UMAR YAR’ADUA’S HISTORY NOTESSonala Olumhense
COUNTDOWN CALENDAR IT IS 09 OD [09 OBASANJO DAYS REMAINING]
It is fairly certain now that shortly, Umar Yar’Adua will assume the presidency of Nigeria.
He is said to be a decent person, one to whom character and integrity are important. On May 29, that will not mean much, because the election that brought him here and now was rigged in the full view of the world. It was manipulated amateurishly by a political machine put in place to do so, and shamelessly implemented by a tragic footnote in Nigerian history known as Maurice Iwu.
I believe that Mr. Yar’Adua would have won the Nigerian election, in the configuration in which it was held, had there been no rigging whatsoever. He is now, however, a man who must begin his leadership with an apology, and conduct it in perpetual apology. He lacks legitimacy, a situation made worse by the arrogance of the party he represents, and agents such as Mr. Iwu.
Hopefully, he truly understands this, and the challenge of History before him. Hopefully, he will not leave his inauguration for a party—social or political—but to work. Hopefully, he will approach his assignment with the clarity that he has but months within which earn his respect.
Where he must begin is clear: that inauguration. He must demonstrate that he intends to serve Nigeria, and with deep independence. He must make it clear to his sponsors that his commitment is to the people of Nigeria, not to the PDP, or Olusegun Obasanjo, or any other narrow interests.
I do not ask Yar’Adua to be ungrateful to Obasanjo. After all, the man plucked him from the obscurity of Katsina State into one of the world’s most prominent jobs.
Yar’Adua must understand that his strength is that unlike many others, he did not beg Obasanjo for the ticket, or ask that Mr. Iwu be installed to superintend the bizarre events of April 2007. What Yar’Adua owes Obasanjo is therefore not Nigeria. He must understand that there is a clear and consummate contradiction between serving Obasanjo and serving Nigeria.
In this sense, there is yet one more reason why Yar’Adua may want to be grateful to Obasanjo: the outgoing President, himself the beneficiary of two rigged elections in 1999 and 2003, is the best teacher Yar’Adua could have hoped to have.
Think about it: before Yar’Adua’s very eyes, Obasanjo routinely preached what was right, but routinely persisted in what was wrong. The examples are all over. Yar’Adua knows that the nation’s microeconomic success in recent years; unprecedented oil earnings occasioned by the situation in Iraq; the return of vast sums looted by Abacha all mask a ruse: Nigerians are worse off because Obasanjo hesitated to implement the reforms he promised.
Yar’Adua ought to notice by now that the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), the fulcrum of Obasanjo’s so-called economic reform, has all but disappeared. Despite the nation actually overflowing with funds throughout Obasanjo’s presidency, Nigerians lack electricity as much as they lack human security or jobs or good roads.
Yar’Adua ought to know by now how bad our schools are. And it is a testimony to the state of our hospitals that when he fell ill during the electoral campaigns, it was to Europe that he was taken for treatment. That is the first destination of choice for the Nigerian elite when they need “proper medical attention,” or even a place of pride to die.
Yar’Adua ought to know that the corruption war that Nigeria deserves is not the one that Obasanjo purported to fight. He promised a battle but offered a joke. Corruption thrives!
Yar’Adua ought to know that the poisoned chalice that his own election has become symbolizes the rot of our political life. It is an arena where the rich get richer, and the powerful laugh at the people. Obasanjo described it best: the 2007 elections were a “do-or-die” affair”: if the PDP did not do it, Nigeria could die for all he cared.
But these are not the things Obasanjo The Preacher preached. They are, however, what Obasanjo the Teacher taught Nigerians. On May 29, Yar’Adua can begin to earn his legitimacy by showing Nigerians that he is going to work for Nigeria, no matter what it takes.
Yar’Adua, if he has history in mind, can achieve more in the six or seven months left of 2007 than Obasanjo did in eight years. He does not need new speeches or launchings or initiatives. To be fair to Obasanjo, he had no shortage of ideas or schemes or programmes. What he lacked was the toughness to stick with the right thing. He mistook himself for the answer.
What should Yar’Adua do?
Having suitably distanced himself from the Messiah of Otta, he should seek 100 men and women who are ready to serve this country, and shut the door. When they emerge, it should be with work nationalistic work plans and schedules that are clear and measurable. All Yar’Adua has to do is lead those men and women with commitment and character.
The point is that there is no reason to look at the reworking of Nigeria as a new science. Our challenge is not to seek new wisdoms, but to implement existing ones. We have been writing them since the end of the civil war. What we have lacked is someone committed enough to ask our 100 million people to follow him, confident of the authority of his ability and character is enough.
Is governing Nigeria easy? No, we are not an easy people, but our leadership has been outrageous. My point is that a man who is truly committed to Nigeria—and not to extraneous spirits and gods that he worships when he thinks he is too powerful to be seen or challenged—would make running Nigeria so much easier because it becomes only one game. That is why so many previous Nigerian rulers hide in thickets of armed guards. They are not protected by their records or the courage of their conviction.
And now one word about Mr. Iwu, who permits the rumors that he is a professor of something. Having presided over the worst elections in our history, he is currently insulting anyone who has anything negative to say about the elections.
Three years ago, in its July 10, 2004 elections, The Economist said of the presidential election in Indonesia: “[It] was free, fair, peaceful and, above all, conducted in a sprit of moderation that was remarkable in a country where democracy is only six years old…The party men who run China like to argue that democracy is unsuited to a poor, sprawling country that has no experience of it: chaos is what China’s leaders say they fear above all. But it does now seem that Indonesia—a polyglot rag-bag of islands that emerged as a nation only through the accident of having been collectively administered by the Dutch—has given the world a powerful counter-example.”
In its edition of April 26, 2007, on the other hand, The Economist described our presidential election as “a fiasco.” Alluding to Nigeria’s wealth of resources, it said: “…their rotten leaders presume they have some kind of right, by virtue of their country's size and natural wealth, to strut the global stage as leaders of the continent. How wrong they are. Nigeria's new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is tainted from the start. The elections at all levels should be held again--but of course they won't be. Any notion that Nigeria should be taken seriously as a continental spokesman, let alone a model, should be laughed out of court…
“… But the organised vote-rigging and fraud that characterised the state and local elections on April 14th, as well as the parliamentary and presidential polls on April 21st, suggest that Nigeria may be sliding backwards again. Nigeria's own independent observers' group has called them a "sham". The European Union, normally a master of nuance in these matters, baldly stated that the whole electoral process "cannot be considered to have been credible", and remarked that its report was the most damning it had ever issued anywhere in the world…
“…The only people who seem happy with the charade are officials of the inept and craven Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and those who appointed them in the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP)…”
With this as a starting point, hopefully, Nigeria’s new leader knows where to shop for friends.