Monday, 21 July 2014

Impeachment Gale: Chewing Pebbles to Frighten Peanuts


 
Salisu Suleiman.

Politics has a way of bringing out the best in people. And the worst, as well. From a meek, likeable and supposedly unassuming deputy governor, governor and vice president, politics has brought Goodluck Ebele Jonathan full circle.
It is difficult to imagine how the affable presidential candidate of 2011, with all the smiles and promises of fresh air and transformation has become the hardened and hard-nosed politician who is willing, ready, perhaps even anxious, to tear down the very democratic structures that made him president, as he seeks reelection.   
Maybe one shouldn’t be too surprised; the signs were clear in the way he hunted down James Ibori on the one hand, and then granted a presidential pardon to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, on the other. His approach was also evident in the way he eased out Timi Alaibe from his ambition of being governor of Bayelsa State without a whimper and forced out Timipre Sylva to pave way for Seriake Dickson – all in one motion.  
 
Having settled matters in Bayelsa state, Jonathan’s attention then turned to the wider South South, beginning with his epic clash with Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. A weaker and less astute politician would have been thrown out long ago, especially after his head-on collision with Dame Patience, but Amaechi is hanging on.
 
The last salvo has not been heard of this fight, and if Jonathan remains in office beyond 2015, Amaechi, despite his giant steps in Rivers State, may find himself in difficult straits, to put it mildly.

That is because Jonathan may want to affect a mild amnesia, but he never forgets any wrong, and is a master at pulling out the longest knife in every night of long knives. And as the countdown to his expected declaration for 2015 gathers momentum, the president has reached into his selection of long knives.
For daring to decamp to the opposition, Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako, despite last minute entreaties, had to go. Offences he allegedly committed long ago suddenly emerged like a long knife from the grave. For Jonathan, it is acceptable to commit impeachable offences as long as one remains in PDP.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) claims that each member of the state house of assembly was induced with $300,000 to sack Nyako. The acting governor practically confirmed the plot when he declared to the PDP leadership that he had delivered Nyako’s scalp.   
Before the dust had settled in Yola, another opposition governor, Umaru Tanko Almakura of Nasarawa was facing impeachment. Like Nyako, Almakura was a former member of the PDP who decamped and succeeded in knocking out an incumbent PDP governor. His crime was failing to return to the PDP after becoming governor.
Tragically, three people have died in anti-impeachment clashes. The APC also claims that N500 million has mobilized to facilitate the impeachment. An opening into the character of President Jonathan was revealed in the way he smiled and joked with Almakura during his official visit to Nasarawa, while fully aware of the plot to sack the governor.
Jonathan also has Edo state in his sights. Reports suggest that £300,000 has been set aside for each member of the Edo State House of Assembly to sack the comrade governor. Removing Oshiomole may not be easy, but the president would have succeeded in putting the labour leader-turned politician on the defensive, too busy fighting to survive to be an effective participant or campaigner for the opposition in 2015.  
The war for 2015 has started. The daggers are out and the pretexts, over. The real Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has emerged, and his early tactic is to browbeat everyone into submission, beginning with opposition governors. His dual approach is to induce politicians – not a difficult feat in Nigeria - or that failing, harass those who refuse to kowtow.   
But Jonathan is hardly original.
In terms of corruption, the Jonathan administration has been accused of simply lifting monies in tranches from the treasury – including the $20 billion that got the former CBN governor sacked. But that is not a record by any means since oil has been selling for over $100 per barrel for the past several years: Sani Abacha in all probability ‘lifted’ close to $5 billion when oil selling at less than $10 per barrel, with fewer barrels produced and sold.
Similarly, in terms of impunity and abuse of power, Jonathan still lags behind Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom, in the words of Dele Momodu, “several governors were impeached in hotel rooms or legislative houses at gunpoint”, though he is getting close.
The current gale of impeachment is Jonathan’s way of skewing the political calculus in his favour because he knows the level of antagonism to his 2015 ambition, even from within his party. By masterminding the removal of opposition governors, he is sending PDP governors a warning: ‘if I can shoot down brooms from a distance, I can puncture your umbrellas at pointblank range’.
In essence, Jonathan is chewing pebbles to frighten peanuts.

 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

As Jonathan’s Tsunami Devastates the Political Landscape


 
Salisu Suleiman.
A tsunami is very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea. It can cause great destruction when it reaches land because the waves create a powerful wall of water, often moving at hundreds of miles an hour. It is capable of, and usually flattens most things in its path, leaving scenes of utter devastation in its wake.
Tsunamis kill many people every year and wrecks havoc wherever it strikes. The aftermath of most tsunamis leaves landscapes and peoples in utter desolation. Even with modern science and technology, tsunamis are difficult to predict, so cannot be monitored as soon as they are formed, their speeds calculated, their trajectories plotted and their impacts measured. It gives people no time to plan.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition is like a tsunami approaching land and gathering speed. The most open political secret in Nigeria today is the fact that Jonathan will seek re-election for president in 2015. The man himself may not have uttered a word, but his body language speaks volumes; the comings and goings of his wife amounts to confirmation and active engagement in the political process, while the activities of his party and associates amounts to little more than a full-fledged political campaign.
Even before reaching land, the devastation has begun. And like most tsunamis, it began relatively innocuously, though the political underpinnings were clear enough: To consolidate power game at the national level, politicians must control their home states. Realizing the need to control Bayelsa State, Jonathan masterminded the emergence of Seriake Dickson as the governor, deposing Timipre Silva whose loyalty he felt wasn’t certain.  
The coup de grace was the presidential pardon he granted Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former Bayelsa governor convicted of looting over N126 billion. Indications are that Alamieyeseigha will work to ensure that the South-South is delivered to the president, while muscling a senate seat for himself in the process. Though pockets of opposition remain in Bayelsa, the president has that state in his pocket.
The high waves of tsunamis weaken obstacles in their path in sea and on land. Evidently, Jonathan is borrowing from this leaf. It began with attempts to weaken Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who, by insisting that Jonathan honour his pledge to serve only one term became an instant enemy and a major obstacle for the Jonathan tsunami to flatten. But for his political astuteness, Amaechi would not only have been removed from office, but would probably be facing trumped-up criminal charges by now, or in exile – if he’s lucky.
And because tsunamis move wherever they wish, Jonathan’s tsunami soon turned and faced another obstacle in Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State. Suddenly, members of the state house of assembly witnessed a spate of defections and re-defections amidst tunes of impeachment. Not in the unlucky eight years of Lucky Igbinedion did the assembly utter the word ‘impeachment, but a performing governor is facing that threat for daring to fix Mr. Fix It and looking the president in the eye. 
While the Edo saga was going on, Jonathan’s tsunami landed in Nasarawa. A deputy governor who had no known public disagreement or even private quarrel with his boss suddenly felt the waves of tsunami Jonathan and promptly decamped to the president’s party. Members of the opposition also decamped to the ruling party and the state house of assembly swiftly began to sing the impeachment tune, with the melodies written by a loudmouthed minister in Abuja.
Tsunamis often come with fires. And while fires were burning in Port Harcourt, Benin and Lafia, a huge wave abruptly made a detour to Yola.  Jonathan’s tsunami had landed Adamawa.
Unfortunately for the former sailor in charge of the state, the sea of politics is deeper than the Mariana Trench, so he found himself totally out of his depths and barely hanging on to his vessel. Whether he survives the tsunami or not is out of his hands, but even if he manages to find a safe habour, the damage to his reputation is such that few would be willing to set sail with him soon.
Tsunamis lift very heavy objects and smash them against whatever crosses their paths. Jonathan’s tsunami soon touched down in Kano, where it lifted over N400 billion, only to smash N32 billion on the faces of Nigerians as a favour.
Similarly, tsunamis sometimes inexplicably leave some things untouched no matter how directly positioned they are on the path of the waves. This may explain why Jonathan’s tsunami has left Diezani Alison-Madueke on Mountain NNPC untouched, while ignoring the small matter of a missing $20 billion.
The danger, as with all natural disasters is, after laying waste to a land and its people for political gains, the damage done may take much longer to repair, if at all, than the four extra years Jonathan’s  tsunami seeks to obtain at such high cost. 

 

 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Unregulated Preachers, Unschooled Followers


 
Salisu Suleiman.

For what it may be worth, Nigerians are very spiritual people. Nigerians of all religious inclinations wear our religions on our foreheads, pray at public functions, make a show of religiosity at all occasions and seem to be in a competition to outspend one another to demonstrate religiosity. Indeed, for most of us, religion is an important part of our identities.
The matter of religion is so serious that the forms required to open accounts in some banks have sections where you must classify yourself as either ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’, or ‘Others’, as if to say cash had a religion. Clearly, we are a bunch in search of, and in need of spiritual nourishment.
But where do we find fulfillment? How do we make up our minds about which religion to adopt? What determines religious convictions?
Like most people in the world, we have little say in what religion we practice; simply find ourselves in the religions we were born into. True, a few convert to other religions for the sake of marriage or are drawn in by the promise of money and professional success. Some are ensnared by envisaged miracles, or the prospects of meeting marriage partners. In the end, only a few people adopt, convert to, or remain in religions out of genuine conviction nourished by knowledge.
And for something as important to Nigerians as religion, that is a very dangerous thing. It is dangerous because wherever opportunity exists – and who can deny that the need for spiritual nourishment provides untold opportunities – then opportunists step in.
Flipping across television channels some time ago, I fortuitously stopped at one station where I saw a man gesticulating wildly, walking up and down a stage in frenzy and affecting a fake accent. The performance reached a crescendo when the man took off his designer jacket, threw it on the floor and screamed something at the top of his lungs, to tremendous applause from the floor. Any rock band would have been proud of the performance and resulting ovation.
Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the man was not an entertainer, (at least, not in the traditional sense) and the audience was not attending a concert.  He was a pastor, and the adoring crowds were members of his congregation. Welcome to the world of some new generation churches and pastors.
Eventually, I discovered quite a number of such programmes on television, especially on weekends. Indeed, there are a number of channels dedicated entirely to such programmes, while some churches actually own television channels where they air programmes from their congregations in Nigeria and other parts of the world. The pastors are usually good-looking, suave, and very articulate. They are also well-dressed; seem physically fit, full of confidence and confidence inspiring – from what I could see of the adoring followers.
While not questioning the sincerity of some of these pastors and the sanity of their flocks, I asked myself over and over again: Do they listen to the pastors? Are they learning anything new? Are the imbibing the time-honoured values of Christianity like humility, truthfulness, kindness, good sense of morality and other virtues?
Why do they spontaneously applaud from time to time? Is it to praise another inspired performance or to demonstrate a jolt of spiritual reinforcement? What, exactly, is going on in these climactic worship sessions?
Incidentally, nearly the same sets of circumstances exist among Nigerian Muslims. I have also observed a number of Muslim preachers receive the kind of adulation usually reserved for rock stars, famous actors and actresses as well as sportsmen and athletes. It is particularly distressing to see dreamy-eyed young men scream “Allahu Akbar!” to whatever these preachers say, without really understanding what is being said.
One explanation is that millions of youth spend their early childhood in today’s abused almajiri schools where they learn little about the core values of Islam. Mindlessly memorizing verses of the Quran without understanding their meanings, context and application does not amount to real knowledge about the key aspects of Islam, or the essential aspects of worship that is the foundation of the religion.
More often than not, instead of kindness to other human beings, understanding the need to live in peace with other human beings, justice, fairness and equity, all some of these young Muslims dream of is jihad. Unfortunately, even the meaning of the term, jihad, is badly misconstrued. Jihad is about the struggle to be righteous; it is about loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Jihad is about exhorting one another to truth, endurance, and perseverance and about differentiating the nature of good from evil.
This level of ignorance is not restricted to young almajiris and other impressionable young minds. Many mature, life-long and seemingly intelligent Muslims also face similar predicaments because they have refused to, or are unable to read and understand the Quran and Hadith in their true spirit and therefore, often incapable to deciphering the messages of love, kindness, and mercy within.
Consequently, just like some of our Christian folks who merely go to church to be entertained by the gyrations and haranguing of smooth-talking pastors, many Muslims practice Islam on rote, without bothering to explore the spiritual essence of worship and prayer.
So in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians alike, go about all assuming to be holier than the other, when in reality, many have lost the fundamental nature of Godliness.  That is what happens when unschooled followers follow unregulated preachers.

 

 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Social infrastructure vs. Stomach infrastructure


 
By: Salisu Suleiman.

Shortly after former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s reelection in 2003 and the hurricane he unleashed to unseat all but one Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors, he dispatched Mukhtari Shagari, whom he’d asked to continue his duties as Water Resources Minister (though a Federal Executive Council was yet to be named) to Ekiti State to meet with the newly elected governor, Ayo Fayose.   
Though a few new roads had been teased out of the rusty town and a few more modern buildings had sprung up, the Ado Ekiti I saw was not much different from the Ado Ekiti I first saw in 1996, when Gen Sani Abacha created the state and posted Col Mohammed Inuwa Bawa as its first military administrator. However, in 2003, there was an air of excitement and expectation in town, as the youthful and apparently popular Fayose had just emerged as governor.
Once we reached the Ado Ekiti Government House and were led into the governor’s office, I noticed a tall, slim young man in shirts and trousers holding the door and ushering us in. I assumed he was a protocol officer and nodded as I walked past him.
However, that impression was immediately corrected when, after seeing that we were all seated, the young man went over to the coat-hanger behind the governor’s desk, put on the jacket hanging on it and then sat on the governor’s seat! That was my introduction to Ayodele Peter Fayose, the then, as now, newly elected governor of Ekiti State.
Of a more recent vintage, I also met Governor Kayode Fayemi in Abuja, and was just as enthralled by his simplicity and down to earth nature. The Fayose I met in 2003 was barely a month into his new job as governor, and was probably not yet used to the powers, privileges and paraphernalia of office that usually shuts out reality for public office holders. On the other hand, the Fayemi I met had been on the job for three years, but still had the personality, carriage, diction and manners of a highly polished being. Both were interesting men in their own ways.
It was therefore interesting to watch them slug it out as they campaigned for votes in Ekiti State – supposedly one of Nigeria’s most cerebral. The outcome of the Ekiti election has had many observers scratching their heads and just as many political scientists and sociologists seeking explanations for the defeat by ‘area boy’ Fayose of the professorial Fayemi. A crude summation of one prevailing view is that that the voters’ desire for immediate gratification thumped the need for long term development.
For what it may be worth, the two candidates had very different approaches to the contest, based on their reading of the electoral barometer. Some observers concede that Fayemi was rejected not because he didn’t perform in office – the numerous critical infrastructures he has built across the state capital and other parts of the state are testimony to that – but because he seemed too gentlemanly for our kind of politics. Others argue that he’d assumed that his good performance would speak for him, and therefore didn’t campaign effectively enough.
Still, others are of the view that Fayemi, purely on principle, wasn’t ready to commit huge resources - expectedly from the relatively poor state - to the campaign, unlike the PDP which approached the election like war. They argue, with some justification, that billions was naira was released to grease whatever – and whoever - needed to the greased. Rice, cash and other items were openly distributed by the PDP in what INEC, as usual says were free and fair elections.
But what is the definition of ‘free and fair’?
That opposition supporters, including governors, were harassed and their constitutional rights violated? The ruling party agents went about with, and distributed untold quantities of cash? That security agents were clearly partisan and that their presence intimidated large swathes of the electorate? Or that out of a total number of 733, 766 registered voters in Ekiti, only 369, 257 were accredited and 306, 455 cast, meaning that half of the voters in Ekiti, for one reason or another, did not vote?
Though Governor Fayemi, acting with great statesmanship quickly accepted the results to forestall the bloodbath desperate politicians and their hand-in-gloves security agencies were ready to provoke, the outcome from Ekiti shows that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has much work to do to stop the various ways federal might is used to bludgeon the opposition before, during and after elections. It must also move beyond the fractious congresses and mobilize its supporters, especially youths as foot-soldiers, just as the process of selecting its flag-bearers must be tactically managed. 
In the meantime though, the lesson from Ekiti is that as Nigerians, we are yet to learn our lessons: When people put ‘stomach infrastructure’ before social infrastructure, the price for this immediate gratification is corruption, long term poverty and unending underdevelopment.

 

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Genius of Jonathan



Salisu Suleiman.

My piece titled, ‘2015: Why I will vote Jonathan’ elicited mixed responses. One reader, appalled by what he saw as my volte face on Jonathan, asked if I’d been ‘seen’. Clearly, he hadn’t bothered to read till the end. Another, who did read to the end, argued, tongue-in-cheek, that Mrs. Patience Jonathan’s entertainment value and Dr. Jonathan’s rather dubious experiment with our $20 billion were not enough reasons to vote Jonathan. So I have found another reason to explain my choice for 2015: Jonathan is a genius.

When Jonathan became acting, then later president, in 2010, the Boko Haram insurgency was just entering its bloody phase following the directive by his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar’adua that the group be crushed. The options before the new president were: (a) Initiate comprehensive peace process (b) Order an investigation into the extrajudicial murder of Mohammed Yusuf and others (c) Listen to the appeal by Borno Elders for a negotiated solution (d) Publicly deride Boko Haram  as ‘ghosts’  who should come out.

The genius of Jonathan chose option (d).

A little over two months ago when over 200 girls were abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, the president also had a number of options: (a) Refuse to believe that anyone was missing (b) Tell the world that the abduction was staged to embarrass your government (c) Order an immediate operation to free the girls and visit Chibok (d) Wait until the girls were out of reach, cancel a planned visit to Chibok, then request foreign intervention.

The genius of Jonathan selected (a), (b) and (d).

The administration is facing strong criticism about prevailing corruption in the oil industry, especially the $15 billion stolen in the name of fuel subsidies and the $20 billion allegedly ‘lifted’ from the NNPC. Again, the president had number of picks to choose from: (a) Turn a blind eye after oil marketers had compromised the subsidy probe panel (b) Go on live television to say, “There is no corruption in Nigeria, only mere stealing” (c) Destroy the credibility of the very report you authorized by having a hatchet man write a separate report. (d) Implement the report of the Ribadu panel and sanitise the oil industry.

The genius of Jonathan decided that the best options were (a), (b) and (c).

For most of 2013, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) was on strike to force the implementation of agreements reached with the government. President Jonathan had several decisions to make on the matter: (a) Relate with ASUU like a former lecturer and immediately settle the crisis (b) Allow universities to increase fees to pay for their services, then soften the burden on students by establishing  a students’ loan scheme from the excess crude account (c) Do nothing for nearly one year, then accede to practically all of ASUU’s demands after the academic year had been wasted (d) Allow ‘area boy’ Wike to thoroughly insult university lecturers and threaten to sack all of them.

The genius of Dr. Jonathan elected to pick options (c) and (d).

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, whom Jonathan unconstitutionally ‘suspended’ from his post as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria had just been appointed the Emir of Kano, and President Jonathan  was faced with the choice of what to do: (a) Rise above the fray and congratulate the new emir despite past differences (b) Create confusion by allowing the PDP to congratulate a rival candidate to foment  trouble in Kano (c) Order a blockade of the Kano Airport to stop opposition governors from congratulating the new emir (d) Do nothing and let the Constitution take its course.

Without even pausing to think, the genius of Jonathan decided on (b) and (c).

Again, back in Kano: the Abacha family reportedly still had unreturned loot amounting to over N400 billion, but you need every possible ally in Kano to win votes from the highly populated state. What are the choices? (a) Allow the legal process to take its full course and retrieve stolen funds for Nigeria (b) Trade off over N400 billion in return for N36 billion simply to secure Mohammed Abacha’s inconsequential support in 2015 (b) Tell the world that the return of N36 billion was a major landmark in the anti-corruption effort (d) See nothing, hear nothing, do nothing.

Without batting an eyelid, the blazing genius of Jonathan chose (b) and (d).

A genius is defined as a mastermind, whiz kid, or one with an intelligence quotient (IQ) that is higher than average. It is assumed they are able to see far beyond what normal human beings can see and therefore take decisions that may appear extraordinary at the moment. From some of the consistently unusual and unexplainable decisions Jonathan has made as president, it may be that he is a genius.

The problem is, the line between genius and neurosis is often thin; in which case, genius can be self delusional.



Monday, 16 June 2014

2015: Why I will vote Jonathan


 
Salisu Suleiman.

The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) last weekend concluded its national convention. That development – along with the fact that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been in campaign mode all year long, despite INEC’s feeble protestations – means that the Nigerian economy and political system is in the grip of a fierce election fever, never mind that the elections proper are still nearly a year away.
And being the consuming passion that politics often is, it is no surprise that all politicians – from old warhorses like Tony Anenih and Bamanga Tukur, to master strategists like Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Ameachi are braced up, nor is it a surprise that intellectuals like Babatunde Fashola and Nasir El-Rufai are revving up and deploying their considerable intellectual firepower.
Similarly, it is no revelation that the tireless Lai Mohammed and the garrulous Olisa Metuh are trying to redefine the boundaries of propaganda, while at a more comical level, one may add that one chatterbox, Ahmed Gulak somehow talked himself into a political gulag, while another, Femi Fani-Kayode is trying to talk himself into a job.
The PDP and APC have different approaches to political engagement. As an amalgamation of disparate groups, and lacking the might of the ruling party to buy its way out of trouble, the APC is mobilizing popular discontent and the reach of its substantial grassroots membership to boost its electoral chances. On the other hand, having a large number of oil-producing states and control of the federal government, the PDP has a more direct and less nuanced approach to politics.
One of the PDP’s most calculated strategies is getting opposition politicians to defect, or that failing, allowing them to remain as moles in the opposition then cause damage from within. This approach has been hugely successful on face value, even if some of defecting politicians come with little more than their individual votes – and the clothes on their backs. Being broke after public office is a lonely experience.  
Another PDP strategy is to pick economically disadvantaged states and use federal might to keep the governors permanently on the defensive. It has been rumored – without proof – that a deputy governor of one such state was offered 200 million naira, with promises of more to come, to defect to the PDP, though he had no real quarrel or even ideological differences with his boss. But then, who can prove such things?
Following the fracas at the Edo State House of Assembly last week, the state governor, Adams Oshiomole hinted that each defecting legislator was paid fifty million to defect and facilitate his (Oshiomole’s) impeachment. There may be something to the N50 million figure, because some members of the House of Representatives who defected to the APC, giving it a short-lived majority, suddenly ‘re-defected’ in a plume of smoke that many suspect was raised by the weight of N50 million landing in their accounts.
Other legislators need just N10 million to do the job, if the reports of the happy-go-lucky life pension governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio’s failed intervention in Adamawa state are true.
And talking about Akpabio; this man knows a thing or two that some former governors did not know. If they did, they would have created even more extravagant pension schemes than Akpabio dreamed up. Incidentally, is there a connection between ‘real life’ after government house and the sudden realization by some ex-governors that the PDP was now the place to be? Having become used to the lavish lifestyles of governors, some found out, the hard way, that private pockets – matter how deep – cannot compare with the resources of a government that is able to make $20 billion evaporate.  
Anyway, rumors about political strategies, defecting legislators and broke ex-governors and ministers-in-waiting is not what will determine my electoral choice in 2015. That decision is already made: Despite my being a stringent critic of President Goodluck Jonathan’s ineptitude, indecision, deliberate use of region and religion for political gain, not to talk of his very dodgy exposition on the difference between corruption and stealing, I will vote for him if he stands for election next year. I have two reasons.
First of all, there is the entertainment value of the First Lady. In these difficult times, her capacity to make Nigerians laugh is unmatched; we need plenty of laughter to cope with the tragicomedy to which her husband has reduced governance.
More importantly is the fact that Jonathan is on the verge of a great scientific discovery: If he can make $20 billion vanish without trace, or watch as N2.6 trillion melted into unsubsidized subsidies, he needs time to reverse the experiment. By 2019, he would have found a way to make $200 billion or more, appear by simply waving his hat.
The danger is, given the bewilderment, vacillation and larceny that equate governance today, will Dr. Jonathan still have a functioning laboratory by 2019?  

 

 

Monday, 9 June 2014

A Season of Royal Deaths


 
Salisu Suleiman.

On May 27, 2014, the Emir of Gombe, Alhaji Shehu Abubakar died in a London hospital after a brief illness. When his remains were returned home for burial, neighbouring emirs including those of Askira, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibn Muhammadu Askirama, Uba, Alhaji Ali ibn Ismaila Mamza and Gwoza, Alhaji Idrissa Timta, decided to attend the funeral of their deceased colleague. Unfortunately, they were ambushed by suspected Boko Haram terrorists. The Emir of Gwoza was killed while the others managed to escape. 
 
Before the country could come to terms with that loss, news filtered in on Friday that the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, who was one of the most influential and revered traditional rulers not just in the north, but the entire Nigeria, had also passed on.
 
The emir had survived an assassination attempt on 19 January 2013. The attack left several of his body guards dead, and some say he never fully recovered as he has been in poor health over the last few months. 
 
For a monarch who reigned for more than 50 years, and who fought and won many battles and survived powerful detractors, Ado Bayero had become an establishment on his own. His capacity to neutralize even the most hot-headed upstarts is legendary, as were his stand for justice, truth and equity. The estimated 2 million plus crowd that attended his burial is the best tribute anyone can pay him. May the souls of our departed emirs – as well as those of their subjects being massacred every day by Boko Haram – rest in peace. 
 
In the last decade or so, some of the most influential and long ruling emirs in northern Nigeria have passed on: the current Sultan of Sokoto, the Shehu of Borno, and the Lamido of Adamawa are all less than 10 years on their thrones.
 
In traditional establishments where change is a slow, often torturous process, death – that eternal leveler of king and commoner – is one of the ways that change occurs. And few doubt that the traditional systems in northern Nigeria must change to adapt to fast changing cultural and political landscape.  
 
The north of today is different from that inherited by the dying set of emirs. A mere generation ago, traditional rulers were widely revered, perhaps because there was relative economic and political stability. However, diminishing economic opportunities, a continuous narrowing of the political space, coupled with pervasive injustice and unprecedented inequality have changed things significantly. 
 
For the first time in recent history, ordinary folks actually attacked their traditional rulers. It began in 2011, following the bitterly divisive presidential elections when angry mobs attacked the palaces of several prominent traditional rulers and other prominent individuals.  Their grouse was the suspicion that the traditional rulers connived with, and were induced by the ruling party to facilitate what they saw as systematic rigging of the elections, or merely to turn a blind eye. 
 
A year later in 2012, the Emir of Fika, Alhaji Muhammed Abali Ibn Mohammed Idrisa narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. It happened as the emir, who had just finished his Friday prayers at the Potiskum Central Mosque was standing, when a young man with explosives strapped to his body inched close to him, but was stopped by the emir’s police orderly. Realizing that his mission to blow up the traditional ruler had failed, the suspected assassin brought out a gun and tried to shoot the emir instead, when the explosives on him detonated. 
 
Although the emir escaped unhurt, his police orderly and the suicide bomber were reportedly killed in the blast while several people were injured. The attack came barely a month after the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanemi also narrowly escaped assassination when a suicide bomber targeted him after Friday prayers at the Maiduguri Central Mosque.
 
Perhaps due to widespread discontent and insecurity in many parts of the north, the inbred respect for ward and district heads, as well as emirs is diminishing and consequently, the authority and the myths behind the traditional institutions they head. For those who feared the institutions, a new boldness is in place; for those who had high regards for them, a subtle disdain has emerged and for members of Boko Harm, traditional rulers have become important targets for assassination.  
 
As important beacons of stability, traditional institutions have roles to play in improving the fortunes of Nigeria. Despite their diminishing relevance, they remain mostly powerful and able to influence economic and social policy. But events of the last few years have eaten away the basis of their legitimacy. To win it back, there is need for soul searching and deep introspection. And that precisely, is why this season of royal deaths should usher in a season of royal reforms.