Some years ago, I saw a documentary on television that captured the brazen attempt to remove the then Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, from office barely three years into his presidency.
Chavez’s offence was that, as soon as he became President, he implemented a true national constitution that enabled participatory democracy from the grassroots level on up. Then he went and built thousands of free medical clinics for the poor. He also increased government’s funding of education and, in just three years, he has increased the level of literacy in his country by an estimated one million adults. Chavez didn’t stop there; he went further and enacted food and housing subsidies. He also unfurled a program of land reform. The man then began to reduce the levels of poverty using State oil revenues.
You don’t need me to tell you that big business in Venezuela didn’t like what they were seeing. They didn’t like what Chavez was doing at all. However, Chavez’s biggest sin against them was that he began a comprehensive reform of the State-owned oil corporation. You see, back then, Venezuela was the world’s fifth largest exporter of oil, but 80% of the population didn’t benefit from the oil wealth. So Chavez moved against the corporation’s entrenched management that, in reality, was running the place like a private business. He also moved against the indolent and highly corrupt union. Chavez re-focused his nation’s oil policy to benefit its citizens first before worrying about the international export market. In no time at all, petrol was being sold in Venezuela for the equivalent of 3 Naira per litre.
All of that went down like a lead balloon with big business.
Unfortunately for Chavez, the TV stations in his country, except one, were owned and ran by the same owners of big business. These were the elite, the Cabal who had been running things in Venezuela for decades. The emancipation of the masses wasn’t profitable to them. In no time at all, they began to use their media to resist and to attack Chavez.
Then in April 2002, the pro-business cabal sponsored an oil workers protest. They also bribed a small group of very high-ranking anti-Chavez military officers to come across to their side of the divide. Some members of the upper class came out too, banging their pots and pans with expensive looking spoons. One evening, in the midst of this protest, a few military officers – a la Abaca, Diya and co versus Shonekan – waltzed into the Presidential Palace and, at gun point, asked Chavez to resign. Chavez refused. He was informed that if he didn’t resign, there would be a bloodbath with all the protesters outside, and that the Presidential Palace would also be bombed within minutes. Chavez still refused to resign as President but he agreed to be detained. He was led away by the officers and was subsequently detained on a military base.
A few minutes after Chavez was taken away, a wealthy business baron who was then the President of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, declared himself President of an interim national government. Carmona promptly abolished the 1999 constitution and appointed a small governing council to help him run the country. He also announced the reinstatement of the longtime head of the State-owned oil corporation whom Chavez had removed.
The next day, Carmona, his new cabinet – drawn exclusively from the privileged class, and the senior military officers who backed him relocated themselves to the Presidential Palace where they wined and congratulated each other, backslapping. Afterwards, their new Attorney General and spokesman, a most pompous, verbose chap, pronounced the dismissal of the Legislature, the Judiciary, all elected Governors and the Electoral Commission to a chorus of wild applause. More back slapping followed.
However, the masses – young and old – trooped out in a massive demonstration and in support of Chavez’s government. Of course they were confronted on the streets by the police. After three years, repression was back in Venezuela. The police were back shooting at their own people.
But the masses resisted and continued their protest. They continued to agitate for the return of Chavez. Then, the Presidential Guards hatched a plan and quietly surrounded the Palace. While the masses demonstrated outside, the Guards quickly retook the Palace. In the ensuing confusion, the usurper President escaped. He slipped away with some of his backing Generals, some of whom had hurriedly discarded their uniforms. Others were not so lucky. Most of the new interim cabinet and their supporters were herded downstairs into the basement and were put under arrest. They, including their loquacious, newly minted Attorney General, were made to sit on the bare floor. Their haughtiness firmly drained out of them.
In just 47 hours – two days – things have turned around. Chavez was returned from detention and a grateful nation heaved a sigh of relief.
Most unfortunately, in Nigeria, the exact opposite of the redemptive situation above is what obtains, and is what we have had on our hands for a very long time. The corrupt Cabal who only care about themselves; the corrupt Cabal who unrelentingly trample on our rights; the corrupt Cabal who treat the people with absolute disdain; the corrupt Cabal who hold us in utter disregard calls the shots here.
Would the real masses go out and rally in support of the current Nigerian government? Do they have a reason to do so? Daniel Kanu’s-style rented crowds don’t count. Since Murtala Muhammed, do the masses have the impression that subsequent governments – including the present one – represent their interests? Unlike Chavez’s, our own governments have been and continues to be wholly self-serving. Our own leaders condone, live and breathe sleaze. Our own governments have us in a chokehold and are gradually draining the life out of us and out of the country. We have a corrupt oligarch that is happy to divide us along ethnic and religious lines as long as we stay divided. We have a corrupt Cabal who actually believes that the masses are nothing more than a mere nuisance in its way.