By Uche Nwokedi
The Lord of the Rings is one of those epic fantasies that take your breath away. I have seen it many more times than my children and feel no shame there. I always say though, that it is not merely the entertainment value that interests me but its sub-themes of the perennial battle between the forces of good and evil; friendship and betrayal; men and greed; faith and pragmatism; and ultimately the need for man to control his universe.
Two of the phrases from this epic fantasy that always call to mind are; “the battle for middle earth”, and “the return of the king”. I see in them, the ramifications of the politics of Nigeria. The 2015 presidential election was significant. It was the first fourth consecutive election in our history. The plot around it was thick with intrigue and manipulation; politicking and horse trading; the battle between incumbency and rejuvenated ambition; the suspense of postponement of the election, with the apprehension of martial music breaking dawn; the congregation of allied interests and defections for greener pastures; the principal actors and supporting cast involved; the use of social media and propaganda; the line in the sand between ethnicity and traditional leadership. It had great drama and plenty of suspense. Tolkien would have loved it. It was a battle for the control of the centre that led, ultimately, to the graceful surrender of a reluctant president to the return of a once discarded dictator. Bemusement by “observers” that, the near violent pre-election posturing could translate so quickly, into acceptance, concession and continuity, without bloodshed. Vindication, that even we, can manage our own affairs? In a manner of speaking, yes! After all it is said that, “every Nigerian is a manager”. It was a bruising battle. Happily, the dust is settling. We are now faced with the “day after” scenario that is the hallmark of all epics such as this one.
Within this context, the “day-after” should be taken as the first 100 days after the result is announced. The President’s hands must be full. He must first navigate the wake of the battle and make decisions that will define his presidency. There will be surprises. The President is at that point where he has to repel boarders and bounders from climbing aboard the vessel. He must distinguish between fellow travellers in the campaign to win the presidency, from those who will now travel the next leg of the journey with him. He must decide between those who are good political foot soldiers and those who are good administrators. And though there must be pre-election covenants, he must choose wisely. He must also identify his primary tasks, chief amongst which must be the need to protect our democracy by redefining the boundaries of the separation of powers, and ensuring effective checks and balances. He must protect it from ethnic rivalries and reprisals against those who, for their own good reason voted for the other parties. He must protect our national boarders, as well as our diverse ways of life. Then he protect us. Nigerians are a very intelligent people. He must respect that and rise above the fray. It may well be that with the turn of events that crystallized into the election of the Senate President and Speaker of the House, the gauntlet has already been thrown down for him on some issues. That, is left to be seen. At all times he must remain the elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Presidency is constant. The office always remains. What one president does impacts on what the next one should do. One of the last most significant acts of President Jonathan’s office was to exercise the veto powers reserved to the President to preserve the Constitution. It was a single stroke that preserved the integrity of the office of the President, by the outgoing President for the incoming President. Likewise, President Buhari’s refusal to allow the Governors impose their candidates for ministerial positions on the Presidency is significant beyond mere political posturing. It is the beginning of the definition of his presidency. It also invites the governors to turn their attention to making their respective states as viable as prudence and good governance would allow, and to replicate in their own states what is expected of the president in the centre. At the end of the day, if the current federal structure of 36 states is not viable, then we would be better informed by the failings of the governors to address this issue.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Attorney General of Abia State vs. Attorney-General of the Federation held that “….none of the three arms of government under the Constitution should encroach into the powers of the other. Each arm- Executive, Legislative and Judicial – is a separate, equal and co-ordinate department and no arm can constitutionally take over the functions clearly assigned to the other”. The separation of powers between the arms of government is as important as the separation between the federal government and the states government. It has taken the United States Supreme Court over a century to define the limits of federal and state power. We have the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists, which prescribe the respective jurisdictions of the Federal Government and states government to guide us. So the President and the Governors must co-exist within the Constitution, and to each his own.
He must strengthen the Judiciary and foster greater independence for it. It would be a fantastic legacy to leave. He must be big enough a leader to accept the decisions of our courts however they might affect his policies. The truth be told, for any perceived short comings, the Judiciary has always been the glue which has held things together, from the Lakanmi Case in the early seventies to the present day.
The beauty of this election is that some lessons have been learned. Sixteen years of any party will lead to complacency. Most people you speak to have the same things on their list of priorities. These are uninterrupted power supply, security, good health care, good transportation, good education, transparency, etc. Things taken for granted in many other countries. If these issues are reasonably and transparently addressed then it should not really matter who resides in Aso Rock. I share the same sentiments, with the addition of one little item, the National Anthem. I have never understood why we changed the old one. Without wanting to write a thesis on the ethos of a national anthem, there are a few observations I have. The first is that no person in Nigeria, President or elder statesman or taxi driver in Nigeria has ever to my knowledge addressed other Nigerians as “compatriots”. The word is alien to our lexicon, be it colonial, colloquial or pidgin. The original national anthem made more sense. If we keep singing to ourselves that “though tribe and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand”, we may believe it. A Pavlovian theory? Most importantly, the original anthem brings us to a petition that prays the Almighty God to “help us build a Nation where no man is oppressed, and so with peace and plenty Nigeria may be blessed”. With the mantra of change, is this not a good time to consider a return to the original anthem, or at least a referendum on it?
Nwokedi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), lives in Lagos