El-Rufai, June 12 and Abacha woken from the dead |Festus Adedayo - Penangle | News Portal in Nigeria
Tue. Jun 18th, 2024
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Yesterday, General Sani Abacha clocked 28 years in the grave. Abacha’s sudden expiration at the thick of his maximal and maniacal rule reminds Nigerians, especially those who were old enough in 1998 when he died, of how human beings should never play god. Abacha ruled with iron fist, after his seizure of power. He summarily executed dissidents and political opponents while those who held other views disappeared without trace. A very interesting equation was when he ordered the deaths of Generals Oladipo Diya and Abdukareem Adisa for plotting to sack him. As Epo Akara, the Ibadan Awurebe musical lord, sang, death will kill the chanter and the enchanter. The three of them died their own deaths and alighted from life’s moving bus immediately they got to their bus-stops. Abacha was however credited with several economic feats, especially his standing up to the IMF and other western power blocs. He also filched Nigeria of billions of dollars which he kept in Switzerland and other jurisdictions like Lichtenstein, the United Kingdom and the United States.

After Abacha’s death, many other Nigerian leaders have been playing god. Post-succession battles in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic between governors and their successors are battles of men who play god. Their exploits can best be depicted in anecdotes. Those battles have thrown up more moral than political questions. Should successor governors be loyal to their predecessor-benefactors at the expense of the people? Today, a post-succession battle is raging in Kaduna State. It is between El-Rufai and his anointed successor, Uba Sani. Whether muffled or loud, post-succession battles can be found in many one-year governments that took over from incumbents in 2023. From Rivers to Akwa-Ibom, Cross-River to Zamfara, protégés are becoming the falcons that have refused to hear the lullabies of falconers.

In pre- and post-colonial Yoruba society, folklores, fables, among others, helped to tame the greed, as well as any tendency within it to play god. Suchlike stories helped to shape the moral man in Africa. His cosmology was governed by anecdotes, lore and mores, which prescribed moral codes. For centuries, folklores sustained the associational and moral forte of Africa. Anecdotes that restrained a potential emperor from treading the path of ruination were told to children, even in their infancy; the same about petty thieves who came to ghastly ends. For instance, the destructive end of greed was foretold in pre-colonial Yoruba society in the emblematic story of Tortoise and the scalding hot porridge. He had cupped the porridge while it was being cooked and covertly put it on his head which burnt his scalp.

An example is the anecdote told of a young wretched fisherman called the Ap’ejalodo. Set in an African Yoruba village, the fisherman was ravaged by failure on all fronts. He was unable to catch enough fish over the years to rescue him from the pangs of lack. One day however, as he thrust his fishing hook into the river, it caught one of the largest fishes he had ever seen. Excited, Ap’ejalodo pulled his awesome catch up the river bank and proceeded to yank it off the hook. As he attempted to carry it to the basket, the fish began to speak like a human being. Ap’ejalodo was at first afraid and ran away from the river bank. He however eventually pulled himself together, approached his queer hunk of a catch and listened to the sermon of the strange fish. Singing “Ap’ejalodo, mo de, ja lo lo, ja lo lo…” (Fisherman, here I come…) the fish pleaded to be rescued from the harrowing pain of the hook by the fisherman. It promised that if he spared its life, in lieu of this rescue, the Ap’ejalodo should ask for whatever he wanted in life. Excited, Ap’ejalodo lets it off the hook, having asked for wealth. Truly, by the time he got home, the ragged clothes on him and his wife had become a very big damask agbada and aran respectively. The couple’s wretched hut had also transformed into a big mansion. Both of them subsequently lived the life of unimaginable splendour.

After a few years, the couple was however barren. The wife entreated Ap’ejalodo to go fishing again and ask his fish friend to rescue them from the social shame of non-procreation. As he thrusted his hook into the river, Ap’ejalodo caught the strange fish again and the earlier process was repeated. This time, he asked for a child and the strange fish granted it. Over the years, Ap’ejalodo magisterially summoned the fish through the same process and the fish kept bailing the couple out. Then one day, as Ap’ejalodo and wife were waking up from their magnificent bed, a blinding and intruding ray of the sun meandered into their bedroom. Enraged, Mrs. Ap’ejalodo couldn’t understand the diffidence of the Sun. Couldn’t it respect the privacy and majesty of the richest couple in the land? She angrily entreated Ap’ejalodo to go meet his fish friend and ask that they be given the power to control the Sun and the insolent temerity of other impertinent celestial forces.

Off Ap’ejalodo went to the river bank, thrust his fishing hook into the river and again invoked the strange fish. And Ap’ejalodo made his plea. The fish was peeved by the fisherman’s greed and audacity: “You were nobody; I made you somebody and you now have everything at your beck and call. Yet, you want to compete with God in majesty and you will not allow even a common Sun to shine and perform the illuminative assignment God gave it on earth!” The fish angrily stormed back into the river and as Ap’ejalodo, downcast, walked back home, his old torn and wretched dress suddenly came back on him, his mansion transformed into the hut of the past and the couple’s latter wretchedness was more striking than the one of yore.

Make no mistake about it: Nasir El-Rufai is brilliant and bold. He matches his heart of a lion with the cold calculation of a deadly viper. Ever since he surreptitiously gained public attention as General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s economic adviser in 1998, up to being the DG of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in 1999, the god who sat by the furnace to cook the broth of Nasir’s destiny didn’t appear ready to leave the furnace. The short-statured Nasir rose to become one of the most powerful Turks in the current civil experience, leaving no one in doubt that he would play consequential roles in the then emerging Fourth Republic. He later became Minister of the FCT. As FCT Minister, Nasir was unorthodox. He was profiled as cold-hearted as a cobra. Decisions that scared the rest of humanity were his forte. He mowed down thousands of houses and evicted landlords in the neighbourhood of 800,000 from their homes. He however restored sanity to an otherwise chaotic Abuja Master-plan. One of his demolitions that marked him out as fearless was the house of his party’s National Chairman, Senator Ahmadu Ali, that he brought to its knees. Nasir was dead to adversity, caverlierly dismissed court suits, and the tomes of blackmails and threats to his life that were as rife as mushrooms in a farm plantation.

As governor from 2015 to 2023, clips of his infrastructural midas-touches in Kaduna State surfaced as commendable examples for the republic. International organizations commended him for adhering to due process. But Nasir’s heart was sculpted with pebbles. As his power assumed limitless proportion mounted and majesty quadrupled his height in power calculus, he acquired the powers of gods. Like a god that he thought himself to be, Nasir determined who lived and who deserved to meet their creator. He made seismic social and political pronouncements capable of ruining national edifices, especially on religion. He demolished thousands of houses of friends and foes, most notable being that of Senator Othman Hunkuyi who represented Kaduna North in the senate. In what was seen as power audacity, Nasir disengaged over 21,000 school teachers after they failed a competency test that his government set. In one fell swoop, he showed the door to 4,000 local government employees, a figure perceived to be high in a slightly over 100,000 staff council. These were a tip of the iceberg in tough, brutal, brave and suicidal decisions Nasir made in public service. Many claimed he took those decisions due to ego and sense of personal consequence. To show how much grip he had of the governance structure in Kaduna State, notwithstanding these deadly decisions he took, Nasir still succeeded in producing a successor in Senator Uba Sani who, it will appear, is his nemesis in power today.

Succession politics in Nigerian states has always been chaotic and a deadly battle. It seems to have taken its cue from coups de’tat planned by military despots. Nigeria’s earliest encounter with succession politics was self-succession bids of military rulers. And it happened on October 1, 1974. On that day, Yakubu Gowon, who emerged Nigeria’s military leader after the July, 1966 coup which ousted the first military regime, said the handover date to civilians he earlier offered was unrealistic. He announced an indefinite postponement of the handover. This became one of the justifications for his overthrow on July, 29 1975. Then came General Ibrahim Babangida. His self-succession bid has been likened to a woman who periodically changes her mind about going to the market. Babangida deliberately scuttled his own transition to civil rule programmes, altering the calendar and sacrificing huge national resources in the process. He engaged in a roulette of banning, unbanning politicians and finally annulled the June 12 election.

His military successor, General Abacha, also romanced self-succession by sponsoring groups underground like the Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) to covertly campaign for his presidency in 1998. In the current Fourth Republic, a civil government that toyed with self-succession was that of President Olusegun Obasanjo who, in early 2005, got his supporters to move to amend the Nigerian constitution for an extension of presidential and gubernatorial term limits to three, from its present two. Though opposed to it in the open, Obasanjo was said to have bribed legislators to vote for the alteration of the constitution. However, on May 16, 2006, the federal parliaments effectively nipped it in the bud.

In this republic, the graveyard of governor godsons fighting their godfather-successors to a standstill is filled with carcasses. They enter Government Houses hunchbacked by their predecessors but, no sooner than they enter governmental palaces than these anointed godsons shut the gates. And the bubble bursts, while the cookies begin to crumble. Some of the cookies were immediate while many took longer time to get shattered into smithereens. In Lagos, the Tinubu-Raji Fashola experiment, what many saw for almost four years as matrimony worthy of example, exploded towards the end of the first term. The godfather was the de facto governor, determining the political barometer of politics, its finance and what prebends to give to political hirelings in the distribution of the largesse of power. Not until the re-election campaign of Fashola in 2011 did the cracks begin to be noticeable, revealing the godfather/godson as proverbial seeds in a walnut pod. You remember the cryptic phrase, “may your loyalty never be tested…”? The godson was between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In many other states at this time, the matrimonies suffered ruptures almost immediately. James Ibori succeeded in making his first cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghan, his successor in Delta. The godfather continued to reap dividends of his ‘investments’ in the godson. I am told that Uduaghan surreptitiously did in his cousin, Ibori, even while serving his term in the UK slammer. In Enugu, Sullivan Chime was still governor-elect when he started to undo all that his mentor and godfather put in place. He spent eight years trying to pull down the Ebeano political structure that midwifed him. Orji Kalu suffered same fate in Abia, where his erstwhile chief of staff, T. A. Orji, who was in the EFCC custody while his election was taking place, eventually emerged governor. Orji spent his years in government firing ballistic missiles at Kalu who spent billions of state funds to skew the process in his favour. This was replicated in virtually all the states, even in the 2015 and 2019 elections where anointed godsons, having mutated to become godfathers themselves, attempted to foist their own godsons as successors. For example, Chime’s godson, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, eventually turned out his political pallbearer. In Anambra, Peter Obi, while shopping for a godson, sidestepped the generally accepted skewer-minded political class, and walked into the supposedly sane banking hall in search of an urbane, corporate world executive. He got Willie Obiano. Less than a year after, the strange, somber-looking Obiano had transmuted from the gentleman who couldn’t hurt a fly into a stone-hearted political principality who strenuously presided over Obi’s political funeral and nunc-dimitis. Same is replicated in Kano where Umar Ganduje, erstwhile Rabiu Kwankwaso’s lickspittle, became a hydra-headed monster who eventually swallowed his ex-boss. The story of political betrayal, otherwise known as attempts by political godsons to be men of their own, has mutated dangerously ever since.

The two examples that are shattering the roof of political discussions today are those of Nyesom Wike/Fubara and El-Rufai/Sani. After openly announcing that his government met multiple of billions of debt in the state, Sani, held a town hall meeting where he announced that he inherited a lean treasury which made payment of salaries herculean. In April, a 13-man ad-hoc committee of the State House of Assembly, headed by the Deputy Speaker, Henry Danjuma, to probe El-Rufai’s administration began to investigate all finances, loans and contracts awarded under El-Rufai. Last Wednesday, that committee submitted its report and indicted El-Rufai and a few of his appointees of siphoning N423b state funds. El-Rufai, however, described the outcome of the probe as false and scandalous. What may however be troubling is the allegation that Sani is merely the fly dancing on top of the river. And that the one beating the drum may actually live in Aso Rock. This will be disturbing because El-Rufai deserves his comeuppance from inside the Kaduna where he played god and not from external manipulators. In Rivers, Wike met his match in a deadly power user, Fubara, who seems to have exorcised the ghost of Wike’s flippancy and public irritancy.

Many people have falsely looked at the spats in post-succession governors’ battles of the Fourth Republic from the moral lens. Which it is not. The spats arise simply from the fact that governors, who ab-initio were themselves bereft of power like Ap’ejalodo who lacked money, play god. The common people of Nigeria must continue to pray that the Wikes and El-Rufais will continually meet their Fubaras and Sanis waterloos. It is only in this that the governors will learn their bitter lessons. Except in Lagos where succession politics is sustained with huge miasma of metaphysics and corruption, there is scarcely any state of the federation where predecessor godfather governors are not regretting their choices today.

This Wednesday also marks the 31st anniversary of the June 12 struggle. The present inheritors of the struggle must step back and do a rethink of June 12. How much of the life abundant which MKO Abiola envisioned are the people in Aso Rock bringing the way of Nigerian people? Would MKO have reserved a “bragging right” in the thick of a weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth economy that we have today? If Abiola looks back from the grave, would he be happy with those who claim he was their democratic progenitor? A government that is almost a coalition of NADECO activists and Abacha progenies is an odd assortment. Will Abiola be happy that the Lagos Landlord is waking Abacha from the dead by making Atiku Bagudu, Abacha’s bagman and the Chagouris, the goggled General’s financiers, the main engine room of his government? Perhaps, Colonel Frank Omenka will soon become the Chief of Army Staff?

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