A tale… full of sound and fury
When a story in the public domain is retold with un-refreshing inexactitude or irrelevance by a raconteur, the audience is bored by it and intellectually retorts with a disdainful or dis – interested “… and so what?” To give an old tale renewed currency, it must be re-stated with a polemical ardour that interrogates pre-existing biases, tendencies or inclinations concerning it. It is trite to regurgitate an ancient story to an audience that is many generations distant from the event or affair without situating the story in the present circumstances of the audience’s relative advantage in education, of its possession of better analytical tools, and of its general upmanship or savvy.
The issue whether Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the just-concluded general elections may or may not be a Nigerian will appear to be tangential and of little interest except to lawyers in their concourses, particularly when they don their wig and gown within the hallowed precincts of the court room. It is a moot point whether the lawyers who filed the “Atiku is not a Nigerian” pleading intended it to be an answer to Atiku’s petition or it is just to score a cheap debating point. Or is it, as lawyers say, just to “cover the field” even as its drafters sweated to draft a fitting reply to Atiku’s concise or comprehensive petition. But the issues thrown up by Atiku’s challengers are too deep and not just axiomatic as to be left to the trade tactics or whims of lawyers in court. The matter runs deep and is located in the inner recesses of our collective consciousness. For many, the question is idle because it can only be resolved, not by reasoned disputation but on the turf of temperament or predilection depending on where the narrator stands or is coming from.
There must be something utterly wrong with a system that dis-allows people from possessing the capacity to act with disinterestedness or despatch. Our general defect will appear to be a lack of enthusiasm for the truth when we are faced with it. We have nothing of the crusader in us. We are probably too cynical. We love to truckle or behave with servility to certain interests. It is evident that our poise as a people is purely personal or egotistical. Our attitude to things that threaten our survival is misleading in practice. We are too lilly-livered to speak truth to power. More illuminating of our country’s problems is the unfortunate ferment of conspiratorial silences noticeable particularly among the enlightened or intellectual class. There is a growing sense of cynicism even among erstwhile idealistic muckraker groups. The failure to continue to espouse ennobling values is dramatised in the current effeminate status of erstwhile vibrant, cerebral and voluble civil society organisations. There is an urgent requirement to re-ignite the old fire in them.
The story being bandied regarding alleged foreignness or non-nativeness of Atiku Abubakar is a story that is cast in the present tense but one which is interrogating the subject matter in an antiquated format. Wherever he was born or where his parents come from (now we know it is Wurno, in Sokoto State), the fact of his long and officially-pronounced glittering or meritorious service to Nigeria has stiffened the already predominant sentiment in his favour. It is too cheap to clamp a charge of being a foreigner on Atiku.
It rankles even as it has pitted its proponents against reason and history. Atiku joined the Nigerian public service and rose to one of the highest positions in the Customs Service. One is persuaded, granting his high watermark connection, that Atiku would have been that service’s Comptroller-General in the 1980s if he had dared. He however chose the uncertain or giddy route to stardom. He enlisted in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. A front-liner, he had been a member of virtually all the premier political parties since 1993. Fate smiled on him when Obasanjo invited him to pair with him in 1999 as Vice President. They won that election and for two consecutive terms (1999-2007), Atiku was the second most powerful man in Nigeria. A most vexatious problem however ensued between him and the man he shared power with.
The two of them managed to tolerate each other, anxiously waiting for their term to run out with the effluxion of time. Atiku joined forces with the opposition to found a new assemblage of parties culminating in what is now known as All Progressives Congress (APC). The party defeated the ruling PDP in what turned out to be an un-usual happenstance. He unsuccessfully sought the ticket of the party to be its flag bearer. He however bore his pain with philosophic aplomb but no one was in doubt that his heart was mulling other proposals. He quit the APC to prepare to run for the ticket of the PDP. He eventually received the approval of the party to run as its presidential candidate. He ran with great vigour. The election concluded, his rival was declared winner. Not satisfied with the umpire’s decision, he has approached the Election Petition Tribunal.
Unsettled by Atiku’s audacious petition, the APC and President Buhari have “stumbled” on the fact that their challenger, going by some egregious or in-elegant reading of the constitution, is not a Nigerian by birth to contest for the office of President.
It should however be deemed forgiveless or irresponsible for the Nigerian legal system, the Nigerian constitution and persons who are in authority or who are charged with the responsibility for ensuring the enforcement of rules, etc to have for so long been remiss and so in many significant respects. For how long could a foreigner remain with us occupying offices of state reserved for Nigerian citizens without us recognising the malfeasance until when we have come to identify him as a serious threat to some personal ambition or to some sagging popularity? The maxim that the law does not aid the un-vigilant or indolent expressed in Latin as “vigilantibus et non dormeientibus jura subveniunt” finds poignant signification here. For reasons that the Nigerian state literally slept on her rights, she is estopped from doing anything that may be considered to be inconsistent with her prevailing tardiness, sluggishness or plain mischief.
More than anything else, the Nigerian nation urgently needs an element of reasoned restraint and limitation deliberately structured into her political machine in the interest of everybody – the restive and nationally-conscious ethnic minorities, the alienated middle class, the religious community, the academia, etc. This cannot be achieved without a radical overhaul in our political arrangement. At the moment, we are suffering from the basic paradox of all un-stable societies – an excess of authority coupled with an insufficiency of stability and order. The Shugaba affair was an exercise in excess of authority even as the present nation-wide reign of terror and violence speaks to the insufficiency of order.
The “Atiku is not a Nigerian” advocacy is perverse in the extreme. It reminds one of Shakespeare’s apt depiction of the drama of human existence which a character in Macbeth sums up as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. This up-turned Atiku saga is one such tale told by a nincompoop.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja