In the March 4, 2007 edition of his column, GLOBAL AFRICANA, in the Kenyan newspaper, The Sunday Standard, Professor Ali Mazrui, propounded a theory, which may assist in a successful hoisting of the flag of an African brand of renaissance. ‘The African Renaissance’ he said, ‘should strengthen the links between the academia and the media as two systems of information and knowledge. We might call this concept ACA-MEDIA (as distinct form ACADEMIA) linking the world of scholars with the world of reporters and journalists.’ This may be argued but I suppose we can welcome aca-media into the fold of the condiments needed for establishing the much-desired African renaissance. In the process of charting a course for the theory, Prof. Mazrui traced the nature of what constitute the emergence of African renaissance by recalling the circumstances of ‘Africa’s recapture of the Suez Canal in 1956.’ In the French speaking part of the continent, the erudite scholar considered ‘the vote for independence by the people of Guinea (Conakry) in 1958,’ as the initiating indices in that part of Africa.
The revered professor’s stance about the genesis of African renaissance in Commonwealth Africa prompted this reaction because it was laced with several historical and socio-political fallacies, which must be righted before the reading public perceives them as the truth. General Yakubu Gowon’s place in the Nigeria of history as a military leader was re-enacted and resubstantiated. Mr. Obasanjo, who took over the reign of power after the short but promising leadership of General Murtala Muhammed, took the centre stage. In his seminal stance, the skilful columnist questioned the nature of African renaissance he preferred: ‘Is such a transition from military ruler to a freely elected civilian a kind of renaissance?’ Then Prof. Mazurui launched the crux of the issue: ‘What has the African Renaissance got to learn from General Obasanjo himself?’ he queried and answered the question: ‘Giving up political power voluntarily is the answer.’
This is where I drew a distinct line of departure from the professor’s perception. Substantiating his first instance of celebrating Mr Obasanjo, the professor wrote, ‘He (Obasanjo) was the first African Head of State of any kind to voluntarily relinquish power and, at that, to somebody not of his own choosing.’
It is most disheartening that a respected opinion shaper and intellectual of Professor Mazrui’s influence should be so gullible as to describe Obasanjo as voluntarily relinguishing power in 1979 with the quantity and quality of information at his disposal. For a sound analysis of the circumstances of Obasanjo’s handing over power in 1979, one should examine the nature of the political connection between 1976 through 1999.
Obasanjo came to political limelight in 1976 when the Northern oligarchy dominated by the military officers and their feudal lord collaborators forced him tobecame the Head of State following the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed. Therefore, when the sham called general election was held in 1979, it would have been suicidal for Obasanjo to have handed power to another person other than Shehu Shagari, the anointed candidate of the forces that asked him to become Head of State in 1976.In the word of Seyi Oduyela, ‘it was not Obasanjo’s calling to hand over power in 1979, he was simply acting the script of those who put him there as Head of State.’ In 1995 Obasanjo and 43 other soldiers and civilians were jailed for their involvement in a coup to topple the administration of the then Head of State General Sanni Abacha. Earlier, the same General Abacha had consigned M K O Abiola, the man who won the freest and fairest election ever held in Nigeria to prison. It should interest everybody that M K O Abiola hailed from the same town as Obasanjo. It is also instructive that rather than fight for the release of the results of the election, Obasanjo fought against it. Therefore, when General Abacha died mysteriously in 1998 his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, released nine of the jailed Nigerians including Obasanjo. He also set a date for another general election.
With M K O Abiola’s death in prison, and the rage of the southern Yoruba still volatile and boiling, the northern dictators, symbolized by Abubakar, knew they must hand over power to another Yoruba man from the same tribe as the late M K O Abiola, if they hope to continue their unholy hegemony over Nigeria. The other reason was that they needed to compensate the South for the loss of M K O. Placed in this precarious situation, the search could not have gone too far: who else could protect the interest of the northern domination if not the man who did it twenty years ago. The man is not any Nigerian other than Obasanjo. As soon as it was determined to return him to power as a civilian president, General Abubakar granted him a state pardon; the move was to preempt the presidential candidates of other political parties from dragging the ex convict to court. And what other political party could accommodate the evil composition if not the reincarnated party of Shehu Shagari of 1979, National Party of Nigeria, and now called People’s Democratic Party?
Professor Mazrui embarrassed me in the article when he said the 1979 Nigerian elections were ‘the only free elections held in the country between independence in 1960 and 1999.’ This statement is both uncharitable and an insult to the political world and sensibility. Anybody living anywhere in the globe should know, must have heard or read somewhere that the only free and fair elections ever held in Nigeria at any point in time were the June 12 1993 elections. The results of which were annulled by General Babangida. Obasanjo supported the annulment of the election results; he said so in his book, ‘Not My Will.’ To people like Professor Mazrui, Obasanjo represents the true face of an African renaissance. The African world-view should be moulded against Obasanjo’s political, social and economic dispositions because he handed over power to Shagari in 1979. To an average Nigerian, the man, Obasanjo, embodies everything that is negative in planning any form of renaissance. If African renaissance is to be fashioned against the spirit of Obasanjo’s inclinations then Africans should be ready for the most horrendous living, and that is saying the least.
Another aspect of Professor Mazrui’s prescription for the take off of an African renaissance that left a bitter taste in my mouth was his prescribing the number of years a political leader should stay in power before he bows out. Hear him, ‘Normally, Heads of State should bow out after 10 years and only in exceptional circumstances after 15 years.’
One confusion arising from this prescription is the reference to ‘Heads of State’ and not ‘Presidents.’ I suppose Africa has done away with the era of ‘Heads of State.’ What is fashionable now is ‘Presidents’ and if anything, all prescriptions should be made with that mindset. Pray, who and what determines the normal number of years a political leader should stay in power before he bows out?
I am for the establishment of an African renaissance, and I support the revered Professor’s call for ACA-MEDIA but I frown at the attempt at tethering the rebirth to a dirty, flawed, pedestrian, evil and crude paradigm like Obasanjo philosophy. We should look for credible legacies like those of the Mandelas, Rawlings, Nyereres, Awolowos, Azikiwes and the likes.