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The glow beyond the gloom


Even the disastrous Abacha regime is today being referred to as part of ‘those good old days’ which the average Nigerian recalls with bewildering nostalgia. By its tragic record of non-performance, the Obasanjo-Yar’Adua decade, from 1999 to 2009, has merely succeeded in canonising Abacha whose place in Nigerian history as the most sanguinary, corrupt and incompetent leader is otherwise incontestable. Imagine Ugandans passionately wishing for a return to the gory days of Idi Amin! If the average Nigerian today yearns for the ignoble past like a dog return to its vomit, the incumbent regime of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua must accept full responsibility for this unfortunate development, in spite of a much-touted seven-point agenda which finds fulfilment largely on national television screens.

We are confronted daily with tales of present woes and future disaster. The media have earned the reputation of being the carriers of bad news, with hardly any good news to report. But to the journalist, bad news is good news because it sells the newspaper faster. The more devastating the event, the more newsworthy it becomes. Thus, newspapers have become ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’, with their screaming headlines which highlight the doom rather than the boom, which speak of the pain of failure rather than the gain of success, and which foretell the imminent gloom rather than the immanent glow. With such a progressively bleak future, is there any hope of recovery for this country?

Frankly speaking, there is a firm basis for the growing pessimism of the average Nigerian. In spite of the enormous human and material resources with which the country is endowed, we are saddled with a nefarious set of politicians who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven, and thus have made this country one hell of a place for everybody. We cry of the growing incidence of kidnapping into which the armed robbers have graduated, forgetting that the real armed robbers and kidnappers are those who violently stole the people’s mandate and now hold us all hostage, with the entire public treasury as our ransom price.

Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism. There are many instances of nations in contemporary history, within and outside Africa, which have once hit the nadir but are now well on their way to the summit, against previous hope and expectation. To buttress my point, I shall focus on only two countries – both of them in Africa – that have made remarkable recovery within living memory. No prize for guessing that I have South Africa and Ghana in mind. These are two countries that have surely tasted the bitter life at the bottom of the valley, with all its anguish, frustrations and despair, but are now climbing steadily to the summit of true nationhood.

It is no hyperbole to state that, under the apartheid regime, South Africa was the most hated nation on earth. She was a pariah nation whom no other nation wanted to touch, even with the longest pole. Apartheid South Africa was hated with a passion and avoided like a plague, even by western countries whose kith and kin were trapped in the political miasma. Individuals who had mandatory reasons to pay private visits to apartheid South Africa were usually secretive about such trips, lest they be politically quarantined for visiting an infested nation, akin to visiting a leper colony. South Africa was banned from all international sporting competitions, and touring sports clubs that defied the ban faced thorough condemnation by the rest of the world. Wide-ranging economic sanctions were imposed to bring the evil regime to its knees. Meanwhile, Nelson Mandela, the legitimate leader of the masses, remained in jail.

The turning-point for South Africa came in February, 1990. F. W. de Klerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, unlocked the prison door, in a rare show of courage and statesmanship, and Nelson Mandela walked out a free man. Four years later, Mandela assumed the presidency of a new South Africa. In December 1996, President Nelson Mandela signed a new South African constitution into law, with substantial rights for the non-black minority in that multiracial community. For achieving, in a bloodless manner, a political revolution which decades of bloody conflict could not achieve, F. W. de Clerk and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

For a man who spent twenty-seven years of his life in solitary confinement for the sake of his country, Mandela would have got the life-presidency on a platter of gold if he had asked for it. But, no, he did not want a second term, talk less of a third! And within that single term of five years, he laid a solid foundation for multiracial democracy in South Africa, which Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, in spite of their individual weaknesses, have done well to sustain. In less than two decades, the erstwhile pariah nation has become the toast of the world, and Nelson Mandela ranks tall as one of the first 10 greatest leaders in world history. A country that was banned from all international sporting competitions up till 1990 is now due to host the first-ever World Cup in Africa in 2010! What turn-around can be greater than that?

Next is neighbouring Ghana. Less than 40 years ago, in the 1970s, Ghanaians literally littered the West African coast as economic refugees from a country that had been written off as more or less a failed State. Since the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, the country had floundered from one military regime to another. Most Ghanaians emptied into oil-rich Nigeria where they could be found plying one menial trade or the other, from cobbling to itinerant tailoring. I remember my good friend, Edward Mensah, in Kaduna, in the mid-1970s, a really pleasant chap. He was a university graduate, but found himself running a local motor mechanical workshop as the typical Ghanaian refugee, suffering from his country’s maladministration.

Soon the agitation began: Ghana must go! And Ghanaians did leave in droves, their meagre possessions stuffed inside Ghana-Must-Go bags, heading back home, for rehabilitation. A socio-political revolution was in the making. J. J. Rawlings had just served the erstwhile corrupt military leaders a raw, bloody deal, and the country was shaken to her very foundations. Then the recovery process began and transparency became the order of the day. Democracy began to take firm root as one regime smoothly handed over to the next without rancour or bitterness. The greatest test came with the last presidential election in 2008, fielding two equally popular candidates.

The election was stalemated, but the truly independent electoral body carefully sorted it out in a manner that was completely transparent. The candidate of the ruling party lost by the narrowest of margins – less than one per cent! That is clearly impossible in present-day Nigeria – not with the computer wizardry of Professor Maurice Iwu. But Ghana’s image has consequently grown tall in the eyes of the world, without the need to launch a special re-branding campaign. U.S. President, Barack Obama, the first-ever Black American president, over-flew the Nigerian air space to land in Ghana on his maiden State Visit to Africa! Today, patriotism in Ghana has reached fever pitch, and the country has moved to the Second-World level, while Nigeria continues to grope in the dark, both literally and metaphorically, in the Third World. Our leaders, past and present, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

From these two instances, the message of the civilised world to Nigeria is loud and clear: seek ye first the Kingdom of true Democracy, and all other goodies shall be added unto thee! With credible and transparently honest leadership, Nigeria is capable of spectacular recovery within two decades. The starting-point is a truly democratic election that is incontrovertibly free and fair, devoid of any form of ‘Iwu-ruwuru’ or manipulation as witnessed under Professor Iwu. The ruling party must be willing to gracefully concede defeat, if rejected at the polls, and not make it a do-or-die affair, remembering that those who make it a do-and-live affair today, live to win tomorrow. Then and only then can Nigeria hope to begin to witness the process of true recovery from this pervasive gloom into the prospective glow just beyond the horizon.


Umukoro is a Visiting Professor at Igbinedion University, Okada.

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