First, a short stroll down memory lane. On October 1, 1970, General Yakubu Gowon, successfully doing his promised duty to his country by forcing the sun to set on Biafra, promised to return the country to civil rule six years thence on October 1, 1976. He launched the process with his nine-point programme which, if accomplished, would see the emergence of a new Nigeria – a united and egalitarian nation, fair and just to all its citizens or, at least most of them and a bona fide member of the comity of democratic nations.
Four years later he felt compelled to walk back on his promise. What he could see looming before his eyes were not auspicious signs that the nascent republic would be any different from the first republic. He could see that the politicians had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. He could see that the politics of intolerance and cut-throat competition for power would make a quick return to the land and once more, give the lie to our commitment to democracy as a preferred form of government. He did a quick maths of the situation and said, “Our assessment of the situation as of now is that it will be utterly irresponsible to leave the nation in the lurch by precipitate withdrawal which will certainly throw the nation back into confusion.” The Supreme Military Council was thus forced not to adhere to the promised hand-over date of 1976 because it would be both unrealistic and “amount to a betrayal of trust.”
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It has been 47 years since the general and his comrades-in-arms in the Supreme Military Council chose to risk disappointing public expectations on the return to civil rule in order to see to the emergence of a new nation sans the baggage of the politics of the first republic. In that time the old political guards of the first republic have all answered the call no man or woman born of a woman has ever dared to ignore. In that time, new breed politicians, most of whom came of age during the long years of military rule and could be said, all things being equal, to have been forged on the anvils of a mixture of civilian and military politics and, therefore, with less cant and hypocrisy, less intolerant and unjust have emerged and assumed the mantle of political leadership at federal and state levels. In other words, we do have a new crop of young political leaders too sophisticated and too knowledgeable to judge fellow men and women by their tongues but rather by the content of their brains and the content of their hearts. But our politicians are afflicted with the Peter Pan syndrome and are thus unable to grow up such that the new breed cannot show in words and deeds that power is a means to public service and, therefore, permits of plural views and voices in a wisdom collective.
If you think we are not still stuck in the mud, please look around you and you can see that as General Gowon feared, our politicians have still learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. The ship of state is tossed about in the choppy waters of political intolerance, injustice and the lack of democratic ideals. Our country is increasingly the worse for it. Political pluralism is the defining principle of democracy. Yet, with 22 years of unbroken democracy under our belt, that elementary fact of democracy has been systematically quashed by the politicians in parties that successfully rigged themselves into power.
We have no political ideologies, unless you count what is cynically called the politics of stomach infrastructure as our own preferred ideology. We join political parties not because of what they stand for in terms of their commitment to the public good but by what we can personally gain, either the main dish on the table or the crumbs below the table. That is not as bad as it may sound; after all, politics are personal because power is personal, not a collective.
Still, there are consequences that may retard our national progress while smaller African countries are making giant strides. While the Lilliputian nations make giant strides, the giant of Africa is contented with Lilliputian strides. It is not in the nature of human progress and development. One consequence, of course, is the instability in the system. The mass movement of politicians from one party to a party likely to succeed in rigging itself into power next time around makes the instability inevitable.
Would our politics be more stable today if some of the founders of PDP and the beneficiaries of its protective umbrella not ditched it in 2015 in search of even greener pastures in APC? There is no simple answer to this question but what cannot be disputed is that no country builds a stable political system and makes meaningful progress with a fluid political system. This country ought to have a better claim on democracy by now.
It should worry us stiff that are not getting better. This is evident in the fact that the conduct of every election is a war and has casualties to show for it. Violence has once more become the defining moments in the struggle for political power in our country because our politicians refuse to learn anything and forget anything. I fear that what happened in Ekiti and other states of recent could be a dress rehearsal for the shape of things to come in 2023. Every state is prone to political violence because political pluralism is anathema to all the state governors. No dissenting views and voices can be tolerated. No other political party can be admitted in a state controlled by the so-called ruling party. The times are dangerous enough as they are but we are sauntering with our eyes open into the vortex and those who wield power are relishing it, accounting this as the reward for their political acumen.
The attack on Professor Charles Soludo in Anambra State last week in which two policemen were killed, should leave none of us in any doubts that unless something is done soon, the situation would get much worse before we get to 2023. I fear that the Nigerian state would be hard put to halt the nation’s obvious slide into the gutter. Part of the reason is that it has never bothered to staunch the free flow of arms, big and small, into the country. Experts say that more than six million small arms are in our country. It is so easy for small quarrels between individuals and between communities to be settled by bullets because the guns and the bullets are readily available. Our country is gradually displacing South Africa as the most violent on the African continent. It is an achievement we should be ashamed of, rather than be proud of.
Our politicians need to grow up. Power is sweet but when that power is obtained through violent or intolerant means, it holds the conscience of the power holder prisoner.