TranscriptCNN International interview with Nigeria's President Obasanjo andUSAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu on Democracyand Security Issues

Elections in Nigeria more a battle of theretired Generals and votes buying bazaar

Special to USAfricaonline.comand USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
NigeriaCentral.comand TheBlack Business Journal


In a country or continent where well-placed members of the armedforces and its retired but not tired Generals are permanentcontestants, chief financiers and referees in national elections,that highly valued ointment for the legitimation of all democraciesknown as credibility becomes a rare commodity.  Thankfully,it can neither be bought nor sold at the auctions now callednominations, political party conventions and elections in differentparts of Nigeria and Africa.  Yet, we must say that the retiredsoldiers and generals have as much right to contest for public officeas any other citizen.  The issue is, fundamentally, whenstupendous cash and unimaginable funds are deployed to hijack andcircumscribe the outcome of (s)elections, it may be seen as acivilianized equivalent of a military coup dressed up in dashiki andagbada..  But Lies have short legs!  We take solace in thefact that Africa, the same continent which cast into our livesUganda's Idi Amin and Nigeria's late Gen. Sani Abacha also is home tothe magnificent statesman Madhiba Nelson Mandela of South Africa ,the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Chinua Achebe, andothers

With the number of retired soldiers contesting the key positionsas candidates, Nigeria's April 19, 2003 elections could be ratherperplexing to those who are not too familiar with the convolutedwaysto power in the country of almost 110 million. Nigeria has sincereturned to democratic rule; that is, almost.

In many ways, the politicalbifurcation along the lines of adherents of the Christian and Islamzealots, the spiral of geo-ethnic conflicts, the now weeklyvotes-buying bazaar called political conventions in Nigeria, thesubtle threats by some political gladiators that "it's either I winpower or Nigeria will not move forward" have combined to raise morequestions whether Nigeria can do what's failed to do in 42 years ofits political independence from Britain: hold elections under acivilian government and transit without a military coup or othervisitations bloodying the already dusty and enfeebled remains of theonce glorious destiny of Nigeria inflicted by economic brigands andthieving politicians. Sadly, these negative acts by politicians andwhite-collar criminals are evident and duplicated in other Africancountries, too.

At a critical level,outside the dispiriting political economics of the verywealthy and the very poor, there are, in fact, two sectors of powerin Nigeria: the military power bloc and the civilians who, at the endof the end of the day, follow and do the bidding, and wishes of mostof the retired generals say and spend. It is no different for 2003elections since the return to "civilian rule" began May 1999 underthe leadership of another retired General who is running, again, tocontinue ruling. In a rough sense, Nigeria has one dominant andsteady political party: its retired politically agile and activemilitary officers, predominantly from the North, and the Southwest ofthe country.

Among the Generals running: embattled incumbent OlusegunObasanjo, had ruled as a military dictator from 1976-1979 is theflagbearer for the PDP. Obasanjo is from the Yoruba southwest. Hiscurrent vp Atiku Abubakar is running with him after some months ofuncertainty. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who led the defunct Biafrarepublic (1967-1970) as commander-in-chief is presidential candidatefor the APGA. His vp choice is Ibrahim Sani Bayero, from Kano's royalfamily. Muhammadu Buhari, former dictator from 1983-1985 andactive proponent of Islamic interests in the North leads the ANPP.His vp is former president of Nigeria's senate Chuba Okadigbo, fromthe southeast central. Other parties without military men ascandidates include The Peoples Mandate Party (PMP) led by authorArthur Agwuncha Nwankwo and the Progressive Action Congress(PAC) led by a woman who has been very prominent in public serviceSarah Jibril. The candidates are kicking of their campaigns.Ojukwu who was affirmed at APGA's Abuja convention has chosen thekey, robust Igbo city of Aba to launch his quest, next week.

He added "I am here to tell you that my aim is not to rule Nigeriabut to heal Nigeria. I am a General too. Nigerians should know that Iam a more senior General and democratised than the two other Generalsproduced by PDP and ANPP." Retired Gen. Ike Omar SandaNwachukwu captured the ticket of the NDP- after decamping fromthe PDP almost a month ago. Alhaji Habu Fari is his running mate.Former Governor of Anambra State Senator Jim Nwobodo decamped to winthe United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) slot, and has former GovernorAlhaji Mohammed Goni as his vp pick. More parties will announce midJanuary.


In order to make better sense ofthe twists and power-plays in Nigeria, today, and related Africancountries, where soldiers remove their unforms to contest and "win"by all means necessary, may I refer you to an essay I wrote on May11, 1999, shortly after the Nigerian elections and other eventsacross the African continent. I believe it's worthy of yourreference, contextually, that is. Here:

Political games byAfrica's retired Generals

Special to USAfricaonline.com
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston


In a country and continent where well-placed members of the armedforces and its retired but not tired Generals are permanentcontestants, chief financiers and referees in national elections, thehighly valued ointment for the legitimation of all democracies knownas credibility becomes a rare commodity.  Thankfully, itcan neither be bought nor sold at the auctions now callednominations, political party conventions and elections in differentparts of Nigeria and Africa.  Yet, we must say that the retiredsoldiers and generals have as much right to contest for public officeas any other citizen.  The issue is, fundamentally, whenstupendous cash and unimaginable funds are deployed to hijack andcircumscribe the outcome of (s)elections, it may be seen as acivilianized equivalent of a military coup dressed up in dashiki andagbada..  But Lies have short legs!  We take solace in thefact that Africa, the same continent which cast into our livesUganda's Idi Amin and Nigeria's late Gen. Sani Abacha also is home tothe magnificent statesman Madhiba Nelson Mandela of South Africa ,the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Chinua Achebe, andothers
By CHIDO NWANGWU (May 11, 1999)

Africa, the home of almost 1000army generals, is also the land of natural harmony and pristinedislocations.  Africa is truly the continent of the extremes andworn canvas for almost 55 years for the unbridled acquisition ofwealth and raw power by assorted bands of soldiers andsoldier-politicians. Within its blessed and despoliated lengthand breadth of Africa, we still see marks and milestones of glory andpain; of power and despondency and shattered dreams and despoliateddestiny. 

In our Africa, events swing andundulate from one end of the pendulum toanother like the predictablestaccato of violent shots in a shooting range of charteredlibertines, licensed to shoot as they wish and without proper aim tothe solemn and prayerful quietude following a deathly, monstrousdevastation.  Our Africa.   Africa, the continent ofnatural splendor, differing nationalisms and earthy vivaciousness, isthe prime breeding ground for its special export to the world,those  special breed of men mightily known as Generals, FieldMarshalls and Commanders-in-chief.  Many of them have suchelegant titles as His Excellency the One who is Born to Rule to theend of Time! 

Others are modest and have suchtitles as The One who swallows the Fire sent by our (!!!) enemies andopponents.  Yes; it's our enemies!  Lest we forget, HisExcellency's "enemies" and opponents are the triple horned enemiesof  the Republic.  Those opponents must remain, in the"interest of national security and stability" our sworn enemies whomust be crushed with all the funds and resources of the impoverishedbut once wealthy country. 

What is a commander-in-chiefworth if he cannot crush errant subjects as he sees fit; or wheneverhe dreams up new "threats to the peace and stability of thecountry"?  The answer, my friends, is blowing in thewind.   Remember that many of those Generals (retired andactive) hold as their claim to fame such remarkable andsignificant  war records as "commanders" of the "law and order"regiment assigned  to shoot unarmed students  who ask forfunds to rebuild their colleges and the nation. 

Shouldn't we all agree that noone really "authorized" those "rascally" students to question "thedecision and wisdom" of the five-star generals who, first, send theirchildren abroad/overseas to the best schools in the world, and then,immediately commence the  installmental ruination of all (!!!)the local institutions of learning.   Why target theschools?  Remember, the Generals as wise men know that those  students, egg-sucking socialists and revolutionarieslearn "subversive activities" in those schools.   What todo?   "Shut them down!" Thus, have yelled certain croniesand Education (?) Ministers around the Generals.  OurAfrica. 

Some of those Generals whohave, in most cases, destroyed the destiny of all, living and theunborn beings in their countries, with the threat of the gun andbrutal force, have since chosen the arena of citizens' politics asthe latest zone to showcase their genius as the ones who must leadlest the countries nose-dive to hell in aMac-truck!   

Why not?  After all, theircountries' sun can only shine, dim and set depending on the side ofthe bed they woke up on.  Our Africa. 

Now the fundamental interestfor me here is that our army "Generals" and "Commanders-in-chief" inmany countries in Africa are not satisfied with governing with thegun, issuing decrees and barking out orders in their well-starchedmilitary uniforMs. They have  increasingly found it quiteexciting to civilianize from swashbuckling commandantes to "popularlyelected" and "democratically affirmed" Presidents and bankrollers ofour political parties.   

Africa, the continent whichradiates, at once, with ethnic love and dulled and sapped and sulliedroutinely from savage rounds of ethnocentric wars, ancient ignoranceand the raw animus of communal hatreds is moving into the 21stcentury with more Generals as "civilian" presidents than ever in itshistory. 

The West applauds and cites oneor two its own soldiers who became presidents.  Interestingly,such rationalizations fail woefully to discuss the process and whothe referees are in such quests.  Africa, our continent of sharpcontrasts remain a geopolitical mass of antiquated curiosity andprojections and yearning for a better future, has defied theobscurantist mis-readings of colonialists and stereotypicalchronicles.  Somehow, amidst, the rack and ruin, amidst Africa'sancient and modern history, it manages to find one sliver of hope ortwo, to begin anew, away and beyond the rubble and shibboleths of itsvery difficult political ecology and cast of bad leaders. 

From the beautiful, breezy andbreathtaking natural wonder of Capetown's table mountain to the harshSahelian heat of its northerly areas, from the engagingly unique andthe terribly unusual, Africa has in its fertile bowels the capacityand possibility to re-awaken and become a viable part of the 21stcentury.   

One of the retired Generals whoseems to have a lot of possibilities and transcontinentalexpectations resting on his tried and tested shoulders is Nigeria'spresident-elect Olusegun Obasanjo. 

On the other hand, will the mansimply become another  notable name in list and pattern ofsoldiers changing their military uniforms for the legitimation whichcomes from the ballot box; however tainted and questionable theprocess? 

When, expectedly, he is swornin May 29, 1999, to lead the most  important country in Africa,again, retired General Obasanjo will, at the onset, carry the baggageand interests of his fellow retired army Generals. 

Second, he is propelled by hisoft-stated determination to make a difference and place Nigeria on abetter, nobler road.  Can he?  Or, will those other retiredGenerals who are said to have massively financed his recent electionstand between his agenda to rebuild Nigeria and their private andregional interests? 

Will Obasanjo, whom I had theprivilege of moderating and co-hosting his meeting with Nigerians inHouston in August , 1998, (before he decided to eneter partisanpolitics) lead Nigeria to a better future into the 21stcentury?  Or....

We wish our new president Gen.Obasanjo well as he prepares to begin his new assignment.  MayGod bless Africa, our Africa; and its assorted Commanders-in-chief.Stand at ease, my fellow countrymen and women!
ChidoNwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), isFounder and Publisher of first African-owned U.S.-based professionalnewspaper to be published on the internet, USAfricaonline.com.He appears as an analyst on CNN International and CNN's Inside Africaand also publishes Houston-based USAfrica The Newspaper,NigeriaCentral.comand TheBlack Business Journal.Nwangwu has served as an adviser to the Mayor of Houston oninternational business (Africa) and the board of the NAACP(Houston)


This USAfricaonline.com commentary is copyrighted.Archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized exceptwith a Written Approval by USAfricaonline.comFounder.


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