Attending Mamman Ali's burial (in Fika, Yobe State) was very instructive. As we drove to the town, we were confronted by big banners, billboards and posters of the deceased governor all loudly pronouncing him the right choice for the 2011 gubernatorial elections! This was January 2009, less than two years into his first term in office. When we got back to the villa, the president (the late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua) asked whether we had noticed the banners, shaking his head before he went into a philosophical exhortation on the vanity of human wishes...
With the foregoing excerpted from my book on the Yar'Adua years, I find it difficult to understand why some people still fail to learn that nobody can legislate for the future. At a time the current office holders have not even spent the first of their four-year mandates, almost every politician who has a media space has had to tell us something or the other about who should run for elections in 2015 and who should not. Meanwhile none of them is talking about performance, or delivering good governance. It was therefore fitting that President Goodluck Jonathan would intervene at the weekend but in doing so, he betrayed himself as being part of the problem rather than the solution. Instead of staying above the fray, he took sides and a statement that ordinarily should put an end to the madness only added fuel to the fire.
According to presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, "the pointless, diversionary and very distractive hue and cry about the President's alleged ambition to seek a second term in office is becoming increasingly disturbing by the day with headlines such as 'Jonathan's 2015 Ambition Can Break Up Nigeria' and 'Jonathan's 2015 Ambition Fuelling Insecurity,' now regular fare in our newspapers and on the internet." That first paragraph says everything about the mindset of people at the villa. Effectively, what the president is saying is that it is only those who do not want him to run in 2015 that are overheating the polity. Yet a simple google will also reveal provocative headlines credited to some prominent presidential handlers aside the "endorsements" from some South-south groups and "threats" that are now a daily mantra for some former Niger Delta militant leaders over a 2015 aspiration that we are now being told is far from the president's mind.
Even though it is within the president's Constitutional rights to seek a second term, some of his kinsmen are already talking as if he was given a mandate for eight years and not four. Even before he spent one month in office, some of these people who create the impression that they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the villa, had started to make incendiary remarks about 2015. I never read it anywhere that they were ever called to order. So in case the president does not know, his "2015 campaign managers" are also as culpable in the overheating of the polity that has today overexposed our plural society to all manner of danger.
Lest I be misconstrued, I want to reiterate my earlier position that it is within the president's right to seek re-election in 2015. For me, what is important is that Nigerians will still have to vote in the election where the president would then be judged strictly on the record of his performance in office. But there is a bigger issue here and that is the kernel of the president's intervention at the weekend: we cannot continue to subject our country to this sort of perpetual transition that is not about the welfare of the people.
Today, it would seem as if we have made politics an end in itself and that is the only way to explain why ideas, ideals and programmes never feature in the language of the power mongers. What we here instead is where someone comes from or what language he speaks. I am for equity in either appointive or elective offices so I have no problem with zoning, but I worry when it becomes the only issue in town as it is today and for which there are three different proponents. The first are politicians from the North who believe it is their turn, not because of any "born to rule" campaign of calumny that is now a common fare against my part of the country (as a Kwaran I am also a Northerner!); but rather because there was/is a zoning policy within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which the nation has tacitly endorsed. That, in any case, was the ladder with which Jonathan climbed to the presidency.
The second group belongs to those who want their Ijaw (or South-south) kinsman-president to stay in office for as long as he possibly can. This is also a legitimate aspiration, except that it does not occur to these do-gooders that Jonathan would have to seek and get the mandate of Nigerians in 2015 if he wants to continue as president. It is folly for them to assume that once he proclaims tomorrow that he will seek re-election, the deal is already done. They are making a very great mistake. Except the president improves on his performance in the next three years and is deemed to have done enough to justify a second term by 2015, he may not win.
There is, however, a third category of Nigerians who believe that notwithstanding the necessity for equity and fairness in a plural society which zoning represents, the essential ingredient that can, and will, ultimately glue Nigeria together and make us realise our potentials is not where the president comes from but rather his/her capacity/willingness to address our multifarious challenges. It is to this group that I belong. The fate of our country is bigger than this primordial sentiment being played up by the political elite to feather self interest. That is why it is important for all elected officials at all levels to leave the politics of 2015 for now and begin to work in the interest of the suffering masses.
Death of a Comrade
When prominent Nigerians attend a book launch or a fund raising event, they make huge pledges which they don't expect to fulfil and most often, they don't. So when three months after the public presentation of my book on the Yar'Adua years I heard no word from those who took away hundreds of copies with promises, I sent out a text message to remind them of their obligation. One of the people who got that SMS is the Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. He promptly replied my text message, saying he had directed an aide of his to follow up with me on the issue. Then I got a call from a Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde who described himself as the Principal Private Secretary to the Governor. He apologised for the delay in payment and said he had raised the necessary papers concerning the pledge and would follow up for me. He called a few days later to assure me that the process was almost completed and exactly three weeks after we first spoke, he called again. He said my cheque was ready and that if I sent my account details, he would ensure it was paid in. I did and the money was indeed paid.
I was impressed by the professional manner Oshiomhole's aide related with me even when we never met before and that he would pay the money without requiring my physical presence in Benin said a lot about his person. But in narrating the story to a few people, I got to learn more about the character of Oyerinde whom many actually knew from his student union days and later as the Lagos State Chairman of Campaign for Democracy (CD) before ending up at the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) secretariat. It was therefore a rude shock for me when around 6am last Friday, a text message came in from my friend, Louis Odion, the Edo State Information Commissioner, saying Oyerinde had been assassinated. Even when I never met the man, I feel a sense of loss, especially now that I am learning more from other people about his intellect and integrity.
But we must all be worried by the type of politics we play in our country today where there is no longer sanctity for human lives. Whichever way one looks at this cold blooded murder, there is no way we can divorce it from politics for two simple reasons. One, it is very clear that whoever killed Oyerinde had a disagreement with him on certain matters and must have concluded that the best way to resolve such disagreement was to take his life. Two, the July gubernatorial election in Edo has so poisoned the atmosphere in the state that what we witness on a daily basis now is bestiality. That sort of situation always provide fertile grounds for the assassins because when politicians are as desperate as they seem to be in Edo today, they are always very dangerous. In the last two weeks, the internet has been awash with photographs of prominent politicians (in the two leading political parties) in the state, either in naked posture or engaging in some sexual activities. The obscene photographs look contrived but even if they were real, how does somebody's bedroom affairs impact on the livelihood of the people of Edo State? How does that become a campaign manifesto? How does circulating pornography advance the cause of our democracy?
The real moral of it all, however, is that politicians who are desperate enough to assassinate the character of others just to settle scores would physically eliminate their opponents if they believed they would get away with it. And in our country, they always get away with it. Notwithstanding the presidential directive for the police to find the killers which has become no more than a cliché, I place no hope in the ability of the authorities to resolve this murder since they have not resolved any in the past. But I do hope and pray it would be the last. I also hope all the stakeholders in the politics of Edo State will give peace a chance as we move towards the July gubernatorial elections. I send my deepest condolences to the family of Mr Oyerinde and the governor and people of Edo State on the death of this Nigerian patriot.