"Nigeria at the CrossRoads", 06/02/'95

"Nigeria at the CrossRoads", 06/02/'95

Nigeria: Recent Documents, Part 2

"Nigeria at the CrossRoads"
Contribution to a Panel Discussion by
Dr. Mobolaji E. Aluko, President, Nigerian Democratic
Movement, Professor & Chair of Chemical Engineering,
Howard University

At a symposium organized by the TransAfrica Forum, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, Rayburn Building, US Congress

June 2, 1995

First, I would like to thank TransAfrica for inviting me to speak at this symposium. More importantly, a special "Thanks" is due particularly to Mr. Randall Robinson for investing his immense moral credibility in re-invigorating the struggle for a lasting democracy in Africa's most populous country, my country Nigeria, based on justice and respect of the will of the people.

Today, June 2, 1995, thirty-five years after its flag independence, Nigeria is truly at the cross- roads, a structural bifurcation either to chaos and disintegration or to great nationhood and Black pride. In fact, some will argue that the imagery of cross-roads is not appropriate, rather that Nigeria is at a PRECIPICE. It is difficult for me, however, to imagine that we would have to retreat from such a precipice only to continue to have a status-quo.

We have been asked on this panel to discuss three issues: first, the seeds of derailment of the democratic process in Nigeria, secondly, who the stakeholders are and thirdly, alternative scenarios to the resolution of the crises acceptable to the majority of Nigerians. I will attempt to confine myself as instructed.

The seeds for the derailment, whose most egregious and recent outgrowth was the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential elections, followed by the continuing annulment of civil society in Nigeria, are very deep-seated. For the sake of time, I will identify only three of these seeds.

The first one has to do with the birth of the nation itself. It now appears that Nigeria was delivered by Caesarean operation long before full-term, and that the hands and gloves used were septic, and did some psychic damage, wittingly and unwittingly. The deleterious effects have been gradually manifesting themselves ever since. In particular, the Northern part of our country, initially reluctant to be part of the Nigerian union, was coaxed by an anxious South through compromises involving legislative ascendancy. That ascendancy, followed by the will of the North to maintain it, sometimes demonstrably by force, and the efforts to annul it by the South, sometimes by subterfuge, resulted in ethnic, regional and religious war-lordism by civilian rulers rather than statesmen. The effects continue to haunt the nation up until today.

The second seed involves the entrance of the Military into the political equation in 1966, ostensibly to halt a looming national strife. One should actually say that this first coup was the first crack in the soil from the growing seed of national discord. The proverbial genie, now out of the bottle, was welcome when it appeared, but has been disastrous in retrospect, and has become the bane of Nigeria, the albatross around our neck. Due to internal contradictions within the Military establishment itself, many of which were projections from civilian society, due to its natural institutional authoritarianism and lack of accountability, due to its inability to forge a national ethos and its love of power for power's sake, and finally due to its contempt for our quasi-professional political elite, the advent of the Military in governance in Nigeria led, in quick order to:

- the pogroms against the Igbos in the North; - the avoidable Biafra War of 1967-70 in which millions of Nigerians died needlessly and whose aftermath still colors much of Nigeria's politics 25 years later; - the countless numbers of Military coups, both real and imagined, against itself and against civilian governments, most of which have led to the wasting of lives of countless young men and disruption of civil life. One military government has tripped over another with claims and counter- claims of legitimacy, leaving a rather cynical and dispirited civil society.

The third and final seed has been the unavoidable participation of the Military in two "Return- to-Democracy" Presidential elections, with the active aiding and abetting by many over-ambitious and unprincipled politicians. First, the untidy departure of the Obasanjo military regime following the "13 is two-thirds of 19" Shagari election of 1979 did not augur well for our democratic future, and the massive rigging of the elections four years later merely confirmed the earlier charade. The "relief" that people felt following the coup that toppled Shagari served to extend the myth of public invitation which the Military constantly invokes. Secondly, the Babangida prolonged years of preparation for return to democracy, a testament to his "Maradonicity", were unprecedented in its mendacity, its bold trampling on the rights of people to freely associate, and the peoples' willingness to go along if only to see the end of Military rule in their life time. They featured, among other shenanigans, the formation of two parties by government, the writing of their manifestos ("a little to the left, a little to the right"), the building of party headquarters, the selection of party liaisons, all coupled with the countless disqualifications and re-qualifications of presidential candidates. The personal ill-feelings generated by all the twists and turns of the process among the participating politicians, many well known for their large-size egos, have now left their murky marks on our present and future political terrains.

But when, in a most egregious, capricious and un-explainable manner, the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, contested by Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa, were annulled, it represented and continues to represent a blight and almost fatal blow to the national psyche. By all official accounts, 14 million Nigerians voted; by all official accounts Abiola, a wealthy, establishment and philantropic Muslim businessman of the Yoruba ethnic group, head of an unprecedented Muslim-Muslim ticket, won a truly pan-ethnic, pan-religious mandate. The annulment is pregnant with all kinds of implications which I now invite you all to seriously consider: if the will of 14 million Nigerians can be swept aside by Military fiat following a world-certified free and fair election, why would Nigerians believe that any future electoral exercise, organized under the aegis of the same Military, whose outcome is unpalatable to it, will not suffer a similar fate ? Why is it that of four national elections, three leading to the installation of Northern individuals at the apex of constitutional power (Tafewa Balewa, Shagari (twice)) were upheld, while the only one that would have ended up otherwise is annulled ? If a Muslim-Muslim ticket will not be allowed to take its place, what hope for a future Christian-Muslim ticket, and Christ forbid, a Christian-Christian ticket ? If a Yoruba at the head of a ticket is not allowed to take his rightful place, what hope for an Ogoni, an Igbo, a Tiv, an Ijaw, all of who are Nigerians ? If, in the immediate shadow of an annulled election, any other candidate, particularly Hausa-Fulani, were to win in a new and upheld election, would it not rightly raise howls of ethnic or personal favoritism ?

Let me now briefly turn to the second issue of who the stakeholders are in the outcome of the crisis. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is at war with itself. In a war, there are several casualties, including the truth, but not surprisingly a few individuals or groups always benefit from the adversity. Each day the Military continues to govern Nigeria, then each day is a step on the road towards anarchy and chaos in Nigeria. While oil monies continue to flow, the beneficiaries will be the tiny cabal of the Military and their civilian cohorts, all living well beyond their means, productive and mental. However a positive outcome of this crisis, in which Nigeria achieves peace, stability and democracy, and tackles its economic and social problems in a rational manner, will benefit the greatest number of stakeholders, which are all Nigerians, including the military; West Africa; all of Africa; all people of color in the Diaspora and indeed all of humanity.

With respect to the third and final issue of alternative scenarios to the resolution of the crisis acceptable to the majority of Nigerians, it is unfortunate to say first that the time is short, and secondly that there are very few alternative scenarios to achieving lasting peace in Nigeria. First, the Abacha government line that the June 12, 1993 election, which was acceptable to the majority of Nigerian voters, is simply part of our sordid history and should be forgotten is dangerous wishful thinking, and hearkens to the developing situation in Algeria. The Abacha government line that the Abuja Constitutional Conference, in which the majority of the Nigerian voters did not participate, is laying the solid foundation for a democratic Nigeria is dangerous diversionary thinking - the alarming decision of North/South rotational presidency, and the recent decision to reverse its earlier Military termination date are clear testaments to that. It is dangerous thinking that only serves to further inflame ethnic, religious and regional sentiments, leading to talk such as declarations of self-determination by the Yoruba, whipping up of unforgotten Biafran sentiments, and reports just today of ethnic and religious riots in Kano and bombings in Ilorin. It is dangerous thinking that has resulted in the ironical imprisonment and inhuman treatment of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Labor Leader Frank Kokori and MOSOP leadr Ken Saro-Wiwa of the Ogonis, among countless others. Only yesterday, it has led to the re-detention of Dr. Beko Kuti, Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, 86-year old Chief Ajasin, Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, and thirty to fifty others. My statement that this thinking is dangerous is not one of political extremism but one of common sense.

Secondly, some Nigerians would again hope that another coup by "progressives" in the Military, ostensibly from the planet Mars, would come to "clean house" in Nigeria a la Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and/or install the June 12 mandate. This is also dangerous thinking because it ingratiates the peoples' sovereignty to military caprice. The Nzeogwu coup of 1966 and the Abacha take-over of 1994 show how military coups can and do go awry and deviate, with devastating effect, from the "original" intentions. The consensus among the majority of Nigerians, even if we don't agree about exactly the way forward now, must be to terminate the military in any future political management of Nigeria.

Having outlined the dangerous government line above, and squelched any hopes for military "white knights", I have exhausted all my God-given wisdom in coming up with any positive scenarios in resolving the present crisis other than the following, which I must admit are no longer original:

- the national reconciliation must start by the release of all political detainees unconditionally, including MKO Abiola, and the timely and due-process prosecution in the unmuzzled courts of those charged with criminal responsibility. The lifting of bans against newspapers, radio stations and labor unions is also essential.

- a public release of all the results of June 12, 1993, election (as filed in open court documents by Prof. Nwosu, National Electoral Commissions Chairman) as a prelude to

- a convening of a Government of National Unity that must invariably include the dclared winner of the election results at its head and the true representatives of the people from all walks of life;

- a stepping down of the Military, not in January 1996, October 1996 or the year 2000, but without further delay and simultaneously with the announcement of the steps above. It is unreasonable to suggest specific dates of departure to one who would ask that you forget June 12, 1993; obviously they are not respecters of dates !

Then and only then can our country Nigeria begin to resolve, through a Sovereign National Conference, its raison d'etre, its viable structural arrangements, and begin again on its path to sustainable democracy unfettered and unmediated by guns. The sovereignty of the people would then have been firmly re-asserted.

In the absence of these positive steps, Nigerians, the US government and the World Community, including TransAfrica, really have no choice but to continue to mount pressure on the Nigerian government to do the right thing. This must be done through robust and authoritative preventive diplomacy that must include unequivocal, unambiguous and principled dialogue, involving discussions of the exit of the military without further delay, an appeal to the political class to get its act together, and an empowerment of the popular sovereignty of the people. It must include targeted and sensitive sanctions, including institutional isolation. It must also continue to include in a visible manner Black Americans from all walks of life whose unique heritage demands that they must not tolerate anywhere in Africa, and even in the world, the same kinds of injustice and tyranny which brought them reluctantly to these American shores, and against which people like WEB Dubois, Paul Robeson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X fought, and for which some of them died.

In closing, once again, I thank TransAfrica for this opportunity, and for its courage in joining the Nigerian struggle. The Nigerian Democratic Movement and other Nigerians urge you and the World to stay the course despite what may be future turbulent goings. Finally, Nigeria needs all of your fervent prayers at these crossroads that our country now finds itself.


From: "APIC"
Date: Sun, 11 Jun 1995 19:35:34 +0000
Subject: Nigeria: Recent Documents, Part 2