When given the opportunity to address British lawmakers in London, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, did not shy away from telling his audience how slavery and colonialism undermined Africa’s capacity to develop, writes Uche Anichukwu
Among the Igbos of the South-east Nigeria, it is said that when an eze dibia (veteran native doctor) conducts a sacrifice, it would appear as though he delivered it to the gods by hand. And indeed, when a godly elder clears his throat to pour libations, the ancestors stand at attention.
So it was on the day Senator Ike Ekweremadu dissected “African Politics- the Dynamics and the Lessons” at the House of Commons, the United Kingdom. An experienced leader and intellectual lawmaker, he left the audience in no doubt of his understanding of the perils and possibilities of African politics, speaking truth to power in the process.
He believes that while politics is expected to play a major role in addressing the challenges of backwardness associated with poor infrastructure, leadership deficit, sit-tight leaders, poverty, illiteracy, disease, and general under development in Africa, politics has ironically compounded the continent’s problems and further stunted its growth. While Africa’s elites bear part of the blame, he thinks that the sordid history of the twin evils of slavery and colonialism cannnot be ignored. Both have gravely undermined Africa’s capacity for self-improvement.
“For over 450 years, Europe and America raided and pillaged Africa, took away its best men and women and forced them into slavery. These slaves were used as unpaid labour to build railways and other infrastructures, which the West enjoys today. The slaves worked in the plantations, farms, and factories, etc., which were the major engines that drove the economy of the West at the time, giving them an opportunity to overtake Africa by many years.
“Worst still, in 1861, at the Berlin Conference, European powers sat down, without consultations or any qualms, divided Africa in ways that separated kinsmen, ignored traditional and religious ties, and destroyed the self-esteem of the inhabitants in the name of colonialism. As Giles Bolton, a diplomat and long-time aid worker with significant interest and experience in Africa, rightly puts it, ‘Never before had so much (map of any continent) been decided by longitude and latitude rather than tribe or topography’”.
According to him, the first fallout of colonialism and poorly thought-out system of imposing alien political systems on Africa by different colonial overlords at the end of the occupation was abuse of office, corruption, ethnic conflict, mutual and reciprocal ethnic hatreds that disfigured and distorted Africa’s attempt at self-governance, sometimes resulting in fratricidal wars. The military that assumed political authority with a promise to correct the ills of the civilian leaders became more corrupt and even inept than the politicians they criticised and condemned.
Thus, while Africa is mostly free from slavery, free from colonialism, and free from military dictatorship today, the debris and damages of colonialism and military rule still exist and manifest predominantly in structural imbalances, poverty, insecurity, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, unemployment, poverty, lack of competitive power in critical areas (like science and technology), and indeed in general acute under development.
However, Ekweremadu was quick to tell his audience that he was not at the Westminster Parliament to “sing songs of lamentation about what may have or could have been if Africa’s history had been different”. “I delved into this historical excursion to place issues in proper perspective. My optimism for a better Africa remains undimmed. In spite of all the odds, Africa holds a lot of promise. Africa has lots of prospects; and Africa is the continent of the future”, he emphasised.
Moving forward, Ekweremadu believes that Africa’s problems are largely man-made and yield easily to corrections. Such corrections must come in the forms of effective and efficient democratic institutions- independent parliament, election management body, judiciary, media, and civil society. Others include security of lives and property, predictable term for leaders, genuine fight against corruption, abiding by oath of office, job creation and poverty alleviation, and a strong African Union.
The widespread coercion of the press, civil society, the judiciary, and parliaments by some African leaders, who have no regard for their oaths of office and constitutional limits of their powers is anti-development. For instance, he believes that whereas “an informed, active, and uncompromising parliament is a major factor in nurturing and sustaining democracy, outside Nigeria, South Africa, and a few others, most African parliaments are largely caged and often reduced to rubber stamps and appendages of the executive”.
Cameroon, where the constitution has been severally amended to keep 84 years old President Paul Biya in power since November 1982 and Uganda where the parliament recently voted to remove the constitutional age limit to elongate the tenure of 73 years old President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in office for about 30 years, readily come to mind.
However, to him, the judiciary deserves accolades for critical interventions to save democracy in Nigeria’s intra-party dispute as well as the Gambian, Kenyan and Liberian presidential elections. The judiciary remains not only the last hope of the common man in Africa, but also the prized hope of democracy, rule of law, human rights, equity, and justice because if you take away an independent judiciary, what you have left is crude dictatorship.
Ekweremadu told his audience that when the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), lost election in Nigeria in 2015, the APC-led government ran riot and began to indict, arrest, investigate, and detain its opponents and individual enemies. But the judiciary helped to defend democracy and rule of law. however, in response, the houses of judges were embarrassingly raided at midnight and judicial officers humiliated by security agencies working for the Federal Government of Nigeria. He thinks “Such executive lawlessness must be condemned in strongest terms and must not be allowed to find a sanctuary in African politics”.
Likewise, the gagging of the freedom of expression, harassment of social media users, bloggers and online publishers as well as attempt to cage-in Non Governmental Organisations in parts of Africa, including Nigeria, are unhealthy for democracy.
To him, “It is even quite hypocritical that former opposition leaders and parties rise to power, but only to turn round, determined to break and burn the very ladder with which they climbed unto power”.
Also, nepotism and the refusal of many presidents to abide by their oaths of office- to uphold the provisions of the constitution, do justice to all manner of people, and not allow private interest to influence official decision are present threats to democracy Africa. According to him, contrary to the oaths, we see blatant nepotism, cronyism, and tribalism as the ethnic groups of the Heads of State are mostly favoured in appointments, opportunities, and provision of infrastructure.
He cited the total exclusion of the Igbos of Nigeria from the headship of all the security and paramilitary agencies, despite being one of the three major ethnic groups in the country and in defiance of the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the Constitution; the emasculation of the English-speaking part of Cameroon under President Biya; and the alleged favouratism towards the Zulus by President Jacob Zuma in South Africa as examples.
Equally worrisome, is the penchant of African leaders to manipulate the electoral process and key institutions to further their disrespect for term limits. Zimbabwe under former Robert Mugabe, Uganda under Yoweri Museveni, Cameroon Paul Biya, Equatorial Guinea under Teodoro Obiang, Republic of Congo under Denis Sassou Nguesso, as well as Chad, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. are not good testimonies. Ekweremadu is worried also that many African leaders do not seem to care about the law of diminishing returns or the fact that they can never cheat nature.
He was, however, full of praises for a few such as Ghana, South Africa, former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, and, lately Liberia’s former President Allen Johnson-Sirleaf, among others.
Recalling how Jonathan called the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, to not only congratulate him even before the announcement of the final results; and how neither the former president nor the PDP challenged the outcome of the election in court, he believes that “the onus is now on President Muhammadu Buhari to likewise provide a level playing ground and show uncommon statesmanship if he and his party lose the 2019 presidential election because to whom much is given, much is also expected”.
On the other hand, any attempt to manipulate the 2019 elections to the advantage of self or party will not augur well for peace and democracy in Nigeria and the entire continent.
An ardent proponent of the deployment of modern technology, such as electronic voting, to enhance the quality of elections in Nigeria, Ekweremadu thinks that “We must ensure that the electoral process is sufficiently transparent and unarguably so, such that losers will see and be convinced that they lost fairly. By so doing, election tribunals will be eliminated”.
Whatever the challenges Africa faces, Ekweremadu believes that the right actions would take Africa to the Promised Land. “This is no time for lamentation. It is time for reform. It is time for action. Let us all get involved to build an African continent of our dreams” he concluded.
Equally worrisome, is the penchant of African leaders to manipulate the electoral process and key institutions to further their disrespect for term limits