This democracy can survive without agreements

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

All the agreements that we have had since 1999, to manage political power for bigger benefits, have been observed in the breach. Therefore, instead of this unending string of broken agreements that makes us look like dwellers in a jungle, we can choose to operate without entering into agreements.

I am not talking about the agreements between elected leaders and the people of Nigeria, which do not require any special emphasis in the first place because what is known since 1960 after Independence is for leaders to breach the social contract they entered into with the people.

That is why the deficits in housing, healthcare, education, road network and other social and physical infrastructure have refused to even up in spite of trumpeted elaborate government schemes to address same. In this perpetual state of hollowness, what should be statutory or a given, is shamefully advertised as hard earned achievement by government.

In Nigeria, a governor sees nothing wrong in staging a big ceremony with big budget to flag off the rehabilitation of one-kilometre road or erect a signpost that announces that a road is about to be rehabilitated. I do not have full information but let those in the know say if commissioning ceremonies are part of development in Europe and America and even in other African countries like Botswana and South Africa.

The Thames, which divides London into North and South has about 51 bridges across it including the popular Tower and London Bridges. If every of these bridges were to be commissioned with an elaborate ceremony the way we commission even culverts in Nigeria, a large chunk of the resources of the British Empire which included 62 colonies would have gone into commissioning ceremonies of the bridges across the Thames alone. Add to this the commissioning of about 400 train stations that constitute the complex London Underground train services and you will understand by how much leadership in Nigeria has moved off the central issues.

But I have digressed. What is on my card today is the ease with which politicians breach agreements among themselves, which, like the breach of agreements between leadership and the people, has become normative too. The first major breach in this regard was by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who left prison after the death of General Sani Abacha on June 8 1998 to become president on May 29, 1999.

That agreement was for Obasanjo who was returned to the presidency by forces completely outside of him to compensate the Southwest for the annulment by General Ibrahim Babangida of the June 12 presidential election, which Chief MKO Abiola won, to do only one term of four years and then walk away. He reneged and was even prepared to fight to finish persons like Atiku Abubakar who wanted the initial agreement honoured.

As it turned out, this breach, which happened in the build-up to the 2003 general elections became a mere supporting act. The main act began in 1999, when Obasanjo moved massively to breach the 1999 Constitution altogether, by seeking another term of four years after exhausting the two terms of eight years permitted by the constitution in Section 135. This time, the politicians managed to close ranks to neutralise a common enemy of democracy.

Obasanjo’s immediate successor in office, Alhaji, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did not live long enough to be tested on the matter of respect for political agreements. He died in office on May 5, 2010, about three years into his first tenure of four years.

Section 136 of the Constitution remains unambiguous, stating what should happen in the event of a President or a governor dying in office or becoming incapacitated. But it wasn’t as straight-forward as that when the provision was tested with Goodluck Jonathan, Yar’Adua’s deputy. Politics of Yar’Adua’s incapacitation and eventual death was such that Goodluck Jonathan had had to enter into many agreements, some with the devil, just to gain enough traction to first anchor his late principal’s mandate before asking for his in 2011.

But in all of the attendant intrigues and horse-trading, one deal stood out; the one in which Jonathan, himself, announced to a national audience that four years were enough for any serious president to make a mark and that he was not going to stand for re-election in 2015 at the end of his tenure. He didn’t want anything more because what was already in for him was more than enough achievement for the son of a fisherman who didn’t wear sandals to school. Nobody in the whole wide world would accuse him of under achievement.

Dr. Reuben Abati in an article alluded to some demonic spirit inhabitants in Aso Rock Villa that deflect the course of destiny of human inhabitants. Maybe there was some truth in that claim, which tended to take us back to classical mythologies where the gods had direct roles in the affairs of men. I am actually searching for a good way to explain the appetite for more power of a former prisoner turned president and who was also once a military head of state and another man whose natural and social circumstances never positioned him for any height, not to talk of the ultimate height in political leadership.

Bottom line: the unclean spirit of agreement breach, which is one of the inhabitants of the Villa entered into Jonathan and caused him, as he would likely claim, to breach the agreement to do a tenure and vacate the presidency in 2015. In the short run, that breach marked the scuttling of the PDP as a veritable vessel for power acquisition and transmission in Nigeria. As we speak, remediation efforts to return the PDP vehicle to baseline shape are still ongoing with its brand new Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus.

Muhammadu Buhari became President in 2015 on the fourth attempt after three failed attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011. As Jonathan, he had used his own mouth to say that he did not need more than four years to make the impact on national development that he had been itching to make since 2003 when he started the bid to return to the presidency after suddenly realizing that the period between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985 when he was military head of state was either too short or turbulent for full manifestation of his leadership potentials.

He was obliged. Although Buhari had been threatening all along through his trade mark body language to smash the agreement, he was given the benefit of doubt as a fine gentleman until last week when he announced his intention to re-run, just before he left Nigeria for the UK on what his communication team called official visit. His declaration seized newspapers’ headlines the following day.

The New York Times also reported it saying and I quote: “Nigeria’s 75-year old President who spent almost four months out of the country last year while getting medical treatment, says he will run for a second term.”

I cannot get the point New York Times is trying to make here. Is the paper saying that the man is too old or too unhealthy to seek re-election or what? But I would prefer we stayed on the narrative. The issue is that the man has just breached an agreement to increase the number of breached agreements since the start of this democracy in 1999. I say agreements for lack of better description. In content and intent, the so-called agreements are arrangements which is why the breaches have been very rampant.

All the same, these breaches which I have enumerated above are at the federal level alone. At lower levels, breaching of agreements among politicians has become a duty and perfect freedom. From Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti through Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa to Borno and Kano States, it has been the breaching of arrangements between principals and their subordinates or between benefactors and their beneficiaries.

My humble submission: since Nigeria’s leadership DNA is not wired to honour agreements or arrangements, of any kind; either among politicians or between politicians and the people on the promised dividends of good leadership, we should take out all rules and live freely like animals in the savannahs of Eastern and Southern Africa.



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