Lamikanra: Return from exile
MORE than two years after I wrote my last article in The Guardian, it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain my self-imposed silence, not because I feel that I have something compellingly important to say but to satisfy or even to reassure some of those who have read me over a period of more than 20 years. There is no doubt that because of the parlous, if not perilous state of the nation, people are in great need of some dose of reassurance. I started writing regularly for The Guardian in 1990, at a time when Babangida, also known as the evil genius, and his boys, were running the country into the ground and trampling over all our rights as Nigerians into the dust. I had recognised the destructive quality of the Babangida boys right at the beginning of their ruinous tenure and responded by writing poetry beginning with Ode to SAP, a poem which lamented the destruction of the nation’s economy at a time when that outcome was still in the future. That poem was followed almost immediately by another lament, this time with the late Dele Giwa as the subject. He had been blown up by a parcel bomb, which had been delivered to his home on a quiet Sunday morning. The last line in that lament was: Who sent the gift/the obscene gift of sudden death?
Accusing fingers have since been pointed at several people, all of them at that time close to the rulers of the nation, but 28 years after that bloody event, nobody has been positively identified as the villain in that dastardly piece and with each passing day, the possibility that the bomber will be made known recedes further and further into the mist of possibility. What is really exasperating is that even now, at least one person is chalking up the years with the heavy weight of the knowledge of who was responsible for that explosive parcel weighing down his mind. That bloody secret has now become so much part of those carrying that it is likely to follow them to the grave.
In 1990 when I started ventilating my mind in The Guardian, the main subject troubling that mind was the dishonesty surrounding Babangida’s so called transitional programme. It was then that the term, hidden agenda started to gain a notorious currency suggesting that not everybody was fooled by the amoral dance steps being executed by the increasingly shameless denizens of Dodan Barracks, the precarious seat of power in those days. The precarious nature of the security of Dodan Barracks was soon shown up by the nearly successful Orkah coup, which sent the government scampering to the relative safety of the Aso Rock fortress in what was then the wilderness of Abuja.
Apart from the murderous nature of military rule in Nigeria, the people had become fed up with the insult of being ruled by military impostors at a time when all round the world, people were throwing off the yoke of unrepresentative government as democratic rule was
breaking out like a rash of boils. In spite of spirited efforts, however, it was not until 1999, the last year of the twentieth century, that our military overlords were shamed into retiring into their barracks. Even then, it was only the providential demise of the taciturn Abacha that opened the ironclad door to the latest democratic experiment in Nigeria. Had Abacha not died when he did, whatever democracy that could have been achieved would have been a sham seeing that at the time of his death, all the five political parties which had been registered for electoral contestation and which had been aptly described as the leprous fingers of one hand, had, in each case, and presumably independently of each other, adopted Abacha as their Presidential candidate. As these shameless politicians were loudly proclaiming the sterling qualities of their patron, a young man was busy beseeching Nigerian youths to earnestly yearn for Abacha. These people did not even bat an eyelid
when people poured into the streets to celebrate the demise of their lord and master. Perhaps the only viable opposition to Abacha in Nigeria was offered by the Press, led by The Guardian, the incontestable flagship of the Nigerian Press and I was extremely proud of my association with an organ which refused to kowtow to a
government which did not blush to stoop to judicial murder and the stern persecution of all enemies, real and imagined but mostly imagined.
We were all anxious to see the country return to civilian rule, so anxious perhaps that we were not alarmed by the fact that the President into whose fist power was being placed was a retired General, that his deputy was a retired Customs officer and perhaps the most visible minister in the new government who was supposedly in charge of Works used to be a police officer. The organisers of the elections, which brought these born again civilians to power were, like their successors, military men who of course had an unhealthy interest in who took over from them. To put it another way, the military made sure that they were followed by a group of people with the ability to cover their retreat. Some may describe that as good military tactics but in the context of healthy Nigerian politics, it is nothing short of sheer bloody mindedness. Nearly 16 years later, there are still too many retired military men pretending to be civilians in all tiers of government and we are still waiting for a genuine civilian government, and no wonder, our governance is in sixes and sevens. We operate a system in which, like the military government, all power is locked up in a Presidency which, to put it mildly, has lost its way in treacherous thickets with which it has surrounded itself.
The motivation for my writing has always been the promotion of good and responsible governance for our country and just over 30 months ago, it became apparent to me that my voice was one crying without hope in the wilderness of ideas which Nigeria had become. More than ever, Nigerians were struggling with a barrage of existential matters with no energy left for the consideration of anything constructive. Under such inauspicious circumstances, I lost my voice and simply could not summon up the energy to overcome the inertia, which held me in thrall.
There is no doubt that the country is now at a crossroads with the most important elections in the history of Nigeria only round the corner. Nobody will dispute the importance of the coming elections if only because for the first time, we have two political parties with the capacity to stand toe to toe with each other. One can only hope that we have gone beyond the shameful days of blatant vote rigging when the power of incumbency was overwhelming and the ruling party had garrison commanders saddled with the responsibility of stealing or manufacturing votes to the detriment of the electorate. Should the elections be anything resembling free and fair, then we can look forward to a real contest in which case, it would determine the future conduct of all facets of Nigerian affairs. Given that situation, it is important for as many minds as possible to join the discussion about how Nigeria will move on from here. From this noxious pothole into which she has been buried for far too long.
Having broken the ice with this article, I hope that I have found my voice again and that I will once more be able to add my voice to those who are genuinely interested in presenting ideas for discussion and possible adoption by the Nigerian public.
• Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, is of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.