Fingers from the past

(By Obi Ebuka Onochie)

We prefer a strong man to strong institutions that any political leader who isn’t demonstrating manipulation and ruthlessness is considered a weakling and clueless leader. People tend to deaden themselves to repetitive abuse of their lives and with the passage of time they begin to view it as normal activities of fated lives. It can be likened to a lie told repeatedly that is accepted as truth.

“What is the main difference between a political party and a political machine? A party is organised for a purpose larger than its own survival. A political machine exists for its own sake, its primary, in a sense its only purpose is survival.” – Daniel J. Boorstin, American historian, 1973.

I AM inclined to suppose that majority of Nigerians believe that we have democratic government and almost same majority believe that our democratic government is embedded in illusory democratic principles which ultimately makes ours a bogus democracy. Recently, the long speculative reports of the fallout between the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and his predecessor Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, are incipiently making its public emergence. The president’s comment on the failure of Odi military mission against militants and former President Obasanjo’s assemblage of his political protégés for mosque endowment fund at his presidential library underscore the rancor building up between the two.

The issue of past leaders interfering and meddling in the governmental activities of their successors is becoming a norm in Nigeria, in fact a hobby of some sort to them. This arrogant posture of interfering in the activities of successive government has permeated down to state governments and would have spilled down to the local governments if not for the strangulating power of the state over them. This trend has turned our government to an arena for power struggle, consolidation of the grab and cagy activities all in the bid to fend off the officious activities of predecessors. This leaves the hoi polloi at the basement of the battleground and perpetually kept in privation.

The United States of America that has become some sort of iconic democracy has a row of living past leaders while their present successor governments run without unsolicited “help” from the past leaders. All their past presidents from Jimmy James Earl Carter, the 38th President of the United States to Bill Clinton and to the immediate past President George Walker Bush are all alive except for Ronald Wilson Reagan who passed away in 2004. Obama is not only free from all the stress of grappling with the influence of his predecessors, he is enjoying a true political party and not political machine riddled with selfish cells pursing different selfish political agendas that may be unrelated to the interest of the state.

The British on the other hand have their past leaders from Margaret Thatcher down to John Major, Tony Blair and to Gordon Brown alive yet the government of David Cameron is running smoothly. We all remember how powerful and popular Margaret Thatcher was when she was in power, yet she was able to take that to retirement with absolute calmness. The same goes for George Bush and Bill Clinton who only come out when their nationalistic experience are sought after for the greater America. The same goes for Mandela who does not comment openly on the performance or lack of it of his successors. It is very disturbing that their likes here in Nigeria are the ones creating chaos, sowing seeds of discord. They are loud and too visible, particularly Obasanjo and Bola Tinubu. They are overbearing. They do not have anything to do other than making unguarded comments. Former leaders in Nigeria are present at nearly all occasions other than national events.

They decide who rules and who does not without recourse to political process of voting. They do not allow incumbent president or governors to assemble their own teams and take responsibility for the choices they make. We quote great leaders from around the globe who are worthy examples of leadership, but we can’t proudly quote any of ours if not this, “the person that will succeed me I do not know but people that will never succeed me I certainly know”. This statement is attributed to at least two past rulers of the Nigerian ‘empire’ and this accentuates strong rulers as opposed to strong institutions of government. We prefer a strong man to strong institutions that any political leader who isn’t demonstrating manipulation and ruthlessness is considered a weakling and clueless leader. People tend to deaden themselves to repetitive abuse of their lives and with the passage of time they begin to view it as normal activities of fated lives. It can be likened to a lie told repeatedly that is accepted as truth.

Recently in South Africa, their former selfless leader Nelson Mandela was rushed to the hospital for medical attention and the whole country wished him well and fervently prayed for his speedy recovery. His party members were not left out. They put aside their differences to attend to Madiba as he is fondly called. I was moved with emotions during his last birthday celebration when even the commonest of people were shedding tears of joy as they wished him happy birthday and many more years ahead. What came to mind was, who in Nigeria can be so loved by the masses the way the South Africans love Madiba. I stand to be corrected; I do not think there is. This is why the activities of past and present government officials are shrouded in secrecy especially where health issues are concerned not sure how the news of their death will be received.

We are approaching 2015 general election and the gathering of the opposition within and beyond PDP is distracting the attention of the government from the real issues of governance. Our egoistic former rulers that perceive President Jonathan not loyal enough have all opened their political arsenal geared towards 2015 elections. It is true that no soul feels at peace with evil deeds and given another opportunity. Many of our past leaders are fidgeting, trying to make amends to their past mistakes. With the state of their souls, they can only compound the woes of the country if they were to have their way.

The coming and going of generations should not only be determined by death. People retire to give a new generation the opportunity to take up from where they stopped and move the entire society to a new level. It happens frequently in football where you see a very active club side player announce his retirement from international football to give opportunity to young starlets to patriotically serve their fatherland. I do not think that political service should be any different from what is obtainable on the pitch of football. That explains why our elections are not done in a proper way and why election results are not accepted with the spirit of sportsmanship. Manipulation, deceits and unguarded utterances meant to heat up the polity are the manifestation of our frustrated past “rulers”.

Sometime in the past, The Nation newspaper published a letter purportedly written by former President Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan urging him to sack some certain government appointees. Former presidents Babangida and Obasanjo on the pages of newspapers traded blame on their stewardship. That clearly showed that they know the humiliating state of the country they have refused to allow the younger generation to build. We saw how hard Governor Akpabio fought his predecessor to back off his neck to be able to get Akwa Ibom State to its present level. President Goodluck is obviously battling the forces of his predecessors but the direction he himself is taking us to is still largely unclear.

• Onochie, a political analyst, wrote from Port Harcourt.

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