Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Jaiyeola Andrews in Abuja
• Nobel laureate describes Igbos as ‘predictable’ and ‘greedy’
Two of Nigeria’s eminent personalities have given divergent prognoses on the just concluded 2015 elections, with Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, stating that he chose Major-General Muhammdu Buhari (rtd) over President Goodluck Jonathan because he was the “better of the two evils”.
In contrast, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations and former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku yesterday said Nigerians owed Jonathan a debt of gratitude for his roles in the conduct of the successful elections this year.
Soyinka, in his characteristically blunt manner, termed the outcome of the elections as a stark choice between a failed president and a former military dictator, saying Buhari was the better of the two evils as the incumbent president was an “unmitigated disaster and failure”.
Delivering a lecture titled, “Predicting Nigeria, Electoral Ironies”, at the Harvard University Hutchins Centre for African & African American Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, Soyinka also condescendingly described Nigerians of Igbo extraction as “predictable” and “greedy” following their choice to vote en masse for Jonathan in the just concluded general election.
Defending his support for the former military dictator, the foremost dramatist said on a personal level, it was a “painful decision to tell people to vote Buhari, but the country needed a new beginning. I was more against Jonathan, than I was pro-Buhari”.
He informed the sold-out audience that if the incumbent had been anything near competent, Buhari’s most “maladroit statement” about the dog and the baboon being soaked in blood, would have been enough to scuttle his presidential ambition for the fourth time.
“As the nation’s much talked-about centenary year ended, the 2015 elections offered Nigerians an opportunity to halt the nation’s descent into anarchy,” he said.
In Soyinka’s opinion, four more years of Jonathan would have seen Nigeria plummet further, “as the crawling giant of Africa, and the beggarly, weeping boy in the comity of nations”.
“In a country where one of the six zones that make up the federation was on the verge of excision, with millions of beleaguered citizens marooned in the North-east of the country; and thousands more cruelly murdered by insurgents, all Jonathan could offer was mollifying rhetoric and empty promises,” Soyinka said.
The Nobel laureate said that even as the nation was on the brink of perdition, a mesmerising state of perplexity seemed to envelope the seat of power.
“Nigeria is in a state of war, and the President, Commander-in-Chief must not only lead but be seen to lead the charge. The situation demanded exemplary leadership, which Jonathan could not provide; not because he was unaware of the problem, he was just at a loss for solutions. It is not for nothing that he (Jonathan) was called clueless,” Soyinka said amid derisive laughter.
Making references to the split in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Soyinka said Jonathan set the law of simple arithmetic on its head, adding that the president’s recognition of the minority after a straightforward, peer election, “rendered democracy meaningless where it should have been most fervently exemplified”.
“Nothing is more unworthy of leadership than to degrade a system by which one attains fulfillment, and this is what the nation witnessed time and time again under Jonathan, who increasingly becoming intolerant of opposition in an escalating streak of impunity and authoritarian madness, which was most blatant and unconscionable,” he said.
He said even after Jonathan personally confided in him (Soyinka) that he made a mistake by surrounding himself with the wrong people, “the president continued to surprise us in ways that very few could have conjectured”.
He condemned the appointment of former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, as Jonathan’s campaign manager in the South-west zone, describing Daniel’s action of locking out members of the state House of Assembly because the legislators refused to allow him borrow money as an infamy, observing that Jonathan must be held responsible for the increase in impunity in the nation that threatened to scuttle Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy.
Soyinka presented a grim picture, observing that he had lost faith in the Nigerian project: “The ‘militricians’ – soldiers turned politicians in power – aren’t looking for excellence; their civilian cohorts are worse. Short cuts and how to circumvent the system for the profit of a few are the norm of governance. Those who do honest work are derided as lacking the skill to fit it.
“Ironically, things haven’t quite changed a bit after 16 years of democracy in the country. How do you account for a society saddled with monsters strutting the national landscape as leaders? How do you counterbalance the national madness for the sanity of ordinary citizens trying to make sense of their lives?”
Continuing, Soyinka outlined seven key metrics to provide a historical context within which the parlous state of the nation and its current efforts at national rebirth could be strategically analysed.
According to him, “The seven metrics, as in the biblical seven plagues, include the elusive quest for the original document of amalgamation that purportedly stated that the Nigerian project was a 100-year experiment that was to end in 2014.
“Against this backdrop of prediction 2014, came the second plague, which was the tilt towards national fragmentation wrapped in political desperation and polarisation along religious lines as the country headed into the 2015 general election.”
It is on record, he said, that the tension generated by conflict of religious interests and beliefs led to the loss of lives and property, “yet Nigeria as a nation was not founded solely on the basis of Muslim/Christian configuration”.
“Had every religious leader or their followers adhered to the tenets of their religion in a way that was shorn of worldly manipulations, there is no doubt that Nigeria would have been a better place for every citizen and would have been saved much of the stress and strain being witnessed today.
“If Nigeria must have a new lease of life, religion must cease to be a defining factor or must play a less destructive role. And that is what the constitution of Nigeria expects it to be,” he said.
He added that the political fault lines that gave rise to primordial sentiments were championed by micro-nationalistic organisations, such as the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and sundry organisations like Arewa in the north.
Even after the fratricidal civil war of 1966-70, Soyinka said the Igbos remained unrepentant and resolute towards their strategic objective of secession at worst, or a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction at best.
He said although MASSOB did not have the same pan-Igbo outreach like the umbrella Ohanaeze Ndigbo socio-cultural group, MASSOB carried sufficient clout amongst the Igbos to open offices, defy government directives against its secessionist activities and even printed its own currency.
“The climax of MASSOB’s war against the Nigerian state was the call for sit-ins and civil disobedience that shut down markets and public services as Igbos stayed at home in a symbolic gesture to assert Biafran independence.
“The call was honoured by governors in the two principal Ibo states, though without fanfare,” Soyinka said, adding humorously that the Igbos are probably the only group of Nigerians that could be predicted with great accuracy as to whom they will vote for in an election, “because they tend to put their votes where their stomachs take them; suffering as it were, from incurable money-mindedness, as they would stop at nothing in their quest for personal financial gain”.
In response to the belligerent show of strength by southerners who had become “increasingly bellicose and provocative”, a highly resentful northern elite under the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), became obsessed with the politics of dominance, he said.
“Northerners took statements by Asari Dokubo, who warned the nation to re-elect Jonathan or go up in flames as a declaration of war. Northern politicians like Buhari responded in kind: ‘if what happened in 2011 repeats itself in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood’.”
Soyinka admitted that the unhealthy rivalry between the two dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, is so bad that Nigeria has on a number of occasions been subjected to undue tension and bitter acrimony. It is only by sheer providence that Nigeria has been able to survive the war of attrition and mutual distrust created by religion and fanned dutifully, selfishly and hypocritically by its leaders.
The professor recounted how he became saddled with the onerous responsibility of negotiating the release of kidnapped American hostages by MEND militants, explaining that it was the unintended consequence of his decision to grant refuge to Asari Dokubo’s wife who sought asylum in his house after her husband was tricked and jailed by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He regretted that Dokubo was transformed into Frankenstein by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration, which gave him millions of dollar contracts to secure the creeks and protect oil installations, even after Dokubo had initially rejected the government’s amnesty programme, insisting he should be the one granting amnesty to the government.
“As Nigeria harps on the inevitability of unity amidst another war against murderous insurgents with a nondescript cause,” which he described as the godfather of all plagues– Boko Haram, the famed writer made no secret of his belief that Boko Haram was the brain child of northern politicians, notably former Borno governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, whom he accused of ordering the extra-judicial killing of the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in police custody to prevent him from revealing his backers.
Challenging Sheriff to sue him for defamation, Soyinka took strong exception to the controversial photo-op, which had Sheriff in audience with Jonathan and Chadian President Idris Derby in Ndjamena, saying Jonathan’s widely publicised scandalous liaison with the alleged Boko Haram financier, was inappropriate and indecent, portraying either extreme naivety or callous disdain for public opinion.
Irrespective of how Sheriff came to sit with Jonathan, Soyinka said it was unlikely there was any country in the world, where such grave accusation bordering on national security and public peace has been levelled against a former public official so high, and no investigation was made.
“Either way, it was a bad sight to see; as it conveyed contempt for the principles of accountable leadership,” he said.
Soyinka also faulted Jonathan for failing to win the war against Boko Haram, stating: “Even as the nation was bleeding, the body language and the atmosphere in the seat of power did not reflect the pain and vulnerability of the country. Was Jonathan so numbed, so unshockable, so desensitised to sympathise with the Nigerian people?
“The offensives against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria were too shameful and belittling and Jonathan’s leadership quotient hit rock bottom by his failure to visit Chibok.
“It was certainly an unimaginable feat of political miscalculation and a colossal error of judgment, as it portrayed Mr. President as thoroughly insensitive. By his uncanny display of ineptitude in rescuing the Chibok girls, the president was derelict in his duty to the Nigerian people.”
Soyinka also accused Jonathan of being in cahoots with selfish politicians who have turned the insurgency into a self-enriching industry.
Admitting that the patriotism and sacrifice of the soldiers who have reversed the tide against Boko Haram was the reference for all if Nigeria would be safe and if each Nigerian would be his brother’s or sister’s keeper, Soyinka hailed the singular patriotism of Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, whose sacrificial act of preventing the Liberian Ebola carrier, Patrick Sawyer, from unleashing the dreaded virus on all of Nigeria, saved the country from a health catastrophe beyond imagination, saying she personified the best of Nigeria and the best in the Nigerian.
“Her life is a profile in courage and a good place to begin in forging a national character if Nigeria would have a future,” he said.
Contrasting Adadevoh’s example with that of first lady, Patience Jonathan, Soyinka strongly condemned the first lady syndrome and their pervasive influence on Nigerian politics.
“Given that the office of first lady is unknown to the Nigerian constitution, a better conduct was expected of the first lady at a time when the ship of state was floundering; rather than the valorisation of impunity.
“In concord with the dictates of right reason and good conscience, the bare-faced debasement of the law by Mrs. Jonathan, who by association with democratic rule, should be an ambassador of civil decorum, respect for the rights of persons and the rule of law, deserves condemnation.
“If Mrs. Jonathan would abuse her position to fan her ego, it was at least the duty of the president who ought to know better, to negate this anomaly by reining his wife’s embarrassing comportment,” he stated.
In very unglamorous language, Soyinka added that the theatre of political absurdity which Nigeria degenerated under Obasanjo was highly despicable.
“Having assumed power under a civilian dispensation, democracy in Nigeria became a dangerous object of derision, no thanks to Obasanjo who decided to pervert legality and constitutionality in his quest for tenure elongation.
“Having directly handpicked his successors, and by default responsible for the crisis of governance that ensued following the demise of late President Yar’Adua, it is difficult for Obasanjo to stand blameless in the ensuing breach of constitutional order.
“Obasanjo, coming for the second time, had a lot to do to change his public perception and prove his critics wrong,” Soyinka said.
Describing Obasanjo as a pathological liar, he added that “OBJ remained the most sadistic, self-serving, self-adoring, manipulative hypocrite” whose lust for power drove him to choose Yar’Adua (despite the latter’s failing health), because he believed Yar’Adua will die during the arduous campaign, and setting a propitious scenario for him to hang on to power; even as a ‘back-seat driver’.
With the election of Buhari whose anti-democratic credentials were well known and established, Soyinka noted that another chapter in Nigeria’s life must begin.
He stated that Buhari’s election signalled the country’s desire to lay to rest existing prejudices and distrust and feelings of marginalisation in whatever form, as a way of inspiring confidence in the strength of a diverse country.
“If Buhari the ‘Militrician’ (soldier turned politician) is sensitive to all areas of mutual distrust, he will earn the confidence and trust of the people, and this will certainly imbue his actions with legitimacy and acceptability.
“This is how, in the final analysis, a new Nigeria, which is the dream of all, will be born,” he said.
However, Anyaoku, who met with Jonathan yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said that the president’s show of magnanimity by calling Buhari and congratulating him, even before the final results of the presidential elections were announced, was also commendable.
According to him, that singular act earned Nigeria a great deal of admiration and respect globally.
Anyaoku, who was in the villa with other members of the Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations, explained to State House correspondents that the meeting would be the last that Jonathan would hold with members of the council.
“We had an excellent valedictory meeting. It is the last for our council, it is the last we are meeting with the outgoing president.
“We told him that our nation Nigeria owes him a huge debt of gratitude for what he has done in terms of the success of the elections and above all in terms of the gesture of picking up the telephone and congratulating the president-elect even before the final results of the elections were announced.
“That singular act has earned our country a great deal of admiration and respect abroad. We thanked him and congratulated him and wished him well in his future endeavours,” he said.
Viewed 1653 times by 664 viewers