SHILGBA: FROM MY HEART

Leonard Karshima ShilgbaMonday, August 16, 2004
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shilgba@yahoo.com
Yokohama, Japan

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MY THOUGHTS AS 2007 APPROACHES FOR NIGERIA


n Nigeria, we forget so easily so soon. Either in a show of mischief or for laziness in the exercise of memory and common sense, villains of yesterday become today's saints for no reasonable cause. 11 years is not a long duration. A child born 11 years ago is not yet a teenager. An adolescent doesn't need history books to remember events that happened 11 years ago.

In 1993, 11 years ago this year, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) annulled a presidential election which was globally acclaimed to be the most fair and free ever in Nigeria. He was forced to "step aside" after having ruled Nigeria for 8 years, which in our current presidential system of government, translates to two full terms of 4 years each. Today, IBB desires to RULE Nigeria AGAIN. Has he officially declared his intention? He-true to his murky ways-has not yet. He seems to be testing the waters.

The questions that beg for answers are these:

  1. What does he want to do for Nigeria that he could not do in the 8 years he ruled?

  2. What vision does he have for Nigeria now; and seeing that Nigeria is in a haste to develop, how dependable is he to accomplish this within 4 or 8 years which he could not accomplish in the 8 years he has ruled?

  3. What are his plans to deal with corruption which he is known to have institutionalized; and can he honestly deal with it without consuming himself and the paper millionaires and billionaires he created both in the military and out of it-the clique that wants him back now?

  4. What does he want to do for Nigeria as president that he cannot do as a citizen?

  5. How can he convince Nigerians he will encourage transparency, justice, and equity when he refused to appear before the Oputa panel, and instituted a legal motion to tie the hands of government from implementing its recommendations?

  6. How trustworthy is IBB, who deceived the world and failed to deliver on the promise he made at the UN in a powerfully delivered address, punctuated severally by seasons of applause? (I listened to this speech live with pride)

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Nigerians deserve the leaders they have at every stage of history. The elite who write and criticize a lot hardly register to vote; and even when they register, they loathe the inconvenience of queuing to cast votes that, they believe, will not count. Therefore, the common Nigerians, who are easily bought over with pittance, vote according to how they are told by the "political godfathers" and political investors, who know that these matter rather than the elite who make a lot of noise without biting or voting (whom they figure could be ignored without damage). Electoral officers and party recruits at polling booths, who see no farther than the eye's ability, sell their birthright for a pot of porridge.

Nigerians generally behave like the frenzied plebian mob in William Shakespeare's classic, Julius Caesar, who believed one and then the other depending on the balance of polemics. If Nigerians have sold their memory at the shrines dotting our thick forests and embellished edifices, let them go on yielding their trust and votes to a Brutus. I will have no pity for Nigerians no matter how much they suffer if IBB who killed a Caesar is given a hero's welcome.

Which decent society will ever have such misfortune of having an "impeached President" (He "stepped aside" not willingly), who himself claimed to be an evil genius, dangled before them as a suitable presidential candidate in a democracy? Which decent society will allow a murderer of all democratic exercise- who kept changing rules in the middle of the game until he was caught in his game- lead it supposedly on the strength of its votes?

What decency and respect for Nigerians has IBB demonstrated since 1993 (or even 1985)? This man deceived us; raised and dashed our hopes repeatedly. In fact, my late father with whom we had discussed Nigeria's affairs so often since I was a teenager placed so much hope on IBB's ability to lead us. My Dad was a Historian, Linguist, and Teacher who taught me a lot about Nigeria; and I relied on his judgment. When IBB introduced the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP); scrapped the Commodity board, thus liberalizing the import of "essential commodities"; threw open the debate on IMF loan to the public, he was my father's man.

But did we know the level of corruption that was being legalized and consolidated? The middle class was completely destroyed. Our naira was deliberately weakened without a corresponding strong export base. I remember as a teenager, I read ideas like fixing the upper ceiling for naira exchange rate, which kept falling against major international currencies. Our purchasing power fell; University professors in our Ivory Towers lost respect, and the exodus of Nigerian specialists abroad gained momentum; the minimum wage was ludicrous. Our country became a laboratory for experimentation with various political systems.

Until now Nigerians do not know how much IBB spent (wasted) on these experiments-Colossal amounts that were expended on the headquarters of the IBB- created SDP and NRC parties in all local governments of the Nation; huge amounts of money were given those parties at various times and IBB's minions; phony primaries were conducted every now and then, and then cancelled under dubious circumstances, etc.

After all the experimentation, we are back to what we had between 1979 and 1983-a Bi-cameral legislature in a presidential democracy. What a waste! Under IBB, Nigeria had a great fortune from oil during the gulf war of 1991; what IBB did with this oil windfall is only imaginary. For a man- not as foolish as Abacha- who can cover his tracks very well and "eat with those around him", it becomes very difficult to put him down without him sinking with many who strut about our political landscape today. Therefore, any move against IBB is a threat against a system-immersed in corruption which has become systemic- and its beneficiaries. The beneficiaries therefore feel more threatened than the benefactor whenever they perceive a particular political change might demand accountability for the past.

It is very significant that those who have openly expressed support for IBB's second coming or have an obvious inclination to, are either former beneficiaries of IBB or lost elections in 1999 or 2003. The selfishness of the Nigerian elite is legendry indeed! Not that they love IBB, per se. They are either fighting to preserve themselves and their loot or are out for some political vendetta. When Ghali Na'aba, the former Speaker of the National House of Assembly expressed fears about 2007 elections, I understood it only in the context that there are forces that will want to "win" by all means.

Once Nigerians break the IBB threat to survival of democracy, we will have negotiated a dicey bend in our political evolution. I have used this phrase deliberately. Observers of the Military-civilian political game in Nigeria may recall the escapade of IBB. From his cunning and strategic prodding of Buhari to hold the leadership of Nigeria for him briefly between 1983-1985, his take-over in 1985, his famous "step aside" in 1993, his influencing the choice of Abdusalam Abubakar to lead Nigeria after Abacha's suspicious death in 1998, to his influencing the emergence of Obasanjo as the PDP candidate in Jos in 1998, IBB has proved a handful in Nigeria's political saga. What can Nigerians do, and what should we do to free ourselves from this King-maker type of democracy?

As to the first part of the question, Nigerians have the ability to do NOTHING as usual. But Nigerians can do something. I may digress a bit now. In trying to amend the labor Act in the labor bill now before the national assembly, care must be taken not to destroy the bargaining power of the Nigerian people through the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC). Yes, the act may have its defects which require ONLY necessary amendment to conform it to the constitution, especially with regards to freedom and choice of association; but at the same time, any proposed amendment that will incapacitate the NLC and mock its essence is unacceptable to hapless Nigerians, who see the NLC as a beacon of hope, at least when under a courageous leader like Comrade Adams Oshiomole.

With a strong, informed, and visionary NLC leadership, Nigerians can say "no" to any imposition of a president on the Nigerian polity who guarantees nothing but corruption and decay of political, economic, and physical infrastructure; not by violence, not by force, but by sound argument, information, and protection.

Now, what should we do? The electorate all over Nigeria should be properly informed about the past deeds or misdeeds of presidential candidates in 2007. The NLC can do that for Nigerians through paid radio and television advertisements and mega phone messages in towns and villages from a slush fund to which patriots can make contributions. This campaign should be patterned after campaigns against AIDS (After all the objectives are similar). There is no law in Nigeria against this. We see what private individuals are doing in the USA in spite of a new law against the use of such slush funds. In the native languages of the people, they should be informed properly about the candidates and asked to make an informed choice that will affect them. They should be asked what the pittances they have been collecting from candidates over the years have done for their communities and children.

Apart from the NLC other like-minded Nigerians can unite and do this. Our people should know that a vote sold, is 4 more years of poverty. Those that buy votes with money are not worthy to lead. Money in politics is used for advertisement of vision and mission, transportation and related costs during campaigns, salaries to campaign staff etc, and not to "spray" to poor folks.

I appeal to our Northern brothers and sisters (and the rest of the nation) to accept the use of national identification cards in elections beginning with the 2007 elections. Once the ID cards are issued and the appropriate legislation made by the national assembly by way of amendment of the subsisting Electoral Act, they should be used in the making of voting registers from time-to-time. The ID card numbers should be embossed on the ballot papers; in other words, without an ID card one is ineligible to vote. And only one ballot paper should be produced for each voter for each election bearing their ID number.

Just like no two naira bills have the same number, so also should no two ballot papers for an election, which should be produced by the Nigerian Minting company now under the full control of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), bear the same number. In other words, our ballot papers should be treated like legal tender during elections. There is available technology for counting, and the gizmo will bleep if a particular number is fed in twice. This should be used for counting with the full supervision of party representatives.

It is a known fact that electoral rigging is improbable where a political party has no considerable control. Take for instance, the loss of the AD in all Western States but one in Nigeria. There was no violence because the outcome reflected the wish of the people; the figures must have differed from the reality but without altering the ultimate wish expressed in votes. Allegations of rigging will be reduced to the barest minimum with the changes suggested above, and electoral outcome will truly reflect the wishes of the people, thus encouraging more voter turnout and credibility in the electoral system.

The Ministry of education should work out modalities for an aggressive Adult Education program, such as they are doing in Venezuela, so that Nigerians will become more literate-able to read, write, and speak both in their local languages and English. A literate society is very difficult to mislead. It may be brutalized by dictators, but never because of ignorance. As society becomes truly literate, it becomes very difficult to deceive the people. People realize the awesome power they have to vote and re-call their representatives. They become the true King-makers rather than "god-fathers". Therefore, as the NUC introduces reforms in the curriculum of Nigerian Universities to make their graduates more useful to themselves and society, the Ministry of Education should urgently consider the important task of educating Nigerians who have not been to formal schools and are past the age where they are covered by the recently passed Education Act 2004. If the instrument of legislation is necessary to give it fillip, let it be urgently employed.

It is my belief that as 2007 draws near, more reasonable Nigerians will emerge as Presidential candidates. They should not emerge as ethnic representatives-they will lose thereby-but as candidates of their respective political parties bearing their signature on their vision and plan for Nigeria. One thing I know is that there may be surprises. An unlikely person may emerge as our president in 2007. We are now being given the Atiku and IBB menu. It is very amusing. What I know is that the first shall be the last this time.

I am no prophet; but I find it hard to think of any of these two. The bride will come out to the podium at the right time. The foundation is being laid now. If Atiku fails to prove all sincerity and readiness to pursue the path of reform then he may not be the one. Atiku's chances will become as bright as he can demonstrate the ability to stick to the path of right without pandering to friends. If he can prove to Nigerians that he has the courage of El-Rufai and Akunyili, and the savvy of Iweala and Soludo put together, then he may have a decent chance, given that he helps to push through the suggestions I have made above.

If the electoral process is clean, then with these qualities demonstrable in him, he can win under any political party with national spread. Then will he continue to work with these patriots to make Nigeria a better place; and I believe Obasanjo too will give him some requisite support to continue in the path of necessary reforms without let or hindrance. For IBB, he should use part of his huge safe to establish industries and develop physical infrastructure when the Public Private Partnership bill is passed; that would be a lesser evil. But I hope the base urge for "war with Syria" will not be his waterloo like the experience of the biblical King Ahab proved. If my suggestions about making our votes speak are bought and implemented, Nigerians will speak like they did in 1993. And NOBODY can annul this time.