By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me take you back to the year 1998, the 7th day of the month of July to be precise. Chief Moshood Abiola had just been pronounced dead, just like that, and everything, and everywhere, was topsy-turvy. We were numb beyond words. A new leader had taken power the month before, after the sudden death of the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha. How can two antagonists die in similar fashion, one month apart, we wondered, ponderously.
Anyway, as with everything Nigerian, life soon moved on, without much ado. A few irate students, led by Omoyele Sowore, ranted and raved but their fireballs soon disintegrated and dissolved into ashes. Those of us in exile were left stupefied. In all honesty, we had all individually and collectively given our best to the struggle, but our best was simply not enough. Man and God had contrived to deprive us of our greatest democratic moment as a nation. It does not appear that our democratic nous and ethos will ever reach the dizzying heights of those glorious days! We lost Abiola and we lost the mandate freely given to him by the good people of Nigeria. So, we were back to square one.
Tokunbo Afikuyomi and I offered ourselves as Guinea pigs and meandered our way back home the same way we had navigated our ways through the forest of a thousand daemons to escape from the Gulag and what appeared at the time a the most brutishly ruthless dictatorship in Nigeria. What we found out on our return was unbelievable and shocking. Our politicians had barely waited for Abiola to be interred before they started their stock in trade, jostling for power and lucre.
We returned to London, very frustrated about our experience at home. What we suffered through the labyrinth of madness called Seme border is another matter entirely and a story for another day. Back in England, some of our compatriots were still blowing grammar. Saying we must fight the military. We no go gree, like students’ union leaders love to chant every now and then, during Aluta struggles in our diverse universities. The difference was we were not students, and this was real life, off campuses.
We decided to tell our elders in the Diaspora the gospel truth. Those at home were not in sync with those fighting from abroad. The exposure and experience we had all gained during our sojourn and desperate struggle for truth and justice seemed totally lost on our compatriots at home. Our vision and mission were quite clearly totally divergent. One thing led to another and many of the NADECO Chieftains agreed to return home. It was over, as simple as that. That was the reality.
The regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar decided it would hand over government to a civilian government under one year and it stuck rigidly to its transition timetable despite serious temptations to extend its set tenure. If we thought the military reign was reaching its terminal end, we were dead wrong. The military was merely beginning to prepare for tenure elongation albeit in civilian toga. The first election was therefore won by a retired military General, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. And it became obvious that the military establishment was not yet ready to relax and reduce its iron grip on Nigeria’s jugular. Most of those who paraded the corridors of power were military men in civilian garb. Four years later, President Obasanjo sought another term and got it. Meanwhile, throughout all this, there was no provision for the inclusion of the NADECO fighters as reparation for the dastardly acts against Abiola and his supporters.
Let’s fast forward a little. After a controversial third term attempt for President Obasanjo by some political jobbers fell flat, a brother of a former military General, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was brought on board to take over the reins of power. It was like a change of baton in an exclusive relay race by the military. By sheer act of providence, President Yar’Adua took critically I’ll and died in office. This was how fate threw up a complete stranger to the military establishment and virtual lone ranger on the balcony of power, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as President.
It was obvious some members of a most powerful cabal were not happy about the emergence of Jonathan, a man from one of the politically disadvantaged and handicapped regions of Nigeria, the South South. The Ijaw heritage of Jonathan was meant to be his Achilles heel but the man trudged on till he completed the tenure of his departed boss. Of course, against all odds, he contested for his own term and won. That was in 2011. I was privileged to have been a Presidential candidate at that time.
President Jonathan’s tenure was marred by many turbulent upheavals, the worst being the Boko Haram menace. There were also instances of reckless looting of the national treasury and well documented profligacy by his PDP apparatchiks. President Jonathan shot himself in the foot and incurred the wrath of the people when in the midst of horrendous poverty, he sharply increased prices of petroleum products, astronomically. That was the moment many felt he had goofed beyond repair. I was one of those who participated in global protests against his government. I wrote copiously, granted interviews and generally became a thorn in the flesh of the Jonathan administration along with several others. Jonathan was so derided and became butts of jokes everywhere. It was only a matter of time before Jonathan and his motley crew of pillaging merry men would be sacked from power.
I must confess that at the height of our stupidity and naivety, in retrospect, we threw caution to the winds. We wrote off Jonathan despite occasional flashes of genius and inspiration by some members of his team. In the meantime, former Nigerian Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (RTD.) was repackaged to smell like roses and we all fell for the promise of Eldorado he seemed to hold at the time. I was one of those who jumped on the bandwagon to describe him as a born-again Democrat, despite some strident and persistent warnings by then Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose and others. Perhaps we were fooled by the fact in quick succession he had picked Pentecostal pastors in his running mate in Pastor Tunde Bakare in 2011 and Professor Yemi Osinbajo in 2015. Those who told us that our Hallelujah Choruses were premature and that a leopard can never change its spots were castigated and hounded by those of us who had been converted to what we believed was the new Buhari. We sang in unison that anyone but Jonathan. The rest is history.
Step forward, President Buhari, and take a bow. You rode back triumphantly to power, 30 years after you were sacked by General Ibrahim Babangida. What a feat! The world rejoiced at the final collapse of the PDP behemoth. Our Messiah had come. Most of our prominent challenges would soon evaporate and vamoose. Praise the Lord.
Let me not bore you with how those four years were spent, again, just like that. I leave the judgment of what happened to fellow Nigerians. Excuses became the art and science of governance. The past governments and its ruling party, PDP, was blamed for virtually everything under the sun. No worries. We didn’t expect Buhari to fix the accumulated problems of 16 or more years in a short while. Initially, we thought he would eventually settle down and make inroads into the problems that he had inherited. In any event, we also didn’t expect him to add more to those problems. The little we expected was for Buhari to bring stability to the polity. Again we were wrong.
Everything fell apart and the issue of security which was supposed to be easy meat for our President being a respected, respectable and retired General has become an albatross for the government. So, again, foul. We goofed. I don’t know how to put it any better. With excellent performance, no one would have taken note of a few human rights infringements here and there. We would have tolerated it as the price we probably needed to pay for the stellar performance that we are getting. However, the converse became the case. There are more and more human rights abuses and less and less convincing performances.
Slowly but steadily, a supposed Democratic government began its relentless assault on what our Constitution had enshrined as a government of separation of powers. President Buhari took up the role of an avuncular leader and school headmaster. He simply encroached into territories that were clearly not his to tamper with. If Jonathan had tried a small fraction of this, hell would have known no bigger fury. Yet most of our leaders and elders have disappeared from the radar without as much as a whimper.
You brood of hypocrites! Jonathan was our whipping boy and we trounced, thrashed and trashed him mercilessly. But now, we have lost our voices, it is not just that our criticism has become muted, they have become practically non-existent because the Presidential trolls have been relentless in the way and manner that they have traduced the few honourable critics. Our pen tigers have stopped writing. Our loquacious activists have since absconded and abdicated their once noble responsibilities. Such is life. The oppressed, according to Paulo Freire, only fears and respects his oppressors. We have all seemingly been cowed (no pun intended) into submission. Heaven forbid! That is neither the Nigerian spirit nor psyche!
Was this the Democracy we fought for with sweat and blood. When our human rights crusaders were preaching and pontificating and condoning extrajudicial treatment against the so-called sinners and looters and a few of us pleaded for caution, we were attacked as supporting and promoting corruption. When the government goons went after the judges in the dead of the night and we raised alarm, we were called by names our parents did not give us at birth. When the hooded ones invaded the National Assembly in order to obliterate their sworn enemy, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, they said we have been bought and should shut up. But today the chickens have come home to roost.
Our dear friend, Omoyele Sowore, has been captured, detained and is about to be guillotined for using a word that was just one in the arsenal and vocabulary of this government when it was in opposition. The impugned language is one APC leaders have all used in the past, indeed they have said worse. They have rallied, railed and planned a road demonstration that they had joined openly in the past without any repercussion. The lesson in this for me is that we must all stand firm for the rights of every man at all times, be it saint or sinner. The resort to jungle justice and rabid impunity is what has made it possible for any government to pounce on Omoyele Sowore, a man whose tongue is sharper than razor blade and a pen mightier than atomic bomb but who in reality can never carry a physical weapon and has not encouraged anyone to do so in this ‘revolution’ that he has called for. Indeed, it is only those who are blood-thirsty that would see what is said as anything other than a clamour for a peaceful and democratic change in government within constitutional means. As a matter of fact, the revolution Sowore called for, whatever your interpretation, was not as popular on the streets until a panic stricken government elevated and catapulted it to a dizzying height, a free and cheap publicity that was unsolicited by the conveners.
Now we have succeeded in diverting attention from the killer herdsman who have been on rampage. Is it not an irony that Sowore was arrested for doing virtually nothing bigger than what he and many of us did to support Buhari when he was still one of us. Let us hope in the spirit of this Sallah, that the Federal Government will change its mind, and possibly its style, of killing flies with a sledgehammer…
Barka de Sallah to all our dear Muslims…
By Dele Momodu