There’s a lot Nigeria could learn from the fall of former South African president, Jacob Zuma, writes Tobi Soniyi
Now that Jacob Zuma has fallen, it is easier to forget the attempts he made to make sure that this eventual downfall did not happen.
After his government has become ridden with scandals, Zuma refused to go quietly.
In August 2017, when a new wave of scandals hit his presidency following a leak of confidential emails showing that the Indian-born Gupta family had used their influence to appoint cabinet minister and benefit from from government contracts, attempt was made to remove Zuma through a vote of no confidence. By 21 votes, Zuma survived with as many as 26 members of his party rooting for him to remain as president. As at that time Zuma had become a liability to his party.
Had the ANC not insisted it would back a new motion of no-confidence filed by the opposition, Zuma would probably have remain in power today.
In essence, Zuma did his best to manipulate the system to make sure that the corruption allegations against him did not see the light of the day and to consolidate his grip on power. That is typical of African leaders. Otherwise, Yoweri Museveni would no longer be the president of Uganda, Teodoo Obiang Nguema Mbasogo would not still be the president of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya should have been long gone as the president of Cameroon while Robert Mugabe would not have remained president till 2017. In all our leaders, there is a Zuma in them.
From Nigeria to South Africa to Rwanda or Ivory Coast, the attitude of African leaders to power remains essentially the same. Our leaders don’t have a sense of shame and don’t always know when to call it quit.
That Zuma eventually threw in the towel is a victory for democracy. Both the African National Congress and the South African People deserve commendation.
A Catalogue of Scandals
After Thambo Mbeki was forced to resign as president over allegation of conflict of interest, Zuma who commanded many supporters in the ANC then became the president.
But in the first instance, Zuma should not have been president. When Mbeki became the president and Zuma was appointed vice president, news broke out that Zuma had allegedly collected bribes in a controversial arms deal with a French company. Mbeki promptly dismissed him as vice president.
In June 2005, he was charged with corruption for allegedly accepting bribes from French arms company Thint Holdings. He was charged with money laundering and racketeering.
In December 2005, Zuma was accused of raping an HIV-positive family friend but was found not guilt in 2006. Zuma’s statement that he had a shower in order to avoid HIV infection came a surprise to many.
Shortly after he became ANC leader, Zuma asked court to declare his prosecution unconstitutional. In September 2008, the court declared the prosecution invalid but in January 2009, the appeals court overturned the previous ruling thereby opening the way fo Zuma’s trial to begin, months efore geneal elections.
When it became clear that Zuma was going to be president, the chief prosecutor decided to drop charges against him because phone-tap evidence showed that there had been political interference in the investigation. That was in April 2009. One month late, Zuma became the president.
In 2013, it was revealed that Zuma had used state fund to upgrade his residence in the rural area of Nkandla in northern KwaZulu-Natal. In 2014, the report of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on security upgrades to the Nkandla compound was made public. All efforts by Zuma, including filing cases in courts, to stop the release of the report failed.
In 2016, South Africa’s highest court ruled against Zuma. It held that Zuma breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade his private home in Nkandla in 2013.The constitutional court held that he must refund 7.8 million Rand – a portion of the tax money spent on installing non-security features at Nkandla.
Zuma eventually apologised to the people of South Africa for what he termed ‘frustration and confusion’ caused by the scandal.
Importance of Institutions
One thing that was clear from the South African experience is that despite attempts by the president to influence them, the judiciary and the prosecution did their jobs to the satisfaction of the people. In Nigeria, our anti-corruption agencies don’t investigate the president. They specialise in investigating and prosecuting members of the opposition. Many Nigerians want to know how much President Muhammadu Buhari spent in London while he was on admission there. No one has alleged any wrong doing but the decision of the authorities to hide this from the public has left many to suspect foul play. The question is when will public institutions in Nigeria begin to work for the public and not for government officials? Zuma fell because public institutions chose not to protect his corrupt acts.
Political Party Supremacy
Drawing inspiration from the quit notice the ANC gave Zuma, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has suggested that political parties be strengthened in order to make them more competitive.
He faulted the prevalent practice in political parties whereby elected officials are called leaders of the party. This, he said prevented parties from being truly independent and warned of attendant consequences on the democratic process.
He said: “There is one problem that we must address in this country and that is that elected officials, especially those in the Executive, are always regarded as leaders of the political parties. That is where we have a very serious problem in this country and if an elected Executive is the leader of the political party, the situation you find on ground is that every political actor within the entire party architecture must pander to the whims and caprices of that elected official.”
In politics, truth is usually the first casualty. Members of political parties in their bid to curry favour from the executive are usually too intimidated to speak truth to power.
In 2015, many members of the Peoples Democratic Party knew that President Goodluck Jonathan had become a liability to the party. Yet, the leadership of the party would not even sell nomination form to anyone else to contest for the party’s ticket except Jonathan. Today, the PDP is paying for this. Had the party being insulated from executive overbearing, perhaps it would still be in power today.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where leaders do not make sacrifice for tomorrow and for the future generation. The All Progressives Congress is following the infamous path which PDP followed and lost power. Many in the APC know that Buhari has become a liability to the party and that he had been demystified, yet they are paying people to take to the streets to beg the president to run again.
APC should ask itself, why did the ANC give Zuma a quit notice? The answer is because the party knew that Zuma had become a liability. The party is likely to further lose its majority if it allows Zuma to continue. Many in South Africa are of the views that ANC ought to have kicked him out long time ago because he had done a lot of damage to the reputation of the party. With election drawing closer, the party may lose more seats to the opposition.
Writing in The Difference, an online news magazine Richard Mammah said: “Unlike in the Mbeki instance where the former president largely did not interfere any more, and openly so too, with the inevitability of a Zuma emergence particularly after the intervention of the ANC fathers, in the Zuma instance, he literally defied the party, humbled its leaders, broke its ranks and did everything in the books and outside the books to thwart the imminent transition to the Ramaphosa leadership, even going as far as to ensure that the new leader would continue to have both a hamstrung ANC national executive and a slew of last minute policy traps, like land nationalization and free tertiary education that would pit him against the South African streets.
“With the opposition now in control of many critical mayoralties in the country including the notable ones of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, it is very clear that the ongoing South African leadership tangle is clearly one that has presently taken the proverbial colouration of an ‘handshake that has not only gone beyond the elbow,’ but even the involved hand is now at risk of being amputated! It is in this mould then that several opposition political groupings as the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF and the Congress of the People, COPE have all continued to vigorously push the case for a non-shoving of the Zuma shame story under the carpet.
“And fourth is the fact that the Zuma desert leadership years have also very structurally alienated the core of the ANC from many of the critical stakeholder groups within the country. From the press to civil society, big business to the student communities, poll after poll has since confirmed that the ANC does indeed have a tough fight on its hands going into the 2019 polls; and with many of these interests sounding it very loud and clear that the ‘head of Zuma’ is the minimum bargaining chip that the ANC must first put on the table, if it wants to talk.”
Obviously, the ANC has got a price to pay for allowing Zuma to stay this long and cause so much harm. Certainly, there are many lessons for Nigeria to learn from the Zuma’s debacle.
A legal practitioner, human right defender, author and teacher, Dr Chidi Odinkalu identified three of such lessons thus: “Political parties must be built on ideas and have clear ideology and values around which membership coheres. Organs of the party must take their roles seriously in defence of the values of the party and of the national interest.
“Secondly, national interest must override individual ambition and convenience. The national interest should not be sectional in its identity or orientation. When those are at odds, national interest must prevail.
“Thirdly, sleaze and corruption are not political assets but liabilities. Any administration mired in those deserves to go and not be rewarded with public or sectional sympathy.”
Another Nigerian lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo said that players in the Nigerian political cycle must learn that political parties ought to be supreme. He is of the view that political parties in Nigeria are not ideological.
According to him, the compelling lesson therein is the supremacy of the party in the entire saga. He said: “That was what led to the resignation of Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s President. I pray we learn this in Nigeria.
“Immediately after election, parties are muted and go into oblivion. Here party leaders turn to beggars begging for crumbs. It’s expected in a country where parties lack ideologies. No iota of principles.
“In fact in Nigeria, we have no political party but platforms to stand for elections. Our constitution is clear on what a party is and what it should do and I say this, no political party in Nigeria has met the minimum standards established by the extant provisions of the constitution and there lies our problem.”
The National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “The resignation of Zuma has shown the difference between a place where institutions work and where strong men prevail.
“The power of effecting change in unpopular leadership under a parliamentary system as against a presidential system where the president is a king The lesson for Nigeria is to build an institution-led polity and deal with impunity that makes elected officials to see themselves above the system.”
A former Commissioner for Communication, Kogi State, Dr. Tom Ohikere said: “Nigerian leaders should learn that power belongs to the people while authority belongs to God. Zuma has responded to the demand of the people.”
He added that “Zuma resigned for peace to reign as there were no sufficient evidence to take him to court or jail. That is quintessential of statesmanship and he is well behaved.”
Power is Ephemeral
If there is one thing that is sacrosanct in leadership, it is that power is ephemeral. Hence, anyone that wields power must have this behind his mind each time he exercises power. Power is transient but those in government wielding power over life and death don’t often remember.
General Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo knows this very well when as former head of state he was bundled to prison on a trumped up coup plot; he survived and later became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His tormentor in prison who even allegedly conspired to have Obasanjo killed, Major Hamza Mustapha and his co-conspirators would not forget their ordeal in prison.
If Lt. Col. Sambo Dasuki now retired had been bothered to gaze into the future or cared to realise the ephemeralty of power, he wouldn’t have been so hard on General Muhammadu Buhari in 1985 when he was asked to effect the arrest of the general during the coup that brought in General Ibrahim Babangida. Thirty years later, Buhari is back in power as the president; Dasuki is in jail as a prisoner! Today, Buhari is running the government as if he will be there for life.
Nine years ago, Zuma had forcibly brought down the government of Mr. Thabo Mbeki in a palace coup soon after he was elected the leader of the ruling ANC in the rainbow country. He was ruthless and he ensured the total humiliation of Mbeki.
He rode to power on a popular support of the people, who despite the scandals hanging on his neck insisted that he must become the president.
Nine years down the line, the people have become disenchanted with Zuma. At the funeral service of Nelson Mandela, Zume was booed by the people in the presence of the then president of the United States of America, Barrack Obama. He survived several impeachment moves until last week when he was eased out, albeit, without dignity by the party and the people.
The above stories are clear examples that power is transient and that power should be wielded with caution. Will African leaders learn from the fall of Zuma? Many are not sure they will. African leaders hardly learn. May be they do elsewhere but certainly not in Nigeria where leaders are not accountable to the people that elected them.
Nigerian leaders use power without regards to the feeling of the people. They are too big to care about how the people feel. They allow herdsmen to embark on a killing spree without taking responsibility.
A professor who was suspended for corruption was returned to office without investigation into the allegations for which he was suspended in the first place. A fugitive civil servant who allegedly absconded with billions of naira of pensioners’ money was returned to office in total disregard for rule of law while the president sits on the report that could help me to take the right decision.
Zuma’s Statue in Imo
Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha has come under heavy criticisms for using tax payer money to erect statues for Zuma and others. Why we don’t know the criteria he used in deciding who and who should be celebrated through such monuments, Okorocha must admit he made a mistake in Zuma. This is moreso, as at the time he took the decision to celebrate Zuma, all the scandals that led to his downfall were already there. Okorocha can not claim not to know. Still another lesson for us as a nation is that we must be careful in choosing people we confer with honours.
Writing for THISDAY Don C. Adinuba said: “Both the Nigerian people and their leaders do not seem to appreciate that the people honoured in public places reveal everything about our value system. And many do not recognise the strong correlation between social values and economic development. Otherwise, the Kano State stadium would not have been named after Sani Abacha, and the Bayelsa State government would not have officially declared Deprieye Alamieyesigha, a hero, just as Delta State would not have been treating Ibori as an exemplary leader. To appreciate that societies with wrong values cannot develop competitive economies.”