The Bumpy Road to 2011

THISDAY Newspaper

I don’t know if you noticed the uncanny coincidence. After playing so much hide-and-seek, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida eventually unveiled his mask last week, and found the voice to declare his much-touted Presidential ambition. Just like the case of his former best friend, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, IBB’s declaration came several months after the death of his glamorous wife, Maryam Ndidi Babangida. If you remember, Abiola’s sudden but earth-shaking declaration in 1993 came not long after the death of his influential wife, Ayinba Simbiat Atinuke Abiola. There were speculations then that Abiola was able to take such a monumental risk because the only woman who could hold him in check was no longer around to play her matronly role.

There must be some truth in the clairvoyant powers of women. Or how else can one explain the fact that the same Babangida who could not summon the courage when it was most needed in 2007 to take a critical decision has now become the pugilist who’s flexing muscles all over the place shortly after the sad death of his wife? Women are able to way options better. Women don’t jump into risky ventures. It has taken nearly 20 years for the wounds of the annulment of June 12 election to heal. Maryam would probably have envisaged that the bitterness of June 12 won’t ever disappear. She would have seen the type of attacks that are flying from everywhere to Minna at this moment, and would have tried to prevent it. I’m not God but I know that IBB would require more than the dwindling skills of Maradona to make any headway with his political interests this time around.

The jamboree we saw in Maryam’s homestead of Asaba, Delta State, last week was in my view less than decent and sensitive. Here was a husband and father who was visiting his wife’s family, probably for the first time in God knows how many years, with their children and was captured in public campaigning away at what should have been a sorrowful occasion.

I could not believe that none of the retirees who accompanied IBB to Asaba could talk him out of the morbid dance. What was worse, his wife had just gone through the most excruciating pain of cancer, and lost her battle for life. If the case had been the other way round, Maryam would have been compelled by a chauvinistic society and tradition to observe a mourning period of complete abstinence for a minimum of one year. But men must be men in Africa. We are allowed to get away with anything while our women are subjected to cultural manipulations.

IBB could not wait long enough for Maryam to return to dust before diving into the murky pool of Nigerian politics. What is in this power that makes it such a consuming passion? His handlers too could never see anything wrong in a widower playing politics with the death of his wife. His in-laws also could not see any act of indecorum in rolling out the drums at an occasion that required absolute state of sober reflections. The soldiers of fortune were readily available to give credence to the perception that we are indeed the happiest people on earth. IBB wasted no opportunity in bagging another big title in Asaba for additional effects.

The quintessential master of semantics had metamorphosed into a born-again activist as he raised his fist skywards like Fidel Castro, except that here was a different kind of revolutionary. He was at his eloquent best and the man who would be king left no one in doubt of his intentions this time around. He was surrounded by his ubiquitous friends, mostly Retired Army Generals, the first indication that we are in for the same old game, and that nothing would change if the unthinkable happens next year.

It was certain that we are in for another bumpy ride as the fateful year of 2011 draws closer. IBB’s men were already warming up for their triumphant return to our Jerusalem. It is often good to dream, but what I saw of IBB’s latest adventure is a nightmare. His boys were already heckling anyone who dared to suggest that IBB’s ambition will soon evaporate into thin air. The cheekiest of them all is my rambunctious brother Kazeem Afegbua who comes from my neck of woods in Edo State and challenged me to a popularity contest with IBB. What chicanery?

Anyway, I’m ready to accept the wonderful challenge with every sense of humility and purpose. And wish to assure my brother that with the level of anger and frustration I see all over our despoiled land, I will defeat IBB in a free and fair contest, even if I can’t beat any other candidate. I’m convinced that Nigeria and Nigerians have moved beyond the backwardness of 1993. The time has come for us to begin to dismantle old and archaic myths. We must smash to smithereens the oppressive tendencies that only a group of people can rule in a country of about 150 million people. We must encourage the best of Nigeria that litter every part of the world to leave their comfort zones to participate at all levels in the onerous tasks of nation building.

We shall deal with relevant details elsewhere. It is pertinent to respond to the latest outburst from Mallam Adamu Ciroma, who went all out to canvass the unconvincing argument that only a Northerner must rule Nigeria in 2011 because of a gentleman’s agreement reached with the Obasanjo government on his departure in 2007. He even gave the impression that the North shot down the elongation plan of General Matthew Olusegun Okikiolakan Aremu Obasanjo, just as he studiously ignored the fact that most of his kinsmen in Yorubaland were virulently opposed to the misadventure.

I really don’t care where the President of Nigeria comes from next year. The President must be a Nigerian citizen who enjoys wide appeal from most Nigerians after going through a transparent electoral process. Ciroma’s unacceptable assumption is that the ruling party, PDP, must win next year’s election when from all indications the party has an abysmal record of failure on all fronts. Nigeria cannot afford another four years of a party without a Manifesto and ideology, a party of warlords who have shown no concern for urgent developments in our country. Their attitude is that we have all the time in the world to build our nation. For all they care, we can reach our destination in the next millennium, not a big deal. But most Nigerians are now quite desperate than ever. We want a change, and it matters not who the harbinger of the good news is.

Nigerians have been too patient and lenient with the PDP. But that has now led to a state of hopelessness and despair. What then informed Ciroma’s confidence that Nigerians would accept any fabricated candidate the North offers next year against conventional wisdom that Nigerians are sick and tired of this vicious cycle? The poor and the rich are crying and consoling each other in an unprecedented show of solidarity these days. I know many Northerners who don’t share the views of our boss Ciroma. They are embarrassed that the North has ruled for so long in the chequered history of Nigeria with nothing to show for it. They feel they fared better under the governments of Southerners.

What of the zones that have never produced any of our Presidents whether military or civilian? What has the South gained from recycling a few of their people? Nothing but misery! Truth is always bitter, but it must always be told. Take a drive around Nigeria and what confronts you is the heart of darkness in the metaphorical sense of it. You are rattled by a leadership without ambition, a people who believe we don’t deserve the good things of life.

No Nigerian has the right to talk down on fellow citizens. We are Free-born citizens and not descendants of Slaves. Every Nigerian should be qualified to aspire to any level of his dreams. We applauded America when the son of a Kenyan immigrant became the most powerful man on earth, but are we ready to embrace the same type of tolerance here? Educated Nigerians often behave like stark illiterates when issues move in the direction of politics and religion.

We have an Acting President who comes from the South-South of Nigeria for the first time, a region that supplies all our claims to fabulous wealth. Is it not an insult on this gentleman that he’s been tactically elbowed out of the race by Adamu Ciroma and company? Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to all intents and purposes is the new kid on the block in Nigeria, and his recent performance in the United States should be an indicator to the fact that this luckiest Nigerian should never be underestimated. He returns home as a hero who did us proud on his first major outing as Acting President.

Something tells me that if there were doubts before of Jonathan running the race next year, such molecules of indecision would have disappeared by now. Dr Jonathan has endeared himself to the world by his cool mien and relaxed confidence while on world stage. He would be less than human to resist the temptation of taking a powerful shot at the Presidency next year. From all indications, the man is set to take the biggest risk of his incredible life, and I think he should in order to reposition as a true democratic country where no man shall be oppressed by his fellow citizen. And I can’t really see any major challenger yet amongst the pack of timid aspirants who have not been able to issue one policy statement on the state of our nation but want to be President. The only one being paraded as the sure bet by his cronies will soon chicken out when the kitchen gets too hot. Under what power or Constitutional authority would Ciroma and his co-travellers bully Dr Jonathan away from contesting if and when he so decides?

I also take exceptions to the veiled threats by Ciroma that no one should contemplate removing the obviously incapacitated President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua from office. I’m really surprised that my senior colleague cannot rise above ethnic jingoism at this time and age. The call for Yar’ Adua’s removal on account of his ill-health is not a wicked or mischievous call. No one wished him any evil. Despite the manner Dr Jonathan has been humiliated by President Yar’ Adua’s family, he has handled the situation well and with maturity.

Our President requires total and better attention than what he’s being forced to receive in the gilded cage of Aso Rock at the moment. It is shameful the way his family is misbehaving as if the presidency is more important than his life. Most Nigerians will definitely support flying the President out to anywhere of the family’s choice where he can find the cure for his ailments. But his family would rather subject him to the unfair indignity we’ve all witnessed these past months. Ciroma should therefore direct his anger elsewhere. Nigerians are more interested in that change agent, and it matters not where he comes from. The road might be very bumpy but Nigerians have the resilience to achieve the impossible.


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