by Mohammed Haruna
Last Monday, the New Telegraph, the latest “new kid on the block” in Nigeria’s newspaper world, led its maiden edition with an interview with former military president and a favourite whipping boy of the Nigerian media, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
The interview was quintessential Babangida, the Maradona of Nigeria’s politics; the man artfully dribbled past virtually all the sensitive questions the newspaper’s reporters tried to pin him down with, to wit, such questions on his opinion about the performance of President Goodluck Jonathan and that of the governor of his Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, or about the latest, now famous, altercation between his “boss”, – his own word – General Olusegun Obasanjo, and the president, etc.
However, the one question the man would not quibble about was on the unity and integrity of Nigeria. Nothing, he said, can ever shake his faith in the existence of Nigeria as one country – not the terrible Boko Haram insurgency and certainly not the National Conference, which critics of President Jonathan, including this reporter, say looks like a red herring the President hatched up to, at the least, divert attention from his dismal record, and at worst, lay the ground for rebellion by the oil-rich Delta region he comes from, should his presidential bid for another term, which he has not declared but which he is widely suspected of harbouring, fail.
In his interview, General Babangida said he was not in the least disturbed by the reports at home and from abroad that the 2015 election could break Nigeria. “I am,” he said, “not disturbed by such reports. I am confident it (the election) would make us stronger. Two thousand and fifteen will make us stronger.”
The general’s unshakable faith and hope in Nigeria’s unity and integrity is understandable. If nothing else, the man fought a war to keep Nigeria one as a young officer and he has a bullet still lodged in his body to show for it. However, with all due respect, his faith and hope are, I believe, the triumph of emotion over reality – the reality that the preponderance of those around President Jonathan have little or no faith in the country as a legitimate and united entity.
When the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, unfolded the programme for the National Conference last Thursday, he declared that the one subject, which is non-negotiable at the conference is the “indivisibility and indissolubility” of Nigeria. In saying this, Senator Anyim merely reiterated the President’s well known stance that he will never allow the country to disintegrate under his watch. Certainly not, he said on one occasion, after its various peoples have lived together as one family, for better and for worse, for a 100 years since their colonisation by the British.
Perhaps the President is sincere about his commitment to the unity and integrity of the country. But when, on the one hand, several of those close to the President threaten to break up the country unless he remains President beyond 2015 and nothing happens to them, and on the other hand, when those who say there will be violence if the President rigs the election are routinely harassed by the security forces, you cannot, in fairness, blame those who ask questions about the sincerity of the President’s commitment.
Even more worrisome, in this respect, is the incredible fiscal irresponsibility of his government as exemplified by the fuel subsidy scandal, which has largely gone unpunished and by the over trillion naira waivers and exemptions it has given well-connected importers, not to mention budgets in which recurrent expenditures have consistently been more than double the capital expenditure. Such fiscal irresponsibility cannot but make any reasonable and sensible person wonder if those in authority believe there’s tomorrow for the country.
Then, of course, there is the predictable grand oil theft that has gone on since the government handed over the security of the country’s oil regime to a few former Niger Delta militants about two years ago for huge sums that were sufficient to arm and equip our Navy and other relevant public security institutions to do a much better job. So grand is the oil theft that the big multinational oil companies and even our Finance minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have expressed grave concerns about the country’s dwindling oil revenues.
Government’s apparent indifference, to say the least, about this scale of oil theft alone, not to talk of the other reasons I have mentioned for concern about the President’s commitment to the country’s unity and integrity, reminds me of the Economics Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman’s five “rules of reporting” in his 2005 compilation of his columns titled: The Great Unravelling: From Boom to Bust in Three Scandalous Years to which I once drew the attention of readers of this column back in 2012. The book was about what Krugman called the “world-class mendacity” of the President George Bush and his vice, Dick Cheney, in covering up their phenomenal unravelling of the American political economy in three short years after coming to power.
One of Krugman’s rules of reporting a government like Bush/Cheney’s which was similar to President Jonathan’s in its disregard for orthodoxy, was that a reporter must do his homework to discover the real, as opposed to the declared, goals of those in authority. What they did before they had power, he said, was a sure clue to their real intentions.
Before the federal might went to the Delta region, more specifically to the Ijaw, it was an open secret that most of the region’s leading citizens in both public and private sectors funded, equipped and supported the region’s militancy. That militant attitude has been much apparent as the guiding principle of public policy in President Jonathan’s administration.
This attitude is at the root of suspicions that there is a hidden agenda in the National Conference, especially given its timing so late in the President’s tenure. These suspicions have now been strengthened by the fact that the President alone will nominate about one quarter of the 492 delegates, none of whom will be elected. Worse still, is the rule that any division over an issue will be settled only by two thirds majority. Clearly this is a recipe for confusion and chaos.
Over 21 years ago, The Economist (August 21, 1993) published an interesting survey on the country, titled: “Nigeria: Anybody seen a giant?” Among other things, the survey speculated about the prospects of the country breaking up. This was long before the more recent American scenario about Nigeria becoming a failed state.
The self-styled newspaper gave five reasons for and against why the country could break up. The memory of Biafran civil war being too fresh may, it said, be an argument against a break up. But it quickly countered this argument with the point that this might not stop a slide into ungovernability, something the country has experienced long before the Boko Haram insurgency. Second, it said the argument about the country’s huge internal migration leading to more integration of its various people has, on the contrary, only led to resentment by “indigenes.”
Third, it said, the argument that too many rich Nigerians have invested in the country to allow it to break up is no guarantee that the country would remain stable. Fourth, the argument that the rich world, led by an America hooked on cheap oil, cannot afford to allow the country fall apart, the magazine said, could be easily countered by the argument that should the country face any rebellion, the rich world would find it relatively easy to seal off the oil rich region and keep the oil wells pumping. Finally, the argument that the military was always on hand to intervene to stop the country sliding into chaos was, it said, undermined by the fact that the military itself had long become divided, politically and otherwise.
Given what seems, at least to me, to be the greater weight of the counter arguments against the country’s break up, it seems Senator Anyim’s decree that the unity and integrity of Nigeria are off limits for the National Conference is no more than an expression of pious hope. The country may indeed not break up. But it would not be because of his, or for that matter, anybody’s mere say so.
The conference itself was probably conceived in bad faith and is unlikely to lead to any good for the country. Delegates to the conference may disappoint sceptics like me and produce a useful report but the record of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in dumping such documents into their trash cans makes it difficult, if not impossible, for any reasonable man to believe this time things will be any different.
To be brutally frank about it, I do not understand the basis for General Babangida’s confidence that not only will all be well with Nigeria beyond 2015, the election that year will make it even stronger. Nigeria may be Africa’s and the Blackman’s giant in the sun but it is yet to have leaders that will turn its feet of clay into nimble ones that can stop it from tripping over itself.
My column of three weeks ago on the return of Chinweizu, the poet, author, essayist, literary critic, Pan Africanist and veteran newspaper columnist to the pages of Nigerian newspapers after a very long absence, received nearly sixty texts in response. Over a dozen of those responses offered to send me copies, original and photo, of his controversial book, The Anatomy of Female Power, which seemed to have gone out of circulation almost as soon as he’d published it. Perhaps the man himself did not read my piece in which I tried to take him up on his argument that our present constitution is an imposition of a Northern military cabal, but he did not respond to my request for a copy of the book.
A friend has since delivered a copy to me in person. I wish to thank him and all those who offered to send it to me, mostly by mail.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Mohammed Haruna/Nation