DEMOCRACYAND FAIRNESS

Evenlate dictator Sani Abacha deemed
it fair to appoint an Igbo into
Nigeria's security council, why not
President Olusegun Obasanjo?

Pix/Obasanjo

By UZOR MAXIM UZOATU

Special to USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper


Obasanjo is leaving his flanks too wide open for the taking. Only one zone in this country is not included in the nation's security council. He also cannot appoint from the same zone just ONE of Nigeria's 36 Commissioners of Police. And people want me to sing the praises of Obasanjo! And Nigerians want me to believe that the Nigeria-Biafra war is over! They should learn from what happened when, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, asked his sworn enemy, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to act for him as president. The country did not end. No. The millennium is still far away in Nigeria. As the world knows, most Generals never believe a war is over until they are consumed themselves. They keep hitting away at windmills, like Don Quixote, even when no enemy is in sight. This recalls the pathetic case of the General who was recently caught naked firing away at imaginary enemies, screaming that his enemies were coming to grab him. Nigeria's leaders, especially those who fought against Biafrans during the civil war (such as retired Gen. Obasanjo, now President) should really have to convince themselves that the Biafrans are not coming or it will continue to lead us into schizophrenic, irrational behavior. Nigeria's leaders are behaving in such a way that makes Nigeria look like a phantom flung into suspended animation by the specter of Biafra. The issue is not Obasanjo per se. He only happens to represent a trend that is at once messianic and wrong-headed. It is not for nothing that Obasanjo ran his presidential campaign as the leader who can be trusted. The erstwhile power-owners in Nigeria who trusted him and brought him out of prison and gave him power are now complaining against his government, stressing that he is biting the finger that fed him. To make their complaints look real, they are now dragging in the total marginalization of the losers in the Biafra war for effect. To that extent, the winners of the Nigerian civil war are at war with themselves and they are using the treatment being meted out to the quondam Biafrans to gain the moral high ground. The issue has hit Obasanjo in the jugular and the big man has been replying with nebulous effusions that can best be summarized thus: When in doubt, mumble. The abject neglect of the Eastern South of Nigeria is a slap on the face of our so-called new-democracy. It clearly shows we are muddling our future with a fratricidal past.

THE best-selling thriller writer, Frederick Forsyth, summed it all up: "Victors write history, and the Biafrans lost.'' The "no victor, no vanquished'' sing-song is quite simply a very funny way to run the mouth. In his book, My Command, General (now President) Olusegun Obasanjo talked of how he won the civil war for Nigeria. Obasanjo has never hidden his hatred of Biafra and Biafrans in his much-advertised war of unity. The sad matter is that in his new incarnation as a democratic president, he does not appear to know the difference between civil war and civil rule.

This article ought to have been really trenchant, but far be it from me to be used as a tool to derail our inchoate democracy. But the truth, of course, is that Obasanjo is leaving his flanks too wide open for the taking. Only one zone in this country is not included in the nation's security council. He also cannot appoint from the same zone just ONE of Nigeria's 36 Commissioners of Police. And people want me to sing the praises of Obasanjo! And Nigerians want me to believe that the Nigeria-Biafra war is over! They should learn from what happened when, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, asked his sworn enemy, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to act for him as president. The country did not end. No. The millennium is still far away in Nigeria.

As the world knows, most Generals never believe a war is over until they are consumed themselves. They keep hitting away at windmills, like Don Quixote, even when no enemy is in sight. This recalls the pathetic case of the General who was recently caught naked firing away at imaginary enemies, screaming that his enemies were coming to grab him. Nigeria's leaders, especially those who fought against Biafrans during the civil war (such as retired Gen. Obasanjo, now President) should really have to convince themselves that the Biafrans are not coming or it will continue to lead us into schizophrenic, irrational behavior. Nigeria's leaders are behaving in such a way that makes Nigeria look like a phantom flung into suspended animation by the specter of Biafra.

The village has this saying: "The man who holds another man down also holds down himself.'' Nigeria, as a nation, can only prosper when all the creative forces in the country are allowed full bloom. Parochialism and bigotry are the worst forms of corruption, so let no idle praise-singer feed me with the tale of Obasanjo's much -parroted anti-corruption crusade.

The issue is not Obasanjo per se. He only happens to represent a trend that is at once messianic and wrong-headed. It is not for nothing that Obasanjo ran his presidential campaign as the leader who can be trusted. The erstwhile power-owners in Nigeria who trusted him and brought him out of prison and gave him power are now complaining against his government, stressing that he is biting the finger that fed him. To make their complaints look real, they are now dragging in the total marginalization of the losers in the Biafra war for effect. To that extent, the winners of the Nigerian civil war are at war with themselves and they are using the treatment being meted out to the quondam Biafrans to gain the moral high ground. The issue hit Obasanjo in the jugular and the big man has been replying with nebulous effusions that can best be summarized thus: When in doubt, mumble.

During the Cold War era, all it needed for the most evil regime to get the support of the United States was to shout: The Russians are coming! To get the support of the powers-that-be in Nigeria, simply shout: The Biafrans are coming! During the Jos PDP primaries, it was the clinching cry. Any talk of the restructuring of Nigeria brings with it the echo of the Biafran confederation dictum: On Aburi we stand! Somehow the winners of the Nigerian civil war must always find a way to band together despite personal differences to stop this feared reality. Note Babangida courted Obasanjo...

According to Chinua Achebe in The Trouble with Nigeria, "Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo.'' The Nigerian civil war provided the opportunity, to borrow Wole Soyinka's words in Jero's Metamorphosis, "in time of trouble it behoves us to come together, to forget old enmities and bury the hatchet in the head of a common enemy...'' The winners of the war not only nullified the bank accounts of the losers but also launched an indigenization program that effectively shut out the hapless race. But as my friend, Dennis Brutus; would say, "somehow we survive.''

Even the so-called minorities who supported the federals had tales of woes to tell at the end of the war. These despatches from Ikom and Calabar published as appendices in Wole Soyinka's The Man Died are quite revealing: "When in 1976 the civil war broke out we rose up as one man and fought side by side with the Army of Liberation. Revealing the sacrifices the soldiers made for our sake, we had never had any ill-intention towards them. But the high-handedness of some of these soldiers has astonished us and left many gasping for breath... it was never so in the (Akwa -Ibom and Cross River States) even during the so-called oppressive era of the so-called Ibo (Igbo) regime.''

We are recalling all these because of the "us and them'' mentality that has been built into the Nigerian system. The question has to be asked: Is the East a part of Nigeria? When Senator Udoma Udo Udoma proudly walked away from his cabinet post, he made a statement steeped in the history of bad faith. Incidentally, President Obasanjo is making it all look curiouser and curiouser. It is as though we are still in the trenches of Biafra, given the gaping divide in the country. The abject neglect of the Eastern South of Nigeria is a slap on the face of our so-called new-democracy. It clearly shows we are muddling our future with a fratricidal past.

There are so many wrongs to redress. For instance, Emmanuel Ifeajuna who won this country's first Commonwealth Games gold medal cannot be inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame, yet the cooks and mai-guards who went to the same 1958 games in Vancouver, Canada were honored. Nothing apparently is beneath the winners of the Nigerian civil war. They want everything for themselves! Today's conduct of the winners of the civil war reminds me of an incident during the war. I was hunting rats with a friend of mine when my younger brother joined the hunt. We had actually killed a rat before my brother came. We did not make any other kill, and when it was time to share the booty, I told my partner that my brother deserved a share. The guy's eyes turned red as he shouted: "divided it into two!''

Whether the Nigerian rat is divided into two or not, the fact remains that we are making a terrible mess of the promise of this country. The winners of the Nigerian civil war have been ruling this country amongst themselves since the end of that war, and they have been going round in circles making no progress at all. Even beyond the elitist gambit of dividing posts, they have done next to nothing for the common people of this benighted country.

When a gaunt and miserable Obasanjo got out of Abacha's gulag, he said there was need to have a sanity test on any aspiring leader of Nigeria. Even Abacha in all his madness saw the need to have a man from the accursed zone in his security council - no matter how short a while it lasted! Obasanjo is yet to even scale that height.


Uzoatu, former senior editor and correspondent at ThisWeek magazine and The Guardian newspapers in Lagos, is an author and poet. He plans to contribute editorial commentary on Nigeria and literature issues.

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