Yar ardua: Time to heal this land
Sunday, June 17, 2007 The Orbit
THE auguries now seem right: first, the Supreme Court’s re-instatement of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State in a landmark decision signal the awakening of the blind maiden of the law. In the last two years, she seems to have been slowly rousing from a long, troubled slumber. A sleep of such indeterminate provenance that we now do not easily remember when she was ever awake in this country in the last forty years. But in the Peter Obi case, some Solomon truly came to judgement. As for Peter Obi, congratulations are in order, I suppose. He has fought a good fight; not just for himself, but on behalf of all those who seek legal and constitutional resolutions to knotty state issues, rather than a resort to either ambivalence or to mindless violence.
Peter Obi has earned his just desserts in his confidence in the law and in the sanctity of justice. All anyone can now say at this moment is, for whom justice has been well served, may he lead with justice and compassion, and bring succour to the ordinary citizens in Anambra state - a land ravaged by the callous atrition and scurility of the Obasanjo era in Nigerian political history. And it seems that that era is slowly and clearly coming to its final destination. But let me sketch out what I mean by the Obasanjo era in Nigerian political history: those are the dark years from 1967 to 2007 - a forty year span of violence, injustice, myopia, corruption marked by mindless acquisition of empty personal wealth and unenlightened power, and by hatred and distrust. I use that omnibus term - the Obasanjo era - to describe this span of years, because it is a term that best illustrates, especially with the involvement of that single figure of the man who embodies it most, of everything that went wrong with Nigeria in one generation. An era marked by tyranny and ignorance, and the destruction of the legacies of Nigeria’s original bequest.
I discern in its current formation, three phases of Nigerian history: the first phase starting from 1935, when Nnamdi Azikiwe returned from the United States, and with that venerable old war horse, Herbert Macaulay instigated what was the definitive nationalist, liberation movement from the inter war years, to its culmination in political independence, and to the end of the first republic in 1966. The republic collapsed, and thus ended on a sad and tragic note. The military interegnum that emerged since then, save for one civilian blimp between 1979 and 1983, has marked the character of the Nigerian state ever since.
So indeed, in a strict, retrospective intrpretation of Nigerian history, we have had only two republics, and I consider the emergence of Umar Yar' Adua, when all is taken into account, potentially, the third republic; the rest in-between is the military interregnum. Here is why: the second phase of Nigerian history is that span, from July 6, 1967, to May 29, 2007. With the collapse of the first republic - marked by the dimunition of the sovereign (from the 1964 mutiny of Welby-Everard) and eventual resignation of the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the murder of his chief minister and leader of government business in the parliament, the premier Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa by the mutineers of January 15, 1966, the government collapsed.
Assuming emergency power, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Armed Forces, General Ironsi, tried to re-establish the fractured state, but was himself murdered by the mutineers of July 29, 1966. What emerged thereafter was a fire fight between two factions of the Nigerian Armed forces, broken into regional militias, with the Igbo, then the most powerful ethnic group in the South, pitted against the Hausa Fulani, the most powerful ethnic group in the North, and a civil war ensued, marking the disintegration of the Nigerian state.
The alliances that formed around them defined the outcome of that war - between what we now know as the Biafrans, who attempted to secede from the federation, and the Federalists, who fought on the credo: “to keep Nigeria one.” Everybody now knows why many lives were wasted to “keep Nigeria one.” It was not for the sake of a “one Nigeria” ideal, no, it was for the greed of those who emerged to rule it. The federalist alliance emerged victorious for a number of reasons that are irrelevant in this current discussion. But the consequence was the alienation of a significant section of the Nigerian state, and the booty mentality that ensued among those who have felt themselves triumphant, and thus justifiably, beneficiaries of the loot of that war - the chief symbol of which are the ‘abandoned’ political and bureaucratic power and the oil resources of the former eastern and midwestern regions - the epicenters or theatres of the civil war.
Today, Nigeria is a vast neo-colonial refugee camp. A great re-enactment of the methods of King Leopold in the Congo. A total wasteland, or in fact, a graveyard of the hopes and dreams that animated the anti-colonial nationalist movement. Nigeria’s vast wealth - human and material- have been wasted, or shared between this neo-colonial elite and its international clientele. No generation embodies this perfidy more than the generation of master-sergeants now strutting about as Generals, buying up golf courses in Ireand and Florida, and thinking ordinary telephones so special, that poor folk should not dream of it.
This is the generation of leaders that emerged from 1967, fought a war, ran Nigeria as an “abandoned property” and have been more like task masters and overseers, than indepedent political leaders. The effect is the robbery of Nigeria, and the destruction of the “unity in diversity” ideal that marked the rhetoric of its resolutions following the constitutional conferences between the Ibadan conference (1950) and the London conference of 1957/58, that established the foundational principles of what we now call “the federal republic” and the first republic - its most significant survivor today of whom is Anthony Enahoro.
But Obasanjo is at the head of the group of the military adventurers whose interegnum of the last forty years has been disruptive and byzantine. The emergence of Umar Yar' Adua, marks the rise, in historical terms, of the real third republic. President Yar 'Adua - I address him so until the courts rule - has a chance to heal Nigeria from the wrongdoings of the last forty years, in which too much blood has been shed; too much injustice visited on the poor and oppressed; too much talent wasted or buried; too much strife and hatred sown and nurtured as the seed of the nation.
It is his call. Yar Ardua’s first utterances nevertheless, give me hope. First, he earned my respect by acknowledging that his own election was deeply flawed. Secondly, he asked that solidarity and congratulatory visits stop. Third, he declared himself a servant of the people. These, to me, are refreshing departures - even as symbolic actions. Some say he is tentative and slow to act; that his first appointments betray a narrow mindset. I think different: the president has the right to appoint his personal and security advisory staff, and the rule is whom to trust.
It doesn’t matter which part of Nigeria they come from. As for being slow: under Obasanjo, it was sleepless in Abuja, and not much was achieved. My gut feeling is that something of a sea-change has happened with the emergence of Umar Yar' Adua, and that it is indeed morning yet on creation day, with the spunk of a judiciary willing to let the hammer of justice fall in the right place, with the case of Peter Obi.
I ask Yar'Adua therefore to seize the opportunity and heal this country - and part of that healing will be a true reconciliation not only with the Niger delta, but also with the Igbo, who continue to suffer great injustice in Nigeria since 1970. But above all, is to reconcile government, with millions of the disposessed in Nigeria, who need to be free from poverty, ignorance and insecurity, as well as from bogus principalities and flatulent powers. It is his call.