Ofeimun: The 2015 election and after (2)

By Odia Ofeimun   |   26 January 2015   |   11:00 pm  

NO question about it: the idea that one part of the country has to be granted special benefices as a result of some over-played difference, or lack, is the basis of the success that Boko Haram has had so far. In my view, the champions of such exclusivism, searchers for an Arewa President for Nigeria instead of a Nigerian President for Nigeria are the real bulwarks of Boko Haram, even if they do not belong to the sect and have no religious reasons to hate western education. In this regard, the shame of the Nigerian political class is that the northern exclusivists, who took over Nigeria’s largest political party, the PDP,  from the beginning, have since succeeded in overcoming the new mega-party, APC and are hammering on President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘cluelessness’, as a means of ignoring outstanding performances. Still, it does need to be said that the humungous corruption across the country and the large-scale insecurity in the North East and elsewhere have dented greatly but not managed to erase Goodluck Jonathan’s good deeds. Of interest here is that Olusegun Obasanjo who has been making a show of siding with the northern exclusivists to hide, or remove obviousness from, his own  ‘coup of succession’ against the North simply wont let up. More critical for him is that Goodluck Jonathan’s performance in sector after sector has down-graded and displaced him, in his bid, now supported by so many ‘commissioned’ books, to be seen as father of modern Nigeria. To make matters worse for him, his fears have been confirmed by the glittering success of the national conference which Goodluck Jonathan made possible and serviced executively against all blandishments. 

   In this period of electioneering, it is particularly important to talk about the success of the national conference because of the queer habits of the political parties, all of them acting shy of presenting formidable manifestos and retreating from taking strong positions on the serious matters that have worried Nigerians who continue to see the conference as the grand necessity required to firm up a basis for living together in harmony and plenty. In this connection, it is good always to remember that the Fourth Republic began with a national consensus on this necessity:  to provide for a new constitution that could end the charade of having a decided military over-hang purloining our democracy. True, there were Nigerians who felt there was no need for a new constitution. Theirs was the bemusing cop-out that the trouble was not with the constitution but with its operators. Except that no one ever could tell how to deal with the operators outside the champions of dictatorship who continued to offer grim-faced dispensers of fiats and feckless “immediate effects” as messiahs. Generally, they failed, and are still failing, to look at how the oddities of the 1999 Constitution have been obstructing reforms and reformers, deleting development, empowering corruption, and making Nigeria look truly big for nothing.  The surprise is that anyone could think of a law-governed change in the country without attending to the business of having a constitution that truly works. Unfortunately, although the political class seemed convinced about the need for change, the leadership under President Obasanjo was playing games. 

   The 2005 Political Reform conference flopped because President Olusegun Obasanjo turned it into a self-aggrandizing pursuit of a third term agenda. His personal ambitions sought to over-ride national honour and a sure sense of national destiny. Besides, he was overburdened by the necessity to meet the instructions of a cabal of  Northern hegemonists  who said they gave him power to do their bidding from which he could not renege. In response to their brag, he decided to put a worm in their ointment when he strategized for President Umaru Yar’Adua, a better Nigerian than a Northerner, to succeed him. He proved he had a hidden polemic, however, when, in obedience to his minders, he gave Nigeria a good man whom he knew would not last the distance.  All the same, whatever President Yar’Adua may have done, or not done, the most important part of his legacy is that his successor, President Goodluck Jonathan, did not abandon the imperative of working for a new constitutional order.   While Jonathan’s opponents, including Obasanjo, successfully seized the airwaves to paint his progress as clueless, he pulled off a deft platform by setting up a Belgore Commission to pair down the known differences between the previous constitutional efforts. He organized a parley of civil societies to confront the difficulties in the way, and saw to it, that the Senate and the House of Representatives each delivered virtually a new constitution before he set up the Okunrounmu Committee that strategised the way to a national conference which brought Nigerians of different fractions and factions together and has since further empowered the National Assembly, as it should be, to complete the process. It showed skill. Those who had asked for a sovereign national conference obviously saw the futility of insisting on their pursuit and so participated in making the national conference a whopping success. Never mind that some did it through proxies. 

  So easily forgotten now is the absence of the great champions of constitutional change, and their political siblings, who against their long-drawn and highly effective and praise-worthy advocacy of restructuring and campaign for social welfare turned their backs on the conference and are still uttering truly cynical and distracted opinions about its glittering success. The good thing is that all Nigerians, including those afraid that the salutary outcome of the national conference may never be adopted, are agreed that the document from the conference remains a solid departure from the impunity-ridden ones of hidden agendas in preceding national conferences. The new document is so grandly superior to the current 1999 Constitution in terms of ideals and implementation strategies, and has been so very wisely handed over to the National Assembly to boost the many politically correct positions already taken by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, that it deserves to be at the heart of the current campaigns. Especially so, now that the process has reached a most self-congratulatory stage with the Houses of Assembly across the country submitting their joint report in response to the National Assembly. The indisputable fact is that, irrespective of what anyone might think of particular provisions in the constitution being crafted,  Nigeria is actually on the verge of having a new constitution that is less problematic, more development and people-oriented, less tolerant of ethnic and regional hegemonies, and more oriented towards the fight against corruption, than all the attempts made since, and including, the 1979 and 1999 Constitution, to move Nigeria in a positive direction. It might well be added that those who wish to fight corruption and Boko Haram and to restructure Nigeria for effective implementation of genuine social welfare policies have been provided with a formidable constitutional context from which to do so. The question is: those who cannot openly identify with the constitutional changes, can we trust them to adopt what all Nigerians including their proxies have drawn up? In my view, this is the core question at the heart of the current election.  Quite so, because what the candidates think and feel about the provisions of the constitution can tell who is standing by what majority of Nigerians want.  

   The sad part for Nigerians is that in these 2015 Elections, we are all having to choose between a grandly corrupt political party whose internal dynamics have favoured a great constitutional change and a distracted political opposition that has acquired not only critical personnel from the down-side of the ruling party but has striven to become a mirror image of its zanny briefs while abandoning its own advocacy of restructuring of the federation and pursuit of social welfare policies like free education, free health services, and full employment.  In the case of the latter, they offer charity for citizens without a respectable job creation or incomes policy. A safe way of saying that Nigeria needs a proper third party that must present the people with a choice that is not based on deceptions and power-mongery. How else confront the queer personality conundrum at  the 2015 General Elections which finds Obasanjo, the great kleptocrat of the PDP, on the same side as the opposition, whose leader, General Muhammadu Buhari, with a dubious military reputation for being an anti-corruption crusader, is ramming together two incongruous agendas, one thoroughly parochial and “northern”, (yes, “northern”in quotes”) and the other studiously distracted but in favour of the cabals. The evident self-contradiction is in the fact that Buhari’s former party, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, fused with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to form a mega-party, the All-Progressive Congress, APC, without properly streamlining an ideological platform beyond the need to capture political power at the centre. From the moment the APC absorbed five decamping Northern Governors from the PDP who were insisting that only a Northerner could rule according to their understanding of their party’s zoning formula, it was clear that the APC had taken on the baggage of  capturing of power with a northern candidate as the only desirable “progressive” position. A neat way to put it is that the APC took over the reprehensible zoning formula that made the PDP a party of zonal godfathers. Of course, from the standpoint of national unity, the formula has had a shameful history. It saw the rejection of Obafemi Awolowo’s politics of social welfare because he was Yoruba. It yielded a coup against MKO Abiola’s June 12 victory in the 1993 Presidential elections, the freest and fairest ever, as it is said, because it was supposedly tribalised when his supporters jubilated over his nation-wide victory. 

• To be continued tomorrow

• Ofeimun, a renowned poet, is  former president  Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)



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