Journalism in the service of society

NIGERIA: Barrel of a gun or rule of law?

All around us, the barrel of a gun is seeking justice for the long-suffering, long-oppressed, long-pauperised, and long-marginalised African. Chad, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and now Gabon, the military have deposed sit-tight civilian dictators and are railing at the French colonial masters that has sustained the caricatures of leaders in office. France has only acted in its own self, even selfish, interests; it has maintained in office spineless African leaders who let her exploit the resources of the erstwhile colonies for next-to-nothing. The colonies of France in Africa might have been given flag Independence; they remain, in words as in deed, slaves of the French. Their resources are mindlessly exploited to gift the metropolitan power the comforts and privileges of a First World country while the African backwoods remain, like the biblical Israelites of yore, hewers of wood and fetchers of water.

Now, the soldiers who have taken power in those impoverished-by-France African countries are saying, like the boxer, Roberto Duran, “No mas,! No mas!!” Yes, no more vicious exploitation of the God-endowed resources of the African people! No more the mindless subjugation of its long-suffering people!! The liberated people of the countries in question are applauding the soldiers. I, too, applaud them! I only hope that this presumed victory will not become ephemeral and that our joy will not turn into ashes in our mouth pretty soon; for such has been the experience with soldiers masquerading as messiahs, only to turn around to prove bestial leaders and worse exploiters than the civilians they booted out of office. That, for example, has been our experience here in Nigeria.

Will the French learn useful lessons and begin to revisit and review their assimilation policy? I doubt they will! Rather, expect that they will do everything humanly possible to subvert and upstage the military leaders now calling the shots in their erstwhile colonies and reinstate the status quo ante. It may take time but they will bid their time. The stakes are damn too high for them to do nothing. They have tried to climb on the back of ECOWAS but that has failed; it is not likely that the African Union will succeed where ECOWAS failed. Short of strongly-worded condemnations and sanctions, it is doubtful if either ECOWAS or AU can do anything more. Direct confrontation may also be out of it. The Russia/Ukraine war, in which the Western powers appear to have bitten more than they can possibly chew, has become a restraining factor.

Will other African countries learn the right lessons from the (negative?) wind of change blowing across the Continent? They can only do so if they first correctly identify the problems. First is that the mass of the impoverished African peoples, especially the youths, are tired of their condition and want a change. The “japa” syndrome is just a stop gap and not a real or permanent solution. The discrimination and indecencies that immigrants suffer abroad and the dwindling opportunities available as a result of global economic recession; the hostile attitudes that foreigners have to endure as a result are factors compelling frustrated Africans to turn their focus back home. Our own home must be made habitable just like the foreign countries have made theirs.

Corruption and bad leadership qualities are the twin evils that have stagnated African countries and peoples at the lowest rungs of the development ladder. It’s not as if the Western world is corruption-free but they have leaders that are still development-focused; ours are not. They travel abroad and see how the societies there are organised; rather than come home and replicate the same, they come here, loot the resources and take them abroad where they go from time to time to enjoy the good life – they and their family members. Their children go to school there. They build palatial buildings there. They holiday there. They set stores there and also go there for medical care; name it. It is as if, if they replicate those good things here, it will diminish them and their own merriment!

The South African reggae artist, the late Lucky Dube, had African leaders in mind when he asked his rhetorical questions: “What type of a rich man are you/Who doesn’t care about the poor people/ What type of a rich man are you/Who doesn’t care about the helpless people…Are you feeling happy/When you see another man starving/Are you feeling happy/When you see another man with no food? Does it make you feel great/To see another man without food?” It does really make them feel great and happy and fulfilled and accomplished – all rolled into one!

It has been said again and again that good governance is the antidote to coups in Africa but how many of our leaders are willing and ready to toe that line? In Rwanda and Cameroun and many other African countries, their response to the coup rage has been to purge their military – as if that alone will stem the tide of coup d’etat! At best, they only postpone the evil day. Sitting tight in office, turning a supposed democracy into a monarchy of sorts, like we have it in England and among the Edo people in Nigeria where the first son or first born succeeds to the throne: the son succeeding the father in Togo and Gabon and a family ruling an entire country for six or more uninterrupted decades!

An entire country becomes a family property or fiefdom passed on from father to son! It would have been less intolerable if such rule had been benevolent or beneficial to the citizenry but it has, everywhere, been dictatorial, punitive and oppressive; and like in the case of King Solomon and Rehoboam his son who succeeded him, the iron hand of the father has paled into insignificance when compared to the son’s. And we still call that democracy simply because of the facade of election, which is manipulated and rigged blind?

Let the wind keep blowing! There are still a few more sit-tight African leaders and kleptocrats, not democrats, yet to be blown off their seats. But let the wind stop at our doorsteps; let it not blow into our borders! The wind of coup d’etat that is blowing from the direction of Gabon, Niger and Chad should blow over us and land in Togo! The one blowing from the direction of Guinea Conakry, Mali and Burkina Faso should also blow over us and land in Cameroon! Since the Fourth Republic began in 1999, there has been no sit-tight leader here; the one that tried to rear its ugly head in 2006/2007 with a third term agenda kissed the canvas. Till date, he has kept wondering what hit him, choosing to live in self-denial as he licks his wounds.

The present run of democratic experience is the longest in this country’s history; nothing should truncate it not because it is perfect but because we need experience to learn from our mistakes. Practice, as they say, makes perfect, but the politicians must up their game. At the moment, they look like a bunch of people who learned nothing and forgot nothing. They are lethargic and laidback. They appear to have taken us, the people, for granted. Is it because the saying that the worst civil rule is better than the best military regime has got into their head? That is hogwash and crap. I do not buy it. I am a disciple of Alexander Pope who says: “As to forms of government let fools contend: what is best administered is best”. We have seen evidence of that elsewhere. Our misfortune here in Nigeria is that whether military or civilian, our leaders have been lacklustre and governance, abject.

As you read this, the presidential election tribunal will deliver its judgment today: Will it affirm Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president or will it sack him? While our neighbours are settling their own scores through the barrel of a gun, it is instructive that Nigerians have chosen to look up to the law courts. That is evidence of some progress made. We may not have arrived but we are on the right path. Our elections may not be perfect yet but we have made appreciable improvements. We may not have the best of the best in positions of leadership yet but if we sustain this democracy, the natural process of elimination will force the members of the old brigade to give way, whether they like it or not. If the lessons learned in the last elections are brought to bear by everyone, future elections will be better; so also the choice of leaders available to the electorate.

Do I expect an upset from the tribunal today? I do not. Antecedents support this. Realism also! But what if there are all the same? There is always a first time. Oh, I will take it in my stride and extend my hands of fellowship to whoever becomes the new or next “Emilokan!” The Supreme Court is the final bus stop, though, if the litigants so choose. But, please and please, let no one put us through the rigours and wastefulness of another election so soon after the last one! Muhammadu Buhari and his cabals ruined this country beyond belief. Whoever comes after him as president has the unenviable task of Sisyphus.

Why they are killing themselves to take on a near impossible task baffles me. Is it the love of Country? Is it the passion for service? Or is it something else? Reality must have dawned on Tinubu in the few months he has so far spent in that office. He has said so. He confessed so recently. Still, his opponents will not give up! There is something in this than meets the eye!

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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