By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the perennial crises rocking the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, came to a sub-crescendo a few days ago. The prophecy of what to come had long been foretold on this page when I pleaded with Daddy, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, not to take a problematic and trouble-prone job from such an unruly assemblage that has never been known to keep its promises or indeed, its house in order. My plea was anchored on the fact that Alhaji had worked too hard, and for far too long, to become a global citizen and he did not have to downgrade his status and profile to the level of a local champion. I believe that Alhaji had already become a fixture on the world stage and should have avoided the type of altercations that he subjected himself to in the past two years which led to his being harangued and demonised by politicians who ordinarily should defer and kowtow to him.
Like all mortals, Alhaji felt he had the chance of using his wealth of experience in business, politics and advocacy to sanitise an undisciplined political party. Every time I watched and listened to his speeches, I knew he had boarded a wrong train at a wrong time and a wrong station. He was at best an alien in a strange land who only forlornly settled on the perpetual hope that a miracle would happen and this people would learn to do things differently. Unfortunately, that was not the case and the rest has now become history.
While I do not want to join in crying over spilt milk, I think it is pertinent to chronicle events as they unfolded for the sake of history and posterity. Alhaji had emerged from the shadows as a rumoured candidate of the President. Ordinarily that should have provided him a cast-iron protection against all malevolent forces prowling around the PDP headquarters in Abuja. But the President has not been that lucky to have such a firm grip on his party not to talk of the nation. He had won the 2011 Presidential election by a sizable and substantial margin. His popularity rating was also good enough. His spin doctors had managed to project him as the man to inject new life and prosperity to Nigeria. He appeared to be the much-needed elixir to propel Nigeria beyond our wildest imagination. Given all these positives much was expected of the President and any candidate he championed would have felt he could go to sleep with his eyes closed.
Promises of a Transformation Agenda were made. To be fair to President Jonathan, he managed to bring some distinguished personalities on board his cabinet. I had commended his choices at the time and hoped this powerful selection of some erudite and distinguished Nigerians in the midst of many political warlords would help activate and actualise his dreams. I had no doubt that with genuine dedication and total commitment, the nation would have moved forward sooner than later. But things started going wrong almost as soon as the Government was sworn in.
I must confess that it has not been an easy ride for our dear President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, since his assumption of full Presidential power in 2010 after the demise of his former boss President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The best one year he enjoyed was the moratorium he gained from that unfortunate death. He also amassed some equity and tremendous goodwill from the meekness he displayed and endured in the face of daunting challenges and incredible intimidation from the cabal prior to that time. It was the insurance he needed to carry him through the 2011 Presidential campaign and election. There was also the God as well as the good luck factor!
However, on January 1, 2012, of all days, all that God’s will and good luck evaporated. The President in a most reckless move announced the total eradication of petroleum fuel subsidy as if this was some beautiful Christmas and New Year’s gift combined. It turned out to be such a cruel joke which many initially felt could only be an April fool’s trick in January. The people of Nigeria responded in kind. On January 9, highly determined demonstrators spilled to the streets like locusts and nearly paralysed the activities of government. This particular demonstration was new to our shores in the manner it brought out both the rich and poor in a common fight against what Fela would have called “Government Magic.”
The Federal Government soon reversed its erratic decision even if it succeeded in increasing the pump prices of petroleum products to some extent. As usual various government megaphones made promises they knew they would never keep. They rhapsodised on how they would cushion the effect of the subsidy elimination. Committees were set up rapidly in order to douse the fire of rebellion. The President pledged to reduce the regularity of his foreign trips and cut down on the number of people on his entourage. If he kept those words, especially by being less profligate, life would have been much better for everyone. Rather than abate, government spending exacerbated and went through the roof. Those arrested for scamming the nation in the subsidy regime which had led to the crisis in the first place merely went on circus shows put together by the Government on television and ably conducted and reproduced by the National Assembly as Pantomime. Till today, nothing has happened and life has moved on as usual.
The next hope of Nigerians was in the power sector with the unusual forceful performance of Professor Barth Nnaji. For the first time, for as long as I can remember, Nigerians started rejoicing that light was becoming more regular in most places. But before we finished clapping, our hopes were dashed. We woke up one morning and by noon the architect of that fresh inspiration was gone. Till this day I’m not able to understand what went wrong. For some of us, our position was simply that: if Lucifer can come down to fix electricity in Nigeria, so be it. Since the exit of Professor Nnaji, we’ve gone back to the dark days of epilepsy and induced coma in the power sector.
In the midst of all this, a fight broke out within the ruling party in a very strange manner. What started like a rumour soon took a nose dive for the worst. It was alleged that the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Mr Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, was nursing a secret ambition to act as running-mate to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. In little time, the rumour had left the beer parlours to the seat of power in Abuja. Those who should have managed the rumour-mills and downplayed whatever fantasies Amaechi dreamt simply chose to go to war. Those who felt Amaechi was an arrogant man for being self-opinionated found the chance they had been looking for to damage his relationship with the President beyond repair. This was the beginning of total bedlam.
The Presidency itself declared outright war against Amaechi. It was decided that he would never be allowed to contest the Chairmanship of the NGF for a second time. Everything was done to discourage and neutralise him but the highly determined man would not be cowed. He went ahead to contest and defeated the purportedly mightier forces of President Jonathan. As an astute politician and statesman, the President was expected at that stage to promptly recognise Amaechi’s leadership and postpone their fight to another date and venue but he didn’t. Instead he acted exactly the opposite. The world was scandalised that the President recognised 16 Governors above 19. It did not end there, the PDP, in a most belligerent manner, went all out to suspend the Governors of Sokoto and Rivers State without ascribing any particular sin to them. While the Sokoto State Governor got his own suspension lifted, that of Amaechi became indefinite.
The battle shifted to the Rivers State House of Assembly where a few legislators attempted to impeach an elected Governor. It took some kamikaze effort on the part of the Governor to retain his job. Blood flowed but, thank God, no one died. Those who chose war instead of peace should have seen the futility of their efforts but they never gave up. The Nigerian Police was dragged into the matter. I often sympathise with the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, a perfect gentleman who has to carry out imperfect instructions from the top. He has not been able to remove his Commissioner of Police Joseph Mbu who has become a politician in uniform by attacking the Governor and his supporters regularly.
The enemies of Amaechi are free to organise and implement demonstrations at will but the Governor’s supporters cannot enjoy the same privilege. Even after matters came to a head recently and amidst public outcry, when a serving Senator, Magnus Abe, was shot at for daring to organise a pro Amaechi rally under the aegis of the Save Rivers Movement, Joseph Mbu has not even been redeployed. In contrast Service Chiefs were unceremoniously removed for ills nobody in the Presidency has thought to mention to Nigerians other than state that this was done by the powers conferred upon the President by the Constitution. As if that could ever be in doubt! In any other civilised country Mbu would have fallen on his sword and resigned.
The President has continued to pretend that the situation in Rivers State is normal and perfect. But his advisers are not doing him any good. A President is expected to protect the interests of every citizen regardless of political differences. Governor Amaechi and company who departed PDP in anger would probably have remained if things were better managed. War has never been the final and ultimate solution to conflicts. Peace must come after bitter wars. Why not opt for peace from the onset and save some time and resources?
It is really sad that Alhaji Babamanga Tukur became the fall guy of this crisis because he presided over a difficult party at a bad moment. He paid dearly for trying to stay loyal to a President who has chosen to surround himself with warmongers and hawks rather than peacemakers and doves. What’s the essence of going from Church to Church when we can’t forgive our own Brothers? The President needs to dispense with the militant approach to civil matters. If the headache is all about winning elections, the President need not fight any war. He did not fight to get power, why should he fight to retain it.
My simple advice is that he works harder in the next few months to complete some of his pet projects. He should ensure that students are able to learn in a more conducive environment. This should be a major priority of his government as a former lecturer and scholar. He should pump more money into job and wealth creation rather than the mere pittance currently allocated to this sector. He should cut government spending and show that he truly sympathises with the plight of the generality of Nigerians. He should worry less about those who have left his party and worry more about those within who may still jump ship any moment from now. He must look up towards God for continued blessing and protection and look down at the suffering majority and offer them hope. He should stop distracting himself with mundane issues when he can fix his gaze on a glorious destination.
Let me conclude with a Yoruba proverb: A man carrying an elephant on his head should never worry about the ants on the floor.
I pray I’ve not wasted my unsolicited advice as usual and that God will enter the hearts of our leaders.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dele Momodu/Thisday