Tuesday, February 10, 2015 1:35 pm
By Niyi Osundare
Dear President Jonathan, let me begin this letter by telling you what you already know; by reminding you of what you are not expected to have forgotten: the year 2015 has been predicted to be, and is being widely seen as, the year of Nigeria’s unravelling. The year that Leviathan contraption knocked together by Frederick Lugard for the glory of the British Empire, will totter back to its separate aboriginal parts and drown an already overwhelmed Africa with another swarm of hapless refugees in an unspeakable maelstrom of the typical African misery. This dreadful prediction is generally believed to have originated from the star-gazing wizardry of American soothsayers, reinforced by the frighteningly frank morbidity of studies such as Karl Maier’s This House Has Fallen. Some Nigerians as well as non-Nigerians interested in Nigeria’s affairs shudder at the threatening inevitability of this prediction. Others dismiss it as another tale from the seamless yarn of Nostradamus, the religious among them claiming that the God that brought us together this far is not about to abandon us and let us fall apart. The rich and fat kleptocrats who hold their knives to the carcass of the Nigerian elephant are too avaricious, too satiated, too visionless to notice the dangers in the Nigerian forest, forever festering, as they do, in the illusion that the booty is far too big, too sumptuous to vanish under their gaze. Worthy descendants of ancient Nero, they feast while the country burns. The politically clever among this group try to paper over the cracks and fissures in the Nigeria house with dubious “advertorials” and syrupy sloganeering as if a loud noise can smother the stench of a rotting corpse.
Mr. President, between the morbid prognostication of the first group and the heady optimism of the second lies the real truth of the Nigerian condition as well as the sane, intelligent appreciation and analysis which the situation requires. The contraption over which you preside is not a country yet: it is still very much a work-in-progress with its frustratingly rough edges and unpolished aspects. I am tempted to conclude that you yourself know this. Which was why you convoked that huge National Conference last year, an act many Nigerians saw as so suspiciously close to the end of your first term as President as to constitute a major plank in the campaign for a second. But, at least, yours was an attempt at a task many of your predecessors in office had routinely shied away from, though we are all wondering what benefits are likely to emerge from that very expensive national constitutional jamboree.
Oh, please forgive my patriotic digression. The burden of this open letter is the impending national election, the run-off to it, its actual execution, and its possible aftermath. Mr. President, you will agree with me that this election is so crucial, so fateful that its outcome will decide the coming to pass or otherwise of the doom so loudly and so frightfully foretold for Nigeria. The troubling signs are all over the place, as visible, even conspicuous as Aso Rock which overlooks your presidential abode. Right now, the whole northeastern flank of our country is literally out of and beyond your control. The kidnappings, blood-letting, and other gruesome barbarities in these parts make the Dark Ages look like a humane era. The Chibok Girls have been gone for almost nine months, with no possible solution from your government, and the whole wide world is defining Nigeria’s international standing by the utter helplessness and apparent apathy of its government. Like those of other people in the world, my heart bleeds each time I remember these girls (and I do so many, many times a day), the manner of their abduction, and worse still, what fate must have befallen them in the hands of their violent captors. We have seen you traversing the country, making speeches, and waxing bold on the hustings, but we have not heard any credible anti-insurgency plan that would make Nigeria safer in your second term
Another alarming phenomenon is the treasonous threat from some ‘militants’ from your region of origin who claim to be speaking and acting in your defence and on your behalf. One of them actually declared for the whole world to hear that ‘Nigeria will be history’ if you are not ‘given’ a second term. The closer we get to the election, the louder has become the thunder of this piece of ethnic blackmail. For the avoidance of doubt, I am one of those who fervently believe that the Niger Delta has been done a terribly raw deal by previous Nigerian governments, and that a combination of reparation and reconstruction has become a compulsory political and economic (and environmental!) necessity. But, Mr. President, have you been hearing what these ‘militants’ have been saying? Have you been listening to them? Are they really speaking on your behalf? What do you see and sense in their threats: a bond of ethnic solidarity, or a threat to Nigeria, the country over which you preside? Are you a president of the whole of Nigeria or a tribal champion for an ethnic enclave? Have you done a study of the sociology and statistical diversity of the votes that brought you to the presidential throne – or that Nigerian conundrum called ‘doctrine of necessity’ which eased your way to full presidential power a few years ago?
Mr. President, while the country cannot hold you responsible for the opinions and utterances of other people no matter how close they appear to be to you, it is your bounden duty to disclaim incendiary utterances capable of setting the Nigeria house ablaze. Put succinctly, it is your inescapable duty to respond PERSONALLY and unequivocally to all such utterances with an emphatic: NOT IN MY NAME! I have not heard you say that, Mr. President. The whole country is waiting for you to say so. We have not seen your Inspector General of Police rein in the flame-throwers; nor have we seen your Attorney-General read them the portions of the Nigerian constitution forbidding their inflammatory incitements. There surely must be a wide discernible difference between a national leader and a tribal jingoist. Say something, Mr. President. Say something. Your silence in this instance is anything but golden. Your ostrich cannot hide for long, for the Nigerian sand has become so transparent, thanks to many years of painful wisdom and enlightened skepticism of the people.
Now, the impending election. As I once said in an open letter of this nature to one of your predecessors in the presidential office, in my reading of Nigeria’s history, no event has so constantly, so serially threatened the peace and very existence of Nigeria as the conduct of general elections: the botched federal elections of 1964, the Western regional elections of 1965 whose blatant rigging led to the ‘weti e’ insurrection, then the January 1966 military coup, then the pogrom on the Igbo people, then the secession of Biafra, then the (un)civil war; the ‘landslide fraud’ by the NPN in 1983, then another ‘weti e’episode, then the military coup of January 1984; the June 12 1993 election widely considered as the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history, annulled all the same (or for that reason) by General Babangida and his cohorts, then the long period of civil strife and the eventuation of General Abacha’s murderous despotism. The election of 2003 and 2007 did not go without the usual rigging, while the one of 2011 that brought you to a full presidency ended up with violent protests in certain parts of the country.
And 2015, here we come. The year of Nostradamus.The year of the make-or-break election. Mr. President, from its every indication, from its verbal language and body gesture the world has been telling you how crucial the coming election is and why every step must be taken to make sure it ends up as fair and free and credible. Kofi Anan and Emeka Anyaokwu, two international potentates, have come to Abuja to supervise a peace accord between you and your opponent, General Buhari. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, has also called, telling you and your fellow political warriors that his country will offer no safe haven to Nigeria’s election riggers. I deeply appreciate the counsel of these honourable men even as I add my own humble entreaty: Mr. President, make sure the coming election does not land Nigeria in the usual post-election crises. Do not handle it with the impunity that has characterized many of your actions and those of your party’s functionaries. You are the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Chief Security Officer of the Nation: use these powers justly and fairly by allowing the security agents to supervise the elections in a non-partial manner. I say this because experience has shown that election rigging in Nigeria is invariably carried out with the full and blatant ‘cooperation’ of security agents. Many of them do not even pretend about it as they often ask ‘who you think I go side? No be de person who pay my salary, the person who give me kola chop?’. Our police and other security operatives have always looked the other way when illegal ballot thumb-printing is going on, when ballot-box stuffing is in progress, and when ballot snatchers are at work. They have perfected the act of kidnapping and ‘disappearing’ leaders of the opposing party and holding them down till the elections are over. This is why the ruling party has always ‘won’ elections in Nigeria. This is why every major election in Nigeria is trailed by all manner of rancor and mayhem.
Mr. President, your party, the PDP, has ruled Nigeria for over 15 years now; it has established an unconscionable control over all the levers of power. You will scatter this country if you allow them to use that power to disadvantage the other parties. The major cause of Nigeria’s electoral fiasco is the refusal of the ruling party (at national and state levels) to allow a peaceful change of power. That kind of civilized democratic transition is often seen as a sign of weakness. And when the ruling party makes peaceful change impossible that way, it invariably makes violent change inevitable. Please don’t make a mockery of the ‘I’ (standing for ‘Independent’) in INEC. Let victory go to whichever party the Nigerian people choose to embrace. Again, as I told one of your predecessors at this kind of electoral juncture a couple of years ago, please remember there is life after power. Let us do everything to circumvent the 2015 apocalypse. Make sure History does not write you down as the last President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
–Niyi Osundare, New Orleans, Jan. 30, 2015