The Guardian
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Williams: Blame Yourselves


THE most popular headline last week was the fret by politicians that some ‘coup’ had occurred, as a result of the postponement of the general elections earlier billed to take off yesterday. There was no language some aggrieved persons did not deploy to describe the shift in date. Some said it was a re-enactment of June 12. But one truth of the matter is that the polity needed to experience some breath of fresh air. 

  The suffocating tension that hung in the air in the past two months needed to be evaporated so that innocent Nigerians do not get choked. After all, those who stoke destructive fires in this country have enough private extinguishers to secure themselves and their family members. It is always the helpless and harmless Nigerians, like the youth corpers who were murdered brutally in the 2011 post election crisis in the North, and others elsewhere, that are sacrificed to propitiate the redundant Nigerian spirit. So, why should I join the mourners in their convulsive gasps over a mere shift that is still well within the constitutional time frame?

   Elections are processes by which the governed give endorsement to those who seek to govern them. Under normal conditions, elections should not be turned into dress rehearsals for some war ahead. There is something wrong when an offer to serve the people becomes such a threat to life. Why should politicians come with so much aggression in their bid to serve the people, if truly that is the motive?

   But in order not to be seen as stone-hearted, I share a little in the anxiety of those whose missionary spirit brought them from far and near to come and observe or monitor our endless rigmarole and deliberate refusal to perfect electoral rituals. In this camp are the Oyibos from the European Union and United States; our African folks from the AU and ECOWAS, who constantly and forlornly look up to Nigeria for inspiration and leadership. They came with their money to assist us, but because we were not ready they had to go back to their respective countries, to, perhaps return in six weeks if God helps us to get it right. What a wasted effort! 

  There are others in the civil society, activists who also claim some hurt as a result of the shift. I thought they should be happy that they now have expanded window to carry voter education to as many as possible, as well as justify their claims with funders.  But they are not; they are also threatening fire and brimstone. And you wonder what is going on here, when there is almost no line separating activists from members of opposition parties. And there are others in the academia, whose sense of history and neutrality has gone on holiday. They seem to forget that this is the same old Nigeria, where some fundamentals do not work.

  Be that as it may, I think the biggest losers are the politicians and they have themselves to blame. They know that they are fraudulent in their reckless and breakneck pursuit of raw power, while ignoring that there is a larger picture of a Nigeria that is in need of urgent deconstruction, so that elections and other civic proceedings can work seamlessly. That is not their immediate concern. They want to access the immense powers of Aso rock in order to disembowel Nigeria and plunder her entrails.  That is their trademark and they have done it for decades. 

  Of more concern to some is that larger picture, which certain offshore commentators and their governments do not factor in their conversation about the 2015 elections, because their knowledge is fictitiously abridged or frozen in time. They think everything about Nigeria begins and ends with president Goodluck Jonathan’s six years in office. And they exhibit suffocating ignorance when they make hasty generalisations and selective judgment. When senior citizens here at home fall into that same trap, you begin to wonder what they teach their students and children about Nigeria. Because, if the truth were not told, innocent and impressionable minds would wrongly assume that the tension we experience today and all the vulgar languages and invectives are all about ‘ordinary’ elections. 

  They should be reminded that Nigeria from beginning had been a divided country and the more years are added the wider the gulf between North and South, Christians and Muslims, and among the not less than 250 ethnic groups that are evenly spread all over the country. Commentators tend to forget that there was a template in 1960, which could not progress beyond the first three years after independence; eventually, it was the friction and acrimony among politicians that brought about the first deadly military coups of 1966 and 1967. They tend to forget too, that the mistrust among the military that was supposed to be intervening further widened the division left behind by the politicians, thus leading to civil war that lasted from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970. 

   During and after that war, the military forcefully procured an artificial unity to bind the country, which they did from 1966 to 1979. Let it be told that it was only the military that had capacity to ensure that nobody or group strayed out of the union or nurse some idiotic idea to excise some portion, like the Northeast away from Nigeria. The military would crush such madness into smithereens and would not be accountable to any local group or world body, to either offer explanation for some so-called war crimes or why it failed to degrade and destroy such internal insurrection. Under the military, not even CNN would dare to come here and pass judgment. They will be handled the way they do in Egypt.   

  But we said, no, we preferred a democracy. We love freedom, but we lack the discipline to nurture it. If we must sustain a democracy, we need the ingredients of justice and fairness to make it work, but the political class does not have that spirit and understanding. They prefer to win and take everything. After the military had left in 1979, the politicians who were elected to maintain law and order, as well as the economic wellbeing of Nigeria could not justify their stay.  They voraciously took care of themselves in utter disregard for public welfare, and later repeated the First Republic mistake of going to the Southwest to steal votes. That, in addition to the gross mismanagement of the economy led to the return of the military in 1983.

    And the soldiers this time acted differently from those who truncated the earlier republic. If the earlier ones chastised Nigerians with whips, those who crippled the Second Republic chastised the people with scorpions. That was the commencement of another round of grueling that continued until 1999. In between, soldiers replaced themselves in palace and deadly coups. Altogether, they further endangered the kwashiorkor democratic and economic templates they met in 1983. 

  By the time they were forced to pull out in 1999, Nigeria was gasping for breath. She had been brutalised and bludgeoned by the combined rampaging forces of Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abdulaslami, all military top brass from the North.  

  They left behind a prostrate economy with huge foreign and local debts, with all public utilities dead. They smartly conscripted one of them, Olusegun Obasanjo and handed him the pieces to hold in trust for them. OBJ, an old fox managed to take a good of care himself and tried one or two economic reforms to reduce public theft. He wanted more time to luxuriate in power, but he was hounded and he hurriedly left without addressing the old Nigerian Question of how power is to be shared. Under Obasanjo, militancy flourished all over the country and when some northern governments flagrantly disregarded the Constitution and introduced sharia rule as an alternative code for justice administration, Obasanjo looked the other side. It is the same sharia Boko Haram is asking for today. 

  Umaru Yar’Adua showed sincerity on the political front. He wanted to address the mad rush for power at the centre with some political reforms.  He put in place a committee on electoral reforms and the team led by Justice Mohammadu Uwais came up with some good recommendations that could have doused tension at times like this. But the politicians sat on it in the National Assembly. 

  Yar’Adua also had a little taste of Boko Haram, but they had not gone this deadly. They were promptly dislodged, but not uprooted. They soon regrouped and have continued to torture Nigeria since 2009. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, so they say. And the crown this time is deadly contested. Jonathan made a narrow escape with it in 2011, but not without the stern warning (written and verbal) that his crown will be laced with thorns. Why he has chosen to give it another shot in 2015 is well within the precinct of dangerous power contest that has characterized our history.

 If the civilian political class does not insulate itself from the retired band of soldiers who are lurking hungrily around, and play safe and mature politics, they will have themselves to blame. The fire next time could be real and all consuming. I warn.

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