by Stanley Azuakola
In my last piece, I mentioned three out of five valuable lessons gleaned from the January Occupy Nigeria protests across Nigeria. I said the protests gave us insight into the character of the president and the public perception of his person and presidency as weak where it matters most; it highlighted the place of the opposition in our democracy; and it taught us the futility of reliance on labour unions to drive popular change. Now onto Lessons 4 and 5.
Lesson 4: On Nigerians and amnesia
They say every action has consequences; and you can’t have your cake and eat it. Not in Nigeria. We are a religious people, hence, as long as the mouth is wiped clean, you can miraculously finish the cake and still have it with you. Nothing would happen. Birds fly, dogs bark, Nigerians forget. That’s why, for instance, ex-convicts like Bode George and Diepriye Alamieyesigha still pull their bulky weights in the affairs of their party and states as though nothing ever happened. This, again, was evident during the protests.
How can we explain Dino Melaye? The honourable who gained notoriety as a boxer while still a member of the House of Representatives. He lost the ticket to fly the PDP flag in the 2011 elections and before you could whisper ‘good riddance,’ he’d become a ‘progressive,’ that nebulous term used nowadays to refer to any non-PDP politician. As a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Dino Melaye, headed the committee charged with ensuring that Prince Abubakar Audu (another born-again progressive) was elected as governor in the 2011 Kogi State governorship re-run. It was while discharging that duty, at a campaign rally, in a packed stadium, and in the presence of A.C.N stalwarts like Oshiomhole, Fayemi, Tinubu and Osoba, that Melaye confessed to having participated in the past in rigging elections for the PDP. He asked for the people’s “forgiveness.” Somehow, somebody somewhere must have told Melaye that making that confession was a smart political move. It wasn’t. But as expected, his party did not condemn him, but even more bizarrely, the police did not and have still not arrested Melaye over that matter. Nobody thought it was serious enough. Let bygones be bygones and the robbery was overlooked. In other climes, Dino would have become as politically extinct as a dinosaur.
Instead he used the opportunity of the Occupy protests to mount a dramatic comeback. Dino the boxer and rigger became Dino the people’s champion. Anyone who dared to point out the incongruity of it all was immediately lampooned by an army of activists. “He is for the people; he is one of us,” their mouths said, but what their hearts really meant was, “He is not for Jonathan; he is one of us.” The police force which feigned deafness during Melaye’s confession in Kogi, suddenly regained hearing and arrested him for inciting the public. With that, Dino the hero was born. Nigerians had forgotten. Case closed.
To be fair, he wasn’t the only one. We also heard Femi Fani-Kayode’s voice. His offhand voice, famous for its sarcastic bite suddenly became “the voice of freedom” against the Goodluck “oppression.” But who cares? Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven.
What’s the lesson here? Until Nigerians become more unforgiving of notoriety, the Melayes of this world would continue to hoodwink us and use our genuine agitation as fillip for their inordinate ambitions. There must be a standard, a common set of principles to which everyone must be held accountable. It cannot be one set of rules for those in power per time and a different, more lenient one for others.
Lesson 5: On a very divided country
In Lagos, in the West, and in most parts of the North, the strike and protests were total. But if success is measured by national spread, then the protests failed, because in the East and S/south, the people could care less. Compared to the roar of Lagos, the protests in those areas, when they even held, were a mere whimper. The people were in solidarity with “their brother.” I overheard someone in Rivers State comment that even though Jonathan did not have “integrity, I still trust him because he is from the South.” When a Yoruba man was president, his “people” stood by him; they issued threats on his behalf and they excused his excesses. When President YarAdua failed to transmit a letter to the Senate which would have freed then Vice President Jonathan to act as president, was it not Katsina senators like Garba Lado who fought determinedly in an ultimately futile attempt to ensure that a political solution out of the quagmire wasn’t reached? Before we point fingers at the S/south and S/east, can we honestly say that every single protester in the North and West did so without harbouring an iota of tribal bias? This is a deeply divided nation. We did not need the Occupy protest to tell us that.
Some have argued that the solution lies in convening a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) but I doubt its workability. Who would represent me in that round table? Edwin Clark? Ankio Briggs? Maybe Femi Fani-Kayode? A discussion as sensitive as whether our union is sustainable cannot be left in the hands of some tribal lords. Neither should discussion about my future be left in the hands of many who wouldn’t even feature in it. Besides if at the end of the conference, a consensus isn’t reached between the groups, what next? Is that the cue for division on the basis of irreconcilable differences? We should discuss and dialogue, but we should also note that an SNC is no magic bullet. Somehow I believe there is a political solution, one that sincere leadership can solve. After all, it’s in this same country, during the protests that Christians kept guard as Moslems prayed and Moslems reciprocated while Christians worshipped. It’s in this country that Abiola beat Tofa in his home state in the annulled 1993 elections. I don’t have all the answers, but I know one route that shouldn’t be an option: balkanisation of Nigeria.
Link to the first part of this report: Jonathan vs Occupy Nigeria