Witness to A ‘Revolution’

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

FLASHBACK, 25TH SEPTEMBER 2003:

Rally after elections? That was my immediate reaction to Hon. Farouk Adamu Aliyu, the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) House of Representatives member from Jigawa State who had called to inform me that he was in Kano for a rally to be addressed the next day by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). Why would the defeated ANPP presidential candidate (who is already in court challenging the result of the election) need to hold a rally? Is dancing on the streets of Kano one of the exhibits he would tender in court? And why Kano? It appeared as if someone was looking for trouble!

I was still lost in contemplation when Hon Aliyu said: “Segun, why don’t you fly into Kano tomorrow morning and be my guest?” It was a tempting invitation given current political events and my experience there a few months earlier when I went to cover the elections. I could smell the prospect of big, even unpleasant, news and wanted to witness whatever drama Buhari might be up to.

By 6 am the next morning, I was at the Lagos airport where my curiousity was further heightened when I saw the dailies. The Kano State Police Command had actually announced a cancellation of the rally. A statement signed by Police spokesman, ASP Baba Mohammed, gave “security reasons” for the refusal by the force to grant a permit for the rally, calling on the people “to invoke the spirit of peace associated with Kano over the years and avoid any act that may cause chaos or disrupt the existing peace and harmony in the state.”

But the chief promoter of the rally, Governor Ibrahim Shekarau would not agree. He had also addressed the people of Kano, telling them that the rally would hold but at the Pillars Stadium owned by the state government rather than the earlier announced venue of the Race Course. According to Shekarau, the rally was being organised to celebrate the unflinching commitment of supporters in actualising the dreams and aspirations of Buhari and for the party “to consolidate its gains and chart a move towards bigger successes in future.”

It was amid these conflicting political signals that I left for Kano Tuesday morning where we were joined in Abuja by Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and some ANPP Senators. Dr. Nnia Nwodo was also in the aircraft from Lagos. On arrival in Kano, we saw truckloads of police with armoured tanks everywhere. We gathered they had been deployed from the neighbouring states of Katsina and Jigawa and had surrounded the Pillars Stadium ostensibly to prevent people from going inside. But the arrival of Buhari some minutes before noon changed the equation as the surging crowd forced the gates open. Buhari had earlier that morning arrived Kano by road from Kaduna and was received at Na’ibawa roundabout by Shekarau and members of the state executive council before being driven in an open air vehicle through major city streets.

On our part, before Hon. Aliyu and I went for the rally, we had gone to have breakfast with a mutual friend, Alhaji Sardauna Habib, who had refused to follow us to the event despite our entreaties. “What is my own with a Buhari rally? Am I a politician?” he asked. It was a wise decision that he did not follow us. A kilometre to the venue, the road was blocked. After waiting in the car for almost 20 minutes with traffic at a standstill, Hon Aliyu decided we should alight and sweat out trekking the rest of the way. His local security men and supporters from Jigawa had come fully prepared to shield their benefactor. So, we survived the crowd to reach the gate of the stadium where the real battle began. Amid pushing and shoving, even with the protection of more than 20 people who served as our bodyguards, it was sheer hell moving through the crowd.

After about another ten minutes, we managed to push our way to the gate leading to the state box. Here there was no way forward and I was almost choking from the intense sun.  When it became glaring that the alternative to turning back was to risk death by suffocation we beat a quick retreat. Luckily, a coaster bus was parked within the premises. Those inside recognised Hon. Aliyu so we were allowed into what seemed to us Noah’s Ark (a life-saver) given that I was at that point almost fainting.

Inside the bus, I was introduced to Alhaji Adamu Modibbo, the defeated Adamawa state ANPP candidate and Dr. Ahmed Salik, the ANPP leader in the House of Representatives. At this time Nwodo was speaking but nobody heard what he was saying.  Not that it mattered to the crowd though. And it was not lost on some observers that Nwodo was there at all. Just a few months ago at the ANPP national convention, Nwodo’s baritone voice had reverberated across Eagle Square that night: “I cannot lend my name to this charade!”

What changed? Nwodo owed me an explanation. After him came the Oyi of Oyi but Okadigbo’s message was also drowned in the cacophony of noise. Then came the biggest masquerade, Buhari. The moment he said ‘Allahu Akbar’ the crowd went into a frenzy. He addressed the crowd in Hausa for about three minutes. “Today’s gathering clearly attests to the people’s desire to and aspiration for a positive change in our country. We are here specifically to let you know that the struggle for reclaiming our stolen mandate is still very much alive. We are going back to court on Thursday to reclaim our victory and we are passionately appealing to all and sundry to give us their support and cooperation for this noble cause.”

While Buhari was speaking, Moddibo said to me rather excitedly: “Segun, the revolution has started. The next place is Adamawa.”

“Revolution? How many ANPP governors are here?” I asked him.

“Only Shekarau is here. But we are not expecting them, they are all (then President Olusegun) Obasanjo people,” Modibbo replied before another politician in the vehicle interjected: “The ANPP governors are traitors, they have betrayed their people.”

Aside the party chairman, Chief Don Etiebet and the Fatwa-threatening Zamfara State deputy governor, Alhaji Mahmud Shinkafi, only a few other ANPP big wigs were in attendance. I gathered the ANPP governors cleverly used Umrah (lesser Hajj) as a convenient excuse to travel outside the country when one was sighted in Dubai on Monday…

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The foregoing is an abridged version of my piece, ‘Muhammadu Buhari in Kano’ published on this page some 16 years ago. Instructively, the biggest casualty of that rally was Okadigbo who had been Buhari’s running mate in the presidential election held earlier that year. Apparently as a result of the tear gas he inhaled in the confusion created by the police at the end of the event, Okadigbo developed acute breathing problems and died just 24 hours later in Abuja.

I recall that event against the background of the arrest last weekend of Mr Omoyele Sowore, the defeated presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) who planned to stage his own post-election ‘Revolution’ on Monday. While government sympathisers have given us definitions that justify what is clearly a needless high-handedness, ‘revolutions’ are by their nature never advertised in advance nor are they planned in the full glare of cameras with musicians. Where they occur, they are mostly spontaneous actions. Therefore, arresting Sowore is unnecessary unless the DSS was indeed afraid that his ‘revolution’ could sweep them away as he promised!

There are two quick lessons to take from both the dramas of the past and present. One, the security agencies have always been opposed to any form of civil action that is against the government in power. Two, Nigerian politicians endorse protest only when they are out of power (in opposition). For instance, three months before the Kano rally in 2003, Buhari had staged what he described as ‘Mass Action’ in Abuja. In 2014, he similarly led a famous protest in Abuja along with other APC leaders on the security situation in the country. Yet, his government now believes that a civil action is akin to ‘treason’.

Given the dysfunctional system that we run which does not work for the vast majority of our people, I have argued in the past that we need to rally a critical mass to the level of “constructive dissatisfaction” with the status quo. Mindful of how divided along ethno-religious lines our people have become, an ill-defined ‘revolution’ cannot serve us at this period. Besides, having witnessed in Lagos on two occasions (one in Idumota and the other at Egbeda) how such protests can easily be hijacked by hoodlums, I am always wary about calls for any form of civil disobedience in our country. Nothing perhaps better illustrates my apprehension than the message embedded in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. The poem tells a compelling story which finishes with the old sorcerer’s admonition that it is almost always catastrophic to set in motion a force over which one has no control.

However, despite misgivings about Sowore’s ‘revolution’, a system where public officials do not feel they can be held accountable by citizens because they control the security agencies cannot long endure. It is all the more disappointing against the background of the latitude enjoyed by those who hold the levers of power in our country today when they were on the other side. For instance, in a statement he personally signed on 29th September 2014, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader and former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, advocated what he described as a “common sense revolution” in Nigeria.

Titled ‘A Return to Decency’ and released on the eve of the nation’s 54th independence anniversary, Tinubu called on Nigerians to “be prepared for change.” After a brutal assessment of the administration of the then President Goodluck Jonathan, Tinubu concluded: “Today, the nation staggers beneath the weight of trouble multiplied by hardship. Peace and unity seem to have yielded the moment to violence and discord. We exist as a political unit on a map but we do not prosper as brothers and sisters in one nation, under one flag and pursuant to one accord… Rather than promote religious tolerance and harmonious living, this government believes its electoral chances are enhanced by promoting ethnicism, internal divisions, religious suspicion and scapegoating. Successful nations are not built this way.”

We may argue, and quite correctly, that Tinubu was not advocating anything beyond the powers of the ballot box to change the government in power at the time. But the question remains as to whether the situation he lamented so eloquently has changed after the ‘common sense revolution’ that brought the APC to power in 2015 or whether the democratic space can be preserved in a milieu where intolerance grows by the day.

The challenges confronting us as a nation are enormous. How do we productively engage our teeming young population? How do we resolve, once and for all, the problem of funding our tertiary institutions and restore a measure of sanity to the education sector at all levels? How do we tinker with the current political structure which devotes substantial resources to servicing a largely unproductive public service at federal and state levels without commensurate results? How do we revamp the security architecture in such a manner as to successfully tackle the insurgency in the North-east and restore law and order across other parts of the country? How do we restore faith in our young people that notwithstanding our challenges, Nigeria is not a lost cause?

These are some of the issues you expect would engage the attention of a government whose mandate has just been renewed. But what we are witnessing is a growing obstruction of the civic space. Yet, it should worry the authorities in our country that as the security situation deteriorates “defend yourself” is becoming the new mantra, a clarion call to citizens that government may no longer be able to protect them. As I wrote in the past, taking their destiny in their own hands could also lead to an awakening that the power being misused by some is actually held in trust for them. That should be food-for-thought for the ‘revolutionaries’ of yesterday who today believe they have a monopoly on patriotism.

The pertinent question now is: Does Sowore’s ‘RevolutionNow’ offer a way out of what ails us as a nation? I don’t think so. We don’t even know what it means. But shopping for court orders to detain him for 90 days is a throwback to the military era. He should be released. Meanwhile, it will behove President Buhari and his team to begin thinking of alternative ways to address the concerns of critical stakeholders before small embers ignite a conflagration that, as we have seen in other countries, becomes impossible to manage.

That is the real revolution the authorities will do well to avoid.

 

The Unmarked Graves

I am surprised by the manner Nigerians responded to the American Wall Street Journal report on the secret burials of Nigerian troops who died in the war against insurgency. Even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a judicial commission of inquiry headed by a non-partisan and reputable jurist to unravel the authenticity of the report. While the Defence Headquarters has disputed the story, stating that “the Armed Forces do not indulge in secret burials, as it is sacrilegious and a profanity to the extant ethos and traditions of the Nigerian military”, let me say very quickly that the story attracted attention just because it was reported by a foreign media. But it is unfortunate that the military authorities would continue to live in denial about this sordid affair that has become for our country another emblem of shame.

Incidentally, following my piece on 29th November last year titled ‘Dead, Buried and Forgotten’ (https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2018/11/29/deadburiedandforgotten/), I received mails from some public-spirited Nigerians, pledging financial support to the idea I raised in the publication. But only on condition that I would lead the effort. I have neither the time nor the expertise for such exercise. I had offered to work with, and lend support to, public-spirited individuals or credible charity groups that will take up an idea similar to the American ‘Star Family’. The idea is for us begin to offer help, in a structured manner, to families of soldiers who die in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency. It is an intervention that I believe we need in our country as a way of supporting our fighting troops. I am still open to meaningful ideas on the way forward.

 

NAL Convocation

This morning at the University of Lagos, the Nigerian Academy of Letters will hold the investiture of new Fellows and the 21st convocation ceremony under the theme, ‘Religion and Morality in a Secular State’. The convocation lecture will be delivered by Professor Emeritus Godwin Sogolo. Elected into the Regular Fellowship this year are Prof. Ifeoma Mabel Onyemelukwe, Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, Prof. Sunday Enessi Ododo, Prof. Ademola O. Dasylva, Prof. Jim Unah and Prof. Albert ‘Lekan Oyeleye while Prof. Tanure Ojaide was elected as an Overseas Fellow. I will be joining the former Daily Times Managing Director and Tanus Communication Chairman, Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi as Honorary Fellow of the Academy.

Last night, a Fellows Dinner was held at the University of Lagos and it was attended by no fewer than about 60 respected scholars. At the dinner where Ogunbiyi was the speaker were eminent professors from both the Diaspora and at home, including Jacob Olupona, Biodun Jeyijo, Ayo Bamgbose, Ayo Banio, Ishaq Oloyede, Amechi Akwanya, Joseph Obinaju, Anthony Asiwaju, Kunle Adeniran, Mabel Osakwe, Akachi Ezeigbo, Jim Unah, U. B. Ahmed as well as the NAL President, Francis Egbokhare and several others.

Ogunbiyi, who started his teaching career at Ife in 1977 before he later ventured into the corporate world, spoke on his experience in the past two years as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the Obafemi Awolowo University, and how that experience has reshaped his thinking about the future of university education in Nigeria.

Using Ife as an example, Ogunbiyi painted a rather pathetic picture of the state of education in Nigeria due largely to inadequate funding. Without question, according to Ogunbiyi, “adequate funding is key to university education. That view is not open to debate. Without adequate funding, higher education, anywhere, is doomed. But how should higher education be funded? Given regard to the peculiar nature of our history, can the state afford to continue to fund higher education? Are there lessons to be learnt from how universities are funded elsewhere?”, he asked.

Ogunbiyi would later pose other questions: “How do we find trained, suitable teaching staff for these new institutions which are bound to be established in the face of our growing population? How do we fund and equip them? But, then, what do we do with millions of restive young Nigerians, yearning to go to universities? How do we strike a balance between the skills’ need of a society of millions of young people, their yearning desire for higher education and the ability to fund these institutions?”

At the end of the conversation last night, it became very clear that the challenge of university education in Nigeria is quite enormous. But it is not insurmountable. To all my readers who have sent messages of goodwill on my induction as a Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Letters, please accept my appreciation.

Nine Days to Go!

All is set for the 4th edition of the annual career conference which brings together teenagers and young adults within Abuja and environ. But registration for attendance will be closed by this weekend. The portal, www.rccgteapteens.org is still open to interested teenagers who can visit for all the details, including information about previous editions. The theme for this year’s session scheduled for next week Saturday, 17th August, is ‘Nurturing Your Talent; Developing Your Character’. The speakers are: The Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi; the Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr Herbert Wigwe; comedian and media personality, Dr Helen Paul and the Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Mr Samson Itodo. Usually a day of fun with music, food and drinks, attendance is free but pre-conference registration is mandatory.