The country came close to secession in 1967 when southeasterners waged a bloody war to form their own country called Biafra. The then military ruler turned civilian, Yakubu Gowon, who is famous, or infamous for saying that money is not a problem of Nigeria but how to spend it, mobilised, equipped, and unleashed a brutal campaign to rein in the separatists.
In 1970, the fledgling nation was united, and all efforts focused on building a nation that can work for all, not few at the top. The petro-dollars, which were inundating the Nigerian government at the time, was a source of constant friction and tension among elites running the country.
Corruption became, and still is, endemic. The military, seeing that the people they should be proving security are making lots of fortunes for themselves with the minimum of fuss, waded into politics by overthrowing governments. The whole thing came to resemble a race to the top of the income pie.
Some presidents spent few months as the top before being chucked out by their commanders-in-chief. Others were assassinated and their loyalists rounded up. Murtala Muhammed, for instance, was a president for only 100 days after overthrowing Gowon’s military regime in 1975. Murtala Muhammed was a much-loved figure at his time. History has treated him kindly. Most of the reforms he was spouting when he was president were, with the benefit of hindsight, good for the country. His name adorns the Nigerian Naira and also an airport is named after him.
The world became fixated with Nigeria wondering what they can diagnose in this rapidly ailing giant to make it productive. But as the world was brooding over this, the military officers were devising means as to how they could seize power. Barely after a young Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped in to finish the term of Murtala Muhammed, handed over power to Shehu Shangari, a civilian, the military again intervened to take over power. People trying to set the country right were gobsmacked. If the military is seizing power, who will guard the guards?
Obasanjo’s second coming
The military continued to be the praetorian arbiter of the country’s politics until Obasanjo resurfaced again. He drafted a new constitution, which strictly opposed military intervention in politics, and set a two term of five years. He contested for election on the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the biggest party in Africa, and won. The trappings and the allure of office got the better of Obasanjo when he wanted to change the rule that he himself set and championed.
In 2006, in the run-up to a presidential election the following year, he was bent on extending the presidential term limit to three. Knowing that this move will not augur well for a burgeoning democracy like Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, his deputy and touted successor, stood up and challenged Obasanjo. This was a courageous move. Atiku won the praises of many for having the courage of his political convictions. He did not parley with his boss. He checkmated him! It was a connoisseur of hinge moment for Nigeria, when things could have changed for better, or worse. The matter was left to the constitutional court to decide. When they did, it was a victory for Atiku and his pro-constitutional followers, not those who wanted to massacre the constitution for their own selfish needs.
A humiliated and disgraced Obasanjo also avenged by making sure that Atiku would not succeed him as leader of the PDP, which is a cast-iron guarantee for being the president of Nigeria. He cherry-picked the then-governor of Katsina State, the late Umaru Yar’Adua to succeed him as leader. Unsurprisingly, he went on to win the presidency with Goodluck Jonathan as his running mate. A completely shocked Atiku resigned from the PDP to form his own party Action Congress (AC). But he was not having the backing of the man and the party that mattered: Obasanjo and PDP. The defeat was the final nail on his political coffin! He was down and out.
The peaceful Yar’Adua years
The reputation of Umaru Yar’Adua was tainted with the “rigged” election he won. The process of the election and the counting was condemned by many polls observers. Names like “sham” and “farce” were associated with the election. The position of the electoral chairman, Maurice Iwu, was singled out for change. And Iwu resigned. However, Yar’Adua was not able to exorcise his reputation in the aftermath of the “fudge election”.
Nonetheless, he formed a very strong government with a knack to deliver important normative social, political and economic good for all Nigerians. In order to rid the country of corruption, he strengthens the tooth (more constitutional powers), not the tail (money) of the anti-corruption watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFFC). Sacred cows, who were once seen as untouchables, were bitten by the long teeth of the EFFC. Presided over my Nuhu Ribadu, it flagged up Nasiru Alrufai and James Ibori for an industrial scale corruption. He also appointed an independent, efficient, and can-do governor of the Central Bank, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, ditching Charles Chukuwuma Saludo, who received stinging criticism from observes for cozying up with top bankers, a destructive compromise of principle as a bank governor.
Yar’Adua also secured an Amnesty deal with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The group leader, Henry Okah, was released as part of a confidence building measure to win back the hearts and minds of the militias, who were demanding justice, equal distribution of the oil wealth the Federal government accrues from the sale of oil and an end to environmental degradation. This is one of the greatest legacies of President Yar’Adua. That he managed to succeed where the machismo Obasanjo failed is no mean feat.
Investments were made in education and health. Confidence was restored to many of the state institutions, which were marionette under previous regime. He built the foundation for the roaring Nigeria lion of today. Calm, quite and thoughtful, he refused to play the ethic cards, something his predecessors were masters of. Knowing that he is running a clean slate government, he did not deploy ruthless structures and means to maintain his hold on power, and the nectar that flows from it. He is a classic example of a good leader. When I heard that he passed away in 2010 at Aso Rock after a brief stint in Saudi Arabia, I was in my bed fearing the worst for Nigeria. I couldn’t believe that Yar’Adua was no more. When news of his demise trickled in, for I heard his voice the previous day in an interview with the BBC’s Hausa Service Mansour Liman with his voice coarse in the interview, I was crestfallen. In the interview he said that “I hope to recover very soon to resume my duties as president of Nigeria”. With Nigeria about to play at the African Cup of Nations in Angola that year, he said: “I wish the Super Eagles success at the Cup of Nations”. Nigeria went on to finish 3rd place behind Ghana and Egypt, the eventual champions.
Jonathan’s handling of Boko Haram
As the Nigerian constitution dictates, the vice President should take over when the president is incapacitated. Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in immediately. Some Northerns felt that he was completing their term. Since the introduction of muliti-party democracy, there is an unwritten rule called “zoning system” in Nigeria. This system means that the presidency of the PDP party should rotate between a Northerner and a Southerner. This aims to avoid tensions that may arise when one region is dominant against the other. With Jonathan being a southerner, this rule was violated. In order to make for the short fall, he appointed Namadi Sambu, a Northerner, as his deputy. The damage was done already.
Clashes between Christians and Muslims were a regular occurrence in Nigeria, especially in Jos, Plateau State, which is the Middle Belt of Nigeria. When Jonathan took over, an Islamic militant group know as Boko Haram, which means western education is forbidden, was gaining root in the northeast of Nigeria, with Borno State being their stronghold. Jonathan’s first reaction was to adopt a double-pronged approach to the militias. Both the carrot (negotiation) and stick (open confrontation) was pursued.
The group was carrying out attacks, killing innocent civilians. When asked to lay out their motives, they said that they want to establish an Islamic state in the north. Northerns who know the Boko Haram up and close inveigled the Nigerian government against using force to quash the group. These advices were brushed aside when the Nigerian police raided a mosque in Maiduguri, Borno State and captured the sect leader, Muhammed Yusuf. The following week it was announced that the sect leader was killed.
The killing under Nigerian custody of the Boko Haram leader was condemned by International Right groups like Amnesty international as extra-judicial killing. News of the killing was met with a wave of bombings in the North, effectively making it ungovernable.
Moderates in the groups, who were in negotiation with peace brokers like Shehu Sani hardened their positions and pulled out of talks with the government. The stage was set for Boko Haram’s disproposionate use of force to date.
The problem was that those in charge of the military campaign rely on hunch and gut drift through a haze of myth, superstition, and half-approval. They were shrewder than their civilian commander-in-chief, perhaps, but capable of fatal mistakes when too many things started to go wrong at the same time.
That is why when Boko Haram abducted the school girls in Chibok, my mind ricocheted back to the killing of Muhammed Yusuf. Why kill him, if you can take him to court? Why use force against a group that you can sit on the same table with to hammer out your differences? Never mind legitimising the group. Do it for the national interest. Why were Nigerian youths neglected by a government that seems to live in a smug that they are vulnerable for recruitment by groups like Boko Haram? Why is the Nigerian government not listening, responding and delivering for its people? These were questions racing back and forth in my head, as news of the kidnapped sinks in.
President Jonathan’s handling of it didn’t help either. He showed to the whole world that he cannot manage a crisis. At best, he is a wobble jelly of vacillation, and at worst he is flabby. He is yet to visit Chibok to reassure the locals that the place is safe. Two weeks ago, the education activist, Malala Yosafzai, visited the parents of the school girls, and managed to organize a meeting between them and Jonathan. Rightly so, the parents refused.
Security is going to be the key battleground in next year’s election in Nigeria. The opposition All Progressive Party (APC) has an open goal to score. The ousting of one of the biggest parties in Africa will be a big embarrassment to the founding fathers of the party. Who will be blamed? Jonathan. When he sobers up from his inebriation, we will be sharing his morning hangover with him on the 14 February, 2015.
Amadou Camara read political science and history at the University of The Gambia.]]>