Nigeria: The Desperate and the Ungrateful

By Jonathan Elendu

Special to
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston

Retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, signed in the closing weeks of 2001 the controversial electoral bill into law, in apparent disregard to the will of the majority of Nigerians. From the first time the bill was introduced on the floor of the National Assembly, it was greeted with protest and condemnation from the entire populace. Apart from the unconstitutionality of some provisions of the bill, most legal and political analysts believe this bill was designed to keep many Nigerians from participating in our young democracy. Recent developments have shown the amount of confusion in the system. Apparently, the National Assembly passed a different bill from the one that was signed by the President and no one, yet, is taking responsibility for this anomaly.

First is the issue of local government elections and tenure of elected officials in that tier of government. Such matters, according to the 1999 Constitution, are within the purview of the State governments. The President and the National Assembly have changed the tenure of the elected local government officials from three years to four. For the new bill to change some of the provisions of the Constitution without a constitutional amendment is beyond the powers of the National Assembly and the President.

Some had expected the President to uphold and defend the Constitution, instead he appended his signature to illegality. If reports in the Vanguard of Monday are true, one can safely say that the President has suddenly awoken to the illegality of some of the bills provisions, including the issue of tenure of local government officials.

The electoral bill that came out of the National Assembly targeted some opponents of the President. Specifically, the governor of the President's home state, Segun Osoba, was targeted by the bill. The provision that those who had held office for two consecutive terms was twisted to mean those who have been in office two times. No Nigerian has served two consecutive terms in any elective political office. This provision is a clear case of pettiness amongst members of the President's party. We can only thank the patriots that prevailed on-the-powers-that-be to expunge that silly provision from the bill.

The President and his party are not interested in fostering an open-level-playing field. Hence, the new bill makes it impossible to have independent candidature and for new political parties to be registered. Asking intending applicants for registration as political parties to field candidates in fifteen percent of local governments in Nigeria and win ten percent of the seats before registration is tantamount to saying new political associations are not welcome. This electoral bill, in my mind, is a prelude to declaring Nigeria a one party state. Now we know that this was an idea hatched out by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party and supported by President Obasanjo.

I am not alone in this belief. The Coalition of Oodua Self-Determination Groups(COSEG) also agrees that the signing of the electoral bill by the President is, " Suspicious to the extent that the President signed the bill hurriedly and desperately, even when he is yet to sign the budget 2002 which is more crucial to the survival of the Nigerian people." The group declares that, "It is now certain that the Peoples Democratic Party wants to remain in power at all costs, simply because of the goodies associated with their office."

This government, like many before it, has continued to act and carry out affairs of the Nigerian State like a personal estate. The desires of the majority of the populace is secondary to the survival and personal gratification of the powers that be. The President, members of his cabinet, and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, in general, have demonstrated that they are determined to hold on to power at all costs, even if it leads to the destruction of the country.

I have said in the past that the year 2003 will be a very difficult one for our beloved country.

Daily, the President leads us closer to the edge of the precipice. Those, who have eyes, can see we are seriously courting disaster, and yet our political leaders carry on with business as usual.

Have the gods made our politicians mad? Could it be that our President and members of his party have drunken so much from the fountain of power that they have fallen into a state of stupor? Can the man, Obasanjo, lead us out of this impending danger?

It is curious that between the President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Clerk of the Assembly, no one really knows who smuggled some of the illegal provisions into the bill. There have been claims and counterclaims. Is it possible that our country is being run by criminally minded men who have no qualms about flouting the laws of they were sworn to protect? We must get to the bottom of this issue and unmask the individuals behind it. That is the only way to restore the integrity of the bill and our political institutions.

Gen. Obasanjo is fast acquiring the reputation of a man who speaks first and thinks later. His comments on Ojukwu's criticism of the state of affairs in Nigeria, especially with the plight of the Ndigbo, was vintage gutter standard. The President, obviously making an indiscretionary outburst towards Ojukwu said, "I believe that rascality must have limit, rascality must have limit and we will put limit to irresponsible rascality." If there is one Nigerian who have behaved like a rascal since the inception of the 4th Republic, it is His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The President's disgust for any form of reasonable criticism is legendary. Even then, one would have expected that after two years of junketing around the globe, interacting with the likes of Tony Blair, Colin Powell, and other world leaders, Obasanjo would show refinement in speech and decorum. Alas, we find that as the days go by, the man becomes more and more, in thinking and manners, the Otta farmer that was his initial calling.

Ojukwu and Ndigbo did not deserve the insults that were heaped on him and his people by the President. Ojukwu as one of the leaders of Ndigbo had to speak out about the marginalisation that has continued with the Igbos, thirty-one years after the Nigerian Civil War ended. Even Obasanjo in his lucid moments acknowledges that this group of Nigerians have been marginalized since after the Civil War. And yet, his response at the hint that some groups may want to reexamine their stay in the entity known as Nigeria is: "For you to say you want a secession in this age, it is quite insane and the import of it will not be lost to the armed forces of this country, it will not be lost to this government, and it will not be lost to all the responsible and good people of this country and I hope it will not be lost to those who have suffered on both sides in the civil war." This rage is uncalled for. Instead of flying into a mad rage, the President should assure Ndigbo that their issues would be dealt with as soon as possible. That is the path of leadership.

His Minister of State for Defense, (Navy) Dupe Adelaja, went a step further and called all the Easterners, who fought on the Biafran side during the Civil War "traitors." She advised Ndigbo to stick to buying and selling. What can any reasonable person expect from a woman, who abandoned her principles, her family honor and against the wishes of her people joined a government which even her father scorns? The Minister has shown that she has a knack for biting the fingers that fed her.

Adelaja, instead of showing gratitude to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to see that the rights of other tribes, besides Hausa, is respected, has chosen to follow in her boss's footsteps. The position she occupies today, and the freedom she enjoys, were paid for with the blood of those brave Biafrans she hates so much. I do not think she is too young to remember the state of Nigeria in the sixties. If she has forgotten, the history books are there to remind her.

It also instructive that none of her colleagues in the Federal Cabinet has asked her to retract her statement or apologize to Ndigbo. Do we not have Igbo sons and daughters in the Federal Executive Council? How come not one of them has shown any displeasure or publicly rebuked her for these insults on Ndigbo? Would Yoruba ministers keep mum while an Igbo colleague insults the entire Yoruba race?

Obasanjo inherited a party built by Alex Ekwueme, Sunday Awoniyi, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, and others. From the prison they moved him to the Presidential palace. He had no time to articulate policies that will move Nigeria with the rest of the world into the twenty-first century. He has fumbled and stumbled through two-and-a-half years. Instead of showing gratitude to the people who built the structures that made him President, he sacked some of them from the party. Any wonder he has people like Dupe Adelaja and Sunday Afolabi in his cabinet? They all dance to the drums of the insane. Only God can save us from them.
Elendu is a contributing editor and columnist for USAfrica The Newspaper and

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