By Godwin Onyeacholem
A new and provocative book titled Nigeria is Negotiable has blamed Nigeria’s leaders for the country’s woes. Written by journalist and rights activist, Chido Onumah, the book is due for launch on Tuesday, August 20, in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Nigeria is Negotiable, a collection of essays spanning more than two decades attributes the problems of Nigeria to the twin issues of bad leadership and the country’s flawed geo-political structure. It calls for the restructuring of Nigeria through a Sovereign National Conference.
The book discusses the political history of Nigeria in the last twenty five yeas and makes far-reaching recommendations on the way forward. According to Dr. Anthony Akinola in the prologue to Nigeria is Negotiable, “The ghost of the annulled presidential election of June 12, 1993 has remained with us for 20 years. It will continue to haunt the perpetrators of that unpatriotic act for the rest of their lives.
“The election of 1993 was not intended to lead to democracy; it was the culmination of political deceit by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, author of the annulment, who had postponed his transitional programme on two previous occasions, 1990 and 1992. The annulment, as it was, was Babangida’s desperation to hang onto power for as long as he possibly could.
“General Babangida could not, on his own, have held our nation’s fortunes to ransom as he did with the annulment of a free and fair election; he had the support of top military officers who were basking in the atmosphere of corruption and self-enrichment at the expense of the rest of us. They were generals who could not rise above ethnic bigotry.
“Of particular note was Gen. Sani Abacha who eventually became military ruler between November 1993 and June 1998, having pushed aside an interim government hastily cobbled together in the after- math of Babangida’s forced exit on August 27, 1993. There had been “gossip” of a presumed “pact” between Babangida and Abacha that the latter would also take his turn in becoming Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“The Abacha regime was characterised by unprecedented terror and assassination of political opponents and activists, not least because of the determination of the latter to actualise the mandate Nigerians gave Chief Moshood Abiola, the winner of the 1993 presidential election.
“The dishonesty of members of the so-called political class was quite evident in the sustenance of the Abacha regime, as was also that of foreign interests whose pre-occupation was mainly with oil”.
The author notes in an essay written in August 1998 titled “transition and illusions”, “In August 1985, a certain Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida took power amidst smiles and a feeling of conviviality. He promised to exorcise the political horrors of the past and restore democratic rule. Before the euphoria died down, Nigeria was in the throes of death. It was a tragedy of infinite magnitude; a tragedy whose necessary outcome was the emergence of a psychopath who could not draw a line between personal ambition and national interest”.
According to Onumah, “The exit of one psychopath saw the emergence of another; and yet another transition gravy train. From the outset, Abacha did not hide his disdain for our politicians. However, that did not deter them. They soon forgot the horrors they went through under Babangida and jumped onto Abacha’s transition train. What the politicians lacked in fortitude and integrity, they made up with clownery and servitude. Abacha’s transition was not lacking in rogues, thugs and villains. We were never in short supply of the things that gave politics the epithet: ‘dirty game’.”
The author describes the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, as a certified outlaw. “It was not for nothing that Abacha bore the tag “Africa’s No1 outlaw”. When he seized power on November 17, 1993, he promised a quick return to democratic rule; but that was not to be. In the five years that he reigned, Nigeria witnessed an archetype of military despotism which marks the period as the cruelest and most shameful period of her national history”, the author notes.
On Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar the author remarks, “He emerged as the new maximum ruler after the death of Abacha. The first signs of the schizophrenic nature of the regime and its total incapacity to comprehend the current crisis emerged few days after Abubakar took over when he promised to complete the transition programme of his predecessor”.
On Gen. Obasanjo, the book notes, “In 1979, Obasanjo had the chance to launch the country on the path of genuine democracy, but he bungled it. Twenty-eight years later, in 2007, after eight years as civilian president, he had the opportunity to make amends, but he squandered it in his characteristic devious manner. Obasanjo understands what democracy entails, but he does not have the moral courage to be guided by its rule”.
“Recently, Obasanjo blamed poor leadership for the country’s woes. He forgot to add that apart from his forgettable leadership (1976-1979 and 1999-2007), he orchestrated the poor leadership we had in 1979 and again in 2007. Fortunately for him, we have in President Jonathan a ruler who has redefined the meaning of poor leadership which in a way makes Obasanjo look like a messiah.
The book also looks at the role of diplomats and the international community during the period of military dictatorship. According to Onumah, “For five years, Abacha held Nigerians hostage and the best Nigerians got from Kofi Annan was undignified silence while Emeka Anyaoku became adept at inconsistent outbursts. Why did they not make efforts to stop Abacha? It was not in the interest of their masters in Washington and London to do so.
“It is not for nothing that Anyaoku is deeply involved in the fresh shenanigans to subvert the popular will of Nigerians. Of course, he once believed that Abacha was pursuing a credible transition programme and ought to have been given a chance.
“Why did Bill Clinton not persuade, first Babangida, and later Abacha, to release the results of the June 12, 1993 election? Was it because America did not believe the election was free and fair? Why would Mr. Clinton prefer Abacha running for president in a travesty of democracy rather than calling for the winner of a democratic election to be installed president?
For the international community, the author had this to say, “The sudden discovery by the West of Abacha’s political deception is hypocritical. The West saw Abacha, tutored him and propped him up against pro-democracy and human rights activists and above all against the democratically elected president who is spending his fourth year in prison. Now that Abacha has become a hydra-headed monster, the West seems incapable of dealing with him”.
“Nigeria is Negotiable, a collection of informed journalistic essays and commentaries, reminds readers of the political injustices and cruelties of an era. It calls for discussions on the way forward. With persistent corruption, religious extremism, armed robbery, a new culture of kidnapping, co-existing with political intolerance and endemic chaotic elections, it would be dishonest to assume that all is well with our nation”.
• Onyeacholem is an Abuja-based journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]
By Godwin Onyeacholem