Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Stronger Challenge Than Swatting A Fly

By Chuks Iloegbunam
The fight against insur­gency is not as straight­forward as swatting a fly. In the past week, I have snatched every free time that strayed into my schedules to criti­cally look again at two invaluable books on Nigeria. Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), one of Africa’s most renowned constitutional lawyers, authored both. The one book is How President Obasanjo Subverted Nigeria’s Federal Sys­tem; the other is How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy. Gold Press Limited, Ibadan, published the books simultaneously in 2007. These seminal works, each of 22 chapters, pack a combined pagi­nation running to nearly a thou­sand pages. They demonstrate incontrovertibly that Nigeria’s primary political problem issues directly from the bastardization of its Federal constitution.
This indictment appears on the blurb of How President Obasanjo subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy: “This is an account of how President Obasanjo turned Nigeria from a law-governed state, a legal order, bequeathed to us by the British colonialists, into a lawless one; from an organization of power and coercive force limited and regulated by, and to be exercised in accordance with, law into a system of personal rule in which law was replaced more or less by arbitrary whims and personal political interests of one indi­vidual, and in which government actions were determined largely by might, by the application of organized coercive force in the exclusive monopoly of the state, altogether careless of legality.”

Anyone who reads these books will find detailed exam­ples, page after page, of how a man elected to promote the development of his country’s nascent democracy behaved, by words and actions, like a bull in a china shop.

Professor Nwabueze detailed how Obasanjo’s government wantonly bastardized the concept of the separation of powers, how, in illegality, it forced Governors DSP Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State), and Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo State) from of­fice; how it illegally impeached Governors Joshua Dariye (Plateau State) and Ayo Fayose (Ekiti State); how that government compromised the judiciary; how it turned the De­partment of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into Leviathans for the annihila­tion of perceived opposition; and how Obasanjo routinely violated Governors’ constitutional im­munity. The books detail count­less other anti-Federal acts and actions perpetrated under Oba­sanjo’s watch.

Two questions arise:
(1) How did Obasanjo literally get away with murder?
(2) Is today’s Nige­ria a regression into a nightmar­ish replication of Obasanjo’s to­talitarianism?

There is for every cause, a con­sequence. During Obasanjo’s despotism, Odi was flattened; Zaki Biam was pulverized. These resulted in the massacres of in­nocent thousands. Of course, the military expeditions were not altogether surprising, com­ing as they did from a man who, as military Head of State, had set up the Ita Oko penal island, where Nigerian citizens were banished into oblivion. Is Nigeria banished now to the avoidable and intractable consequences of despotism, at the hands of someone who, as military Head of State, condemned Nigerian citizens to death on the strength of a retroactive decree? These questions are apposite, given the volatile developments unfolding in the Niger Delta. All kinds of militant groups are emerging or re-emerging, destroying pipe­lines and oil installations. In their first incarnation, President Oba­sanjo failed to halt and reverse their threat and potentiality for knocking the country down to its knees. He thought the problem could be combated and defeated by the brutish application of mili­tary force. He failed woefully. 

By the time patriots like Sena­tor Uche Chukwumerije thwart­ed Obasanjo’s third term bid and saved the country from his men­ace, oil production, the country’s economic mainstay, had plum­meted to an all-time low. It was essentially thanks to President Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice Presi­dent Goodluck Jonathan that the rot was cleared. Both statesmen were in agreement with Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, who told Angelo that, “O!, it is excellent To have a gi­ant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.” The tow­ering inferno in the Niger Delta was extinguished. General am­nesty was granted. Training pro­grammes were instituted for the restive and the restless. Oil pro­duction returned to near normal, and the country got a new lease of life.

This means that, with pa­tience, tact and patriotism, it is possible to negotiate with pro­testers and attain a modus viv­endi.

Today, however, it is being suggested that the deployment of warriors and weaponry is the panacea for all national ills. Those who venture to make the point that, although the temptation to utilize coercive force is often ir­resistible, the place of dialogue cannot rationally be altogether discounted, are branded haters of the Oga at the Top, or bashers of his administration. But this ap­palling attitude takes into no ac­count the fact that, as Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States memora­bly stated, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official…”

For various reasons that com­mand enumeration, the peaceful option for the resolution of politi­cal crisis must never be placed at the back burner of national af­fairs. Nigeria is currently engaged in the war against Boko Haram, which is highly expensive in terms of lives and resources. The country is, assumedly, busily en­gaged in quenching the murder­ous wildness of Fulani herdsmen across all geopolitical zones.

The government’s official spokesman has pronounced the country stone-broke. Pov­erty has assumed the character­istic of a wild elephant, throttling and trampling the masses, not marking any distinction be­tween those who belong to the favoured 95 percent and others who constitute the miserable 5 percent! All these hardly point to the most auspicious time to celebrate the indispensability of the Aftomat Kalashnikova 1947 (AK47) or the high velocity “Let The Masses Govern” (LMG), or the anti-personnel explosive, or the armoured columns, or the metallic birds of prey. After all, conventional wisdom insists that a sensible man surrounded by enemies goes with good old palm wine, to make peace with some of them and, thus, obviate the contingency of personal ex­tinction.

A million heavily armed air­men, sailors and soldiers flying over, swimming in, and swarm­ing through the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta cannot be the most effective way of sav­ing the goose that lays the golden eggs. This is unconnected with justifying criminality or insur­gency; it is simply a matter of commonsense. Not mostly sub­terranean, oil installations con­stitute the handiest of soft targets for people praying fervently that the cataclysm foretold for tomor­row should happen this instant.

It leaves the rational staring at the disagreeable. Severe military reverses or wholesale devasta­tion of the sources of the black gold will trigger new Odis and new Zaki Biams, which are in­capable of foreclosing a total col­lapse of the economy. Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, reportedly blamed saboteurs for his inabil­ity to deliver of the power supply front. This could sow the germ of an idea in the mind of someone who, tomorrow, may exhibit the shards of his shattered political agenda as evidence of the unto­ward hand of militancy.
*Chuks Iloegbunam, an eminent essayist and author is a columnist with a national newspaper. He could be reached with iloegbunam@hotmail.com

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