It was during one of IBB’s many transition programmes. A friend of mine paid me a flattering courtesy visit while in our neighborhood to campaign for the local government chairmanship election.
A few days afterwards, I was privileged to play host again, this time to a different candidate. This other candidate, of all the contestants, was the most popular in the sight of the electorates who viewed him as a champion of the people’s interest. Personally, my knowledge of the man was limited. We had a brief rapport at the local Community Development Association (CDA) to which all landlords in our part of Lagos State belonged. This man had the reputation for being a very loud and visible activist who spearheaded or led almost every protest of the CDA.
As a major campaign issue, the biggest weapon used against the candidacy of my friend was his past military career. He was made to feel like a leper, not for any crime he had committed while in or out of the military, but just because he was once a military officer. This issue was so amplified as to distract the electorates from the man’s leadership quality and his tested professional exposure to public administration.
As for the other candidate, considerable emphasis was placed on his constant trips to Alausa (Lagos State’s seat of government) to “fight” for the masses. People were also reminded of the man’s penchant for loud protests over poor roads, poor supply of electricity and several community-based issues that made him popular.
Back to the courtesy visit. The popular jingo was on his way out of my house, when he pointed at my borehole and its supporting water tank.
“My brother.” He whispered with a mischievous grin. “You’ve got a mini-water works here…you must be making a bundle of money in this neighborhood.”
“What money?” I asked incredulously.
“From selling water…” He stated.
The man’s countenance however changed when I told him that I did set up a tap in my backyard for any one who cared to fetch water. But it was free of charge. At first, the man thought I was joking. But when he realized that I was serious, he shook his head.
“So” He remarked in a subdued anger. “You’re one of those “Good Samaritans” who have been spoiling our water business…?”
Long after this encounter, I kept wondering about this man who I later learned was a major water merchant in the community. And of course, the man went on to win the local government election and was immediately hailed as the “people’s chairman”. Alas! All that’s loud is not good music.
There were two lessons from these incidents. One, the hopes of the people for good roads, good waste disposal, “open door policy” etc were dashed all through the tenure of the so-called people’s chairman. Secondly and several years later, the governor of Lagos State, Chief Bola Tinubu made a startling revelation. He informed the then Executives of the CDA that the former “people’s chairman” was among some landlords in the community who wrote a powerful petition against the State government’s proposed public borehole. The interest group even threatened to derail Tinubu’s re-election campaign over the issue. When this information was subsequently released in the community, the people were aghast!
In reaction to some of my past articles, there had been comments from some individuals who shared their personal observations and experiences with me on the preponderance of phony activists in our country. As I will always state however, this is without prejudices to the few real activists who have been making practical, developmental waves in their various human endeavors.
Paradoxically, many of these genuine champions of people’s interest don’t even see themselves as activists. It’s their great, radical job performances as opposed to their utterances that showcase their positive roles in the growth of our nation. There are a few of them holding public offices such as Dr (Mrs) Akunyinli, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam El Rufai. And there are some others who remain unsung heroes in the civil service, teaching service, government agencies, hospitals and even the private sector.
On the other hand, how many of our citizens are aware of the big business that the Nigerian activism represents? Recently, one of the “VIP” activists was dragged to court by some of the employees in his “Non-Governmental Organization” (NGO). As if some of us did not already know, the aggrieved employees claimed that the NGO, in its annual budgets as submitted to the foreign donor agency, had always quoted and received payments for all expenditures (including salaries) in dollars. Whereas, the NGO had never paid the employees in dollars and not even in Naira equivalent of the quoted dollars. The shortfalls had been going into the pockets of the “founders” of the NGO.
This has been the practice among the numerous Nigerian civil, political and social rights organizations whose leaders feed fat on the hard currencies received as grants from foreign donor agencies. In fact, the activists have been eating their cake and having it. On the one hand, they are seen as the heroes or champions of the people’s interest. And on the other hand, they get paid handsomely for all their “troubles”.
Some of the most selfish and despicable acts of these activists took place during the June 12 palaver. When IBB annulled the election, naturally, there were several protests in some parts of the nation, especially in the South. But under the more dreadful Abacha regime and in spite of his “shoot at sight” order, these activists still went on to instigate people to go out in demonstration. Consequently, there were fatal casualties among the gullible protesters whose families have since been left to suffer alone and in silence. Yet, neither the activists nor their family members were exposed to these avoidable deaths.
Secondly, as terrible as Gen. Abacha was, he did try on about two occasions to release Chief M.K.O. Abiola through some face-saving court discharges. But these so-called activists pleaded, cajoled and even blackmailed the man not to “abandon” the June 12 people’s mandate. Unknown to the Chief, he was the hen that was laying the golden eggs. And the more he remained in detention, the more money the activists were receiving from their foreign sponsors for the “political struggle”. He could have been alive today.
Nigeria is like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where some few “smart” individuals will take advantage of the conditions and emotions of an impoverished people to feather their own nests. And as activists, these individuals will daily go to town reciting, “all animals are equal”. In their tiny, private empires however, their song is the Napoleonic tyranny. It’s even worse when they get to hold public offices.
And talking of public offices, so far, in the history of our nation, almost all the activists who took public offices have failed woefully. Prior to taking offices, they forgot that they were mere mortals like those they criticized. But when presented, through appointments to public offices, with the opportunity to make the changes they had often preached, they got overwhelmed by the enormous challenges that came with public administration. This was especially so but not limited to the periods under the regimes of IBB and Abacha.
One of the AD governors (1999 to 2003) used to be a self-appointed ombudsman in the old Western State. He was well known for his vicious newspaper writings against every act of government. This much must have contributed to the people’s decision to vote for him during the 1999 election. Unfortunately, he had nothing to write home about his tenure as a governor. Rather, he will always be remembered as the governor whose First Lady bulldozed her way all over the place while the First Son painted the town red, all at the expense of the State.
The man will also be remembered for having his security detail beat a poor lady to a pulp. Her offense? She had the audacity to drive her rickety car on the same road and at the same time as the governor. Unfortunately for the lady, it was in a bid by the security men to drive her off the road that she panicked and collided with the governor’s convoy.
To be an established rabble-rouser, all a person has to do is constitute himself or herself into a public nuisance. With constant criticism or better still, abuses of the nation’s leadership, the “critic” will soon be branded as an activist or a champion of the people’s interest. Under a military regime, the “activist” would either go for the hard currencies from some sponsoring foreign agencies or (and) waited for a government agent to approach him or her with the usual question “okay, what do you want?”
Under the present democratic dispensation however, the president is a stubborn, chronic miser who simply chooses to ignore all the whining noisemakers. The funny irony about Obasanjo is that as a military Head of State, critics abused him for being a timid stooge. But now that he is a civilian president who refuses to be pushed around by the many powerful interest groups, the same critics turned around to call him a dictator. In both cases however, Obasanjo appears determined to ignore the activists. He must have figured it out that they are only trying to justify the income from their foreign sponsors.
The only exceptions here are Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Mr. Adams Oshiomhole. The former is contended with his self-made riches while the latter is comfortable atop the multi-million Naira labor organization he heads. So, they can’t be compromised. And as leaders of the NCP and the NLC (or Labor Party?) respectively, Fawehimi and Oshiomhole constitute the only credible opposition parties to the present government.
Leaders of the other political parties can only sustain their positions by throwing the ethnic cards as it suits them in the address of issues of national importance. Fawehinmi and Oshiomhole, on the other hand, have earned so much respect at national level as to do without the ethnic garbs. Therefore, whenever they talk or act (rightly or wrongly), it’s usually because they have the genuine national interest at hearts.
As Fawehinmi and Oshiomhole are passionately nursing the ambitions to rule the country however, it will be in their best interest to avoid the tendency to be overzealous in their “campaigns”. In the short run, their popularity will soar when they play to the gallery. But in the long run, it will amount to putting their respective foot in their mouths.
Already both men are on record for their tough oppositions to the payment of Federal tax, deregulations, reforms, privatizations and just about every government policy aimed at turning the nation around. But supposing either the NCP or the Labor Party wins the 2007 presidential election?
If that should happen, either a president Fawehinmi or a president Oshiomhole will have some serious problems to contend with. Unfortunately for both men, each one spots a halo on his head like that of a Messiah. And this may be their worst liability in the political arena as different from their present safe haven of activism. Why so? Whoever emerges as president from among the two men must be prepared to perform miracles.
Under the presidency of Fawehinmi or Oshiomhole, the Nigerian masses will expect the nation’s refineries to be instantly repaired and made functional. There must be a regular, uninterrupted power supply, provision of pipe borne water, construction of roads in all the nooks and crannies of the nation, a revamped Railway system and a brand new national Airline. The Police must be sanitized, its size enlarged through massive recruitment and provided with a better remuneration package. Under such a “people’s president” the masses will expect the Federal government to subsidize the prices of foods and petroleum products. And what about the free stuffs such as free education at all levels and free health care service etc etc?
In a nation that has been plundered over thirty something years out of its 43 years of existence, the provision of all these beautiful amenities and a very utopian environment are possible within a few years if only the leadership is not a mere mortal like the rest of us. But since we are talking about humans here, how will Fawehinmi or Oshiomhole as president fund these radical economic turn around? To make matters worse, neither of the two men dares expect the poor masses to pay Federal tax in raising revenue while confronting these daunting tasks. And surely, they would have no temerity to take the nation through any form of economic reforms, deregulations, or (and) privatizations. This would only amount to each one swallowing his words. Even Obasanjo would cry foul.
Here therefore, is a word of advice from a poor, ordinary Nigerian: Henceforth, those who aspire to rule our nation or hold public offices at Federal, State or local government level, should give serious consideration to their words and deeds lest those things come back to hunt them when they least expect.