By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to reiterate the fact that I’m an unabashed member of the Nigerian opposition at this time that we are being stigmatised by members of the ruling Federal Government. There is really nothing to be ashamed of. Criticism is as old as mankind. Its essence is not to destroy a leader but to hold him in check and help him achieve his dreams if he has any. In the Old Oyo kingdom and till these days, the Oyo Mesi has been an institution to hold the powerful monarch, Iku Baba Yeye, The Alaafin of Oyo, to the dictates of his awesome office. They were like the modern day parliamentarians who could go as far as impeaching the king or asking him to commit suicide in the face of ignominy.
My career as a reporter in an under-developed country had amply prepared me for the role of a freedom fighter though we had started the voyage from our days at the University of Ife. Criticising a government in a nation where personal survival depends largely on government largesse is indeed tantamount to taking a kamikaze plunge but it is a task that some of us must undertake. To voluntarily say “to hell with the indescribable indulgence and pleasure” that comes with being friends with men of power, for me, has always been a salutary decision. Those who castigate us often forget that it would have been much easier to eat from the National cake and chop and clean mouth as if nothing happened. Those eating from both sides of their mouths really don’t have two heads after all.
It is therefore a thankless job because many Nigerians read meanings to acts of valour. Those who can’t do what you do must discourage you and call you names you were not given at birth. But that is not a big deal because all change agents suffered the same fate. You are in good company. On a personal note, nothing is as exhilarating as knowing your status as a freeborn and not as anybody’s slave. I see many old men who should be enjoying their twilight days, at home with their children and grandchildren, running from pillar to post in search of power and money. I often shake my head in utter amazement wondering what they are chasing at that age.
That is not to say I’m totally oblivious to the reality that only government guarantees quick riches in Nigeria. Principled citizens are hardly recognised and rewarded. Examples abound of certified paupers whose lives changed instantly on attaining power and their old mates could hardly recognise them. Most of those who end up in political offices have been so battered by the vicissitudes of life that it becomes impossible to take the risk of fighting the status quo. That is why you would not hear or read that any member of the opposition has rejected the atrocious remunerations they earn in Abuja and other political locations. Whilst they can disagree and argue at their most shrilling voices on other issues not pertaining to sharing the national loot, nothing unites Nigerian politicians more than money. Every known principle is buried once cash is involved. The job is about to be made easier with the coming of Obinrin Meta N5,000 notes for the Okunrin Merin. All it takes is for the President to call most of the noise-makers into his palace and speak the lingua franca of Nigeria, cash or oil wells. What you are looking for in Sokoto city is right inside your sokoto (trouser).
This has made it difficult to see members of the opposition as being credible enough to upstage the ruling party. If the truth must be told, some members in our camp have given us a bad name. If we can criticise government every day, we must be able to scrutinise ourselves once in a while and tell some home truth. A situation where we gloss over our own shortcomings and focus attention on others is sheer hypocrisy. We must admit that many of our so-called progressives in government have performed below expectation. On matters of principle and ideology, they have not given us viable alternatives. Nigerians have only tolerated them because in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is usually the king. Most of the money meant for the development of the society as well as to provide succour for the citizenry only end up in the pockets of members of the privilegentsia. Young boys who left school only yesterday have turned emergency billionaires because of access to government and power.
If Nigeria must witness any drastic and meaningful progress, members of the opposition must learn to do things differently. The first sign of seriousness is how opposition governments go about managing people and resources. Infrastructural development must spread evenly across the cities and villages and not just because some politicians live in certain areas. The citizens are human beings like us and deserve the good things of life. We must do things that would improve the economy and the general well-being of our people. Our principles must be transparently spelt out and dutifully enforced. We can never hope to unseat incompetent leaders when the people can’t figure out any marked difference between the political gladiators. Life has indeed become a matter of choice everywhere but it is a problem when it becomes impossible to pick good examples from either side of the political divide.
The Nigerian opposition must take a cue from America’s electoral system and ensure there are not more than two dominant parties especially for the Presidential election. This was what worked wonders on June 12, 1993, when Chief Moshood Abiola won and trounced his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, even in Kano his home state. Proliferation of candidates is the quickest way to disintegration and extinction. I have said it repeatedly; we must present a dream team that will be irresistible to politicians and non-politicians, the old and the young. It’s not difficult to cause a change, but those agents of change must be ready to eschew self-centredness and obstinacy. We cannot continue to recycle antiquated candidates who may not even know what time it is at this moment. Our obsession with a few names in a country of 160 million must stop.
When Barack Obama came, he was not only fresh, his ideas were refreshing. He was not the most experienced American when he offered to serve but his message resonated with many of the first time voters. Such voters are put at over 70 percent of the Nigerian voting population today. Most of them are young and upwardly mobile. They believe they can survive anywhere without government or do business with any government in power. But only a few of them would ever enjoy such privileges in reality. It is the duty of opposition to make voting attractive to them.
Last week, I wrote about the influence of the entertainment icons and some people scoffed at it but watching the Democratic Convention has reinforced my belief that I was right. We must glamorise the political process the way the new-wave churches are capturing souls for Christ. Global leaders have turned showbiz into an integral aspect of politics. I saw the way Mary J Blige electrified the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and got everyone dancing.
The fuel-subsidy demonstration last January was also a veritable eye-opener. Several musicians had approached me to help facilitate their participation at the rallies. The huge crowd that thronged the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in Ojota, Lagos, was attracted by the merriment that was provided by volunteer artistes. It is a shame that such beautiful campaign against executive recklessness was truncated but we gained something. It was a dress rehearsal for bigger things to come.
The opposition really need to sit up. A situation where a few leaders hijack their parties and refuse to consider fresher and more electable candidates will end up in monumental disaster as always. Our fathers must do what the Clintons, Kennedys, Kerrys, Bidens, and many others did for Barack Obama; sit back and rally behind our dream candidates wherever they come from. None of the iconic Americans insisted it must be them or their own nominees. None formed a new party ostensibly for his own candidacy or cronies. After a fierce battle between Obama and Hilary Clinton, everyone queued up behind the winning candidate. Leadership should never be an obsession where we say only one man can change the country. It is an insult on the rest of the otherwise brilliant and accomplished Nigerians at home and abroad. The essence of democracy is in giving everyone a sense of participation and belonging.
One of my biggest achievements in politics was winning the nomination of my political party, the National Conscience Party. I woke up crying inside my 1960 Hotel room in Ikeja where we held our National Convention. I wept profusely when news came that my opponents were going from room to room meeting the delegates. I didn’t know what they gave them but all I distributed were beautiful copies of Ovation magazine to every room. Please, don’t laugh; I only gave what I had. I told my campaign staff that we didn’t have money to bribe anyone but my party men and women should appreciate the product of my sweat. If I have struggled against all odds in 15 years to build an international brand from less than £20,000, they should know I’m a prudent manager of resources.
I was surprised when delegates besieged me asking for more copies. Even some of the police officers abandoned their guns to savour the beauty of the magazine. I must note that my respect for Northern politicians quadrupled that day. The entire block, led by Dr. Tanko Yunusa, signed a letter pledging their total allegiance to my political mission, and indeed they voted en bloc. They demonstrated a principle many would have thought did not exist in Nigeria. During the general elections, I was stunned again when I got more votes from the North. It showed clearly that a candidate can win elections in all parts of the country, like Chief Abiola did, if he has the backing and enough resources to amplify his credentials. My sojourn has taught me an eloquent lesson that it is not an impossible mission for the opposition as most Nigerians think. We can win or throw it away as usual with our own hands. But we shall over-come someday.
Indeed, it is ultimately a matter of faith, collaborations, destiny and God’s abundant mercy and grace on our long-suffering nation.