Showing posts with label political power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label political power. Show all posts

Monday, September 27, 2010

Power, Power, Power

Niger Delta militants

In this ninth chapter of Royal Mail, his twelve-part epistle to Queen Elizabeth II of England, His Royal Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe, traces the political foibles suffered by Nigeria in the past fifty years to the possessive mindset of the leaders as exemplified by their narrow and unpatriotic utterances.


Power, Power, Power

O my body, make of me always a man who questions!
- Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)

SOME THINGS ARE worth talking about, Your Majesty. This is the time to say them before those who have ears, in summits and conferences, in banquets and dinner parties, in seminars and workshops, in soirees and house fellowships. This is the time to summon the facts of every case, reason things out, arrive at solutions, and get things done. I am the speaker. You are my audience. Our subject of consideration dwells on the fact that Nigeria, a former colony of the Crown, a staunch member of the British Commonwealth, is fifty. We are assessing the relationship between both countries, your country and mine, in the intervening years. We suspect that progress could have been more rapid, more concrete, more durable, more assured in the most populous African nation under the sun, if Her Majesty had been more open handed with Nigeria, and paid closer attention to the well-being of the young nation from October 1, 1960, onward. Rather like a caring mother.

In his book, The Trouble With Nigeria, Chinua Achebe lampoons two of the most influential politicians to have emerged in the history of Nigeria, for statements that showed them to be less than nationalist in outlook than they are credited for by sundry apologists. He recalls a pledge made by Dr Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe to the effect “…that henceforth I shall utilize my earned income to secure my enjoyment of a high standard of living and also to give a helping hand to the needy.” That statement was made in 1937, long before Zik became the first President of Nigeria. In like manner, Achebe finds Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the Western Region, deficient on account of his vow “to make myself formidable intellectually, morally invulnerable, to make all the money that is possible for a man with my brains and brawn to make in Nigeria.”

However, the pioneer African novelist missed out on a proclamation that was even more selfish for all its parochial vacuity. It is a statement that presumes that, from October 1, 1960, Nigeria in entirety was a territory open to acquisition by the sultanate. Your Majesty, did you at any time give the impression that Nigeria was a gift to the northern oligarchy? Of course, I put it past you. You are too sensible to make such a costly error. It so happens, however, that Nigeria’s first Northern Premier and Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, is quoted as saying that Nigeria was but a landed property belonging to none other than Uthman Dan Fodio, the cultural progenitor of the Muslim north. In the October 12, 1960, edition of The Parrot, the Sarduana declared as follows. Quote.

This New Nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools, and the South, as conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future.

Unquote. Four years later, his ambition received corroboration and endorsement from an equally immoderate pundit in search of political relevance. In the West African Pilot edition of December 20, 1964, Mallam Bala Garuba proclaimed as follows, and I quote:

The conquest to the sea is now in sight. When our god-sent Ahmadu Bello said some years ago that our conquest will reach the sea shores of Nigeria, some idiots in the South were doubting its possibilities. Today have we not reached the sea? Lagos is reached. It remains Port Harcourt. It must be conquered and taken.

Thank God for the internet, Your Majesty. These statements can be cross-checked against the records and verified for accuracy. Yet, it is possible that many a Nigerian politician from the South has been ignorant of the condescending pronouncements of the first Prime Minister of the Northern Region and his ardent acolyte. Either that, or they couldn’t be bothered to reject the underlying hubris in both statements that threaten the political integrity of Nigeria.

Clearly, the Sarduana’s statement smacks of naked ambition for power. Coming from a prominent political figure of the day in the very first fortnight marking the country’s independence from Britain, that statement strikes me as injurious to reason. It strikes me as a premeditated utterance calculated to abuse authority. By any measure of societal conduct, it is a travesty to trample upon the feelings of your neighbours, and to dismiss the entire inheritance of a people as meaningless, appropriating them by an irascible fiat without their consent, subordinating them as serfs and vassals to what is undoubtedly a noble emirate.

That statement strikes me as a gross misjudgment on the part of the respectable Sarduana as to what it means to live in peace and harmony with your neighbours. No wonder that Sir Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies (1954-1959), Colonial Office, United Kingdom, thought more highly of the tactful Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Belawa. In a famous memorandum to Her Majesty The Queen on Nigeria's Constitutional Conference dated May 29, 1958 -- the selfsame document which provides the basis for setting up the Henry Willink Commission -- Lennox-Boyd states as follows. Quote.

The Prime Minister is sagacious and able and relations between him and the Governor-General are frank and cordial. He is openly anti-Communist, he is under no illusions about the difficulties of the task facing both himself and the country, and his policy is likely to be as pro-Western as the narrow Muslim outlook of his principal Northern supporters will allow. (In his Party hierarchy he is only deputy to the leader, the vain and pompous Sarduana of Sokoto, Premier of the Northern Region.)

Unquote. Check your records, Your Majesty, and let me know if I’m wrong. I am from the South. I hail from the Niger Delta. I am an illustrious son of Ijaw land. I am proud to be a citizen of Glory Land. I am not an idiot. Neither is President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, my fellow southerner. That provocative statement by the revered Sarduana of Sokoto strikes me as the overarching vapour of an ethnic irredentist with the most unpatriotic credentials who ought to lose his face on the national currency, divested of every garland that may have been bestowed on him, including the knighthood granted by Her Britannic Majesty The Queen.

I am not angry, Your Majesty. I am simply upset. Some things ought to be talked about, frankly. Let’s face the truth, that the truth might set us free. Nothing could be more shocking, and it seems to me that this is the quiet agenda that has been pursued for five full decades now. Only God has seen it fit to have it reversed. Only God will ensure it remains reversed. Little wonder that the leadership of Nigeria has been largely dominated by the north in all fifty years of our existence as a sovereign nation.

Little wonder that Ibrahim Babangida feels he has a legitimate right to claim his ancestral portfolio yet again, and put the minorities in servitude for another eight years of civilian rule with a military character. For, indeed, Babangida remains the only military despot, amongst his kindred dictators, who assumed the title of civilian President in his khaki uniform. If he were ever to get back to the presidency, empowered by civilian votes under free and fair elections, I wouldn’t put it past him to adopt the title of Head of State instead of President, and actually conduct state business in a ceremonial khaki agbada!

God forbid, says the multitude. As a leader under whose watch one of the foremost journalists of the day, Dele Giwa, was blown to pieces by a letter bomb, I do hope that a copy of this royal mail will arrive Babangida’s breakfast table on a bright Sunday morning, and explode his conceit into nothingness. For verily, verily, I assure you, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida will not go scot-free. He will pay for his crimes against Nigeria. Your Majesty, I speak of a man who harnessed fabulous resources to conduct a free and fair election, having secured the assurance of the electorate about his good intent, only to nullify the results in a swift broadcast with every coup-making jargon intact.

Did you hear his glib excuses for annulling the elections of June 12, 1993, in that interview with CNN’s Christian Purferoy? Did you see reason with him, Your Majesty? Did you see raw arrogance, ingrained vanity, on display? Why was he so sure that Moshood Kashimawo Abiola would have made a worse leader than himself? What makes Babangida think that he is the best thing that has ever happened to the seat of power in Nigeria?

As one who not only accepts responsibility for wasting the valuable resources of a country on an election that he believes to be free and fair, an election he cancelled simply to satisfy his whims, for such a man who is willfully begging to be killed by his fellow country men and women, he deserves to be lynched in honour of the mandate of Abiola. It has come to that, Your Majesty.

O, he shall be shackled by the most austere conditions that may be visited upon a wicked soul for introducing the Structural Adjustment Programme that sapped the life out of many a Nigerian. How many beds hold the body of Babangida in the course of one night in his 50-bedroom marvel of a mansion cast in marble? How long is that solo bed, any more than six proverbial feet?

His greed has found him out on judgment day. He shall drink of hyssop eternally, and shed endless tears of grief in the core of his heart, unless he recants. He shall whine and pain and be tortured in the soul, now that Armageddon has come. Let the fellow be whipped to submission by the even hand of nemesis. It is a mark of the lack of conscience in our nation that Ibrahim Babangida could rear his head seventeen years after being disgraced out of office, and dismiss the current generation of Nigerians as incapable of producing a leader to rival his own perceived stature on the international scene. How presumptuous can he get?

Ask me another question, Your Majesty. I speak of a man who dispatched to an early death a boyhood friend, a poet with a military syntax to his verse who remains the first proponent of a Writer’s Village that is yet to manifest on a homely parcel of land for a fresh literary renaissance to flourish in Nigeria. Mamman Vatsa was a fellow officer who served Babangida as his best man in more senses than one. By all accounts, they were as close as brothers could be.

Sufiya, Vatsa’s widow, testifies at length: “I thought IBB and my husband were of the same family. The two wore the same size of dress and pair of shoes. IBB would drop his dirty wears in our house and put on my husband’s. When IBB traveled out for further military training, my husband took care of Maryam and her children. My husband bought their first set of furniture from Leventis on hire purchase. IBB was also my husband’s best man during our wedding. Whenever Maryam’s Mercedez Benz broke down, she used to drive my Peugeot 404. We were close.”

The IBB in question, Your Majesty, is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. None of this solicitous friendship that Sufiya speaks about meant anything to IBB. Neither did the intervention of three of Nigeria’s foremost literary icons, namely Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo. IBB did not budge. On the evening of Thursday March 5, 1986, the self-contained Head of State announced to a shocked nation the summary execution of General Mamman Jiya Vatsa and sixteen other officers, for staging what has since come to be known as a phantom coup.

IBB confessed that he had to avert his eyes while watching the video of the execution, when Vatsa removed his wrist watch and wedding band and handed them over to a soldier in the firing squad, with a plea that the treasures be sent to his loving wife. The ring was missing in transit, and another was procured for the widow who dutifully rejected it. Sufiya and her four children: Fatima, Haruna, Jubril and Aisha, still grieve over a promising dream that was cut short in its prime.

And this ruthless fellow dares to come forward yet again. This man who could not withstand healthy competition from his bosom friend, dares to compete with the joint will of Nigerians against ruthlessness in high places. This inordinate tyrant who has not thought it necessary to improve the base of his faculties since his woeful school certificate examinations, dares to condemn the educational credentials of the youth of today. Coming from a leader whose tenure was marked by incessant closure of universities, one who forced a heavy hand of oppression upon the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, this must count as one of the most ironic condemnations made by a field commander of failure in recent times.

It turns out that Attahiru Jega, the President of ASUU at the time, who brought intolerable populist pressure to bear upon the self-serving policies of the dictator, is now the boss at the nation’s revived electoral commission. If that is not situational irony at its finest conception, Your Majesty, I wonder what is. I am hopeful that Jega will conduct free and fair elections in 2011, decide the winner without prejudice, and let the world know that things can be done right in Nigeria after all. Let Nigerians decide their next President, of their own free will, each vote counting honestly.

Babangida has vowed that not even Jehovah can stop him from becoming President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria a repeated time. He has summoned the nerve to advertise the gap in his front teeth on national television, one for which the self-confessed “evil genius” has come to be known. Verily, verily, I have come to assure him that he will not escape the rule of law with his dastardly crimes, his condemnable travesty against the peace-loving land and people of Nigeria. Neither will he get away with his blasphemy. Ama Gido will not let that be.

At any rate, Your Majesty, the Sarduana erred. He practically overstepped his bounds. He blew the wrong flute. He said what he ought not to have said. He spoke like a tyrant. But as Frederick Douglas once said, “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” I dare say the tyranny of the northern oligarchy has reached its limits. It is to the credit of God that the leadership of Nigeria has been zoned, irrevocably, to conscience. It is time for reason to prevail, time for equity and justice to hold sway in the affairs of the nation. That is why good luck has come to the patient people of Nigeria.

After fifty years of tolerance and understanding from the long-suffering oil-producing minority communities of the Niger Delta, it is only fair that one of their own should be at the helm of affairs for a full term. It is only fit and proper that the people of Ijaw land come into reckoning, given their selfless goodwill in times past. For, at critical points of national transition, the Ijaw freely endorsed the Hausa-Fulani and provided the basis for peaceful co-existence in a nation of great diversity, quite in spite of the economic power they command. The fact of the matter, Your Majesty, is that the starting block for Nigeria’s democratic journey was constituted by the alliance between the Niger Delta Congress, NDC, a political party founded by the Ijaw, and the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, founded by the Hausa-Fulani. It was this bond of solidarity that gave the NPC the ticket it desperately needed to national acceptance.

Your Majesty, the voluble ones have had their say. It is only to be expected that, in the fullness of time, the oil-producing minorities should have their way as well, even as their leaders have a say in deciding the future of the nation. Let the meek inherit the earth, says Pope Pen. Let there be grounds for proof that a leader from the dispossessed minority can make a change for the better in the fortunes of our nation. Let those who have been on the reserve bench for so long have a fair chance to play the game of governance for the world to see, and for history to reckon with, as we enter the second half of Nigeria’s political independence in this golden year of jubilee.

Nigeria has given in large measure to its people. It is time for Nigerians to give back to Nigeria, in the manner of a play back, in the manner of Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow. It is time to get back to the future, time to adopt the best ideals of our founding fathers, time to follow the path of rectitude. Indeed it is time to repeat more frequently the solemn prayer embodied in the second stanza of our national anthem.

Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause;
Guide our leaders right;
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.