Yar'Adua: Of smoke and mirrows

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper-Reuben Abati

WHAT is currently at stake is the sovereign integrity of Nigeria. Times such as this require people to stand up for the fatherland so they can go to bed at night to say, after a fashion, that "I have done my best for my fatherland." How many persons can say so, right now? Civil society may be showing great potential, but the duplicity of the political parties and of the professional political elite is something to be recorded for posterity as veritable evidence of the fact that elections do not necessarily throw up the best people in the land. The bad conduct at the highest levels over the ill-health of President Yar'Adua must serve as motivation for the people in future elections to subject candidates and their sponsors to far greater scrutiny than had hitherto been attempted. It is the only way to rescue and grow Nigerian democracy. Beginning the process towards that should be part of the harvest of the re-awakening that the sordid Yar'Adua saga compels. Institutions have also failed and are failing us at this critical moment. It is taking almost forever for the federal legislative assembly and the Executive Council of the Federation to wake up to what is obviously a straightforward challenge. Nigeria has become as sick as its President, as all the relevant departments of state engage in a game of smoke and mirrors.

The latest institution whose role has been called to question in the unfolding drama of smoking mirrors is the military. The military hierarchy has been trying to play down the implications of the wrongful deployment of troops the night Yar'Adua returned stealthily from a Saudi Arabian health facility. Careful attention needs to be paid however, to the scare-mongering that a military coup could become part of the on-going tragedy. By early February, there had been reports about the military taking pre-emptive steps to forestall soldiers being dragged into the country's politics by ambitious politicians. To this effect, the movement of soldiers was restricted to within 30 kilometres from their base, except a pass is granted. Inter-barrack movement was also restricted, with an express order that all mammy markets within barracks should be shut by 6 p.m. Why? Coup-plotters allegedly hatch their plots over pepper soup! At a recent training exercise, a military chieftain gave the rank and file lectures on the sacredness of their duty to protect democracy. The Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff have repeatedly reassured the public that the military is fully conscious of its Constitutional responsibilities. You don't give such sermons, almost endlessly, unless you are aware that there are problems. The deployment of troops without proper authorization on February 24 was a Freudian slip of sorts.

Troops don't just move; they go on operations. When the safety of the ailing President was the issue, there must have been communications, signals and decisions taken at the highest levels. By doing all of that without reference to the Commander-in-Chief, someone was trying to test the waters. The condemnation that the gamble has invited shows that it was a dress rehearsal that went bad. By now in some other jurisdictions, the Service Chiefs would have been summoned by the National Assembly and an enquiry instituted. That is what should be done to send a strong statement that irregular movements by soldiers will not be condoned. Besides, such an enquiry could provide useful education for the public about the role of the Brigade of Guards. One ex-Security Chief has accused the public of ignorance about the role of the Brigade of Guards, stating that the Guards could sometimes act on their own, to protect the Presidency. Could that be why the Guards refused to take orders from Brig-General Ogundipe in 1966? And in 2010, does the Nigerian military recognise a body called the National Assembly and feel bound by its resolutions?

A strong sub-text to the Yar'Adua shenanigan is that the uncertainty it has generated has driven the country to the brink. It has created unwittingly such anxiety in the land which has brought to the fore all the objective conditions for a military intervention. Commentators on the Nigerian crisis are calling for stability, because it is obvious that the country is drifting. The controversial application of "the doctrine of necessity" was meant to prevent the vacuum that had been created at the top. Although the caveat must be that the Governors Forum and the National Assembly suddenly made a detour in that direction more than 80 days after the Yar'Adua story broke, not necessarily because they loved the country that much, but to save their own jobs and prevent a possible trip to military detention. In the past two months, there have been bold suggestions that Nigeria probably needs to give the political elite "the Rawlings treatment." These politicians may not care so much about Nigeria but they do not want to lose their heads or their loot. The politics of Yar'Adua's illness, the failures of the administration, the smoky power tussle in Abuja, electoral crisis, the mayhem in Jos, the Boko Haram, the tensions within the economy, the continual erosion of hope, and the general anguish in the land all raise the logical question: Who will save Nigeria? The emergence at this time, and in this context, of the Wole Soyinka/Femi Falana/Okei-Odumakin/Tunde Bakare-led group, the To Save Nigeria Movement underscores the appositeness of that question. Put differently, the question should be: Who will save Nigeria's democracy?

Bad behaviour by the political leadership - military or civilian - was always what was needed as justification for the disquiet in the barracks that has been reported. The military have every reason to consider themselves an important part of a nation's contract. They are perhaps the only professionals with a life-time contract of engagement. But military rule did not serve Nigeria well, due to the conflictual interpretation of its role. It also, in that process, laid the foundation for the lootocracy and the culture of impunity that have become part of the country's political culture. It soon became discredited but whereas retired soldiers have found a new vocation in professional politics, an increasingly natural transition, the attitudes of old have not changed. The new democrats behave like soldiers.

From being the product of a flawed electoral process which the people overlooked, the Yar'Adua "family" is trying to turn the matter of his illness into an occasion for dictatorship and a vicious battle for control. The Jonathan forces, backed by the international community and a vocal civil society, have won a reprieve with the return of Jonathan to contention. Those who are calling for an early election, which has now suddenly showed up as part of the discourse, another resort to expediency obviously, either want to help Maurice Iwu keep his job, or they want a quick and decisive end to the Yar'Adua presidency without sacrificing legitimacy. The politicians are confused. The lesson of the incident in Niger is that African leaders expressing the death-wish must be stopped before they bring costly damage to the polity. In Niger, Mamadou Tandja was allowed to impose himself on the people, the quality of resistance to him was weaker than his resolve. It has taken the military to put an end to his impunity.

The Nigerian political class should stop acting as if it is also asking for such a death sentence. Those who are called upon by special historical moments to play a role must do so patriotically. This is the Jonathan moment. So much rests on society, but even more on him. He is required at this critical time to stand up for his fatherland. Is he ready to make the sacrifice or not? He is beginning to play the old game, searching for straws, egged on by a compromised National Assembly, a self-seeking Governors' Forum and a confused PDP. By now, in their reckoning, they have managed to work everything out. President Yar'Adua has been turned into a ghost, with all kinds of persons claiming to have sighted him: either playing with grandchildren or drinking coffee, or moving out of an ambulance, and Nigerians are expected to accept the apparition and the evidence of those who have seen him, while Jonathan presides over an Executive Council that seems to do nothing other than to award contracts. So much smoke in their hall of mirrors.

I do not consider it an innocent act, for example, that the man who has been appointed the Chairman of Jonathan's Presidential Advisory Council is General Theophilus Danjuma. Danjuma has no business advising Jonathan on policy. What policy? Where was Jonathan when this General, less than a fortnight ago, reportedly boasted about how he made one billion dollars from the sale of an oil bloc that was "gifted" to him by General Sani Abacha, and the problems he had spending the $500 million that became his profit. In a serious country, on the strength of that statement alone, the Inland Revenue Service would double-check his tax records to see how much of that he paid to the state. And well, sale of oil bloc? That is another contentious matter. It can't be that Danjuma is being rewarded with another shot in the sun because he knows how to make $500 million. Jonathan obviously needs him because he has a reputation as an influential military General. Does he need the General, who is also said to be a likely Vice President, in the event of a full Jonathan Presidency, in order to quieten the boys, both serving and retired? Or is General Danjuma now in the shadows in order to reassure the political North? Where is Yar'Adua's Presidential Advisory Council? Has that body been dissolved? Has anyone told the members that they are no longer needed?

Every guardian of the Nigerian state, particularly civil society must recognise current developments in the polity for what they are: smokes and mirrors are being presented as truths and realities, a clash of power blocs seeking control and a set of circumstances which further discount the people. What is the very purpose of leadership? Are we serious about the practice of democracy? With the military making us anxious, and the politicians behaving badly, the biggest protection against all that is happening must be the vigilance and determination of civil society to protect our democracy and to see the basis for its defence at all times, not the deployment of troops onto the streets of Nigeria to achieve political ends.


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