No Orchids for Mallam Sanusi By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, this has been another week of political brouhaha in Nigeria as the owners of the long knives moved in and cut the dagger’s man, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, into shreds. SLS, as he’s fondly called by friends and foes, had committed one of those commonest mistakes in warfare, and it is a useful lesson for all. A good student of military strategy would have known you don’t pull a gun if you are not ready to fire. History is replete with tales of such calamitous and fatal errors. I had expected a man as voluble and volatile as SLS to appreciate that truism. For allowing President Goodluck Jonathan to fire the first shot, Sanusi now has to fight from a defensive position when he should have been the aggressor. But I won’t write him off.
By singing like a canary against the government he was serving, he should have known that he had grabbed a tiger by the tail and been ready for a battle royale. He should have made the first move by resigning honourably to create the time and space for unbridled pugilism. He would have made it impossible for his assailants to dictate the pace and tempo of the war. In fact, he would have thrown their camp into total confusion and disarray. From outside, it would have been easier to fire from all cylinders. But SLS allowed a rambunctious ego to get the better of him and lost the initiative from that moment. Once the President, who is the boss of all bosses, called him and asked him to resign, he should have known the contest had started and he could no longer relax in the dressing room.
SLS should have read the game-plan well and studied the tactics of his opponents. President Goodluck Jonathan’s biggest strength is in always pretending to be weak and timid but pouncing venomously on his enemies when they least expect. There is no question that Jonathan is a world champion when it comes to the waiting game. Let me give a few examples. When his former boss, Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha ran into troubled waters in London and the lot fell on Jonathan to take over, the smart gentleman appeared like a disinterested person until power was thrust into his laps and he grabbed it with both hands.
A similar situation presented itself when his boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, became terminally ill and the Cabal hijacked his comatose body. Jonathan again outsmarted his oppressors by feigning total helplessness and forcing Good Samaritans in the Save Nigeria Group and the Enough-is-Enough organisation to fight on his behalf as a quintessential underdog. Some foolish people like me risked everything while stupidly thinking we were fighting for the enthronement of democratic culture. Little did we realise we were fighting to install aspiring dictators. At that time, it was okay to demonstrate on the streets. The then Vice President Jonathan even permitted the Secretary to the Federal Government to address the crowd and we were fooled into thinking a new rainbow dawn had arrived the shores of Nigeria.
The election of 2011 was an eye opener. Jonathan traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria campaigning as a humble and benevolent leader whose mission was to breathe fresh air into our lives. His shoeless story was classic and convincing. Jonathan won the election and Nigerians awaited the whiff of fresh air. They got something different on January 1, 2012, when the President announced a total withdrawal of subsidy as his New Year gift. Angry and stupefied Nigerians trooped to the streets to kick against the decision. Jonathan soon bared his fangs as he rolled out military tanks to intimidate the protesters and drive them away from the Lagos streets. Peaceful protests would no longer be tolerated.
Two more examples should suffice. The first is the story of Jonathan’s successor as Governor in Bayelsa State, Mr Timipre Sylva. There was a palpable cold war between them prior to Jonathan’s election in 2011. The President knew that to fight at that moment could jeopardise his chances at home. He promptly made up with Sylva and suggested all was well. Sylva went all out to support Jonathan not knowing that, like Constantine Demiris, a character out of Sidney Sheldon’s novel, Jonathan does not forget favours just like he does not forgive injuries! Today Jonathan is President and Sylva is no longer governor, courtesy of presidential might. Not only that, a new Governor was handpicked and forced on the people of Bayelsa State. Other candidates were bullied out of the race and went away like penitent school kids to lick their wounds in private.
My second and final example comes from the neighbouring Rivers State, where the incredibly brave Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and Nigeria’s extremely powerful and irrepressible First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, were locked in their own titanic heavyweight bout. As Don King, the Promoter, Jonathan postponed the titled fight to another day and was able to capture stupendous votes in the process. However, the tussle resumed shortly thereafter and Rivers State has never calmed down ever since. Every attempt has been made to remove Amaechi but I think the man’s Pastors or witch-doctors have been working over-time. Rivers State is one place the Federal might has failed woefully. Amaechi seems to have stayed ahead of the game and is ready to play rough against the Masters.
Had SLS been a good student of History, he would have done a better job of opening a can of worms at NNPC by preparing for the monumental backlash that would naturally erupt. I smelt something was in the offing the moment Jonathan sacrificed Stella Oduah and booted her out in such unceremonious fashion. Stella was the biggest fall-lady of this administration, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the regime. SLS should have girded his loins at that stage because if Stella could go who else is safe apart from perhaps Madam Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke?
The big lesson in the ordeal of SLS is that impunity begets impunity. He has become the latest victim and casualty of a system that gave birth to his own ascendancy. We need to properly situate the background to this battle of wits. SLS had bounced on to the national stage as a rampaging bull in a China shop when he was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He descended upon the banking institution with automatic alacrity and military precision. Nigerians goaded him on and hailed him as the badly needed reformist and reformer. The few of us who came out boldly and openly to challenge his process and methodology were called names our parents did not give us.
As far as I was concerned, SLS did not have to set fire to a whole village in order to catch a few rats. Institutions that were built on the sweat of so many people and different generations were dismantled in a jiffy and handed over to complete outsiders to run. The jittery and clearly intimidated shareholders were neither consulted nor considered. SLS preferred to throw the babies away with their bathwater.
It would have been nicer and neater if the bad guys had been expunged without collateral damage on innocent bystanders. But Sanusi’s sledgehammer descended heavily and mercilessly on the good and the bad. It was difficult not to suspect some malicious intent in this all-out war against an institution in which he had served before his appointment. Bank Managing Directors were craftily edged out of jobs under the pretext of having spent ten years in the saddle. The media was awash with stories about this supernatural Prince Charming on a Messianic mission. The hagiography had started and apotheosis was waiting in the corner. Those who disagreed with this idolisation were dissed as the enemy of the people. Our people preferred jungle justice.
Most Nigerians at the time were not ready to tread on the path of caution. They had forgotten the iconic warning that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Allegations of wilful damage and probable vengeance levelled against SLS were treated with contempt and disdain. The crucifixion of the bank MDs was more important to his supporters than the protection of democratic rights and institutions. SLS himself did not realise Nigeria is the biggest Mafia nation outside Italy. Corruption would never have thrived or festered this long, and as much, without the support and protection of the godfathers. The body language of the Mafioso while this entire holocaust went on should have forewarned him of the grave dangers ahead. He should have known from antiquity that if you live by the sword you may likely die by the sword.
I had similarly warned his friend, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in 2007 at the peak of his career in EFCC. It is not in the character of ultra-conservative governments to tolerate and promote untamed radicalism. Most of these governments were sponsored and installed at the instance and magnanimity of bad guys, as well as through proceeds of crime and corruption. It is thus difficult and impractical to expect them to fight their benefactors. As a student of Nigerian public affairs, I was so sure the hunter would soon become the hunted. And it came to pass. Ribadu had to vanish into rarefied air while the country he left behind continued to live and swim in sin.
If the truth must be told Nigeria is a nation of ambiguity and confusion. We all complain about corruption but soon join in the unmitigated debauchery as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We complain about poor Leadership yet we select the dregs of society and vote for the worst examples of mankind. We want Nigeria to become America by whatever stroke of miracle or magic but we are never prepared to learn about the best practises that made America great. We are never sure of what political system we wish or want to practise. We want to practise capitalism without capital. We want to be socialist without a heart for welfare. We want soldiers to behave like civilians and wish civilians can operate like dictators. Wherever it is convenient, and whenever it occurs, we want our supposed enemies to be punished. We really don’t care about conforming to standard and universal laws for all. We hope to eat our cake and still have it waiting in the freezer. We want to be the accuser and the Prosecutor and the Judge not only in our own cause but also at our own personal court.
I’m certainly saddened by Sanusi’s sack. I’m vehemently opposed to all forms of gangsterism in a democracy. The terrible habit of disgracing everyone we disagree with should be discouraged. Why wait till Sanusi left for Niamey before sending him a letter of suspension? Is it not a further waste of our already scarce resources? Why humiliate him at a time he and colleagues were to meet at a high-level discussion with a few African Presidents? What the government has done again in its desperation to punish its recalcitrant agent is to inadvertently turn Sanusi into a superstar martyr. The lesson of life is for a statesman to act statesmanlike in every situation.
When a strongman climbs down from his high horse to chase an ant, he diminishes his status. There is nothing wrong sacking your enemy decorously. It says more about your strength than your weakness. If Sanusi was considered rude to the President, the Commander-in-Chief should have been presidential in his response by pursuing a clean fight. Every fight must not end with bruises and permanent scars. By fighting like a wounded lion, President Jonathan has acquired Sanusi’s many friends and admirers as his enemies. This is not the time to heat up the polity. Jonathan already has more than enough enemies barely one year to the next election. Sanusi is not going to be an easy meat to chew.
I hope Jonathan and his warlords thought through the repercussions before they took on Sanusi two days ago. The reason I say that is simple to guess. It is always difficult to fight a man who is not afraid to die.
Ask the Americans.
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