General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory was one of the most courageous and brilliant military tacticians in our nation’s history. As a core professional soldier, he distinguished himself in the unfortunate civil war and, especially, in the now legendary Onitsha sector of the war. Indeed, his stubborn resolve to be at the war fronts, much against the design of his influential aristocratic family, was highly inspiring to those who served under him. And worth recollecting here were his roles in two major incidents in our national life.
The first incident was the July 29, 1975 coup that toppled Gen. Yakubu Gowon to usher in the regime of Gen. Murtala Muhammed. In the history of our nation, no government had ever been so secured and well fortified against any form of military coup as that of Gen. Gowon. As at that time, the entire nation’s military officer corps and the rank and file were dominated by men from the then Benue Plateau State (Gowon’s section of the country). Moreover, these same people did not only dominate the elite Brigade of the Guards, but were also fanatically loyal to the Head of State. It was therefore considered suicidal for any one or group of soldiers to even think of plotting Gowon’s removal.
Yet, the then Lt. Col. Yar’Adua and Col. Ibrahim Taiwo stuck their necks out for what they both considered as a principled action. Not only was the coup painstakingly bloodless, the leading actors went on to hand over the top prize, on a platter of gold, to a triumvirate of Murtala, Obasanjo and Danjuma. Whereas, if they chose, Yar’Adua and Taiwo could have been Head of State and Chief of Staff (Supreme Headquarters) respectively. The mystery of how the two men managed to co-opt all the divisional and brigade commanders (who were known as Gowon’s loyalists) would have best been heard from Yar’Adua since Taiwo died in the subsequent Dimka’s coup of 1976. In fact, it would have been very interesting to hear from Yar’Adua on how, where, when and what he and Taiwo did to “persuade” Gowon’s number one loyalist/bodyguard (the then Col. Joe Garba) to participate in the coup.
The second incident revolved around the 1983 presidential election. Shortly after the “landslide” victory of Alhaji Shagari, the then retired General was said to have approached Chief Obafemi Awolowo with a strange political proposal. If executed, it could have ensured the victory of Awo in the 1987 presidential election with Yar’Adua as his Vice President.
If alive today, the General would have shed more light on this incident. What role, if any, had the incident play in the sudden desire of Gen. Buhari to snatch power from his fellow Fulani (Shagari)? Why did Buhari insist he had no plan for a transition program as soon as he assumed office? And why did his government order the search of Chief Awolowo’s residence shortly after the change of government etc, etc? It would have been really interesting to get answers to all these questions from the horse’s mouth.
And what about the many political intrigues of the subsequent years? As soon as Gen. Babangida seized power from Gen. Buhari, he made Chief Awolowo his political “college” father. And no sooner had the same government of IBB commence its transition programme that the retired Gen. Yar’Adua launched his political career. Even though IBB was apparently not amused, he decided to bid his time. In the meantime, the organization and methodology of Yar’Adua’s political machinery was so broad-based, strong and powerfully effective as to stun almost every Nigerian observer. He went on to defeat hard-core, professional politicians in their home bases. In Yoruba land, for instance, the man trounced “ogbologbo” politicians including Alhaji Jakande and Chief Olu Falae. And he would have gone on to emerge as the next civilian president if the government of IBB, for some strange reasons best known to it, had not come out with a blanket ban that affected Yar’Adua.
In spite of this situation, the retired General established himself as a powerful force to be reckoned with in the nation’s political landscape. The transformation alone was baffling! Here was a man who was born into a feudal aristocracy, schooled in military dictatorship and oriented in an autocratic system of government. Yet, the same man became a “born again” democrat who humbled himself before the people while seeking their mandate to rule through democratic means. Till date, his political family, which consists of the present Vice President, is still thriving. And following in the man’s footsteps are many other ex-military officers who are now making their marks in the nation’s nascent democratic dispensation.
The ironic lesson here is the ease it takes a military despot to be transformed into a civilian democrat and the apparent difficulty of the so-called Nigerian democracy activist to embrace democratic principles. Is democracy meant only for a certain class of Nigerians or is an elective office a no-go area for some classes of Nigerians? This is the question one would like to ask the “Campaign for Democracy” as it declared and argued, a few days ago, that Gen. Babangida should be stripped of his rights to contest for the nation’s presidency in 2007.
Almost every Nigerian of voting age is aware of the atrocities committed by the various military leaders who had unleashed their autocratic reigns on our nation in the past. IBB was just one of them and it will be unfair to single him out for “punishment”.
This writer actually refuses to agree with the “Campaign for Democracy” that the IBB government destroyed all the cherished values in our country. No sir! Long before the IBB government, there had been armed robbery, 419, international prostitution, drug pushing, kidnapping, money rituals etc. Till today, the families, friends, neighbors and communities of the perpetrators of these vices will never cease to advance silly excuses for the involvement of their sons and daughters in these crimes. Since the 1970s, these vices have always been attributed to the “situation in our country”.
Besides, the dynamics of governance are too sensitive to be consigned to a cheap expression of sentiments and emotional outbursts while appraising a leader. Just like the other military leaders, the history of IBB’s leadership was not all bad stories without any good deeds. He did impose himself on our nation but he smashed the stereotype about every military man being a dunce. It was quite obvious that he had prepared himself for the task of re-engineering the nation on the political, economic and social fronts, more so, after the doldrums that attended the same nation under the regime of Gen. Buhari. Here is a brief analysis of the IBB government:
He started by assembling some of the best “brains” ever produced by our nation, putting round pegs in round holes. Chief Olu Falae (a technocrat) was the Secretary to the Federal Government, Dr. Kalu (a world re-known economist) was placed in charge of the Finance Ministry, Prof. Babs Fafunwa (an erudite scholar) was in the Education Ministry, Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti (an expert on primary health care delivery) manned the Ministry of Health etc, etc. And for measure, all these cabinet Ministers were notified of their appointments through personal phone calls from the military president.
In a bid to stabilize the polity, the government re-organized the military, the security and the intelligence apparatus and this led to the creation of the S.S.S., N.I.A, D.I.A and the D.M.I. Afterwards, the nation’s political landscape itself was so radically restructured as to put an end to the people’s penchant for voting along ethnic and religious lines. The establishment of two government-funded political parties achieved this feat. In fact, it was this political structure that produced the famous Muslim/Muslim (Abiola/Kingibe) ticket of 1993. In our type of nation, with all its mutually distrusting ethnic groups, it was only such a political structure that could have produced an unambiguous presidential election result such as the “June 12”.
Prior to 1985, the business interests of the Federal government were too extensive and bloated. It was the IBB government that began the withdrawal of government’s hands from every pie through the gradual sale of its shares in the banking, oil and the other industries. The government went on to stimulate the dormant economy by the execution of several policies that included the deregulation of the banking industry.
There was a vast improvement in the nation’s health care delivery under the independent-minded, no-nonsense Minister of Health. Marked improvements could also be seen in the other sectors of the nation’s social development.
Like almost every African military leader however, IBB was not without a blemish. In fact, his was a classic case of self-destruction. If only he had not been swayed by the many opportunists who wanted him to succeed himself. And if only he had listened to the few voices of reasons that advised him to quit the stage while the ovation was loudest, he would have gone down in the nation’s history as a hero.
By annulling the June 12, 1993 presidential election as won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola, IBB’s case could easily be compared to a man who labored to build a magnificent edifice and soon turned around to pull the same structure down with his own hands.
The resultant political impasse that enveloped the nation in the aftermath of the unfortunate annulment generated several workers’ strikes that crippled the nation’s economic activities. Many imported items were left to rot away in the nation’s seaports, several contracted business obligations could not be met and the financing banks could not get back their funds. Consequently, many businesses folded up and some banks simply went under. Millions of people got laid off from their jobs and the economy has not recovered since then. The consequence of the same “June 12” debacle was manifest in the political and the social structures, which were all pulled down in the aftermath of the annulment.
This was the biggest blunder in an otherwise brilliant military career and IBB is still in the dock of the court of public opinion. But what about the other major actors in the “June 12 ” palaver?
Chief Arthur Nzeribe of the “Association for Better Nigeria” fame is now a senior senator. In the last election, Mr. Uche Chukwumerije aka Minister of Disinformation also got elected as a senator. These are just examples. There are several others from among the civilian collaborators and the military “annulists” who are now senators, governors, legislators etc under the present democratic dispensation. And whether we like it or not, the people who voted for these men reserved the rights to exercise their electoral mandates the way they chose. To say otherwise is to insult them. And what about the other ex-military despots such as Obasanjo, Buhari, Ojukwu, Oyinlola, Ike Nwachukwu, Tunde Ogbeha and the rest who participated in the last elections? What rights have these individuals got that IBB should not have?
Democracy is dynamic and it can be very frustrating to some individuals especially among the democracy activists. But we all must learn to live with this bitter reality. Who would have expected a “fast lane” guy such as Morris Ibekwe to be elected as a lawmaker in the 21st century Nigeria? And who would have imagined a murder suspect such as Iyiola Omisore to be elected a senator while in detention? But they were the choices of the people who elected them and that must be respected. There are some Americans who still can’t get over the shock of seeing a young, fun-loving Bill Clinton elected as the president over a matured, experienced leader such as the senior George Bush in 1992.
At the last presidential election, Chief Gani Fawehinmi did not come second even in his Anthony Village environment. The electorates preferred to vote en masse for two ex-military leaders instead of the “people’s lawyer”. The same thing could be said of Mr. Femi Falana in Ekiti State and the other activist-turned-politicians who all lost in a big way in their various political aspirations. The reason for their losses could really not be far-fetched. These were individuals who thought being an activist could earn them “double promotion” in the political arena. As kids in politics, instead of first learning to crawl, they were trying to run. Yar’Adua was once the second most powerful man in the country. Yet, in politics, he humbly went over to consult with experienced politicians before launching his political career. Since a typical activist felt too big to do it this way however, all he had to do was to embark on the gradual building of a political base by starting at the local government level or the House of Representatives.
They not only ended up showing their poor knowledge of politics but also proved to be poor sportsmen. Their first reaction to the electoral losses was to declare that the elections were rigged. Of course, there were some malpractices in the elections. But to condemn the entire electoral exercise as being rigged was an insult to the intelligence of the Nigerian electorates. A case in point was the Yoruba land which is reputed for its violent reaction to any form of political imposition. Did it not occur to our dear activists cum politicians that none of the defeated AD gubernatorial, senatorial and legislative candidates in Yoruba land made any fuss about the election results? And why? Because they knew very well that even if there were some irregularities in Yoruba land, the mere fact that there were no complains from the people simply meant that the outcome of the elections was all right for the people. If not, the whole place would have erupted in flames.
Sadly, instead of joining hands together with the rest of us Nigerians, many of these activists are now attempting to scuttle the nation’s nascent democracy. The other day, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was calling for the toppling of Obasanjo’s government by “every means possible”. Indirectly, he was calling for a military coup! Coming on the heel of that ridiculous call for coup was the demonstration of the “United Action for Democracy” which also called for the removal of the elected president by “every means”. There are two possible reasons for these nonsensical, anti democracy behavior.
On the one hand, someone like Chief Gani Fawenmi thinks so much of himself as to expect to become the nation’s president at all costs, even if the people do not want him as their president. There are ex-military officers-turned-politicians such as the late Joseph Garba and the retired Admiral Lawal (of Kwara State) who lost at the last elections. The men took the losses in their strides. They neither insulted the people’s choices nor did they begin to call for the removal of an elected government by “every means possible”. Maybe we should refer the activists cum politicians to learn a lesson or two on democratic principles from those ex-military men who are now in politics.
And on the other hand, it’s been confirmed by the attitudes of these activists that they are completely idle and uncomfortable under a democratic setting. Without a military government, they get less publicity since no one is interested in making a detained martyr out of them. The activism “business” only thrives under a military government. Since the advent of the new Republic, the nation’s president has been criticized, abused and ridiculed on the pages of newspapers, magazines and the Internet. This is part of the “gains” of democracy. But to call for the forceful removal of the president is another kettle of fish entirely.
While we all Nigerians struggled and indeed paid some prices to attain the present democratic dispensation, it’s quite disturbing that every activist out there wants to be compensated with a public office for their own contribution. One can still remember the great financial and moral supports given to the campaign of Dr. Alex Ekwueme in the 1999 and 2003 PDP presidential primaries by the “Concerned Professionals”. Prof. Pat Utomi, Atedo Peterside (of IBTC) and many other members of the CP did not feel the urgent, compelling need to seek public offices and so they gave their support to someone they believed in. And even though their candidate did not win, they have not resorted to a campaign of calumny against the same democratic structure they fought so much to establish. The other activists need to learn from the “Concerned Professionals”.
Our nation’s nascent democracy is too young to be perfect so soon. The more we all allow its gradual but steady evolution, the better for our nation and the teeming masses. Whether they like it or not, the Obasanjos, the Babangidas, the Shagaris, the Ekwuemes, the Ciromas and the other members of the older generation of leaders will one day vacate the political stage for a new set of leaders. But this feat must be achieved through democratic means. Fortunately, the electorates are getting more and more politically sophisticated. Whoever thought there would be new-breed governors in the South-western States today?
Instead of trying to stop the IBBs of this world therefore, the “Campaign for Democracy” should keep itself busy by arranging an urgent “crash programme” education for the likes of Gani Fawehinmi on the need to respect democratic principles. Democracy and participation in electoral contests should be open to all Nigerians irrespective of their pasts. The electorates should be allowed to assume the role of judges.
As for IBB, the only way to make him atone for his past evil deeds and, in fact explain his role in the “June 12” saga, is to encourage him to come out in the open to participate in the current democratic dispensation. It will then be up to the Nigerian people to judge and render their verdicts by virtue of their electoral rights. These rights are equal in every respect. My rights, as an electorate is not inferior to that of any other Nigerian even if such a Nigerian wears the toga of an “activist”. Members of the CD and the other activists out there cannot arrogate some special, superior rights to themselves. Our people don’t need activists to dictate to them who to vote and who not to vote for in 2007. This will be tantamount to a usurpation of the people’s rights just as the military dictators did in the past. We cannot escape from the pangs of military dictatorship only to end up in the dictatorial clutches of some so-called democracy activists.