Tony I. Uranta
A Civil rights activist and public affairs analyst, Uranta is Secretary of United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS).
“That it is better that 100 guilty Persons should escape,
than that one innocent Person should suffer,
is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.”
– Benjamin Franklin [1706-1790]
In 1978, I stood opposed to both my iconoclastic ‘Egbon’, the Great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and my inimitable NEWBREED Magazine Publisher, Chris Okolie, (plus,possibly, the majority of Nigerians then!) when I wrote against what I termed the “Conviction Via Media” of erstwhile Federal Commissioner of Petroleum, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, whom the Nigerian Press had pilloried so viciously, that it had led the Nigerian public to believe he had embezzled N2.8billion of Oil funds. Nigerians were baying for his blood, and my stance was highly unpopular then.But, I have never regretted my decision to stand against the tide of public opinion in support of a man for whose blood righteously enraged Nigerians had started crying out. Respected pundits abused me at the time, but I stood my ground.
I did not do so, necessarily, because I believed, at the time, that General Buhari was innocent of the accusation. I did so simply because I just believed, as I still do, in the principle of Justice that holds a man to be innocent until proven guilty, and, knows too well [as Hitler and Goebbels had proven!]how easily the media could be used to negatively mass-influence even the most objective of minds. Which was as well, because, as it turned out, the Commission of Enquiry subsequently set up by the Federal Government to look into the allegations regarding the allegedly missing N2.8billiondid not find the General guilty!
In fact, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, our more recent Minister of Petroleum reminded us in an interview she had with gadfly publisher, Dele Momodu, even more recently, that, “Everyone agrees that Muhammadu Buhari is a man of unquestionable character and impeccable pedigree, yet it was alleged that N2.8billion vanished under his nose. Fela even sang about this humongous disappearance. Till this day no one has been able to prove that the then Major General Buhari stole a kobo.” Yes, it is easier to indict and convict a person through deployment of the Big Lie via Media, than it is to do so employing the tools of the Rule of Law. We must never allow our thirst for suspected villains’ blood to supersede our need to always do the right thing, the right way and the right time, as much as possible.
Can you imagine what General Buhari’s fate and future would have been if he had been subject solely to Trial by Media, and not been afforded the fullest opportunity to defend himself within the ambit of the Nigerian Legal system, that considered him innocent before commencing to try him and his portfolio as Oil Minister?! Many still refuse to believe the Commission’s findings that exculpated him from wrongdoing, because they never have been able to erase the negative hatchet jobs that the media had done to tarnish his otherwise clean record, then.
Isn’t it therefore surrealistic that I am now having to write to very strongly urge the erstwhile-accused Buhari to get onto Nigeria’s Wall of Greatness, through being recognized as calculatedly and consistently seeking to enthroneRespect for Rule of Law, by ensuring that his Administration obeys court orders, desists from detaining suspects extrajudicially and reigning in the ugly‘trial-by-media’ monster that is currently goring the sensibilities of all right-thinking people worldwide, and being encouraged to so continue to do, by his men?!
Before I get besieged by pro-PMB attack dogs, to whom Mr. President is infallible, let me briefly reiterate, for the umpteenth time, that even though President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was my preferred candidate in the 2015 general elections, I very publicly implored Nigerians to rally round and support President Buhari, right after GEJ conceded the elections to PMB; that I have worked with PMB, in the past, as National Spokesperson of the APC’s premier predecessor, the Nigerians United for Democracy (NUD), which had Buhari, Tinubu, Atiku, Nwodo, Falae, Bafarawa, Galadima, Braithwaite, Utomi et al, as its Leaders and I have NEVER been a card-carrying member of ANY political party. Even at the risk of sounding immodest, I can also say that I have, since General Abacha’s regime, paid my dues as a promoter of the common good in defence of human rights and social justice.
All that having been established, I do sincerely believe, and ceaselessly urge, that it is in the enlightened self-interest of every Nigerian to rally round and help President Buhari’s “Change
Agenda” (what’s in a name, anyway…change is synonymous with transformation, is it not?) so as to ensure that Nigeria expeditiously gets out of this rut it currently finds itself in.
However, I must also add the caveat that I sincerely believe that President Buhari may unwittingly be his own greatest antagonist, both by his refusal to let go of some past and the challenge of his men trying to build him up as a “can do no wrong” cult personality, ala, say, Kim Jnr. of North Korea! It is this old-school insistence on running things the way they were in Buhari’s first coming as Head of State, in 1983, in my humble opinion, that could constitute an albatross around the president’s neck…and, I fear that his kitchen cabinet is too awed by his larger than life persona to tell him the truth.
Some of the negatives weighing on this Presidency include the still-inexplicable alleged Shiite massacres; the unchecked impunity of herdsmen (be they Nigerian or foreigners!), perpetrating genocidal actions nationwide; the heavy handed putting down of peaceful demonstrations by putative-separatist groups of the South-East and South-South; the unnecessary over-vilification of Nigeria and Nigerians during his too-many foreign trips; the excessive policy flip-flops, the “opaqueness of his style” (to paraphrase Oby Ezekwesili); the Budget abracadabra; the seeming refusal to take experts’ advice on how to turn the Economy around; the badly-presented pseudo-deregulation/petrol price hike etc., are but a few of the many minuses (to give them a kind nomenclature) PMB has, regrettably, been known for, to date.
One thing is indisputable, however; and, that is that President Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts are winning him points among the general citizenry! If only he could start pursuing this war less selectively, more universally, more comprehensively, more conclusively, more according to the Rule of Law, without the accompanying excessive trial by media (which, I believe, will have its severe backlash in the not-too-distant future), he could improve his ratings as a truly National Leader even more dramatically.
Also, if his perception managers could be more strategic than tactical in developing his messaging, he could avoid a lot of flak…even on a putatively unpopular decision as the petrol price hike, he should have softened the ground by launching the Maryam Uwais-anchored Social Benefits Packages BEFORE the price hike!
If his ‘Spinmeisters’ could succeed in helping him re-invent his image, so we could perceive him not as Iron Man, but as Empathetic National President, they would be doing him (and, the nation) a great favour. Enough of this fawning pandering to his image as the stoic man of steel. And, this is not about age! I posit that both his and OBJ’s putative resistance to new modus operandi is probably more due to their military backgrounds, than to their being gerontocrats…after all, globally-respected President José Mujica of Uruguay was born in 1935 and cannot be said to be averse to change.
President Buhari could even, on his own, rein in his overzealous “Sai Infallible Baba” acolytes by publicly admitting to Nigerians in his May 29, 2016 Democracy Day Address, that he has committed a few costly faux pas…like declaring publicly that certain people will not be granted bail, regardless of what the Courts rule; like ceaselessly presenting Nigerians to the world as being “fantastically corrupt”; by not cautioning overzealous security agencies who have allegedly carried out avoidable extrajudicial killings that are now causing his administration great embarrassment globally etc.
President Buhari could tell Nigerians in his 29th May 2016 address that he intends to do better; that we should bear with him, because the realities he is confronted with now, were beyond his anticipation in all his years of seeking to change Nigeria democratically; that he will henceforth commit to respecting the Rule of Law, to recognising that this is a civil democracy, not a military dictatorship; and that Nigerians deserve to not be fed asinine campaign-style mendacities or unfeasible promises anymore.
His trump card could be, however, him announcing the commencement of the process of Restructuring Nigeria. This would win him the hearts of so very many scores of millions of Nigerians who may hitherto have been lukewarm towards him. And he does not have to reinvent the wheel to effect that!
All he needs to do is set up a team of experts to study the Report of the 2014 National Conference, which contains the Resolutions that were agreed to by consensus, by the 482 Conference Delegates that virtually represented all strata, demographics and component parts of Nigeria.
This 2014 National Conference, just as the truncated one convened by President Olusegun Obasanjo, clearly was all for a rational restructuring of this system along Federalist lines. In his book, “Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution”, this is the way the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo put the issue: “From our study of the constitutional evolution of all the countries of the world, two things stand out quite clearly and prominently. First, in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality – particularly of language – a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognised and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear. If the linguistic or national groups concerned are backward, or too weak vis-à-vis the majority group or groups, their bitterness or hostility may be dormant or suppressed. But as soon as they become enlightened and politically conscious, and/or courageous leadership emerges amongst them, the bitterness and hostility come into the open, and remain sustained with all possible venom and rancour….”’
So to President Buhari I say: We all would love to help build a great, united and prosperous Nigeria premised on democratic federalism, social justice and economic equity! We all really prefer to remain One Nigeria. But, not one of us wishes to be a slave in any Nigeria! Just show us that you are a listening President who respects the Rule of Law, and is committed to the holistic Restructuring of Nigeria, and, you will find that all of us will unreservedly begin to chant ‘Sai Baba’!