SUNDAY NARRATIVE: APC: Losing The Democratic Streak
IT is a surprise how fast many are losing sight of the larger picture of Nigeria. It used to be that our collective worries, particularly among the ‘progressives’, were that Nigeria was not working because she is bogged down by some artificial strictures deliberately put in place to stall national competitiveness and enterprise.
The argument used to be that the present structures of government, particularly the unitary nature of the federal system cannot work and that it should be revisited because it robs Peter to pay Paul and deals ruthlessly and criminally with the minority tribes.
Successive administrations since the military intervention of 1966 have by omission or commission promoted that streak of injustice and unfairness in so many ways and the height of it was the June 12, 1993 cancelation of the presidential election.
The return of democracy in 1999 did not and cannot on its own bring about justice and unrestrained development for segments of Nigeria because the vestiges of lopsidedness and marginalisation were still embedded in the 1999 Constitution, though cleverly put together in more benign ways.
But since Nigeria is work in progress, practitioners of democracy are expected to continue to tinker with the process, amending and learning the curves towards attaining more justice and development for all.
To achieve that, a lot depends on the man at the centre, his general understanding of Nigeria and the need to apply delicate balancing at all times. The man at the centre is the president, and his predisposition to issues of fairness and equity is of prime importance.
It was on that note that by personal initiative, then president Obasanjo in year 2000 attempted to open a new page for Nigeria and reconcile disparate and aggrieved citizenry.
I cannot vouch for how altruistic that initiative was, but there was some attempt to reconcile Nigeria, through the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa-led Human Rights Violations and Reconciliatory Committee (HRVRC).
Being a sore victim and equally huge beneficiary of misapplication of military might, Obasanjo understood the damage the country had incurred in that spell of interregnum.
He knew too that it was never too late to appease persons and segments of the populace if indeed Nigeria must work. The reports and recommendations of the HRVRC were unfortunately not officially released and there were no compensations and appeasements.
But all those who were and are still aggrieved with Nigeria got the opportunity to ventilate. Some did not bother at all to show up, including Buhari and IBB.
But that is not the point. Obasanjo, knowing the damage regional cabals and potentates used the military to inflict on Nigeria got close to loosening the stranglehold of the majority tribes on the armed forces.
In the eight years that he was in office, he substantially loosened their grip on the military. Key and sensitive service postings were distributed away from the majority tribes, so that those regional power mongers who used the military to steal power would get disinterested and embrace democracy.
Democracy brings more people to the table, more than military regimes and the processes of arriving at key decisions bring diversity on board. On the whole, democracy can bring about substantial fairness, but not absolute.
For instance, while the kind of military rulers we have had would rely on factors of tribe and religion to appoint persons into key ministries and agencies such as, petroleum, agriculture, education, Customs, NIMASSA, NNPC etc., a liberal and democratic leader would, in partnership with his party, look far and wide for men of noble character and capacity.
Even the 1999 Constitution provides for that, but the presidency in Nigeria is imperial and so much depends on the largeness of heart of the man at the centre.
Between 1999 and 2007, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), though very bad in other areas, was able to manageably understand the larger picture of a country that had just transited from long years of military misrule.
Those were years of lunatic autocracy, blatant roguery, barefaced-nepotism, oppression of minority tribes and plundering of their wealth. Under the first PDP government there was a remarkable sense of fairness in key appointments.
Apart from holding tight to the petroleum ministry in his usual holier than thou manner, no one could accuse Obasanjo of favouring members of his Southwest Yoruba tribe, either in appointments or siting of projects.
Instead, he searched diligently for men and women from far and near. At the end of his rule in 2007, there was little to cheer in the Southwest. The roads were more deplorable, apart from the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway that was halfheartedly commissioned.
It’s still a matter of debate how well that sense of justice was allowed to prevail in the second half of the PDP reign. The late Yar’Adua, though, a socialist and lover of all men, may not have enjoyed the presence of mind to critically place the history of Nigeria on the table in order to stay with the attempt at delicate balancing that was inherited from the previous eight years.
The man was largely not in charge, and kinsmen in his kitchen cabinet were alleged to have seen his era as another opportunity to kill and divide Nigeria. In the last six years, the facts and figures are still fresh. In terms of appointments, there was some sense of justice. Postings in the military, police and para-military were substantially well spread.
Those who have issues with Jonathan were irritated that he gave the petroleum ministry, a prime one at that, to his fellow Ijaw woman. They also had issues with sumptuous contract jobs for ex-militant leaders of the Niger Delta, and perhaps, NIMASA.
There are off course bickering among other tribes in the Niger Delta that Jonathan concentrated more on his Ijaw tribe in terms of appointments.
But generally, Niger Deltans appear worse now than they were before Jonathan came on board. Whatever were the lapses in the last 16 years ought to be good lessons for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to learn from and improve upon.
Democracy, like we say is a process and not a destination; and those who have earned the votes of the people after 16 years in the flanks ought to show that they can do it better.
But we have not seen that yet. First, the APC flunked it big time in sharing leadership positions in the NASS. The PDP faired far better on that count. They know how to accommodate nearly every group.
My fears today are that the APC government does not show signs of remembering the larger picture, which is that Nigeria still requires a careful balancing.
The APC government is already behaving like an army of occupation, seeing Nigeria like some conquered territory to be partitioned and shared as Buhari’s kitchen cabinet deems fit.
It is more frightening that the critical segment of the Southwest in the APC that should remind the party of where we are coming from is now battling for survival.
The ACN in APC that was once the fulcrum of the party is now like an appendage, begging for space in the new government. And all that is self-inflicted, because those who ought to be foot soldiers of the Southwest in the new government are afflicted by home trouble. When those who should offer you filial protection decide to afflict you with home trouble, you lose relevance at home and abroad.
That is how I see the self-flagellation ongoing in Lagos and the Southwest. In the absence of critical voices from the zone in the new government (I am not talking of Jonathan bashing of which there are many award winners), Nigeria could gradually slide back to that dreaded Ancien Régime, when absolute dictatorship and parasitic monarchy reigned supreme.
The Southeast and South-south have been sidelined. Dictators are not known to broach mercy and that had been expressly and clearly stated. You cannot invest your votes in PDP and expect to be rewarded in APC.
That is a matter of simple logic. But in the crucial business of reinventing Nigeria, there should be no room for warmongers, but those who have voices, critical voices, should raise them fearlessly and tell truth to power.
That it is in the interest of Nigeria to deal fairly with all men, whether on issues of corruption or on appointments, so that those who made grievous mistakes yesterday can learn.
In case they ever come back again, maybe in another 16 years, they too can have an improved template to work with. A lot depends on the party in government to be critical of self and subject issues to internal debate. The progressives, if they still exist, cannot afford to go to sleep, whether in the APC or outside of it. Nigeria is too big and still too vulnerable to be left for one group or region to micromanage.