by Akin Osuntokun
The case of the incumbent president is a bit tricky. There is an adage that says ‘never call a man great (or failure) until the end of his life’. What can be said for him is that his incumbency-representing the South-south, completes the circle of Nigeria-wide representation of the nation’s chief executives.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God is a scriptural quotation from the Bible that speaks to contemporary political history of Nigeria. I crave your kind indulgence to cite a few more; give a narrative and hold it as a mirror to the nation. Here we go. ‘Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone; Judge not, for that measure which you judge shall you be judged; The cleanest among us is like a filthy rag before God; Remove the beam sticking from your eyes before pointing at the speck in another man’s eyes; If you O Lord could mark iniquities, Lord, who shall stand?
The guilt of sin has been with mankind since the beginning of time. In fact there would have been no world as we know it if there was no sin. We would have got something far better, an idyllic place called paradise. What we inherited was the fall of man and the everlasting wages of rebellion against God. Our ancestors were expelled from the Garden of Eden and sent on their way with a cascade of curses, the consequences of which we still battle today: endless and back breaking toil to survive- for the man; and a manifold increase in pains at childbearing- for the woman.
Now this may be difficult for us to take but it is true that the serpent was the decisive factor in the creation of the world we inherited; and was a co-founder of planet earth. It was the serpent who showed the way to Eve, from been blissfully blind to the inhibition of self-awareness and consciousness; who in turn passed the perfidious revelation to her spouse Adam. Can you now see how long women have been the ruin of many a man? Behind every Adam there is a bad Eve and behind every Abraham there is always a good Sarah. Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam and Eve. The older Cain then set a precedent of murderous treachery that became a model down the ages. Out of envy and jealousy he put his brother Abel to the sword.
As the descendants of Adam multiplied so did iniquities and depravity skyrocketed. One of the iniquitous societies in pre-history was particularly notorious and kindled the anger of God as never before. In his wrath God sent two angels to this den of depravity and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah wasted no time in living up to their reputation. In a presage of the culture of same-sex marriage, the perverted male citizens of Sodom demanded to copulate with the angels. They got what was coming to them. They were immediately made to lose their sight. After sparing Lot and his family, the angels wiped the misbegotten city clean of any human presence. This punishment was preceded by intense bargaining between Abraham and God. The former pleaded with God to show mercy and spare the city in the event of the possibility that a few righteous persons might be found among them. God agreed, but there was not a single soul in that city that passed the test- hence the inevitability of their fate….all have sinned.
It was in the course of this rumination that we stumbled on a big discovery- to the effect that what we know as the First World War is actually the Second. We discovered that the First World War was waged by the hosts of heaven against humankind at the instruction of God; He could no longer stand the depth of untold debauchery, Satan worship and escalating perfidious behavior that had taken an iron grip on the world. All have sinned and the wages of sin was the genocidal extirpation and extermination of all his unworthy creatures on a weapon of mass destruction scale.
Out of mercy and the realisation that man is perpetually doomed to sin, God eventually relented and swore ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil; ‘never again will I smite any more every living thing’. Noah and his household were however retained to start a new population of mankind. Following the immutable legacy of prenatal disposition to sin, Nigeria like other nations of the world, comprise people who are individually prone to sin. As you might have guessed, all this is allegory for the task before us.
Before the year 1999, all the woes that had befallen Nigeria were mainly attributed to the Nigerians north of the Niger in general and the Northern Oligarchy in particular. The simple explanation for this attribution is the fact that out of the 33 years of Nigeria’s post-independence, the North had monopolised the government and leadership of the country for 29 years. And as the cliché goes, the buck stops at their table. Not anymore. Since 1999, we have had what some rascals call ‘Turn by Turn Nigeria limited’. With the Presidency of the incumbent there is now no zone in the country that has not had its opportunity to contribute its own folly to Nigeria’s leadership debacle. What we are now going to do is to illustrate the highlights of leadership failure that came to define the tenure of each of them.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first Prime Minister of Nigeria and his tenure started with a peculiar contribution to the parliamentary system of government. Against the norm of the leader of the winning political party occupying the top position in government, Ahmadu Bello elected to stay back in Kaduna and sent his lieutenant, Tafawa Balewa, to hold forte in Lagos. Balewa started well but ended in a tragedy that commenced with the factional feud within the Action Group (AG), the governing party in the Western region in 1962. He intervened decisively in the crisis in support of Premier Ladoke Akintola; the intervention went against the grain of popular opinion in the region and sparked massive resistance and a breakdown of law and order. The misstep ultimately snowballed into the termination of the First Republic. It was this legacy that had come to define his incumbency. We take Balewa as filling the quota of the North-east.
The military coup of January 1966 was a watershed in the history of Nigeria and set off a chain of events the perpetrators could not have imagined. The coup did not succeed but it changed the leadership of the country from civil democratic rule to military dictatorship; from the North to the Igbos of the South-east. The ill-fated leadership of General Aguiyi Ironsi lasted all of six months, when he was overthrown and killed. The cardinal sin of Ironsi was his inability to discern and grappled with the poisoned chalice handed to him by the coup makers. It was this ignorance that led him to promulgate Decree 34 which abolished the regions and federalism and unified Nigeria under the military command culture, with him as Supreme Commander. Whatever good faith lies behind this decree was undermined by the nature of the coup that brought Ironsi to power-which was interpreted, with justification, as Igbo officers’ coup. We mark this down as the transgression of Ironsi and the South-east.
Next we go to the North-central. General Yakubu Gowon is an officer and a gentleman and embodies the major contradiction of the counter coup. The coup was as ruthless, ferocious and savage as they come. The streets of Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos were literarily soaked in blood (not of the dog and the baboon). How a man of Gowon’s meek disposition could inherit power in those circumstances confounds my imagination. If he was an improbable war time General, he was an eminent man of peace. A man of his sympathetic and good nature was the leader Nigeria needed to handle the aftermath of the civil war. A few years later, he made a fatal mistake. He backtracked from the solemn pledge he made to hand power over to elected civilian leaders in 1976. The late Tai Solarin called it ‘the beginning of the end’ and it was. General Murtala Mohammed was an exception to the rule. His reign was too short and he died a martyr. At any rate, the North-west (where he hails from) is replete with other choices.
President Olusegun Obasanjo holds the distinction of serving first as military head of state and then as an elected president. He received the baton from Mohammed and completed his predecessor’s race on schedule. Obasanjo’s sin came 24 years later when he was sworn in for a second term in office as president. He was well on his way to glory when he stumbled and fell. The name of that fall was third term or tenure elongation. As a participant-observer in that debacle, it will always remain a painful recollection. It was superfluous and the outcome was all too predictable. The tragedy is that all other signal achievements of his tenure are beclouded by the pall of the error. This was the contribution of the South-west.
The North-west is an embarrassment of presidential harvest. Amongst Presidential Shehu Shagari, General Mohammadu Buhari, General Sani Abacha and President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who do we pick? As a subject matter, Abacha clearly stumps the others and so I will settle for him. He took the meaning of misrule to a record high. Never one to rein in his provocation, Wole Soyinka called him ‘a sadistic and superstitious midget’! Victims like Obasanjo, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, Oladipo Diya, Beko Ransome Kuti, Olu Falae, Akinjide Osuntokun lived to tell their story. Ken Saro Wiwa, Shehu Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kalto and others were not so lucky. Under his dark goggled insularity and cruelty, Nigeria was either expelled or suspended from polite company the world over. He was headed to transmutation to a contrived civilian life Presidency when the angel of death came and took him away. Some Nigerians with a diabolical sense of humour called his demise a ‘timely death’.
To a lesser degree, the North-central is in a similar position as the North-west. I cannot readily pin any misdeed on gentleman Abdusalami Abubakar. I cannot say the same of President Ibrahim Babangida who will long be remembered for the dubious distinction of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He annulled the election of MKO Abiola as president and sentenced Nigeria into the hands of Abacha and a prolonged fratricidal crisis.
The case of the incumbent president is a bit tricky. There is an adage that says ‘never call a man great (or failure) until the end of his life’. What can be said for him is that his incumbency-representing the South-south, completes the circle of Nigeria-wide representation of the nation’s chief executives. Presently it is a mixed bag. Let us hope he will learn the right lessons and unlearn the wrong ones of history.
Read this article in the Thisday Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.