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President Obasanjo, Nigeria is dying in yourhands
(Another Open Letter to Nigeria's President)
By Prof. Niyi Osundare
"President Obasanjo, you had the greatest opportunity in the worldto shape the destiny of Nigeria and put her foot on the road to thefuture. But you turned the noble act of political competition into a"do-or-die" battle. Andtrue to your words, the country is dying from your doing...."
Special to USAfricaonline.com,CLASSmagazine, USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston andTheBlack Business Journal
April 19, 2007: When I told a friend a couple of days ago about mywish to write another open letter to you (my fifth in five years),his immediate reaction was "Don't waste your effort over a lostcause. Obasanjo is irredeemable". (This friend, by the way, was oneof your staunchest supporters in 1999).
The results of the so-called gubernatorial and Assembly electionswere out, and all the contested positions were falling like nine pinsfor your Party, the great PDP, "the biggest political party inAfrica". From the south to the north, from the west to the east, yourgreat Party had stormed into "victory" like a behemoth, trampling allrules of decent engagement, raw, astonishingly greedy, and disdainfulof the will of the Nigerian people.
But I have decided to send these few words to you all the same,knowing full well that in the communication between the two of us,the Nigerian people are the eavesdroppers who are, in actual fact,more significant than the primary communicators.
President Obasanjo, Nigeria is dying in your hands. But likesome strange figure from another planet, you seem absolutely unawareof the enormity of the problem. Every act of yours demonstrates yourlack of respect for the people you rule, and your grossunderestimation of the level of political consciousness they haveattained in the past eight years of "nascent democracy", the degreeof experience they have gained from their suffering under your yokeand the yokes of your equally oppressive predecessors inpower.
Everywhere you have turned in the past four years (sometime inthe future, you would wish you hadn't had a second term), your feethave fallen on thorns and pebbles:thefomenting of wasteful political disaffection in Anambra, and OyoStates, the cunning manouevering that has turned you into an absolutemonarch of your great Party, the PDP, your routine disrespect forlegitimate court injunctions and well-deliberated laws from theLegislature, your back-handed attempt to extend your presidentialtenure, and your embarrassing showdown with your Vice President overhow BOTH of you have mismanaged and squandered the resources of thePetroleum Trust Fund Development (PTDF). As scandalized Nigerianswatched their so-called Number One and Number Two citizens dancing soabominably naked in the streets despite their lavish robes, we allwondered: what manner of rulers are these that have absolutely nosense of shame?! Your Excellency, you remind me of the proverbialking that has shat on the throne. Your nose may be too far from themessage of you discharge, but the country is surely choking from thestench.
Without a doubt, Mr President, the climax of all these acts ofmisrule is the conduct of the on-going general elections. Right fromthe outset, Nigerians, tutored, no doubt, by past experiences, haveexpressed their grave concern about the dubious functionaries youappointed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),stating without equivocation that the "Independent" in itsnomenclature is both a ruse and a fraud. Their memory still reelswith images of FEDECO and its blatant manipulations of the 1983elections, and the electoral commission that arranged your greatParty's "landslide victory" in 2003. Nigerians complained aboutINEC's lack of preparedness, its tardy deliberations, its untidyarrangements, its shocking incompetence (even by Nigerianstandards!), its utter corruptibility.
As if to confirm the people's suspicion, a few weeks to pollingtime, voting machines and other sensitive and secret electoralmaterials were discovered in the private residences of somechieftains of your great Party. The country watched with mouths agapeas law enforcement officers wrung their fingers, moping over theircomplete helplessness about this act of supreme criminality. Theculprits were untouchable, unarrestable by virtue of the order fromabove. This and similar acts left us wondering why evil people findit so easy to thrive in your company; why nation-wreckers fester sorecklessly under the umbrella of your authority.
Then came election time, and INEC played out your script to thelast letter. Its madness became a method, its seeming rowdiness awell-rehearsed ruse - all in the service of rigging out a dubiousvictory for your great Party.
To be sure, Nigeria has a notorious legacy of violentelectioneering, but none has surpassed this one in its blatantperfidy: ballot papers with the logos of opposition parties or thephotographs or names of their candidates missing,; deliberateshortage of voting materials in opposition strongholds; swappingor/and stealing and/or disappearance of ballot boxes; lateness ortotal absence of electoral officials; pervasive thuggery - all thisunder the cooperative watch of state security agents. In those placeswhere no voting took place, INEC made sure it voted for theelectorate and awarded landslide victories to your great Party.Under-age pupils were corralled out of their classrooms and made tothumbprint ballot papers for a fee; babies were roused from theircradles, their big toes used in place of adult thumbs. In many towns,the number of votes cast is about double the entire population.. ..
Your Excellency, this is the excellent sham and charade thatproduced your great Party's excellent landslide. The people's voicehas been stolen, their integrity trampled in the dust, theircommonweal frustrated, their sacred trust ridiculed and profaned byvenal philistines. What INEC has awarded you and your great Party isa Pyrrhic victory, dripping with blood, sizzling with omens. It isthe kind of victory that has defeated Nigeria's attempts atnationhood since independence. Difficult to believe, but the papershave quoted you as describing the elections as "free and fair", whileMaurice Iwu, your INEC Mephistopheles, is wild withself-congratulation. This shows how tragically far both of you arefrom reality, how so terribly cynical your judgements havebecome.
Mr. President, take a sobering stroll down memory lane. Considerthis: apart from occasional religious riots and their ethnicfall-outs, no other issue has brought Nigeria closer to the brink ofdisintegration than rigged elections. Remember the Western Regionelections of October 11, 1965, rigged with the same kind of blatancyby a party which shares the same pedigree as your great Party, thePDP. Just like your great Party, the National Democratic Party NDP,(nicknamed "Demo" by the people of the then Western Region), decidedto force itself by every foul means on a people thoroughly tired ofits oppression and resentful about it tactics. Weeks before theelection of October 1965, its chieftains, sensing how unfriendly theelectorate was, had boasted that they were bound to win, whether thepeople voted for them or not. And as your great Party has just done,the 'Demo' Party literally dissolved the people and voted itself topower by a process of massive rigging and savage intimidation.
The people rose in anger and horror. Nights were loud with wails,days with silence. Bonfires melted the bitumen on tarred roads.Houses went up in flames. "Demo" sympathizers were doused withgasoline in broad daylight and torched, to the singing and dancing ofirate mobs. The "wetie" uprising had begun. The oppressive governmentof the day reacted by flooding the streets with fearsome police armedto the teeth. Security agents combed every street and filled thedetention centres with opponents of the "Demo" party. But the crisescontinued unabated.
Although the uprising was basically in the western part ofNigeria, the tremors were felt in every part of the country. Thecountry started to totter. Things were no longer at ease. This wasthe situation that led to the military coup of January 1966, which inturn led to the massacre of the Igbo, the counter-coup of July thesame year, the attempted secession of Eastern Nigeria, and thegruesome civil war (from which we have yet to fully recover). Youwere one of the "heroes" of that war, Mr. President, and you rememberthat the casualties numbered in thousands.
Should I remind you about the elections of 1983 which the NationalParty of Nigeria, NPN, (again cut out of the same cloth as your greatParty), under the presidency of the God-fearing Alhaji Shehu Shagari,rigged so shamelessly in their brazen effort to cling to power by allmeans? Clearly three months before that election, a colleague closeto the corridors of power had told me how many states of thefederation the NPN had decided to take and how many it was going toconcede.
I dismissed my colleague's prediction as some kind of beer-inducedgossip, and my laughter nearly brought down the roof of the staffclub. "You will see", he said as he picked up his car key and left.When I saw him three months later and about two days after theelection, he looked at me with a mischievous smile on his face andasked: "Didn't I tell you?". Mr. President, just as your great Partyhas done, the NPN violated the commonweal of the Nigerian people. Thepeople reacted, and as the cliché goes, the rest ishistory.
Mr. President, just in case you have forgotten the NPN's Landslide83, do you remember the historic events of June 12, 1993? Yourcomrade-in-arms, General Babangida dribbled the country "a little tothe left, a little to the right", but the people persevered, bent asthey were on throwing off the yoke of military dictatorship.
To everyone's surprise and much against General Babangida'sexpectations, the election of June 12 went so smoothly, and was souniversally accepted, that many of us were beginning to see the germof the Nigeria of our dream. But Babangida killed that dream byannulling the election and sending us, Sisyphus-like, back to thebottom of the frightening mountain. The country has yet to recoverfrom the trauma of the Babangida blow. I have never stopped asking:why is it that every time the Nigerian people team up to vote forprogress, their rulers always make sure they mock their plight andabort their dream?
President Obasanjo, here you are again, a link in a long andtroubled chain, a joint in a chequered juncture. You and your greatParty have ruled this country for eight years. Our people aresicklier, hungrier, more insecure, more illiterate, less confident,less hopeful now than they were when you and your great Party mountedthe saddle. They are yearning for a change and they see the ballotbox as a peaceful and legitimate route to that change. But you andyour great Party have decided to violate the people's will andfrustrate their yearning. Now Nigeria is back again, on the brink.Bonfires at the barricades. Houses aflame. Corpses by the roadside.Days of trouble. Nights of turmoil. International observers whowitnessed ballot boxes being snatched and swapped at gunpoint, whosaw fantastic figures being declared for areas where no voting everhappened, are wondering: where will this lead the country? When willNigeria grow?
You were reported as having said the elections were free and fair.If indeed they were, why are towns burning? Why are the so-calledelection-winners on the run? Why are some of your landslide governorsholed up in their gubernatorial fortresses, afraid of stepping out inthe streets? Why are there no victory dances in the streets?
President Obasanjo, you had the greatest opportunity in the worldto shape the destiny of Nigeria and put her foot on the road to thefuture. But you turned the noble act of political competition into a"do-or-die" battle. And true to your words, the country is dying fromyour doing. Time there was when you were a statesman, respectable andrespected worldwide; how could you have so rapidly slipped to thestatus of a PDP apparatchik? Electoral violence might have served youand your great Party in 2003. But, alas, this is 2007. Our rulers maybe the same venal, visionless bullies they have always been. But theNigerian people are not where they were four years ago. That is whythe barricades are up again. That is why women are demonstrating inthe streets, their clothes turned inside out. Read the handwriting onthe wall. President Obasanjo, Nigeria is dying under your watch. Youand your great Party have put our country to shame by turning it intothe laughing stock of the international community. Cancel thesejungle (s)elections and dismantle INEC, your great Party's house offraud. Nigerian people will only be led by those freely elected bythem. They will not be ruled by ghosts.
(April 19, 2007)
Osundare, poet andprolific essayist is the author of 'Pages from the Book of the Sun:New and Selected Poems' published in November 2000, and other works,including The Eye of the Earth, and Waiting Laughters, is adistinguished Professor of English in Louisiana, has taught at theUniversity of Ibadan (Nigeria),. He is the winner of the CommonwealthPoetry Prize for 1986, and the 1991 Noma Award for Publishing inAfrica. Hishighly-referenced essay on USAfricaonline.com titled 'Obasanjo hasruined this country' and other reviews have also appearedin USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston. Niyi Osundare's b/w pix byKadija Sesay
Many Nigerians still feel disappointed that a man (Obasanjo) whohad gained so much from Nigeria would cling so tightly to power, evenagainst the popular will of the people, moreso with age, energy andfresh ideas for a new era not on his side.
Also, USAfricaonline.com review of Nigeria's recent history show thatPresident Obasanjo seems to be moving rapidly into the zone ofill-repute of his former military colleagues who, like him, refusedto leave office when it was time to go. Gen. yakubu Gowon in 1975;Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1993; Gen. Sani Abacha in1995, 1996, 1997,1998. More baffling many Nigerians we interviewed recall is thelessons of the excesses of the late Gen. Abach who jailed Obasanjowhile the former schemed to remain in power. For the special reportby USAfrica multimedia networks' Publisher Chido Nwangwu, click on3rdterm.
DEMOCRACYWATCH: What Bush Should TellObasanjo.... By ChidoNwangwu (Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com)
His globalist underpinnings and outlook are truly reflective ofthe true essence of his Igbo world-view, his Igbo upbringing anddisposition. Igbos and Jews share (with a few other other cultures)this pan-global disposition to issues of art, life, commerce,juridical pursuits, and quest to be republicanist in terms of thevitality of the individual/self. In Achebe's works, the centrality ofChi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology... itis a world which prefers a quasi-capitalistic business attitude whiletaking due cognizance of the usefulness of the whole, the community.I've studied, lived and tried to better understand, essentially, therigor and towering moral certainties which Achebe have employed inmost of his works and his world. I know, among other reasons, becauseI share the same ancestry with him. Permit me to attempt a briefsentence, with that Achebean simplicty and clarity. Here,folks, what the world has known since 1958: Achebe is good! Eagle onthe Iroko, may your Lineage endure! There has never been one likeyou!
Ugo n'abo, chukwu gozie gi oo!. ChidoNwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), isFounder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (first African-ownedU.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet),USAfrica The Newspaper,CLASS magazine and TheBlack Business Journal. He has served as an adviser to theMayor of Houston on international business (Africa) and appears as ananalyst on CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC news affiliates.
This USAfricaonline.com commentary is copyrighted. Archivingon any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with aWritten Approval by USAfricaonline.comFounder.
CLASSis the social events, heritage excellence and style magazine forAfricans in north America, described by The New York Times as themagazine for affluent Africansin America. It is published byprofessional journalists and leading mulitmedia leaders andpioneers.
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His globalist underpinnings and outlook are truly reflective of the true essence of his Igbo world-view, his Igbo upbringing and disposition. Igbos and Jews share (with a few other other cultures) this pan-global disposition to issues of art, life, commerce, juridical pursuits, and quest to be republicanist in terms of the vitality of the individual/self. In Achebe's works, the centrality of Chi (God) attains an additional clarity in the Igbo cosmology... it is a world which prefers a quasi-capitalistic business attitude while taking due cognizance of the usefulness of the whole, the community. I've studied, lived and tried to better understand, essentially, the rigor and towering moral certainties which Achebe have employed in most of his works and his world. I know, among other reasons, because I share the same ancestry with him. Permit me to attempt a brief sentence, with that Achebean simplicty and clarity. Here, folks, what the world has known since 1958: Achebe is good! Eagle on the Iroko, may your Lineage endure! There has never been one like you!
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CLASS is the social events, heritage excellence and style magazine for Africans in north America, described by The New York Times as the magazine for affluent Africans in America. It is published by professional journalists and leading mulitmedia leaders and pioneers.