Yar’adua And Nigeria: Towards A More Perfect Union?

by Michael Egbejumi-David

On 27 January 2009, Mamman Bello Ali, governor of Yobe State died of Leukaemia in a Florida hospital. Some of the powers that be initially wanted to by-pass the sitting Deputy Governor, Ibrahim Geidam and began to canvass that Mamman’s younger brother, Adamu Bello Ali be made the new governor. In the end however, the younger Bello Ali was plucked from his normal life and made deputy governor to compensate the Bello Ali’s family. Meanwhile, House of Reps member, Baba Gishiwari Yusuf who had been up till then pencilled down for the deputy governor’s job was kicked to the curb. Yusuf’s qualification for the job? He was deemed the only National Assembly member from the state that remained loyal to the late Bello Ali until his death. Constitutional system and process counted for nothing. The new governor had no say in who became his deputy. He was just too relieved that he was allowed to become governor to raise any objection. Now, to whom is the deputy governor answerable?

That was just a microcosm of the larger Nigerian state. This is what continues to irk about Nigeria. The total disregard for standards and systems that has become instituted as the norm.

But, quite amazingly, Nigeria continues to stagger along. This is supposed to be our golden jubilee year. Instead of high gear preparations for a fitting commemoration, we are in a familiar morose head-scratching sulk and no one is in a celebratory mood. And if anyone is still in any doubt about the lopsidedness of Nigeria, look no further than Yar’Adua’s AWOL and all its ramifications, the latest of which is his handlers’ decision to have him croak only to the BBC’s Hausa Service after more than fifty days of nary a whisper to the Nigerian people.

I cannot imagine anywhere else in the world where what Yar’Adua and his handlers are currently successfully pulling off in Nigeria could happen. The Constitution, as it has turned out, is not even worth the paper it is printed on. It is not just the impunity; it is the stark and clumsy way disorderliness and unconstitutionalism is being effected. I want to say Nigeria has never had it so bad, but on reflection, Nigeria has always had it horribly bad.

A lot had been said and written about the meaning of Yar’Adua’s excruciatingly glaring incapacity and his regular refusal to hand over to his Vice as mandated by the constitution whenever he embarks on his endless medical leaves. Additionally, quite a lot is being written about the actions of that bone head, AbdulMutallab Jnr. But I think greater scope for honest analysis is what is required. We cannot keep dancing around the truth for fear of whatever.

A lot of people accepts that there exists a clique, a cabal in the country (the modern face of which they say is the PDP) that has Nigeria in a stranglehold and oppresses all Nigerians equally. They insist that this cabal has membership across the whole of Nigeria and their spokespersons are often from the South East. On the surface, this is true. But to my mind, the engine room of that cabal sits, was concocted, and has always sat north of the Niger. Their Southern partners are nothing more than powerless collaborators, opportunists and survivalists. After all, man must eat. These are the Iboris, Oyinlolas, Odilis, Kalus, Iwus and Alamieyeseighas. I don’t know whether it is still the case, but there was a time in Nigeria when even most military officers know enough to have a godfather north of the Niger.

In my interaction with a few South-South Governors since 1999, most of these guys own up that the reason they chop money is because they have come to understand that bigger and systemic chopping takes place up north but that people and media scrutiny in the south just happens to be more robust. This is not, and can never be an acceptable excuse of course, but the point is, even our leaders and people at that level don’t see and don’t believe in one Nigeria. But why is that?

For some fifty years now, because of early mistrust and uneven socio-economic growth, political power that resides north of the Niger was used, initially, to jumpstart and accelerate human and material development up north. Unfortunately, over time, this has led to greater unevenness in the very system that we were trying to help along because somewhere along the line, affirmative action assumed such an unwieldy dimension. The Army/Military was the first victim followed by the Civil Service and so on.

As time went on, and with many coups and a tragic civil war in the pouch as mementos, the southern part of Nigeria learnt to acquiesce in political Nigeria in order to just get along. Today, the system is such that value is never added to any entity or institution. Administrators of state and parastatals preside over their domain with a clear understanding that they cannot rock the system as is. If they even attempt it, they are out and will not get another chance. If you are enterprising and dynamic, you will not be able to function within the system because its rigid top-down hierarchical nature is now such that meaningful and measurable outcomes are not really what matters. What counts are the individual and group gains that are derivable from the system. So, for instance, it doesn’t matter if the school system or financial sector collapses, as long as those in charge are largely reflective of Nigeria’s political power in outlook and orientation.

A middle level manager in the Civil Service or any parastatal knows that his immediate boss expects some financial return on resources coming into the organisation. This boss in turn is expected to give to his boss and so on it goes up the chain. The lowly civil servant then cannot, and is not expected to show anything for his position. What is important in the scheme of things is that, within that entity, everybody plays their part. And to sometimes guarantee that this would remain the case, recruitment is effected purely on that basis even within the ambit of federal character. This has percolated and ossified into our national norm – the Nigerian factor. It has permeated every facet of our national life. It has grown and grown and grown and has become a huge monster; a deity. Within such a dreadful system where results don’t matter, and are in fact, not sought, bribery then becomes the most effective tool. With fifty years of practice, it is difficult to see how this would change.

When most of our leaders north and south of the Niger in the Executive, Legislative and even Military contribute no value whatsoever but just occupy office and space and impede general progress, you have to wonder why we persist the way we do. Votes count for very little now. But that is even a minor point. The main point is that the structure upon which Nigeria is built and continues to subsist is completely skewed and defective. Our institutions of state have become entirely bastardised. And this is why it is becoming ever so difficult to see the nation as a one Nigeria.

Let’s look at bone-headed AbdulMutallab Jnr. I was horrified to read a brief response written by a Northern colleague where he praised the young man for his austere lifestyle and general sense of commitment. Compared to the value-defined act AbdulMuttallab engaged in, when people argue that 419, international prostitution, drug trafficking, etc are largely Southern vices that have first brought shame onto Nigeria, again I say that is not addressing the underlying issue. Discounting career criminals who exist everywhere, why has 419, international prostitution and drug trafficking assumed the huge dimension that they have over the years? What has driven young men and women into such desperation? Fifty years after independence, what continues to drive young Nigerians from both north and south across the nation’s borders even to places such as Albania and Afghanistan in such huge numbe

rs? After all, people, especially the young, must seek to actualise self. I don’t know if the statistics exists somewhere, but if one were to do a study of proportional migration of citizens in the last three decades, Nigeria would be top by a very long way. Why is this the case?

If there is a one Nigeria, some people won’t see, for example, the re-denomination of the Naira as injurious to regional interest. A Deputy Governor of the Central Bank would not declare that he or she has taken specific monetary actions to defend the interest of the north or the interest of the south. Some people won’t perceive the call for the validation of a legitimate election as a regional call. People won’t see the apparition of sectoral marginalisation everywhere. If there is a one Nigeria, the Federal judiciary – especially the Supreme Court – won’t continue to look like a reserved area. Etc, etc.

Clearly, Nigerian leaders themselves don’t buy the idea of one Nigeria. It is just a convenient self-serving phrase. That notion certainly had never seeped downwards from the top in deeds. The reverse is actually often the case. What is noticeable are these same leaders yearly feathering their nests, padding their estates as if they anticipate some calamity to break on Nigeria any day soon.

In the last FIFA under-17 football tournament where Nigeria fielded a few old men and passed them off as young lads, quite a few people refused to accept that this amounted to cheating and that it was the wrong thing to do. More importantly, they didn’t see how doing things like this as the norm retards our national football growth. Well, it is the same way some ‘moderates’ (north and south) continue to refuse to see the root cause of the inequity and disequilibrium in the Nigerian state. Instead, they focus exclusively on its by-products: maladjusted leadership, arrested development, and crime.

What could embolden and would motivate Yar’Adua to consistently refuse to hand over to Jonathan as constitutionally expected every time he goes for medical care? (Please don’t forget that Yar’Adua and Jonathan are both in the same PDP, the so called modern face of the cabal). And after leaving the country in the dark for some fifty days or so, why would he only choose to speak to the Hausa service of a foreign media? In the midst of a constitutional stalemate caused by his sickly and incompetent self, this man chose to speak to the BBC rather than directly to all Nigerians. That is the template upon which the Nigerian nation is fashioned and it is clearly wrong. It is contemptuous and it is unacceptable. Above all, it is not working.

In the aftermath of AbdulMutallab’s misadventure, who is officially arguing Nigeria’s case and defending us? Certainly not Yar’Adua or his amateurish handlers. There is a loud and embarrassing silence from government as America has incorrectly tagged Nigeria as a terrorist nation. Or is this tag acceptable to our ?gas? Perhaps we are. After all, fellow Nigerians have been terrorised in their own country without let for decades without any leader raising an eyebrow so maybe this is seen as no big deal too. The whole thing is just so painfully rudderless.

And when Yar’Adua – or whoever the hell it was – spoke to the BBC, he made absolutely no mention of the country he left in the lurch. Nothing about the constitutional anomaly that we’ve had dumped on us for more than fifty days. Essentially, the Nigerian state is not that important and has to wait. What kind of system is this? Which kind of mindset is that? Well, it is the kind of mindset that says I’m not answerable to you. I’m bigger than you. Nigeria is inconsequential. I and what I get from it is only what counts. How can we continue to endure shame like this? Shagari – another classic product of the Nigerian factor – must be thanking the gods for finally taking the wooden spoon off him. 140 million people beholden to a man that is totally physically incapacitated and completely out of it simply because he happens to come from the right side of town?

By the way, I note that it is becoming fashionable again to label those who criticise Nigeria’s unsatisfactory setup as tribalists. That is nothing but sad lazy blackmail. When Obasanjo was criticised quite harshly for eight whole years, his critics were tribalists then too, abi? Meanwhile, our national imbalance persists, completely unaddressed and is rather wantonly, arrogantly and gauchely built upon as Nigeria continues to retrogress and diminishes the value of men, curtailing honest ambition, self actualisation and self fulfilment.

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