I recently stumbled on a paper delivered by Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah at the Northern Senators Forum’s conference in Minna, sometime in 2006. I read and reread his comments and today, four years after he made them, I find that nothing encapsulates the dilemma that we find ourselves in as these comments and so I reproduce them below. Nasir
Towards Credible Elections in 2011
Let me thank the organizers of this Conference for having the confidence to invite me. I say so because many of my friends seem to complain that I do not grant many favours when I am invited to speak. Only recently, a senior official in government told me that I had already been slated to speak at a function that they were organizing. They had hoped that the President would send a representative and as such, they imagined that it would be easier to cope with what I might have to say. Unfortunately, they got word that the President had decided to be physically present at the event. At the final meeting, the suggestion was made that it might be too risky to invite me because my speech might cause some sparks to fly and then, he said, ” we would be in trouble.” The gentleman in question went on to say that he thought it was important to confess these lapses to me because he had a hand in suggesting my name as a Guest speaker.
I have always been amazed by how large that tribe of hypocrites continues to grow by the day in our dear country. To be fair, I was rather impressed by my friend’s sincerity but also felt really sorry for our nation and for the segment of the society that he represented. I remain saddened by the pride with which our elite continue to wear the garments of hypocrisy with so much aplomb and dubious grandeur. And these are the same people who continuously say they want our nation to chart a new course.
I felt sorry for those who fear that I will “cause trouble ” because there is very little in my views that I have not tabled before the President and I am sure he would have been disappointed if I spoke differently on the issues of our dear country. Anyone who knows me well enough should know that when it comes to the issues of Nigeria, I have some views that I hold strongly because of my convictions about them. And being a priest and a theologian, I have even a greater feeling of a sense of justice and the need for us to erect a just structure sooner rather than later before our society collapses under the dubious weight of hypocrisy and injustice.
I have enough knowledge of Social Science to appreciate that the substance of politics is the facilitation of the attainment of the Common Good. As a Catholic priest, I know enough about what constitutes the Common Good. I also know enough about how God wants His children to live in a country like Nigeria to which He has graciously given so much. So, “Trouble” is a sweet word to me.
When Professor Jibril Aminu sent his Special Assistant to deliver my letter of invitation, I was glad to accept to speak at the Forum because he is one Nigerian that I have come to respect for his sheer brilliance, transparent honesty to issues and his dedication to finding solutions to the problems of our nation. I was even more excited when I realized that my friend, Professor Attahiru Jega, a prodigious intellectual and now Vice Chancellor of Bayero University was also to speak at this occasion. However, when I called Professor Jega and he told me he would not be able to make it to the event, I was very disappointed. I make these preliminary remarks to underscore the fact that I am glad to be here and that if you have decided to invite me to speak, I hope you will be ready to hear what I have to say. Disagree with me if you wish, but I believe that a robust intellectual climate is one with the surest ways of ensuring a stable society where democracy can bloom. I really do regret Professor Jega’s absence because he would have added some penetrating insights into this discourse.
You have asked me to speak on the theme of your Forum, which is, Towards Credible Elections in 2007. Whatever may be my own reservations, I have no powers to alter the theme of the occasion. I will therefore try to work my presentation around the theme as you have presented it to me. To do this, I will divide this paper into five sections. Section 1 will problematise the assumptions in the theme that you have chosen. I will do this by providing some backdrop to help you explain why you think the 2007 elections are so special and to ask whether their success would lead us to a political Eldorado. In doing this, I will try to draw attention to the problems of succession in some African countries to illustrate the illusiveness of the theme of succession. Section 2 will briefly situate the nature of our predicaments in the past by seeking explanations and context for why things are the way they are in Nigeria. Section 3 will examine the issue of process and why this is important for this theme. The issue here is to help us move away from thinking about Who should rule to examining the How of the Process that brings out who should rule. Section 4 will focus on the North’s claims to power, looking closely at how these claims relate to the internal dissentions within the North itself. Section 5 will look at why there must be life after 2007 and why the elections must succeed. It will conclude by arguing that the solution to failure in a democracy is more democracy!
1: Transitions, Successions on Nigeria ’s Fractured Landscape
Nigerians have always been impatient with themselves, wondering how and why it is that their own piece of God’s earth remains so shoddy in almost everything it does. We are quick to point at the successful stories in other lands, arguing that somehow, something must be wrong with us as Nigerians in particular and the black race in general. This self- deprecation has become very popular but it is always sung outside the hymn book of Nigeria’s political realities. To be sure, there is need to trace the reasons why we continue to perform so poorly in almost every department of our national life. Nigerians and our so-called friends continue to wonder: Why does corruption persist? Why have we been unable to lift ourselves up politically or economically? Why does national unity seem to elude us? Why does our politics get so violent?
Why does inequality continue to deepen? Why do our communal and internecine conflicts persist? Amidst all these, why, many people ask, does our future seem doomed? It is impossible to answer these questions in this forum. However, contrary to what has become very popular parlance, I do not see these failures as a disease. Rather, I see them as the symptoms of a disease. And this disease to my mind is called military rule. Unless we can dissect, critique, analyse and gauge the quantum of damage that military rule has inflicted on us as a people and on all institutions of our national life, we shall continue to go round in circles wondering if we are cursed. This discussion is not about soldiers, their patriotism or lack of it; it is not about whether or not they gentlemen. No, it is for us as a nation to publicly admit that military rule was a mistake, a monumental disaster that was worse than an earthquake, at least as far as our dreams of institutionalizing democratic culture are concerned. Indeed, I would venture to say it was a mortal sin against the spread of democracy, development and the growth of our dear nation. This accounts for the state we are in and the damage will remain with us for a long time to come. If we plan to move forward as a nation, it is important that we expose these difficult phases in our lives. There is no doubting the patriotism of the military and their good intentions. Indeed, among them are some of the most decent human beings I know of. But in politics, the military in Nigeria have lost their respect and credibility. The military, like the priesthood, has to be above politics and there is little to argue in favour of a misadventure into politics. With hindsight, we can say that in the first few years, the military meant well. But after the late 70s, the decline started in earnest, elevating material corruption to Olympian heights and diminishing our collective sense of decency, cultural norms and communal harmony. As an institution, perhaps more than any other sphere of life, the military destroyed its collective ethos.
Indeed, the current Chief of Defence Staff, General Martin Luther Agwai, and some of his honest predecessors have openly agreed that military rule was a disaster. Over ten years before then, Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim, another gentleman, had openly admitted that the military then had become, in his own words, ” an army of anything goes.” I am not saying anything new. The only difference is that I am saying what many of us prefer to say in hushed tones or away from the fray. But, today, soldier after soldier, from such ” rebels with a cause” like Col. Dangiwa Umar to the likes of General Domkat Bali, the regret and disappointment have now become quite palpable. So, there is no need playing the ostrich now.
Those who continue to wonder why other colonized nations like the Asian tigers have done better than us tend to forget that none of these other nations went through the fractious, acrimonious, suicidal, fratricidal, bloody and corrupt military regimes that Nigeria has gone through. Even where and when the military leadership showed some sense of nationalism and patriotism as it did in the 70s, most, if not all, of this legacy was destroyed much later as the quest for glory and personal wealth made the battle for power more decisive and suicidal. The convoluted and disruptive nature of our military governments left their imprint on every department of our national life from the economy to the social fabric of our society. Today, we are reaping the fruits of the bitterness and sorrow left behind by the divisions caused by the many coups that took their toll on a weak, post-colonial state like Nigeria. Most of the communal bitterness that sprang up in the name of religious violence was actually residual bitterness engendered by arbitrary military decisions that tended to set one community against the other when states and local government creation and other national decisions were undertaken by the military.
Today, therefore, if our transitions to democracy seem so severely flawed, it is precisely because of these antecedents. For example, whereas other nations can talk of successions, can we in Nigeria really talk of succession? From October 1, 1960 when the British handed power to a new crop of Nigerian politicians, how many real successions have we had? For example, when we talk of succession, can we in truth say that successive rulers in Nigeria who have used guns to ambush democracy really succeeded one another? For, when you succeed someone, there has to be some order, some ceremony of transfer of power and so on. In our case where the military gained power by armed and violent overthrow of one another, this assumption is surely questionable. Let us check out the list and pose the questions. You do not have to give me the answers but check out the details:
1. Did Ironsi succeed Tafawa Balewa?
2. Did Gowon succeed Ironsi?
3. Did Murtala succeed Gowon?
4. Did Obasanjo succeed Murtala?
5. Did Shagari succeed Obasanjo?
6. Did Buhari succeed Shagari?
7. Did Babangida succeed Buhari?
8. Did Shonekan succeed Babangida?
9. Did Abacha succeed Shonekan?
10. Did Abdusalam succeed Abacha?
Did Obasanjo succeed Abdusalam
In all these instances, to the best of my judgment, it is only in the case of Tafawa Balewa and the British, Obasanjo and Shagari, Babangida and Shonekan and then Abdusalam and Obasanjo that we can really say (in some cases tongue in cheek) that a succession of sorts took place. A succession has to have a ceremony, no matter how uncolourful; it has to have parades and brass bands, and people have to welcome in the new man; they have to witness the handover of the baton of power from one person to the other.
If it is a succession that arises from a new leader emerging from a democratic process, at least the successor is encouraged to continue on the path already laid out by the party, i.e. uphold the Legacy that the party stands for. Sadly, in the case of the military in Nigeria, we had situations that looked like the case of some stranger suddenly interrupting a relay race, seizing the baton and suddenly racing to the finishing line and insisting that he or she be crowned a winner of the race! The successor often took over the seat of power by assassinating his predecessor, detaining, imprisoning or exiling him. Either way, the transfer of power tended to be oiled by blood. This has been the ugly logic of military rule with process being the casualty.
The bizarre, murderous and treacherous circumstances of military rule could never create an environment for a succession. It is important therefore, for Nigerians to know that simply filling our walls with the pictures of those who have robbed us of our freedoms and forced themselves on us does not warrant us talking about leadership succession in Nigeria. Outside the realms of democracy and the free choice of leaders, we cannot talk of succession. The lack of predictability and rules of succession means that the next ruler has to be the one who pulled his gun first. This has made it morally impossible for the beneficiary of a military coup to justify killing an armed robber by firing squad since he too used a gun to rob another person of power.
Sad as our situation may be, it raises other issues for a nation that is seeking to return to rules and process. The military governed us without a Constitution. That means that there was no legal basis for governance. Some have often praised the military for building roads or being benevolent. But in the same way, a man can break your door, forcefully enter your house and perhaps finally dash you some money. But his generosity is not the issue: the issue is the illegality of his entry without your consent!
The negative impact of military rule is still prevalent in our politics today. For example, our people remain cynical of politics and politicians because of the devastating blow that military rule inflicted on due process and political culture. The military embarked on what scholars now refer to as ” transitions without end” in Nigeria largely because their greed for power and ego could not contain the contending social forces and dynamics of Nigeria. They intimidated, blackmailed and routed all social forces that stood against them. They forced us to join Parties that they created, they forced us to give birth to new politicians overnight, and they forced half baked Constitutions on us. They forced us to organize and play politics in a ring whose ropes were held by them. They also arbitrarily drew up the rules, they banned, un-banned and banned politicians and their parties. Nigerians, still resilient, stood in the rains of injustice and voted. It was not surprising that this macabre dance ended up with annulment of the most credible elections in Nigeria and the subsequent killing of the winner of the presidential election. The military revolution reached its epoch when it began to swallow up its own children and jailing its former rulers. The Abacha regime administered the last rites in the funeral of military bestiality in governance.
After these traumatic developments, do we now realize why Nigerians ” feel one kind ” about democracy, elections and succession? Do we appreciate why, when the whistle of politics was blown, the best stayed away? Thus, after swallowing all the rot of the military, is it surprising that the system has shown its true characteristics, marked by so much volatility, corruption, brigandage and all the hallmarks of the contradictions of the military past? A symptom of this volatility can be seen in the haemorrhage of key personnel in the National Assembly and within the ruling PDP in the first years of the return to civil rule. For example, we witnessed a rash of Party Chairmen and Senate Presidents in the first five years, accusations and counter accusations that many members of the National Assembly possessed fake certificates and that some were allegedly involved in drug running and all other undemocratic and criminal activities. These seemingly isolated events were the first sign that the nation’s digestive system had been badly affected by the macabre diet served by successive military regimes. The rest was the politics of constipation which was marked by hired assassinations, random corruption and party quarrels among so many others. These ugly events took their toll on the confidence of our people in the democratic process. I have gone so far just to demonstrate some of the symptoms that point to how and why our democracy has been ” one kind.” Let us turn our attention now to the issues of successions and their lessons for us. : Succession, Obsessions and Legacies:
Now that we are in a democracy, the critical question is, how can we ensure credible succession? Philosophically, there is probably nothing straight forward about succession. Credible succession can only take place when there are ground rules, there is a Party machine that is disciplined, has cadres who have risen through the ranks, who know the Philosophy and spirit of the party and can subordinate themselves and their interests to the supremacy of the Party. There are also necessary support institutions outside the Party system. These are an established Judiciary, a robust Media and a disciplined civil society. Where the rule of men has replaced the rule of Law, succession is characterized by arbitrariness. Thus, even when elections ceremonially take place, they are built around the cult of the personality of one person, that is, the Big man in power. I will use two sets of examples, one to show successful and credible successions based on some of the ideals listed above (rule of law) and the less credible ones based on the personality cult ( the rule of man). The idea is to demonstrate some of the loopholes that we need to look out for if we hope to have credible succession.
It is assumed that when we worry about succession, the Party’s supremacy and the principles of the struggle are the basis for legitimating any claims to succession. So, when an outgoing President is on his way out, it is assumed that the successor has been so schooled in the ways and discipline of the Party that it is taken for granted that by serving as a Deputy, he or she would have already imbibed the right mental frame to carry on where his predecessor would have left off. The stories I will mention are based on these principles and objectives. First, the good news.
In Botswana , perhaps the nation with the most disciplined and enviable democratic tradition in the whole of Africa, we have witnessed a succession from Seretse Khama straight on through Ketumile to the incumbent, Dr Festus Mogae. While I was a Senior Fellow at St Antony’s College Oxford, I had the rare privilege of being invited to listen to President Mogae speak at a select round table at the London School of Economics, London (his alma mater) in 2003. I was bowled over just listening to his eloquence. He spoke about his country and its struggles. I left the event very impressed and wished that many other African leaders had the kind of intellectual baggage that the man had brought to the table of governance. In all this, the Botswana Democratic Party has been the escalator on which all men have risen to power in Botswana. All successions in that country have been very smooth, free from rancour and successful. It is almost certain that when Dr Mogae’s term expires, Seretse Ian Khama, his Deputy and the son of the late President Khama, will succeed him. In Tanzania, Nyerere’s Chama cha Mapinduzi has also seen a successful succession right through from Nyerere himself, through Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa to Jakaya Kikwete, the incumbent.
In South Africa , the Mandela-Mbeki succession has also been of this mould. Whatever differences there have been, it has been easy for the Party caucuses to get all contenders to fall into line by their invocation of the supremacy of the Party. In all cases, these Parties have mobilized their people based on a combination of factors which have implications and lessons for Nigeria. They used traditional institutions (Seretse Khama himself having been a Prince of the Bangwato tribe) in Botswana. In Tanzania , they used workers, schools and neighbourhood associations as vehicles for building the Parties and ensuring discipline. In South Africa , the anti-Apartheid struggle was the nursery and primary schools and the university through which all graduates passed. Thus, today, whatever sins Zuma may have committed, all you have to do is to invoke his role in the struggle and all will be forgiven. I have used these examples to explain what happens when a nation has Parties that have history, culture and tradition. Now, let us turn our attention to what I call the bad guys.
In Cameroon , we had Ahidjo who ruled and finally handed over to Paul Biya. Biya had served as Ahidjo’s deputy and was his anointed. Sadly, when Biya took over, he went on to purge the Party of Ahidjo’s legacy and support. Ahidjo died a tragic death and today, his corpse is in exile in Senegal! In Senegal , Professor Senghor who ran a very successful administration handed over to his anointed, Diouf. But again, Diouf took over and proceeded on a campaign of the De-Senghorisation of Senegal. Senghor died sadly in exile in Paris. In Zambia, Mr. Fredrick Chiluba handed over rather reluctantly to his anointed, Mr. Mwanawasa, after plans to amend the Constitution had failed. He had, in a moment of spiritual apoplexy, declared his country a Christian State! Today, his earlier plans to become an Evangelist in Pastor Joshua’s Church of All Nations are presently on hold until he survives his rather messy divorce and allegations of corruption. Similarly in Malawi, Muluzi who took over from the late Kamuzu Banda almost refused to hand over power. He only did so when his attempt to mend the Constitution failed. But, again, his anointed, Bingu wa Mutharika, took over and proceeded to dismantle the Party, formed a new one and again went on to diminish the legacy of Muluzi. Today in Sudan, there is war in Darfur . But, although this war has been presented as a war against the black people of Darfur, and it may actually be, the larger issue is that this is the base of General Bashir’s arch enemy, El Tourabi. Strangely, it was El Tourabi who anointed El Bashir. Now, Bashir is doing his best through a scotched earth policy to totally reduce the image of Tourabi to rubbish by destroying his political base in Darfur.
I have brought forward these examples so that we can move away from the dubious assumptions that all we require for a successful transition is for the incumbent to anoint a successor. Indeed, right now, many Nigerians are worried about this transition because they fear that the real problem is that President Obasanjo has not anointed a successor. They argue that this is heating up the system and likely to cause confusion for the ruling Party. So, anointing is the key to a successful transition, they argue. But from the examples I have listed above, it seems safe to assume that tradition, institutions, history, discipline and philosophy are more serious ingredients for a successful succession than the whole issue of who the so called sitting Big man decides to anoint. So, how should Nigeria ensure a credible succession? To this challenge I shall now turn.
3: Guidelines and assurances for successful and credible Succession
For any succession to be credible, certain issues must be in place. Some of these are tangible, others are not. First of all, credibility does not depend on Who wins. It depends on How a winner emerges. Military rule was an illegality; so those who ruled sat on stolen thrones. Process is the key to a credible election. Thus, the following questions will have to be addressed for us to consider a succession credible.
1. Does the Party in power enjoy undue advantage over others in any way?
2. Are there loopholes it could exploit to enrich the ruling Party unduly?
3. Are the sources of every contender’s funding clear?
4. Are there rules of the game that everyone understands very clearly?
5. Have all the actors in the process signed on to the Laws?
6. Do all the actors understand the laws of the game?
7. Are the rules fair to everyone?
8. Do all parties have a level playing field?
9. Do all the participants have an equal chance of winning?
10. Do all participants have equal access to Media?
11. Do all participants have equal protection before the Security agencies?
12. Are all sides comfortable with the Electoral laws?
1 Are there guarantees of equality before the law by all participants?
2 Are there assurances of the freedoms of Referees and neutral observers?
In principle, so much must and does happen in politics. Sometimes Nigerians think that it is only their politicians that quarrel and fight. These are the ingredients of politics and in the oldest democracies, whether it is the United Kingdom or the United States , the stories are the same. Consequently, there are no reasons for us to worry about quarrels in politics or among politicians. This is natural because politics is not a social gathering; nor is it a picnic. Even if it were, there are quarrels in all these. Quarrels and misunderstanding are all part of our human life and they happen everywhere; in Churches and Mosques, among families and so on. Within religion, it was the quarrels within the Catholic Church that brought about the splinters within the Body of Christ today.
Islam, it was the quarrels for succession that led to the emergence of the Shiites movement as we have it today. Secondly, there is no need for us to worry about Claims in politics. This is also natural. If, as some people say, some part of the nation claims that they are born to rule, I do not worry about these claims. Similarly, I argue that in principle, there are certain rights that we cannot take away from people in a democracy, including the right to think stupidly and foolishly. The white people in South Africa spent the better part of 300 years claiming that they were superior to black people, took their land, and enslaved them. Where are they today? The Hutus in Rwanda thought that they were born to rule over the Tutsis. Men believe that they are born to rule over women. Today, these myths are being exploded. Politics is the art of dislodging these claims. The real challenge is whether we have the discipline to let the system correct itself instead of the military intruding and hiding their egos and ambitions with claims of righteousness. These claims, no matter how preposterous they may be, cannot be wished away simply because they are not popular. Only open competition and persuasion can serve as arbiters.
In Nigeria , we have chosen representative democracy. We could have chosen something slightly different, whether it is Monarchy, Socialism, Aristocracy or whatever. Since we have chosen representative democracy, we must renew our faith in those whom we have chosen to represent us. So, whether it is the debate over Term limits or Term elongation, we need to trust that it is our representatives that must do the job. When they fail us, the only harm we can inflict on them is to deny them our votes.
But we must never mistake Fascism for Patriotism. In the last few weeks, the Anti Third Term people have been busy beating their chests and abusing all those who held a contrary opinion
from theirs. While this sad debate lasted, no Nigerian was free of abuse. The battle lines were so sharp that citizens were labeled criminals, traitors and so on. This ridiculous intolerance was taken to a bizarre level and the philosophy was: You were damned if you supported Third Term, damned if you did not support, damned if you were agnostic!
Clearly, this, to my mind, is not democracy with its characteristics of robust debate, decency and fairness. We cannot say that the only rights that others have in a democracy is a right to agree with us. That is Fascism. Its funeral took place over 50 years ago. What we must now learn, and learn quickly, is to Trust Politics even if we do not like some of our politicians. The failure to trust politics has been the bane of our politics and it has been the conveyor belt of the opportunism of the military that have ended up leaving us with a cure that was worse than the disease they came to cure. So, we must learn tolerance and agree to disagree amicably and develop strategies for managing conflicts and disagreements no matter how deep the issues may be.
Once we deal with these problems, other issues are a bit easier. For example, there will be little we can do about certain issues in a competition. In any game, all sides have different scales of advantages or disadvantages. There are what we can consider as permissible and impermissible advantages. Politics is about persuasion and sometimes all political debates do not follow linear logic. Politics is about trading off myths and ideas, all in a bid to win support for our cause. Lies are not permitted, but it is the duty of the electorate to sift through these. Consequently, politicians have to seek whatever advantages they can find. And this is why the game has to be played by the rules. Politicians will always try to use these advantages if they can get away with them. This is why these advantages are characterized. For our discussion, Permissible advantages include charisma, brilliance, speaking skills, pedigree, numbers, ethnic or religious homogeneity, experience or other connections. Impermissible advantages on the other side include corrupt money, corrupt connections (with the Mafia, for example), manipulation of ethnic or religious affiliation, misuse of the media or security agencies by the ruling Party or the ones in power, the deployment of state resources, etc. Here, it will be the duty and responsibility of the state through its relevant agencies, the media, faith communities and civil society to regulate, expose and seek to punish those who break these rules. There is no doubt that many will try to break these rules.
4: The North: A Religion or a Region?
Now, how does this challenge affect the North? From what I hear, we have been told that there was an Agreement and that the tensions in the polity now are about the implementation of that agreement. I have no wish to quarrel with this because it is a claim. That claim has to be tested within the smoking rooms of the PDP. But whether or not power comes to the North, there are a few questions that all Northerners must address. I use the word North with reservation but I realize that it has taken a political life of its own. There are questions that I feel we need to ask ourselves here.
First of all, who is a Northerner? The first very important question we need to ask is, is the North a Region or is it a Religion? We need to ask this question because there is very little evidence to suggest that we can take everything for granted. Let me use a few examples.
Those who glamourise the North fall back on the claims that in the days of the Sardauna, there were no distinctions among the citizens of the region. This is just not true. In my book, Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria, I exploded this myth by demonstrating with empirical evidence the fact that there were chinks in the armour of these claims. However we shall ignore that for now. In the current debate about power, we are being told that power should return to the North. It is instructive to note that the current debate is not about how to deepen democracy, but how to take power. All this is symptomatic of the military preoccupation with state capture as the driving force for disrupting the system through coups. Of course, there are theoretical problems with this claim because, clearly, we cannot have democracy by freezing the political space. It will be like saying ahead of the game that all Nations are going for the World Cup, but we must respect the fact that it is the turn of Africa, Europe or South America to win the cup. There would be no reason for competition if the competition is tainted with claims about Agreements. What we have is not competition but a fait accompli. But notwithstanding these claims, and assuming that we concede to these emotions, how shall we know when this power comes to the North? How shall we recognize the Northerner? Is it by the fact that he or she is indigenous to the geographical space that used to be called Northern Nigeria before 1967, or are there other hidden credentials?
I make this observation because although we claim that the North is a region (though it ceased to exist in 1967!), we are summoned to respond to the call of the North on the grounds that our unity defies boundaries of geopolitics. But, to my brothers and sisters who are Muslims, I wish to ask a few questions which I need you to think over as opposed to giving me answers. Assuming that power does return to the North, if the new Presidential candidate is called John, Thomas, Sarah or Felix, would you be ready to embrace him or her as a Northerner? I am asking this question because from my personal experience, this North seems to be more concerned with religion and not geography. Two examples will elucidate my case. Let me use very recent examples even though I do know that most of us here will be familiar with many similar stories in times past. When Senator Isaiah Balat was made a Minister in 1999 and the North was crying of marginalization, it was pointed out that Senator Balat was one of the Northerners in the administration. Some Northern politicians said openly that Senator Balat was a Christian not a Northerner! Similarly, in 2005, when I was appointed Secretary of the defunct National Political Reform Conference, NPRC, one of your newspapers mounted a campaign of calumny against my appointment. My credentials were not being questioned. What was being questioned was the fact that in their jaundiced view, I was a Christian and not a Muslim! These so called defenders of the North heaved a sigh of relief when a Muslim from the South was appointed to serve as a Co-Secretary with me. They were prepared to overlook the fact that the President had actually sent them someone from his own state. As long as it was a Muslim, nothing else mattered to these strange Northerners. Are these the Northerners I am supposed to join forces with simply because it has become expedient for their questionable interests?
Since Kaduna State was created in 1967, no non-Muslim had ever had his or her name submitted for a federal appointment as a Minister, Ambassador, Federal Permanent Secretary to represent the state! It is only in the brief interregnum of General Abdusalam’s regime and the current Obasanjo regime that non-Muslims have had a chance to represent the State at the Federal level. We are talking about less than ten years ago. Even this, as I have said, has not been without recrimination, accusations and abuse of the person of the present Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi by the same Northerners who are asking me to blow a trumpet whose tune I do not know. In the same Kaduna State, of all the Federal projects allocated to the State, not even one can be found in the vast land that covers the Southern part of the State up till date. I can go on and on by using Kaduna state as an example, but these scenarios can be reproduced.
These are the stark realities that we face in the North today and there is therefore no need to pretend that now is the time to rally the troups so that power can return to the North. We are all supposed to jump because someone has said we should jump. I place too much premium on myself and my personal sense of dignity and integrity to be led by the nose on a journey whose destination I do not think I understand. I am ready to travel this road, but someone should show some respect to me by at least ensuring that we all agree on the destination. Those in the North who now believe that it is time for power to come back to the North should also address the issues of the internal colonialism that has shut non-Muslims out of power in places like Niger, Kogi or Bauchi. Similarly, we also need to talk about the prospects of non-Christians in Adamawa, Benue or Plateau as the case may be. We need to widen the tent to ensure that, indeed, all those who inhabit this space have a chance to state their grievances. It might actually be the case that most of these are problems of perception. Nonetheless, we still need to talk about them openly. Those who have been benefiting from representing and speaking for the North will not give up. But if we are to be rallied as a region, then it cannot be right that we are only being rallied when it is time for politics only to be abandoned when ” food don ready.” So far, too many of the soldiers have feathered their nests to the exclusion of the ordinary people.
The problems in the North are not just problems of Christians and Muslims as people tend to believe. Within the Muslim community, there are lasting tensions and ingredients for conflict. These have been going on even before the coming of the British. Similarly, there have been tensions and conflicts between the various non-Muslim ethnic communities in our Northern states. There is no need for us to pretend that all we need is for Muslims to be fair to the non-Muslim communities. Nor is it right to assume that all Muslims are privileged and that they benefit from this arrangement. Majority of the Muslims I know do not benefit from this arrangement. The tiny members of the elite who are across the board are the danger and their legacy of injustice should be collectively dismantled by all of us. We need to ensure that within the North, no communities feel marginalized on the basis that they are a religious or ethnic minority. Many of the states have reproduced the same contradictions that the non-Muslims accuse the Muslims of possessing. They have internal ruling classes who use their numerical strengths or connections to lord it over others. We need to reverse this so that ethnic minorities can feel a sense of belonging: the Idomas in Benue, the Muslim communities, whether they are in Adamawa or Plateau, the non-Muslims in Kogi, Kwara or Niger. This is the basket of problems that we must resolve so that this famous North, whether it exists or not, can be meaningful as a means of generating confidence. The problems of the North are not the problems of Muslims seeking power over the rest of Nigeria. They are merely a microcosm of the nation’s problems. We can win this war if we realize that things have changed, that the poor and ignorant of yesterday are now better educated and equipped. The future does not belong to men with blue, yellow or green blood strains. It does not belong to men or women from the right tribes or religions. It belongs to those with Ideas, Visions and Dreams. There are the challenges that are now called the new world order. We either prepare to fight and win this war or we may be mere spectators in the field of life.
There is an urgent need for all to join hands in waging a campaign that seeks to level our society in general across religious, ethnic and regional lines. This is a battle that the Northern political elite can win if they really put their mind to it. But for this to happen, the Nigerian state must strengthen its legal system, giving those who perceive the oppressive weight of any hegemonic class the right to challenge their conditions. Our pluralism has been held hostage and the absence of a legal framework is what has made it easy for politicians to turn the region into a war zone of hatred where innocent citizens are daily slaughtered at the slightest provocation by circumstances beyond their control.
I hear the songs of the glorious days being sung everyday. But the truth is that the past was never as glorious as is being presented today. We cannot go back to that past. Sometimes, we use the past as a palliative to sooth the pangs of the present, thereby shielding ourselves from responsibility. This leads to paranoia and a false hunger of those slippery halcyon good old days. What we need to do is to move forward because there are serious problems staring us in the face and as the old man, Marx, said, every generation must live out its challenges. Let us not deceive ourselves because most of our problems will not be solved by Northerners merely being in power. If that were the case, the North today would almost be a paradise. When we cross check the opportunities we have had with what we have done with them, there is need for the North to worry and then for the rest of Nigeria to wonder what the implications of all these cries of return to power really mean for everybody. We must worry that Northern rule has suffered severely from negative characterization. Most of these prejudices are well known to us all.
We need to redeem our image and show the rest of the nation that we are ready to face the challenges of a new world order. After all, in 1999, the Northern states showed Nigeria a style of politics that was clearly a break with the ways of the old. While elsewhere the average age of Governors was 50-60, in the whole of the North, the average age was 40! How and why did these young men squander these chances?
Today, if power comes to the North, what will Northerners do with it? What are the challenges that we face? We need to appraise these realities so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past and then strengthen our resolve to subordinate ourselves to play by the rules that guide politics everywhere. An appreciation of the context of this is important for mobilizing our people for genuine politics of unity and reconciliation. Northern politicians and statesmen/women have to answer a few questions about their sins of the past. Let me draw attention to what I call a few housekeeping matters. I call them housekeeping matters because they are the things we need to deal with internally in the North before confronting the rest of Nigeria.
Today, there is a total of 25 licensed Banks in Nigeria. Out of this list, not a single Bank is what one might even call a Northern Bank. This is in spite of the fact that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that the Bank had granted debt cancellation to the Bank of the North running into over N50b, enough to have set up two new banks. So if power comes back to the North, will it change the Banking landscape? Will it give us a new Bank? Secondly, today, there is hardly any industry that is performing in Northern Nigeria, from the Textiles to the Manufacturing companies. Will the return of power to the North reverse these ugly trends? Will it open up the seven Textile Factories in Kaduna? Thirdly, today, most of the states which are falling behind in Literacy and Admissions into higher institutions of learning in Nigeria are all in the Northern states. Will the return of power to the North reverse all these? We hold the trophy in the persistence of such preventable diseases like Polio, VVF, Blindness, etc. Will the return of power to the North reverse all these?
The spirit of forgiveness will help to forge reconciliation among the various communities who have been wronged in many ways by all sides. These wrongs are not just a basket of allegations by non Muslims. No, they are across the board. A united North will have to realize that greatness lies in tolerance, accommodation and an appreciation of new changes posed by education and so on. Against the backdrop of a society founded on justice and the rule of law, many other things can easily fall into place, thus enhancing national not regional integration.
5: Beyond 2007: Taming the Demons…
Finally, there are the critical issues of what this tussle for power is really all about. It is important that we understand the reason why all sides in the political divide want power at all costs. The critical question is: What do we want this power for? At the floor of the NPRC, there were genuine feelings of anxiety with all sides crying of marginalization. Many members genuinely agreed that there were indeed perceptions about injustice and these sentiments were deep. Some, therefore, proposed the rotation of power as the antidote. The idea of a rotational Presidency was flown as a kite and it did become a popular option in the eyes of many as one way of ending injustice in Nigeria . Almost everyone knew that the idea of rotational Presidency was largely undemocratic, but there was a general feeling that people had had enough of corruption and injustice. However, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa cut rather close to the bones when he said that by campaigning for a rotational Presidency, all that the proponents were really calling for was rotational corruption!
I do believe that it is important that we seek the best ways to build a just and fair society. So far, this has not happened in Nigeria. As long our leaders exercise power without control, so long will politics remain violent and a zero sum game. If we want power just to allocate resources to our families and cronies, if we want power just to allocate oil blocks/wells or take privileges away from others, surely, we cannot hope for peaceful transitions, successions or elections. There is clearly a need for us to identify what we need to do now, identify the type of men and women we need to do the job rather than seeking democracy by allocation. The clarification of these problems will help us have a Win-Win process in which even those who lose elections will not feel that they have lost a war but that they have rather participated in a process, a game.
Not unexpectedly, there are anxieties and fears for the 2007 elections. It is important however, that we all realize that it will not be the end of politics. However, it will, to a great extent, determine how politics will be played in Nigeria. Nigerian politicians across the divide must demonstrate a measure of maturity over how they approach 2007. Our politicians must have to realize that there will have to be a country for them to govern in the first place. So, the unity of our dear country must not be subordinated to the caprices and ambitions of all ethnic or regional claims, no matter how laudable these claims may be. Everyone who enters a competition enters to win, but someone has to lose. In the final analysis, we cannot quarantine democracy. It is about opening up the political space, not freezing it. Nigerians must feel free to seek public office, not encumbered by man made obstacles erected by greed. Those who seek our votes must respect us enough to seek to sell themselves and their ideas to us and not their religion, region, class, gender or physique. They should seek to persuade and not intimidate or blackmail us. For the 2007 elections to be credible, the rules as I have tried to show are basic. Adherence to them is so fundamental to the outcome of the game. We have to pull off these elections successfully. If we do conduct successful elections in Nigeria, there will be enormous benefits. Some of these are the following:
1. It will guarantee a Credible Succession
2. It will help us deepen the roots of democracy in our society.
3. It will instill confidence of our people in the process.
4. It will help Nigeria consolidate its place in the comity of nations.
5. It will help a repositioned Nigeria help Africa move forward with greater confidence.
6. It will help us to Trust politics and process.
7. It will help us to consolidate cross cutting alliances among our people.
8. It will challenge the political classes in Nigeria.
9. It will help our people imbibe the spirit of losing with grace and winning with humility.
10. It will test the maturity of our political class.
11. It will sharpen the competitive instincts of our political class.
12. Perhaps more importantly, it will further move the soldiers from the centre to the periphery of our national life where they can keep watch over our borders and ensure security with their guns .
In Conclusion, we need to recap on a few things. If there is any lesson that we need to learn from politics and competition, from transitions or successions, it is that they all possess traits of volatility and uncertainty. As we have seen from the lessons we mentioned about the fate of some African leaders whose anointed sons refused to sing from the hymn books they inherited, when exposed to the heat of politics, the oil of anointing can change to poison. There are many reasons for this and we cannot go into them. What is important is to realize that life is not static, that successors cannot be rubber stamps because they need to create their own space, they need to listen to their own drummers, and they need to learn their own dance. Everyone knows that there have been tensions even between the Madiba and Mr. Mbeki.
In our own case here in Nigeria , the North has been telling everyone who cares to listen that they deserve the Presidency because there was an Agreement. Although the rest of us were not privy to this Agreement with Obasanjo, we are now being summoned to honour this Agreement. Notwithstanding this, it is public knowledge that a significant section of the North is unhappy with President Obasanjo and understandably so. But this disagreement merely confirms the point we have been making, namely, that successions even when anointed are not sacrosanct because most things are contingent on other variables which sometimes are often uncontrollable.
For example, those who went into this Agreement may have assumed that, ceteris paribus, it would be business as usual. They signed a contract with the Obasanjo who left power in 1979 but they forgot about certain forces that had changed the man. First, his metamorphosis as a born again Christian . Secondly, there were the frustrations with the changed landscape. Thirdly, these people did not know that one Dr. Ngozi Iweala would come from the World Bank and change the script about how we do business in Nigeria. They did not count on the fact that a new Central Bank Governor who has truly read Economics would preside over the Bank and tear up the old scripts of our semi feudal economic assumptions. They did not count on the fact that in his own way, General Obasanjo would redefine the assumptions about what constitutes the North, Northerners and Muslims. They did not count on the fact that a new North had emerged and that someone like Alhaji Makarfi would appreciate a sense of fairness and support justice rather than privilege and thus, nominate a non-Muslim to fill the Ministerial slot for Kaduna State rather than relying on dubious claims of feudal connections and blood
They did not count on the fact that even their own Northern Muslims would listen to a different Muezzin during the call for prayer. Thus, they did not count on the fact that a frail looking Deputy Police Commissioner by the name of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu would mutate into a box of dangerous nails exploding in the face of crooks in Nigeria. They did not count on the fact that another petit Northerner by the name of Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai would wear the shoes of a giant and break a few eggs to create a sizeable omelet. They did not count on the fact that one day, a woman and Christian would represent Kaduna State as a Minister and one day become the Minister, yes, the Minister of Finance for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. New changes are taking place and naturally, these will engender uncertainty and anxiety. But, nonetheless, these are a few of the challenges that we all must wake up to. Those who claim to love Sardauna and who say that he really and truly wanted to build a large tent for all of us irrespective of tribe, gender and tongue in the North should therefore, be proud of that legacy rather than sulking. Only the hypocrite can sulk now about injustice being done to the North, unless they do not love the Sardauna’s legacy of one North without discrimination about which they continue to sing.
So, I call on all of us to renew our faith in democracy as the only way of ensuring fairness and national integration. As I have said over and over, ours is not a perfect system. There is no perfection in any human endeavour; nor are there original copies of a true democracy on anyone’s shelf. Like everyone else, we have to learn the rules of the game. We shall learn just in the same way that we learn everything in life, the same way that we learned to walk as babies, the same way that Pele, Maradona or Ronaldinho learned to play and make football both an exciting sport and a money spinner. We must avoid the sad mistakes of the past in which a greedy military elite capitalized on the distortions and disparities in our sufferings to impose their stranglehold on us. They mistook the quarrels of politicians for a flag of surrender. In the final analysis, it really does not matter to me who wins the elections as long as the game is played by the rules.
After all, did Argentina or Brazil refuse to go home after they lost in the World Cup competition? Did the Ghanaians really believe they could beat Brazil? The nations that took part in the World Cup competition were first of all glad that they had a chance to compete against the best. Ghana may not have won, but they went home proud that they competed against the best. To compete against the best makes you part of the best. It imposes a duty on you. In every competition, the trophy will go to the winner and the winner will never be everyone’s favourite. But in the end, we all go home happy that we participated, and happy to return to the field of competition again. That is the discipline that must guide our politicians; to fight and live to fight again another day. Whoever win the elections, let us be glad that they did not win because they were regional, ethnic, religious or sectarian warlords. Let it be that they won because they are democrats and citizens of Nigeria. In that way, their victory would be a victory both for our nation and for democracy. Thank you very much for your kind attention. God bless our fatherland.