30 December 2007

Nigeria: It's Been Quite a Year


The year 2007 has been a great year, and would be remembered, in equal measure, both for what happened as well as for what was supposed to happen but didn't happen.

Before the April, 2007 elections, Nigerians and the rest of the world held their breath, almost certain that some kind of tragic climax or some cruel joke would be unveiled to stop the elections from taking place. But for whatever they were worth, the elections were held and some kind of transition executed; without the country exploding or imploding. To some people these two notable 'do' and 'didn't' are enough to consider 2007 as a great success. As usual it was a success that came at a very high price: over two hundred lives were sacrificed so that the rest of the country could move ahead.

And ahead we moved, to post-Obasanjo Nigeria. Now this is where Einstein's theory of relativity really makes sense. To illustrate his theory in a way most people would understand, Albert Einstein was reported to have given the following example: If you place your hand on a hot iron, one minute would seem like one hour; but if you place your hand on a young woman's breast, one hour would be like one minute. So how we view Nigeria before and after Obasanjo is function of our personal circumstances. But after the initial wave of excitement, many Nigerians are settling down to something called déjà vu, a hopeless, depressing feeling that life is indeed a constant circle of history repeating itself.

But wait a minute, shouldn't we really be cheering? This time last year millions of Nigerians were prepared to go to war just to see the back of Obasanjo; many were prepared to settle for anyone or anything but Obasanjo. And now that the man is actually back with his birds in Otta, why does it still seem like he is still lurking somewhere in the villa? But may be it's all in our heads, you know, like that moron character in the hilarious film: 'Chicken Run'.

Talking about what is in the head of Nigerians, it would be interesting to know what is in the head of one particular Nigerian. That Nigerian is Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Obasanjo's successor as President of Nigeria. So many theories have been postulated in the hitherto unsuccessful attempt to decode his ways as well as his words. So far the only thing that makes sense is that the man appears to be greatly weighed down by the circumstances that brought him to power. Which is not surprising because so far he's had very little chance of doing anything other than walking a tight rope, delicately trying to avoid the mines that his predecessor-and benefactor-left on his path.

Yar'Adua also appears to be weighed down by his own personal sense of decency. He respects himself enough to know that though he has the dejure mandate to wield the big stick, he does not have the moral authority to do so. That was perhaps why he didn't sack Soludo, when the CBN boss unilaterally announced a major monetary policy without even telling the president. But then again, one might ask: Why is he sacking EFCC boss Malam Nuhu Ribadu? Again the answer is more poetic than exigent. Up to now nobody can say with any degree of certainty where the money used to prosecute Yar'Adua's campaign came from. But it has been an open secret that it came from the loot of former governor of oil-rich Delta state, Chief James Ibori and one or two others. So if sacking Ribadu is supposed to be a Christmas gift to Ibori who's been in jail since before Christmas, then all we can say is that it is befitting appreciation to a financier. But what a gift it is. Imagine been thrown into jail one week, and having your jailer thrown out of job the next week!

And as for the rest of us, what do we get for a new year present? Given the choice Nigerians are likely to ask for Leader as a new year present. Of course we appreciate the president's many distractions; we are even prepared to accept his doublespeak on the controversial AFRICOM as a necessary defense in dealing with a ruthless, unscrupulous nation like the United States. But at time like this, when Divine Providence brings Sallah, Christmas and new year all within a week of each other, perhaps in order to emphasis to us the need for living in harmony, the least the president could do is to compliment this Divine act of mercy. In simple English this is to say that by sacking Ribadu Yar'Adua has put a very big smile on the faces of one class of Nigerians notorious for it's dubious wealth; to put a smile on the faces of other ordinary Nigerians, the president should also sack another untouchable. I recommend Maurice Iwu.

God knows, like many ordinary people around the world, Nigerians have a desperate need for something to cheer at. What with the violence in Bauchi, the explosions in Lagos and armed robberies and murders everywhere else, the situation is enough to make even the most optimistic among us lose hope. Moreover, Nigerians with a taste for international politics and diplomacy will be dispirited even more on account of the tragic assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Ali Bhutto. To that add the emergence of France's new president Nicolas Sarkozy, who's turning out to be more irritating and worse than Tony Blair in all the negative ways, then you know that the world is truly out of joint; and the possibility of mental depression becoming a global problem imminent.

Back to Nuhu Ribadu, the sacking of whom we hope would be the last bad shock of the year; the man really has more reasons to cheer than most Nigerians, but being human he probably wouldn't see it that way. If he stays for another eight years, it is unlikely that he would get a better exit point like the present one. Sometime last year he complained that his life was in danger, a complaint that did not come as a surprise to anyone. For the greater part of his tenure, he is dogged by accusations of being used by Obasanjo to haunt the latter's political opponents; at some point he was even accused of corruption himself. Now all that appear to be forgotten and even his erstwhile critics are lining up behind him. It is certainly more than he'd hoped for, if not more than he deserve; because in truth he played his part in blackmailing other contestants to make way for his boss' anointed in presidential race. But all said Ribadu has been one hell of a brave cop. He'd served his country with passion and a commitment that is quite rare.

It is probably in his best interest that he should bow out now and allow somebody else to try; he'd done his best, he'd loved his job and had reveled in the power and the glory and the influence that go with it. He'd also reaped the rewards, it is said that he is even more respected abroad than his boss, and among his peers he is the first, if not the only police officer to attain the rank of an Assistant Inspector General (AIG); he'd basked in the publicity, which he appeared to have enjoyed, and Nigerians are sending him off in style; what more could he expect from a country with a notorious record of intolerance of heroes?

So who succeeds Ribadu? My sources say that three people have been penciled down: two police commissioners and a very high ranking apparatchik of the SSS from the North East. If you are surprised that neither retired colonels Dangiwa Umar nor Abdul-Hamid Ali's names are recommended, you are probably more naïve than is good for you.

One last thing about 2007 are the revelations: The dirty deals of Siemens, the clash of the big boys of the FCT and the touching care and love they have for their spouses, the other names of senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello; and the milestones such as the coming of age of the judiciary and the glorious though painful exit of political icon Chief Sunday Awoniyi. Elsewhere in the world we rejoice with Australians for kicking out Howard who, along with the diminished statesman Tony Blair provided the bungling U.S. president George Bush with the support he needed to plunge a quarter of the world's population into a needless war. While rejoicing with South Africa's ANC, this column strongly advises our southern brothers to be wary with a man like Zuma, he comes across as somebody who would dance to the gallery while his country falls apart.

Thanks also to Mrs. Olubunmi Etteh, Nigeria's former Speaker of the House of Representatives for providing the human race with the final proof that whatever a man can do, a woman can do even better. No more arguments about that, at least not in Nigeria's circle of corrupt politicians.

Finally special appreciation to President Yar'Adua; for the first time in so many years we have spent Sallah, Christmas and hopefully new year without fuel scarcity. But thumbs down to the president over power supply and gas flaring; in both the government made promises but failed to deliver. We also await our New Year gift from the president. We, the people, will question his stand on the rule of law and due process if he does not give us a New Year gift equivalent to the one he gave to James Ibori and his colleagues. We urge him to remember that it is good to be fixated with the rule of law as a mantra, but to also bear in mind that such monomania works only in countries where the system works. In the case of our country, he is saddled with the enormous task of producing a functioning system; then and only then could he sit back and allow the various units to check themselves. For now he is a transitional president between a failed state and a state struggling to start all over again. The rule of law and the due process he is talking about have been corrupted; and it is up to him to set them right before he can enjoy the luxury of allowing them to do his job for him.

As for the judiciary, well, a verdict in the presidential case is expected hopefully by March, 2008. Until then all we can say is so far, so good. Meanwhile seven happy cheers to 2007, the year in which our country witnesses the first ever transition from one regime to the next, from a semi-military regime to full civilian regime, headed by two university graduates with obvious good intentions. To the rest of Nigerians, my condolences over the explosions in Lagos and other tragedies. Whoever can, should try to find a middle ground between a hot iron and Einstein's other extreme-and then pray hard that nothing happens to tip him towards the wrong edge. It's been quite a year indeed.

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