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in 2011 for political gains and many more. The proof of these allegations are neither here nor there as they all look more like the same kind of vulgar abuses, rumors and gossips the opposition parties had continued to heap on the President Jonathan administration since his election in 2011.
General Obasanjo has to do more to help the undiscerning public by providing them with evidences to enable them reach their conclusions.
The Nigerian military departed from power 14 years age in 1999, after over 30 years of a barren rule. The index of military officers who rose to power through coup d’état or through democratic processes between 1950 and the 2000 all over the world shows that only seven made some elements of success of civil governance. They are; General Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamel Naser of Egypt, General Park of South Korea, General Suharto of Indonesia, General De’Gaule of France, General Pinochet of Chile and General Eisenhower of the United states of America. Yet, there is the caveat that they would have done better in office but for their military background. Politics with all its complications and complexities is not a game for Generals.
It is time to tell ourselves the home truth that corrupt practices in Nigerian is due to so many factors including the imposition a unitary system of Government on Nigeria coupled with the infliction of the 1999 Unitarian presidential constitution on the country instead of taking us back to the independence constitution that made provisions for the practice of true federalism.
Some of us have been around since the Nigerian independence and have found nothing on record to prove that the present administration is doing less than the previous government. For the first time we see state budgets being implemented by the civil servants unlike in the past when a few bureaucrats shared the fund among themselves, members of their families and their friends
General Obasanjo’s letter has further exhibited the high level of ignorance, lack of knowledge and information of the Nigerian state about the plight of the Niger Delta people. Development experts had always said that the nature of the NigerDelta makes development expensive and in some cases impossible.
The Henry Willink Commission set up in 1957 by the colonial administration to look into the fears of the minorities and the means of allaying them submitted its report in 1958. It has this to say about the Ijaw tribe, “the Ijaw division is inhabited mainly by the Ijaw tribe of whom there are some 80,000 in the West but over 250,000 in the creek and swamps of the Eastern Region. They are said to be a people who have lived in the area now called Nigeria longer than any other of the large tribes and probably pushed down into the Delta area in times of which no record has survived. “The country in which they live is divided by creeks and inlets of the sea and of the Niger River into many small islands which no where rises above the highest tides and floods; their transport is by water and the construction of roads or railways would be prohibitively expensive. Theirs is a country which through no fault of man, has been neglected and which is unlikely ever to be highly developed; they are distinct in their language and customs from either the Edo speakers or the Yoruba”
The Niger Delta Development Corporation which was established in 1960 at the outset of independence to develop the region as a special area was abandoned throughout the 30 years of military rule in which Obasanjo played an active part.
Many of the younger elements in the Niger Delta including the late Adaka Boro and the late Ken Saro-Wiwa who tried to sensitize other Nigerians to know about the harsh environment under which the people live met with violent death in the hands of state agents who saw them as intolerable irritants that must be stopped. Nigeria has been so unfair to the Niger Delta people.
General Obasanjo said and correctly too that the international community knows us as we are and may be more than we claim to know of our selves. It is observed that most of the decisions the Nigerian federation had taken about the Niger Delta in the last three decades at the international scene had only put the country at odd with the rest part of the human race.
It has been established within the international community that the situation in centrally controlled nation states is worse than the situation under slavery and colonialism.
In 2007, when the United Nations voted for the adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after 20 years of debates at the floor of the General Assembly in New York, the whole of Asia led by India, the whole of Latin America led by Brazil, the whole of the European Union including the UK, the Commonwealth of Independent States, South Africa, Ghana and some progressive minded African states voted for the Declaration Nigeria was among the only 13 African states that abstained from voting.
It is true that Nigeria has lost its prestige and integrity both at home and abroad, since the beginning of the democratic experiment in 1999, due to its policies and actions at the International scene which have become embarrassing.
Those calling for the indictment of President Jonathan or even making attempt at impeachment are not fair to the political class and they know it. The political class had been the most maligned in the 30 years of military ruling in Nigeria.
As soon as the military took over power in 1966, they consolidated the executive arm of government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the Foreign Service, cultivated the media, dismissed the constitution and left the political class in the cold and in the wilderness of misery. If the politicians are bungling in their actions today it is because they have no political elders from whom to learn the ropes. Though lack experience, the political class should know that the General Obasanjo’s open letter is only gunning for the soul of democracy in Nigeria. It is wrong to continue to stress only on National unity without regard for ethnic diversity.
It is General Obasanjo by the contents of his open letter that should be invited to throw more light into his allegations and how to move the country forward and not the other way round.
Reading through all the wild allegations leveled against President Jonathan by General Obasanjo reminds me of the false and horrible allegation by political opponent against the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the Action Group and his colleagues in the first republic that led to the culture of violence that has griped Nigeria since 1962.
All that has been said in Obasanjo’s 18 page open letter can be summed up in only one word – duplicitous.
Alfred Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa (EMIROAF).