The Metaphor of Change and the politics of 2015
A lecture delivered at the second conference of the People’s Media Limited by Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Con, Governor, Rivers State and Chairman Nigeria Governors’ Forum at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton, Abuja.
The invitation to speak was a bit confounding to me as it reeled out names of important men and women who will grace this occasion. The topic also appeared difficult and rather general. There was the need to streamline the topic. I therefore decided to speak on “The Metaphor of Change and the Politics of 2015.” My view of course is that while this is similar to the general theme it is somewhat more specific and focused.
To deal with the idea of change, one must first chronicle what is to be changed. Nigeria, a nation amalgamated in 1914 by a crusading colonialist with economic motivations was granted an unwilling political independence on October 1, 1960.
Nigeria has a chequered political and economic history which ranged from a “democratic election” that saw the emergence of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as ceremonial President to the current government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria’s political and economic history is beset with ethnicity, corruption, poor and weak or lack of institutions, glorified by poor leadership. In the 60’s Nigeria was blessed with some quality leadership like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, amongst others. The colonialists left behind a (Westminster system of government) which embraced a bit of federalism to accommodate different ethnic and religious interests.
The different ethnic, political, religious, economic and the growth of corruption led to Nigeria civil war after the coup that had the principal officers of government assassinated. The coup and the assassinations were seen as ethnically motivated and led to a counter coup, which in itself resulted to a civil war. This was after a protracted negotiation between the two leaders of the Nigerian nation and the emerging Igbo nation. An estimated over one million persons died in the war. Several Nigerians leader were killed during the coup that ushered in the leadership of General Aguiyi Ironsi, most of which were of the northern extraction. Soldiers of Igbo or Eastern extraction led the coup. The counter coup itself and the insurrection that followed led to the killing of southerners in the North.
The resultant civil war ended in 1970 and the counter coup had thrown up Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. The Army had become involved in civil and political administration. With the impunity and command control structure attached to the military, corruption and dictatorship grew in the Nigerian polity and became the common reason advanced by the military marauders and economic scavengers for the frequent coup d’états and the change of government. This was the basis on which General Gowon was over thrown in 1975. General Murtala Mohammed was killed in 1976 after a few months in office. And after General Obasanjo emerged, and organised an election that ushered in democracy and Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
They also made different contributions at development especially the governments of General Olusegun Obansajo and that of General Yakubu Gowon. The short-lived General Mohammed Buhari was focused on anti corruption. For this reason and more it was quickly set aside. The regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda ushered in development, economic and political reforms. It took us through different phases of democracy, had unsuccessful coup attempts to dethrone him. The regime created states like that of General Gowon. It had a dramatic exit that led to a brutal regime of General Abacha. Abacha mostly characterized by corruption and human rights abuses after a palace coup that took away the brief regime of Ernest Shonekan.
The death of General Sani Abacha ushered in the Government of General Abudusalam Abubakar whose presence we are enjoying today. One of his greatest achievements is transitioning the country to a democracy with Rtd. General Olusegun Obasanjo returning to governance. He calmed and stabilized a country in turmoil from the brutality of an Abacha who wanted to return as a civilian dictator in the name of democracy and election. We have since then had three democratically elected presidents.
A common feature that characterized the different governments is corruption in varying degrees. The fight against corruption was given a serious thought under civilian administration of Obasanjo. He instituted the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) as a corruption-fighting agency despite the fact that there was in existence a Nigeria Police who has as one of its responsibilities fighting corruption. Nigeria as a country had abandoned its progress in Agriculture development and Agrarian economy for and economy driven by oil revenue.
The oil revenue itself enhances the development of an army of looters. John Campbell the one time America Ambassador to Nigeria in his book “Nigeria Dancing on the Brink” had this to say,
“Throughout the post-civil war period, the self-enrichment of individual military officers was made possible by immense oil revenues combined with weak institutions of governance with little accountability to the public. Militarization and centralization of government authority went hand in hand, power in Nigeria became much more centralized than its “Federal” label would indicate.”
Like was said earlier, corruption is not a repository of the military alone. The politicians were also experts at it. We had earlier reported the institutionalization of the fight against corruption through a state agency fro the first time in the history of Nigeria by President Obasanjo. The degree of progress that was made may be open for debate especially as it was alleged that he used the same agency to go after his political opponents. John Campbell continued in his treatise,
“Where he created anti-corruption agencies, he used them against his own political enemies. Nevertheless, their establishment bodes well for the future if they evolve into mainstay for the political enforcement for the law.”
The progress made in fighting corruption began to erode under President Yar Adua. His short-lived region cannot be assessed in this wise. Currently in the present regime of President Goodluck Jonathan corruption appears to have been institutionalized. A whopping sum of twenty billion dollars is alleged to have been missing. The stories of both fuel and kerosene subsidy are not anything to behold. It smears of corruption and rottenness. The aviation bulletproof saga remains unresolved. The Shell Malabu story is a macabre dance. The response of the regime to corruption is to imprison those exposing corruption. The impunity in corruption is extended to the punishment of those who fight corruption. The removal of the Governor of Central Bank is unconstitutional. Constitution means nothing to the current government. What we see is the re-emergence of civilian dictatorship, but enough about corruption.
Statistics emanating from both the World Bank and National Bureau of Statistics states that unemployment rate is 23 percent in Nigeria. It was by far lower than this before the enthronement of the Government of President Jonathan. Unemployment rate averaged at 14.6 percent, reaching an all-time high of 23.9 percent in 2011. It had an all-time high record low of 5.3 percent in 2006. Nigerians live in want, hunger and penury. Unemployment and poverty may differ in regions to varying degrees, but it knows no faith, nor religion, knows no tribe, nor nation. It brews violence and has led to the annihilation of families in the North East and South-south of Nigeria. Death on the streets of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kano, and Bauchi are no longer lessons for discussions. They are a daily occurrence. The debate is whether it is religious, motivated or it is driven by ignorance, hunger, and poverty. Whatever part of the divide you find yourself, you will know that violence has overwhelmed the government. Kidnapping is an everyday affair in the Niger Delta. It becomes strange, any day it does not occur. Political assassination is also on the rise. Violence is the order of the day. Richard Dowden in his book, Africa, Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, had this to say “ Nigeria is famed for its sudden explosions of violence, usually in cities where a politician has stirred up his own ethnic group or co religionist to try to wipe out a rival. These brief explosions regularly leave 400 or 500 dead in a couple of days when gangs of thugs take up clubs, machetes and knives. Whole suburbs are burned down – often with people locked in their homes.”
This is a similar picture with the burning of the Federal Government College in Yobe State and the killing of the existing students. There are ethnically driven violence as exemplified in the cases of the Fulani Herdsmen in Zamfara, Benue and Plateau.
Nigeria is famous for out of school children. We top the list with a figure of 8.6m-10m out of school children. Education is not affordable and accessible. Education infrastructures are deteriorating or non-existent.
Beyond the education infrastructure are the softer issues, insufficient, poorly trained and ill-motivated teachers, a static curriculum, a lack of monitoring and quality control to ensure that education is not only available but is fit for purpose, competitive and qualitative. The result is that our children leave school, half baked at best and uneducated at worst.
The current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has spoken variously about its commitment to infrastructure development on a broader scale. Its efforts in resuscitating the railways and its sale of the power infrastructure are commendable initiatives that should be followed through. Regardless of the first steps though, complaints by the different buyers of the generation and distribution companies point to debilitating challenges in the roll out that might affect the government’s power delivery promises. In the roads and maritime sector however much remains to be done. Water and sanitation should also receive better attention especially with donor agencies anxious to support investments in that sector.
THE RULE OF LAW
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of our nationhood is the arrogant display by the elite of power above the rule of law. The learned Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, SAN, in his welcome address at a stakeholders symposium on the rule of law organized by the Nigeria Bar Association, puts it very succinctly. I have taken the liberty to quote him quite generously “ Strict adherence to the rule of law remains the hope and solution to Nigeria’s multifaceted problems. it is a guarantee against unworthy livelihood. the rule of law helps to forestall vices such as dictatorship totalitarianism, anarchy, oligarchy personifies. it also serves a s a guarantee that those who are strong and valiant today will not be molested in their moments of weakness and infirmity brought about by old age and ill health. Thus the able politicians of today require no other protection whether in or out of office than the existence of an entrenched rule of law regime. the same goes for the citizens.”
It then is evident that the failure by government to provide the appropriate environment for the people to thrive, and a failure to guarantee the people’s right could lead to a breakdown of society. Democracy requires more than just the right to vote. A democratic country has to guarantee basic human rights to every person. Although these rights are enshrined in the country’s Constitution, it is crucial that the rights are ensured and protected by government as well as the citizens themselves. I will quote the learned Daudu again, “ Breaches or non observance of the Rule of law breeds inequity. Some may say that all fingers are not equal but at least we take equal care of all fingers when we wash our hands.”
Good governance is the responsibility of every democratic government working in the interest of the public, as is the smooth handing over of batons from one administration to another. Nigeria is at the threshold of history with yet again another election. The Electorate is already demanding a better deal. The poll commissioned by the All Progressive Congress being unveiled today has shown that more than half of those polled insist that they are dissatisfied with the status quo and want change. The message is clear, the people want to be allowed a chance to freely make up their mind about who should lead them.
In political circles the drums of war and voices of intolerance gives cause for worry about the determination of the Federal Government controlled People’s Democratic Party to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections in 2015. It is crucial that the elite and those of us in government understand that disallowing free elections would not just be an albatross but could be an invitation to anarchy.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says with regard to change, “Students of political systems must grapple with a subject matter that is today in constant flux. They must deal not only with the major processes of growth, decay, and breakdown but also with a ceaseless ferment of adaptation and adjustment. The magnitude and variety of the changes that occurred in the world’s political systems beginning in the early 20th century suggest the dimensions of the problem. Great empires disintegrated; nation-states emerged, flourished briefly, and then vanished; world wars twice transformed the international system; new ideologies swept the world and shook established groups from power; all but a few countries experienced at least one revolution and many countries two or more; domestic politics in every system were contorted by social strife and economic crisis; and everywhere the nature of political life was changed by novel forms of political activity, new means of mass communication, the enlargement of popular participation in politics, the rise of new political issues, the extension of the scope of governmental activity, the threat of nuclear war, and innumerable other social, economic, and technical developments”.
For an extended period of time, change became somewhat subdued around the world? Then came the blinding sand storm dubbed the Arab Spring, our own January protests in Nigeria ( which while I may not entirely agree with was an indication that Nigerians do have a potential to rise up) and more immediate the spectacle in Ukraine and Venezuela.
People around the world have become restless because certain existing political systems are trampling on the two key internationally adopted United Nations covenants:
1. The international covenant on political and civil rights
2. The international covenant of economic, social and cultural rights.
These rights define the very substance of life and once abused or denied will ultimately lead to birth pangs of unpleasant change.
The state has three key institutions, each with separate powers: government has executive power to run the country according to the policies of the ruling party, parliament has legislative power to enact the laws which government has to enforce and the courts of law have the judicial power to protect the Constitution and legislation passed through parliament.
Civil society, labour, business, media, communities and citizens, along with government, carry the responsibility to protect the country’s constitutional rights. Participation is central to these stakeholders fulfilling their obligation. It can be realized in a number of ways. After the end of apartheid, more democratic structures were established to enable active participation at local, provincial and national levels. However, if people do not become part of these structures, decision-making is left to a minority group.
For example, legislation requires schools to establish democratic school governing bodies for parents, educators and learners to manage the schools’ affairs collectively. School fees cannot be increased without the input from the three parties. But if parents fail to attend meetings or respond to correspondence, the educators and school management are forced to make decisions that may be regarded as undemocratic, causing unhappiness within the community.
One’s level of education, financial status or language should not hinder active citizenship. When we become active in our communities, we stand a better chance at entrenching values such as accountability, transparency, honesty, trust and respect, which are needed in order for democracy to thrive. For example, in a democracy, everyone is free to voice his or her opinion as long as it does not amount to hate speech. The media has the right to report on all matters concerning the public, even if it means exposing the wrongdoings of government, powerful institutions or people.
Even in a democracy, public protests have a place as a form of participation in community issues. However, it is important to acknowledge that with public protest comes the need for disagreeing parties to talk to each other. Talking about our different viewpoints is perhaps the most difficult engagement, but it is the most viable means to resolving complex matters. Yet an intolerant government that doesn’t appreciate the role of the electorate as partners in ensuring better governance is a government that is on its way out.
In a speech to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, on January 23, 1967, former British Prime Minister and Statesman Harold Wilson said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery”.
Are we where we are, in this decay of uncertain dimension because we are rejecting or resisting change? Have we voluntarily or involuntarily built a tower of babel where progress suddenly comes to a halt? Electoral frauds constitute the substructure of the abuse of political rights. And abuse of one right can lead to the abuse of other rights or all rights.
What has been the Nigerian experience with respect to elections and by extension political rights?
Here are the facts:
• The post independence national election of 1964 set the stage. It was characterized by wide spread rigging, intimidation, and chaos
• The election of 1965 followed the same pattern and became one of the reasons for the 1966 coup.
• When the country returned to the ballot box in 1979, the ghosts of the 1964 and 1965 elections came back to town to cause havoc.
• Four years later in 1983, things took an even worse turn
• 1n 1993, when we thought we had repented of our sins, the baby was not even allowed to come out deformed, it was aborted
• In 1999, 2003 we barely limped along with bruises
• And then crowned things up with the 2007 election described at that time as the worst in Nigerian electoral history.
• Just when you thought we have learnt our lessons, the 2011 elections came along with all the imprimatur of all previous elections.
Since 2003, almost every election has been called a make or mar election due to fear of massive rigging and its byproduct of violence. The big question is, how many make or mar elections should we have in the life of a nation?
Once again, here we are in a pre-election year. And once again, the witches’ cauldron has begun to boil over. Majority of our political gladiators are neither debating ideological leanings nor scrutinizing past records to guide rational choices in the upcoming general elections. Rather they are engaged in a series of spectacular arguments about agreements reached in dressing rooms and whose turn it is to be at the villa.
Today, the attention is not on possible post-election mayhem or violence. The twin evil of insecurity and violence are already here with us. Right to life has been diminished as never before. We have become so used to stories that hitherto were blood chilling that we flip over them in our newspapers. A new normal has been enthroned. And the man is dying in each of us. Yet elections loom ahead with a fast moving cloud soaked with highly flammable materials. Meanwhile, the political space is so constricted that politicians are gasping for breath and forced into unseasonal migrations. Today’s lecture for me is a wake up call for all of us in the political space, government, politicians and electorate alike. It is a call to ensure that we all work together to guarantee the sustenance of our democracy and the existence of our nation. I will end with another comment by Dowden in the same book. He says “ on the contrary, I sometimes feel Africa is not violent enough. If Africans fought back sooner against theft and oppression instead of allowing themselves to be slaves to the rich and powerful, Africa would be a much more peaceful place. Instead, African patience allows exploitation and oppression to thrive until everyone looses their temper and explodes.” Hopefully this would not be our lot.
Thank you for your kind attention and May God bless Nigeria.