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They are not godfathers properly called; but their political antecedents and propensities can be explained only within the context of the godfather phenomenon. Alternatively, but with limited accuracy, they may be described as oracles in so far as they remain formidable national figures whose perceived political sagacity attracts an assemblage of political actors of motleyed plumes whose ambitions border on the threshold of political relevance. As the 2015 Polls inch closer, it is becoming inexplicably difficult to unravel the motivations that have seen these two personae berthing on different sides of the political fence. Originally, finding shelter under the same accommodating umbrella, these oracles have sidled up to the two major contenders in the 2015 Presidential Polls to the utter befuddlement of Nigerians. When the history of this era is written in the coming years, students of Political Science will, no doubt, find the events of today puzzling.
The points of divergence between these godfathers are heightened by the points of convergence existing between them. These two godfathers were former military leaders and, at epochal moments in the history of Nigeria, determined the destiny of the nation. Both attained the enviable rank of army generals. Both committed heinous crimes against the mass of humanity which Providence had given them to lord: assassinating opponents, decimating whole communities, silencing voices of dissent, becoming tools for neo-imperialists, misappropriating and defalcating with impunity state resources and, at other times, converting same to their personal use. Both have loyalists within the political class and the military hegemony. Until recently, both harboured no reservation in finding refuge under the behemoth umbrella whose reputation for its generous accommodation of characters of diverse orientations and moral persuasions is now a matter of common knowledge. And, to round off the points of convergence, both have their abodes on hilltops: the one in Abeokuta; the other in Minna. But, at that point, the similarities end. One was in the army engineering corps; the other was in the army armoured corps. One willingly forewent power even when it would have been expedient politically to retain same; the other was forced to abdicate the seat of government after the criminal annulment of the presidential election of 12, June, 1993. Providentially, the first godfather would return to power twenty years later as a democratically elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and eventually served the constitutionally stipulated two terms. Remarkably, the other godfather contributed in no small measure to the emergence of the first godfather as a political leader, having become, by default, the public face of that politically oriented cabal of military generals who sought to retain political power by proxy. Like the Biblical story of Joseph who progressed from prison to palace, this godfather, then doing time in General Sani Abacha’s gulag for being an accessory after the fact of treason following the aborted 1995 coup was released, granted presidential pardon, rehabilitated and then installed as the first Executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the Fourth Republic.
It conduced to the impressive records of this godfather that he willingly handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979 at a time when military adventurism in politics was in vogue in Africa and in most third world nations. That action earned him the toga of a statesman. It was on the strength of this reputation that this godfather sought to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1991. This status also generated a groundswell of global condemnation of the Abacha junta when the latter implicated him in the coup of 1995 and actually sentenced him to death. These condemnations played no small role in compelling the junta to commute the penalty to life imprisonment. Twelve years later, this godfather, as a cunning fox, gauged national and international outcry against his third term scheming and promptly struck down the obnoxious intrigue. Today, he is positively regarded globally. He is, for instance, a member of the Club de Madrid, a group of more than 80 former leaders of democratic states who are committed to strengthening democratic leadership and governance. He is also a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), a group of ten distinguished individuals who advocate at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. He has also held several plenipotentiary posts, such as, for example, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was also the leader of the African Union Election Observers during the Zimbabwean election of July, 2013.
This godfather has been known to swim, sometimes, against the tide of popular opinion. The man’s capacity for brusqueness dates back to the antiquated past: it was not a newfangled habit. Take, for instance, his condemnation of the presidential ambition of Chief M.K.O. Abiola. His rather widely reported declamation, ill-advised at that time, but rather prescient with the benefit of hindsight, that Chief M.K.O. Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria sought at that material time. This pitted him against his Yoruba kinsmen who saw him as a betrayer of the June 12 mandate and a stooge of the northern oligarchy. So, when he made that infamous proclamation, as it were, Nigerians were understandably piqued. But, a little introspection would have shown that Abiola, large-hearted as he was, was a victim of karmic justice. Nature possesses the ability to resolve conflicts in its peculiar way such that the manifestation of the consequences confounds even the most perceptive of men. It was Nature’s prerogative that Abiola could not lead the Third Republic – not after the sinuous and pleonastic transition programme of his friend, and, certainly, not after the scent of his finger was detected in the coup that terminated Shagari’s administration and the putsch that sounded the death-knell on the General Muhammadu Buhari-General Tunde Idiagbon dyad not to talk of other malfeasances against democratic ethos.
The second godfather, who, in one interview with Tell Magazine, described himself as an Evil Genius, possesses that benevolent mien which endeared him to Nigerians when he overthrew the mean-faced distich of Buhari-Idiagbon in 1985. By means of fascinating speeches and his captivating gap-toothed smile, the man ingratiated himself into the heart of Nigerians and proceeded to consolidate himself in power as he played kalo-kalo with Nigerians for eight indeterminate years. Nigerians are wont to forget that this man did not overthrow General Buhari out of his love for Nigerians but as a measure of self-preservation, his friend and confidant, Aliyu Gusau, having being recommended for retirement for his role in the inflation of defence contracts figures. From his economic policies to his political programmes, this godfather’s administration rode the tumultuous tides of increasing general discontent as his transition train, travelling on a parallel course, lurched erratically like the motions of an inebriated man. Eventually, he was humiliated out of office after he annulled the globally acclaimed and popularly accepted June 12 1993 presidential election. Incidentally, Nature, too, like the gods in classical mythology who, for their amusement, played callous jokes with lesser mortals, must have chosen this godfather as its human instrumentality to fulfil its design on Chief Abiola. Faced with widespread acts of civil disobedience unprecedented in a military regime which grounded all economic activities, and having seen his threats and ultimatums to the politicians of the two major political formations to line up like schoolchildren in his interim government go unheeded, he retired ignominiously to his Minna hilltop mansion with his tail between his hind legs like a chastised dog where, till date, he has remained a pariah both to his countrymen and to members of the international community. Twice he had attempted to run for the presidency and twice Nigerians have unequivocally denounced his impetuous ambition. Till date, the man has refused to avail Nigerians of the hidden story behind the annulment, choosing rather to treat Nigerians to his condescending acceptation of responsibility for the heinous evil. Till date, too, it is doubtful if the man has been assigned any role by international agencies.
Except that certain of his countrymen, least of who is not President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, still harbour that pardonable illusion that the man has the superman capacity to move political mountains. It is a testimonial to this godfather’s propensity towards evil that his name is associated always with scheming, stratagems and devices where the government plots to weaken democratic structures and to subvert the collective will of the Nigerian people. It speaks volumes of our national flaw as a people that these two godfathers could afford to deport themselves with sublime oracularity in a nation bristling with human resources. Yet it is easy to deconstruct the factors that conduce to these unfathomable ethical contradictions. In a nation where the dominant political value is a praetorian and rentier ideology subsumed in material acquisitiveness; where a politician’s relevance is determined by his capacity to dole out patronages to loyalists, and where the emphasis is not on political sagacity but on demagoguery, people like these two godfathers will continue to appeal successfully to the basic instincts of the people from their hilltop mansions.
But, it must be allowed that even in the worst of poverty-stricken climes, there is a limit to the quantum of political chicanery and administrative wantonness a people can endure. Nigerians have attained that stage of saturation where they can no longer, reasonably, be expected to be complaisant to a system which negates their existential choices. In the chequered political history of Nigeria, Nigerians have demonstrated that, contrary to their famed longsuffering, there is a point beyond which no maximum ruler, the presumed unfathomable reach of his powers notwithstanding, cannot cross without dire consequences either to himself or the nation or to both himself and the nation. After eight years of transition to nowhere, the Minna general annulled an election which was reputed to be free and fair. The people reacted, much to his consternation and he hurriedly left the seat of power after two months. Similarly, the denizen of the Abeokuta hilltop mansion never reckoned with the groundswell that would attend his ill-fated third term project.
Some people, however, are destined to be bad students of history. Twenty-two years after, this godfather who exploded the historic opportunity of etching his name on the marble of history believes that his political survival, and that of his apologists, lie in the protection afforded by the acquisitive plutarchy. Twenty-two years after and he is in consort with the President who, having disconnected his umbilical cord from the nutritive navel of his original godfather, is the new face of the regnant political and economic order keen on perpetuating the currency of praetorian forces represented by this godfather as its archetype. Twenty-two years after and Nigerians are bemused that the lessons of 12, June 1993 appeared to be lost, inexorably sunk in the murky seas of collective amnesia which is the bane of the Nigerian masses and patronizing hauteur which is the affliction of the elites. Rather puzzling is the inexplicability of someone who nourishes an egotistical pleasure from the cognomen of ‘the Evil Genius’ finding the times and the national mood too profound to comprehend. If, as it is rumoured, he is the unseen force behind the postponement of the 2015 polls, seeking to perpetuate in the process the reign of his proselytised protégé through disingenuous manipulations of events and the law, then it is disturbing that he has not learnt the lessons of history properly. Either that, or he believes he is still possessed of his twentieth century charms. But, even in 1993, those charms lost their potency. When people fail to learn from history, they invariably repeat history, often with startling replication and devastating consequences. The President, by cleaving to this godfather, is preparing himself for the same fate that befell his adopted godfather. As Simon Ayobolu wrote in his Op-ed piece titled “A President and his Mediocre Security Chiefs” in The Nation of Saturday, February, 14, 2015: “Can Dr Jonathan get away successfully with his current efforts to manipulate the elections in his favour? I do not think so. The weight of public opinion is too much against him. . .The truth is that the all-powerful Nigerian President has demonstrated a visceral fear of people’s power by desperately trying to avoid elections by all means. A President who won and celebrated a pan-Nigerian victory in 2011 is obviously scared of a pan-Nigerian defeat in 2015. . . The unprecedented presidential fear of elections is itself a great victory for the Nigerian people. Dr Jonathan cannot postpone the ever increasing momentum for change forever. Furthermore, history is not on Dr Jonathan’s side. All Nigerian leaders before him who tried one form of tenure elongation or the other failed abysmally. He will not be an exception.”
Uncannily, however, and contrary to the other godfather and his adopted godson, the Ota godfather has noted the increasing undulation of people’s discontent with his erstwhile godson. This godfather has therefore decided to identify with the masses whose aspiration for a departure from a culture of impunity and praetorian tendencies is personified by General Muhammadu Buhari. If this godfather, who started the process of integrating Nigeria into mainstream capitalism, could endorse General Buhari, whose political and economic ideology bothers on, mildly speaking, socialism, then it can be said that, like the contrite prodigal son, he recognises he has transgressed against God and the good people of Nigeria. If this godfather, whose regime was reputed for unexecuted projects, especially in the road and power sectors, where billions of dollars were budgeted and released for same, could acknowledge his failings as a leader, then no time is too late for anyone to come for the redemption of his soul. This godfather has realised that he had been on the wrong side of history all his life, and, like the thief on the cross who called on the Son of God to remember him in Paradise, this prospicient godfather, in the twilight of his life, has chosen to do penance by pitching his tent with the Nigerian masses in their call for change. He has, by this show of penitence, atoned for his years of profligacy and iniquity. The prescience of this godfather is legendary. This godfather possesses the preternatural ability to read correctly the temperature of the political space. We should be minded of the fact that he was instrumental, and, in fact, accelerated the political development of the incumbent President. To his credit, or disgrace depending on one’s perception, it must be added, that his arbitrary fiddling with the electoral process in 2007 gave the minority nationalities of the Niger-Delta the opportunity to hold and exercise political power at the highest level. Having clinically orchestrated the assumption of the office of the President, this godfather, five years later, is disappointed at the dismal performance of his erstwhile protégé. As far as prognosis goes, that is a red flag up for Nigerians.
While one godfather appears to have resolved to make reparations for the afflictions which he has inflicted on Nigerians as a result of his capricious ambitions and his inordinate greed, the other seems determined to perpetuate his name in infamy.
As Nigerians go to the Polls in less than six weeks, they await to see if the President, who has adopted the other godfather as his political father while abandoning the godfather that gave him his political break, will seek to replicate the duplicity of this godfather. He has got one postponement of the general elections by six weeks. The terminal date for his present term of office will be 29th day of May. Nigerians await his next move on the political chessboard. As this writer grudgingly conceded somewhere, the President has the right to contest, subject to judicial pronouncement on the matter by the Supreme Court, but Nigerians reserve the right to determine who leads them beyond 29th May. What he owes Nigerians, and indeed posterity, is the conduct of a free and fair elections. He should be seen to be giving effect to his oft-quoted line that his re-election is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Whether he will allow the godfather to lead him down the path of duplicity and tyranny will unravel in the coming weeks. Whatever the nature of the broth the President and his new political father are brewing, one thing is certain: the will of a people cannot be subjugated for too long. This quote from Sam Omatseye provides an apposite conclusion to this article. In his Monday column “In Touch”, he wrote, on the 9th day of February, 2015 in his article titled “The Ambush”: “What we see today is a President who is running away from a time. But he cannot run away from time. He is running away from the people also. But both time and people will catch up with him. Maradona did same, postponed election after election and handover dates after handover dates. Eventually, the inviolate voice of the people spoke. Time always overthrows tyrants.”
Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere Esq., a Legal Practitioner, writes in from Abuja
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