What Did Yar'Adua Tell Kenya's Kibaki?
┬ę Ogaga Ifowodo
As Africa reaps once again an abundant harvest of deaths, mangled bodies, sacked communities, refugees, a blighted future for thousands of victims and one more splash of tar on the continent's image, I am dying to know what our "rule of law" president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, has said to his Kenyan counterpart, Mwai Kibaki, as well as to an opposition that certainly shares the blame. As president of the self-styled Giant of Africa, he must feel a bounden duty to be chief arbitrator of conflicts that threaten the peace and well-being of the continent. The fraudulent manner of his ascension to office notwithstanding, Yar'Adua has inherited Nigeria's mantle of leadership which our shameful history of military and civilian maladministration hasn't yet managed to renounce in totality. It is, in any case, a mantle placed on the country's leadership, however constituted at any point in time, by sheer dint of historical circumstance: Nigeria's abundant wealth in natural and human resources.
It is, then, a legitimate issue for conjecture what our president did on receiving news of the outbreak of anarchy in Kenya following an election that must surely have reminded him of the process that brought him to power. Certainly, he couldn't have failed to note that Nigeria has so far been spared a similar orgy of burnt bodies, homes and whole communities as the consequence of electoral brigandage only by sheer good luck. Surely he must have flinched as the rude fact struck him in the face like a slap: Nigeria cannot afford another fiasco as the one that installed him in power. So, on learning that Kibaki had perfected arrangements for a hasty swearing-in ceremony in the face of mounting allegations of rigging, did Yar'Adua pick up the phone? What advice borne of recent experience did he offer his brother election-rigger? Did Yar'Adua seek to dissuade Kibaki from profiting from his crime? Or did he merely say solemnly, "Your Excellency, whatever you do, be sure to follow the rule of law and all else shall take care of itself?" When Yar'Adua met Kibaki in person at the recent Africa Union summit in Addis Ababa, with Kenya already aflame, what did he tell him in strict confidence? Perhaps, this: "My brother Excellency, I applaud you for heeding my advice. By taking steps to be sworn in through due process, you have voted for the rule of law against violence. Remember, the rule of law, first and last, and all else shall take care of itself. You can trust me on this."
There is evidence that whatever Yar'Adua may have told Kibaki couldn't possibly be far from the above purport. As two reports a week apart in the two newspapers, The Nation and the East African Standard, show, Kibaki has quite vociferously called on the opposition Orange Democratic Movement to seek legal redress of its grievances. And Kibaki did not forget to invoke the rule of law. In the East African Standard report of 2 February 2008 entitled, "Kenya: Kibaki Insists ODM Should Go to Court," Kibaki finds it possible not only to employ the dubious rhetoric of the rule of law, but also to lay the entire blame for the violence on the opposition. The report which summarizes Kibaki's speech to the Addis Ababa summit is an excellent portrayal of the African ruler at his sanctimonious best. Citing the hallowed authority of precedence in all previous situations of electoral fraudulence, Kibaki informed his cohorts of presidents and heads of state, most of whom stomped on the heads of the people on their way to the swearing-in ceremony, that "In such situations, the accepted rule is to resort to the established constitutional and legal mechanisms." A few more declamations from the AU's tainted pulpit after, he singled out the opposition's supposed disavowal of the rule of law as the main cause of the mayhem reducing his country to smoke, rubble and a trekking and wailing mass of refugees. The opposition, he charged, "rejected the adherence to this key democratic principle, and chose, instead, not to respect the rule of law."
Kibaki may be a determined power-monger the equal of any that has bestrode our Africa, but a fool he certainly isn't. He proved himself a good student of the callous power game that damns the continent by proffering other reasons - not to do with himself or his government, of course - that may have been responsible for the post-election tragedy. He spoke of underlying causes and long term measures that will provide durable solutions to them. Listen carefully and you hear echoes of Yar'Adua's blueprint being followed to the letter. Yar'Adua, you will recall, was quick to identity the underlying causes of his unlawful imposition on the country and to set up an electoral review panel currently at work to address them.
But whenever you hear the thief or the devil citing scripture, you will do well to consult the Bible, the Koran, or whichever is your holy book. In Yar'Adua and Kibaki's respective cases, the aim is to douse the fires of protest to quiet embers in the first instance, and to dead ashes in the last. At any rate, a definite goal is the buying of precious time within which the illegitimate regime can appraise the situation, deploy the state's resources which it commands to corruptive ends and fashion a strategy for retaining power, if not in the incumbent then in another agent of the power clique. It presents the ruling oligarchs what is commonly referred to as a win-win situation: if the courts, against the odds, dare to validate the opposition's claims, the regime bows out temporarily but without being disgraced out of office and betraying even more dangerously its ruthless ideology of greed. It can then claim to be a champion of the rule of law and so a promoter of a vital institution of democracy. If the courts, expectedly, ratify the electoral fraud, the regime can then claim the mantle of legitimacy and derive from that judicial victory a justification for muzzling the opposition.
An element of this sinister modus operandi is already apparent. At the same time that Kibaki annulled the popular will through a hasty swearing-in, he banned further media coverage of returns from polling stations nationwide. And as he urged the ODM to go to court, he also looked forward, it seems, to the moment when he could prohibit any open discussion of his stolen mandate by claiming that the matter was sub judice. In The Nation's report of 7 February 2008 entitled, "Sharp Divisions Over Disputed Poll Results," Kibaki's negotiators at the on-going peace talks are quoted as making this very claim in defence of their refusal to contemplate any scrutiny of the government's pre-election shenanigans. The reason? A citizen, one Elphas Wesangula, had already filed a case in court against Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. "It would be sub judice to discuss the matter that is before a court of law," they declared. Evidently, the rule of law is a barely disguised means for power to have its cake and still eat it; to play statesman and tyrant at one and the same time.
But to end on the note with which I started, I think it a striking indication of how far Nigeria has fallen that Kibaki, in his AU speech, thanked Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda for visiting Kenya to assist in resolving the on-going crisis. Why has Yar'Adua not visited, or sent a personal envoy? The answer, as the musician sang, is blowing in the wind. Yar'Adua may chant his rule of law mantra till he falls down with exhaustion, but the indelible stain of his stolen mandate robs him of any moral authority at home and abroad. What would he be willing to say on record to Kibaki and Odinga: Gentlemen, respect the rule of law? It wouldn't be a bad thing if Yar'Adua's lack of moral authority led only to the diminution of his presidential stature. Unfortunately, it points unmistakably as well to the diminished stature of Nigeria on the continent and, needless to say, in the rest of the world. Let us hope that this unflattering state of the nation will not linger for much too long.
Ifowodo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org