Re-living the Abacha years?

Re-living the Abacha years?

Monday, April 11, 2016 11:48 am

General Sani Abacha

General Sani Abacha

By Bola Bolawole

A friend phoned in from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja last week to say that Nigerians are, to all intents and purposes, re-living the Gen. Sani Abacha years. I must confess I was shocked by the comparison. For one, I have often described Abacha as Nigeria’s most despotic dictators this country. He stood in a class of his own and holds the inglorious distinction of being the most blood-thirsty, with no regard at all for the sanctity of human life. Recall the gory tales of assassinations and murders of political opponents; the heartless mowing of pro-democracy activists and agitators; the harassment and hounding of pro-democracy and civil society activists into detention and exile, not to talk of those implicated in phantom coups and sent behind bars; and those who died in prison and elsewhere in dubious circumstances. For another, Abacha has gone down in history as, perhaps, this country’s most kleptomaniac leader.

The more of his loots, starched all over the world, that are uncovered and recovered by the authorities, the more new discoveries of our stolen patrimony pop up. How can anyone in his or her right senses, then, suggest that we were re-living the Abacha years? Even though Buhari seemed to have been paddy with Abacha, working under him as PTF chairman, the widespread opinion is that Buhari discharged himself fairly well in that assignment. And although Buhari himself had been a no-nonsense military dictator before Abacha, he was less reckless.

President Buhari

President Buhari

But, then, she explained: The situation in Abuja where she lived reminded her of the Abacha years. Not just long queues at the petrol stations because there was no petrol to dispense but people abandoning their vehicles in the middle of anywhere because there was not even a drop of fuel in their tanks. Blackout occasioned by the worst power outages in recent years; searing heat; commercial activities grinding to a halt in many instances, leading to empty roads and streets. Economic doldrums means that a lot of people have no money in their pockets or in savings anywhere. She said everything reminded her of the total paralysis of the country in the period under Abacha when Frank Kokori, leader of the oil workers’ union, called out workers on strike, grounded the oil sector, and then disappeared underground. The only marginal difference this time around, she said, is that no labour leader has yet called workers out and some workers still manage to find their way to work. I marvelled at her comparisons but, as they say, “who wears the shoe knows where it pinches” or to quote Rita Marley, wife of the iconoclastic Reggae superstar Bob Marley of blessed memory, “who feels it knows it”. But, honestly, she exaggerated!

And I understand! She is an artiste, a creative writer and activist in her own right. Who are those best placed to apply the literal tool of hyperbole for good effect if not people of her ilk? The picture she painted was dramatic and scary. How and why she came to that conclusion baffled me. Yet, here was someone screaming “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari” a few months ago! The volte-face is not only full circle but also melodramatic. Again, I can understand.

The Buhari administration has no one but itself to blame. Almost one year down the road, it continues to blame PDP\Goodluck Jonathan for every imaginable problem bedevilling the country. It has done this ad nauseam and the people have not only got fed up but are now beside themselves with rage

The times are bad; really bad. The poor who invested so much hope in the APC\ Muhammadu Buhari have not seen any tangible returns on their investment. Instead, they are worried that the anticipated returns, otherwise known as the dividends of democracy or what the Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose, calls “stomach infrastructure”, may, like Godot, never arrive. The apprehension and panic is everywhere palpable; so thick in the air you can cut it with a knife. For this, the Buhari administration has no one but itself to blame. Almost one year down the road, it continues to blame PDP\Goodluck Jonathan for every imaginable problem bedevilling the country. It has done this ad nauseam and the people have not only got fed up but are now beside themselves with rage. As the new PDP interim chairman, Modu Sheriff, taunted the government last week, Nigerians knew over a year ago what APC is wasting precious time and resources on and had taken the action they considered necessary by rejecting PDP at the polls and electing Buhari. It is, thus, time for Buhari\APC to work and not continue to trade blames. Augean stable – yes, clean it and quickly begin to dispense the largesse that is “the main, the main” in government\governed relationship. That is the social contract; the raison d’être for the existence of government in the first place. And time is running out: Almost one year gone; only three more to go!

Consider also government’s scare-mongering. At every turn, especially at his ill-advised policy statement-making forums abroad, Buhari and leaders of this government make statements that demoralise rather than encourage the citizens. Such statements pull the country down rather than fire the inimitable Nigerian “can-do” spirit. They paint such terrible pictures of our situation and of the moral deficiency of our people that it will take a miracle to get the much-vaunted direct foreign investment flowing in as well as rekindle the confidence of Nigerians in their ability to turn around a parlous situation.

Yet, only a few fat cats are the culprits. But at the most uncharitable level I will never compare this government – any Nigerian government; not even Jonathan’s – to the Abacha years. That, in my opinion, was the lowest level Nigeria would ever go. It was not just Ground Zero but Ground Negative. Nevertheless, my friend’s exaggeration should serve as wake-up call to this government to quickly put its acts together and not allow things get too bad – and irredeemable – before taking necessary action. That was one mistake Jonathan made and which Buhari must by all means avoid. Having lived under Abacha, I recoil at the possibility of having to re-live that nasty experience a second time.

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