Decade of the Interesting, Entertaining and the Provocative in Nigerian Politics (1)

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that the political landscape in Nigeria in the last decade can best likened to a blockbuster movie featuring clear-cut villains and heroes. Their actions and decisions made the political setting everything but prosaic; entertaining at some point and at other times provocative

The Death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua

Nigerians spent the early part of 2010 deliberating on the health status of late former president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The president was rumoured to be back in the country in February 2010 after returning from a medical leave which he embarked on in November 2009. His constant absence from the presidency triggered an outrage between acolytes and detractors, calling for his resignation or the transfer of power to the second-in-command, Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigerians directed their ire at former president, Olusegun Obasanjo who was accused of installing an ailing man to rule the country. They alleged that the installation of Yar’Adua was a tactic by the former president, who was the first to rule the country in this democratic era for two terms to retain a stranglehold on the affairs of the country since his bid to run for a third term hit a brick wall.

However, what was even more confounding was the unsettling news of Yar’Adua’s passing. Many had long suspected that the late president was battling an unknown illness that was eating him up, but no one reckoned the Grim Reaper would visit him so quickly. The theatrics surrounding his death made the news juicier. It was a curious tale of who was telling the truth. “Is the president alive or not?” was a constant question on the lips of many Nigerians.

Rumours of Yar’Adua’s death started long before he assumed the Number One Citizen position. In 2007, before the presidential election, his name hugged the headline of major dailies who sought to clarify the real situation of his health.

In a bid to clear the foggy position, Obasanjo made an inglorious telephone call at a campaign rally to Yar’Adua on his sick bed. With the microphone stuck on the phone, he roared, “The papers say you are dead. Umaru! Umaru! Are you dead?”

When the news of his death arose, two theories were bandied about. One suggested that the president had passed on during his trip to Saudi Arabia but was kept secret for fear of his wife Turai who on many occasions was accused of interfering in governance. Another hinted that the president’s death was shrouded in secrecy because it would automatically give power to a Southerner.

Albeit, Nigerians finally learnt the truth about Yar’Adua on May 10 when he was officially declared dead, giving way for Jonathan who had been filling his shoes to assume total authority.

The Emergence of Goodluck Jonathan

He was touted as the proverbial child of luck during his campaign for presidency in the 2011 general election. His story of grass to grace, frivolously captured in his ‘I had no shoes’ narrative, captivated quite a few Nigerians such that some started naming their off-spring Goodluck with the hope that it will attract the miraculous opportunities that catapulted the Bayelsa state indigene to the top echelons of government.

Jonathan was a lecturer, an education inspector and environmental-protection officer before he joined politics in 1998. Then he became a deputy governor of Bayelsa state, before becoming the governor after the impeachment of his superior, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Providence moved him up again to the office of vice-president to Yar’Adua. When his predecessor became ill, he was made an acting president.

Finally, he rose to the peak of power as the third president of Nigeria in the new democratic era. His ascension occurred over a span of more than one decade. Thus, it was with relief that Nigerians massively voted for him in the 2011 presidential election, hoping that he would be the Messiah. His presidency also carried on with victory for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which was relishing every moment in power. But more importantly, he was culturally drawn to the South-southerners and South-easterners who had for long clamoured to run the presidency but the opportunity always slipped out of their hands.

Yet, the expectations and hope that were burdened on Jonathan’s shoulders were largely unmet, inciting protests and attacks from devotees and detractors. His administration was labelled overly corrupt and with a wife whose daily antics provided fodder for the gossip mill, he was the least celebrated in power. Under his administration, the economy suffered a myriad of issues from insecurity to subsidy removal. His conservative way of fighting corruption gave rise to a stronger opposition party which was emboldened to wring power from his hands. Hence, when he contested in the 2015 election with the hope of securing the votes of the populace, he was disappointed. Jonathan became the first sitting president to concede defeat in the new democratic era, a laudable gesture the PDP still basks in till date.

Henry Okah and MEND

Nigeria’s October 1 Independence Day celebration of 2010 was a sad day for the nation. Twelve persons lost their lives in bomb blasts that rocked the venue of the celebrations in Abuja. The next day, October 2, Henry Okah, the publicized leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was arrested in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Formed in 2006, MEND quickly became the most popular of the impromptu militant groups that were waging guerilla warfare on oil installations in the Niger Delta, oil theft, carrying out illegal bunkering and kidnapping foreign oil workers. The group boldly claimed responsibility for attacks on oil companies and organized an urbane method of popularizing its activities through the media.

Though Okah continued to maintain his innocence, on January 21, 2013, a South African court convicted Okah of 13 charges of terrorism, including bombings that killed 12 people in Abuja on October 1, 2010. His guilt for masterminding the Independence Day attack was further confirmed on March 7, 2018. He is currently serving this sentence at the Ebongweni Correctional Centre in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

First Ladies Who Grew Balls

The prominence of the Office of the First Lady of Nigeria position can be traced to Maryam Babangida, the late wife of former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. It was Maryam who made the post more functional than her predecessors. Of all her successors, Turai and Patience Jonathan followed her footsteps, and to a large extent, surpassed her. Both women whose tenure fall under the last decade left a memorable impression on Nigerians with the manner in which they carried out their duties, sometimes interfering with the activities of the governance.

While Turai’s tenure was abruptly truncated by the death of her husband in office in 2010, it didn’t halt her popularity. She was rumoured to be in charge and had an overwhelming influence over her husband, such that most of the decisions taken on governance needed her approval. Her supposed meddlesome attitude angered a few who alleged that the lady was gunning for the office of the president.

If looks are deceptive, Turai was a perfect illustration. In public, she appeared imperturbable, but in Aso Villa, her steely demeanor was highly feared.

While Turai played behind the scene, Patience Jonathan displayed her power in front of the camera. She was not the shy type even if her judgment was considered warped by a few. Their opinions never stopped the loquacious woman from airing her views. One of the highlights of her tenure was her unapologetic faux pas with grammar. She entertained Nigerians each time she made a grammatical blunder. Memes of her speech went viral, as well as videos of her making comments, with no regard to language rules.

Who can forget her popular statement, ‘Na only you waka come’ or ‘There is God o’ during a town hall meeting with the principal of the infamous Chibok school where over 200 female students were abducted by suspected Boko Haram militants. Her outpour was one of the comical incidents in the outgoing decade in Nigerian politics. Patience refused to be as reserved as her husband, offering her opinion and views on national issues without invitation. Like Turai, she was seen as the one in charge, while the husband played the puppet.

Unlike her predecessors, Aisha Buhari did not really enjoy the office of the First Lady during her husband’s first term in office, as her husband kept to his campaign promise to diminish the office. Not one to be held in a protected position, Aisha emerged from ‘the other room’ to grab headlines with allegations that there was a cabal running the government. She consistently insisted that this set of unknown faces deprived her access to her husband and was totally in charge of decisions in the presidency. Expectedly, the opposition party PDP preyed on this information to warn Nigerians of the incapability of the incumbent president, hoping to sway the populace to its side. Besides the allegation, Aisha is a strong voice on issues affecting women as well as policies that are unfriendly to the masses. Like her antecedents, she has refused to be silenced.

With her husband’s return for a second tenure, she has been decisive in her preference to be addressed as First Lady. However, time will tell what memories she will leave behind.

The Tenacity of Buhari and Atiku

Atiku and Buhari

The dream of one has finally come true. For the other…well, he is still hanging on to the dream. This is the story of President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar. The two personalities had a unique and striking political semblance. They both had an enduring dream to be the president of the country.

Buhari who once ruled the country in the 80s as a military ruler never took his headship to a logical end, as his regime was overthrown by another military leader, Ibrahim Babangida. Contesting for the presidency of the country as a civilian, Buhari’s foot soldiers were able to lure supporters with his historic fight against corruption and indiscipline during his era as a military Head of State. In the new democratic era, Buhari took a long shot at politics, aiming for the presidency. His first attempt was in 2003 when he ran on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was seeking a re-election won in that race. In 2007, Buhari ran again but failed to clinch the seat as he was beaten by the late Umaru Yar’Adua, his compatriot from Katsina State.

2011 saw the former military dictator running for president again, this time around with the newly formed Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He faced quite a number of contenders in this particular election including former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissioner (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu who was then running on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP. This was a watershed election for Buhari.

It was the election that brought him to the attention of political pundits, who noticed that on his own steam, he was able to garner over 12 million votes. This was a strong factor for the choice of Buhari when the merger of different political parties including his CPC metamorphosed into the All Progressive Congress (APC). The reasoning was that if he could, on his own, get that number of votes, then with support from others in the merger, he could be lifted to victory.

In the run up to the 2015 elections, Buhari emerged the presidential candidate of the APC. The man from Daura in Katsina state landed victory for his party promoting the mantra of ‘Change’ publicised by his party and a staunch trust in his incorruptible persona.

Buhari again returned to the presidential seat this year in a close contest with his closest ally cum rival Atiku.

Atiku’s quest to occupy the Number One public office in the land is yet to have a happy ending. Atiku who served as Vice-president to Obasanjo made his presidential intention obvious in 2003, challenging his superior in office at the time. Many active actors on the political landscape claim that 2003 was Abubakar’s golden chance to become President. All the governors of the PDP supported his dream, but at the crucial time, he gave in to Obasanjo’s plea to allow him to serve a second term. Subsequently, he has run under different political flags and was one of the brains behind the formation of APC.

His decision to contest in the February presidential election was expected to be the turning point for the Adamawa state indigene, having employed all political intelligence to win the support of the electorate. He swayed the South-east voters by choosing an Igbo man and revered political stalwart Peter Obi as his running mate. Having studied the political landscape in Nigeria to find loopholes which he could easily fill, he won the hearts of many youths, selling lofty ideas of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Little wonder that he was seen as the next Messiah that would save Nigerians from bad leadership. However he was defeated at the polls and his quest to challenge the results of the election ended in disappointment, as the Supreme Court dismissed his contention against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari. The defeat appeared to be the coup de grace of his presidential ambitions, but his supporters are confident that the race is not over yet.

Fight against Corruption (Whistle Blowing Policy)

From the onset, President Buhari made the fight against corruption very conspicuous. His mantra of change reverberated around the country and even shook some to their bones. At first, the PDP saw his decision as a bluff, but by the time he introduced the whistle blowing policy with a 2.5-5% reward for anyone with information on theft, fraudulent acts and mismanagement of public funds and assets in 2016, it became very transparent that the president was not joking. No one was spared. As long as there were damaging evidence against the accused, he or she was meant to face the music. Buhari was determined to rid the country of the alleged rot his predecessors left behind. Above all, he was keen on bringing to justice past governors who robbed the country.

Looted monies were recovered and corrupt politicians tried to mend their ways before they were caught. Due to his commitment to rid the country of corrupt politicians, there were some curious defection to the APC of politicians who previously held the party in contempt. Persons in this category flocked into APC, hoping to gain some kind of immunity. One of the notable politicians who joined the ruling party supposedly to escape prosecution include the former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio. Those who couldn’t stand the pressure absconded the country under the ridiculous claim of battling terminal diseases.

However, Buhari’s recorded feats in the anti-corruption was not void of diatribes. To the masses and the opposition party, the anti-corruption fight was one-sided. In fact, critics say that it was a vengeful ploy by the president to punish those who opposed him or took part in the 1985 coup that ousted him from office.

A notable example is the detention of the former National Security Adviser to Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki, who was allowed to go home recently after four years in detention. Also the imprisonment of the leader of the Shiites, El Zakzaky and his wife has also drawn wide criticism. Critics called out the president to also prosecute politicians in his party who are not innocent.

Supporters of Buhari readily point to members of the APC who have not been spared. Some of the prominent instances include the former governor of Taraba state, Jolly Nyame who was convicted in 2018 of misappropriating N1.64 billion from the state’s treasury through shoddy stationery contracts during his eight year administration in the state. The former clergyman was served a 14-year jail term which was later reduced to 10 years. The ex-governor of Plateau state, Senator Joshua Dariye was another scapegoat.

After avoiding trials and impeachment during his time in government, Dariye finally paid for the criminal allegations levelled against him when a High Court in Abuja found him guilty of misappropriating N1.6 billion during his time in office in 2018. He was initially served 14 years but in November of the same year, a Court of Appeal in Abuja reduced his sentence to 10 years. And more recently, the imprisonment of former governor of Abia state, Orji Uzor Kalu who was found guilty of N7.65 billion fraud and sentenced to 12 years in prison. All convicted politicians are card carrying members of APC. Another leading member of the APC on trial under Buhari’s watch is Babachir Lawal, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Perhaps, the most remarkable fight against corruption in this era is the recent order by a Federal High Court in Lagos that the Federal Government should recover pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. The order came on the heels of the protest by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that the pension law should be repealed. The pension law particularly in Zamfara State allowed former governors to receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical treatment for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.

The verdict was received enthusiastically by Nigerians and will affect beneficiaries like former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Akpabio who were once governors in their respective states.

QUOTE:

1. While Turai played behind the scene, Patience Jonathan displayed her power in front of the camera. She was not the shy type even if her judgment was considered warped by a few. Their opinions never stopped the loquacious woman from airing her views. One of the highlights of her tenure was her unapologetic faux pas with grammar. She entertained Nigerians each time she made a grammatical blunder. Memes of her speech went viral, as well as videos of her making comments, with no regard to language rules. Who can forget her popular statement, ‘Na only you waka come’ or ‘There is God o’ during a town hall meeting with the principal of the infamous Chibok school where over 200 female students were abducted by suspected Boko Haram militants. Her outpour was one of the comical incidents in the outgoing decade in Nigerian politic

2. Supporters of Buhari readily point to members of the APC who have not been spared. Some of the prominent instances include the former governor of Taraba state, Jolly Nyame who was convicted in 2018 of misappropriating N1.64 billion from the state’s treasury through shoddy stationery contracts during his eight year administration in the state. The former clergyman was served a 14-year jail term which was later reduced to 10 years. The ex-governor of Plateau state, Senator Joshua Dariye was another scapegoat. After avoiding trials and impeachment during his time in government, Dariye finally paid for the criminal allegations levelled against him when a High Court in Abuja found him guilty of misappropriating N1.6 billion during his time in office in 2018. He was initially served 14 years but in November of the same year, a Court of Appeal in Abuja reduced his sentence to 10 years
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