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« The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Nigeria: A meeting of the Minds Chief Gani Fawehinmi in conversation with Onyeka Onwenu (Part 1) | Main | Gbenga Obasanjo: I thought… »

April 18, 2005

Letter to Wada Nas

by Aonduna Tondu --- Dear Sir,

It has been three and a half months since you left us. How time flies! The inevitable passage of time is of little use when recalled in the abstract. Hindsight is a remarkable human capacity and individuals or groups who fail to learn lessons from those whose lives have been closely associated with the struggles and aspirations of the wider community risk repeating the errors of the past.

Partly due to the concern for the perpetuation of the species and the renewal of societal values it implies, there is the widespread belief in traditional African societies that those who have left us for the great beyond are actually still living amongst us, in one form or the other. Whatever one’s beliefs, there is no denying that Wada Nas has left an important legacy and for many Nigerians, he will forever be with us, at least in spirit. That legacy is beckoning us more than ever before as the Nigerian nation traverses periods of increasing uncertainty and stress at all levels of the polity. It is only proper that fellow citizens be reminded of the wisdom of your counsel and especially regarding our present circumstances as a nation grappling with bad political leadership. Nigerians have a short memory. We behave as if we are not a historically conscious people. In the second half of your short but happy life, your principled crusading in our national spaces did contribute in no small way in reminding us of what we are as a people, where we came from and where we should be headed. This dialogue with you is my way of helping sustain awareness around some of the critical issues of our common national existence.

Let me start by saying that you are not missing much as far as the president’s National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) is concerned. Religious extremists from both the Muslim and Christian camps have been making threats and counter-threats on issues ranging from representation at the Abuja event, the forthcoming census, to so-called marginalisation. I must tell you that Nigerians are getting fed up with the crass sectarianism of the leadership of Nigeria’s two largest religious groups. The self-absorbed bigotry of some of our Christian and Muslim brothers is becoming depressingly familiar. It is also one of the major challenges of the Nigerian democratic project today. You will agree with me that inter-communal conflict, especially that involving Christians and Muslims, seems to have escalated, thanks in part to Obasanjo’s divisive politics. But this is no news to you. I am sure you will not find this nasty situation the least surprising. You used to chide politicians and other members of the elite classes for their responsibility in the fuelling of communal conflicts.

Another thing that should not come to you as a surprise is the recent statement by the president that he is being prompted by yet to be named forces to go for a third consecutive term. In your usual perspicacity and frankness, you were the first public figure to actually alert the nation about this diabolical plan by Obasanjo to remain in power beyond 2007. Very few people believed you then, while the regime in Abuja kept denying that any such thing was taking place. Well, now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, those of us who have never doubted the lucidity of your analysis of our national events must commend your courage and tenacity as well as your role as the voice of the voiceless. You were also the first moral authority to specifically warn Nigerians that Vice-President Atiku was being victimized by his boss, Mr. President, who is hell-bent on preventing the vice-president from succeeding him. You were called all sorts of names by the regime’s sycophants and henchmen alike for expressing this fact even though nowadays, Obasanjo and his errand boys hardly pretend that there is anything but mutual distrust between Nigeria’s first and second citizens. And while we are still on this self-succession matter, it is important to note that Obasanjo and his allies are said to have a plan B should the self-succession bid backfire. It is called refusing to put one’s eggs in one basket. Most Nigerians would say it is desperation on the part of Baba Iyabo and his friends to cover their backs.

As part of this plan B, a surrogate with a supposedly less contentious moral baggage than the likes of Babangida will be foisted on the nation. The name of a former military governor of Lagos – Buba Marwa - is increasingly being mentioned as the individual President Obasanjo and his political clan may want to recruit for this scheme. Of course, Marwa has rejected that insinuation even though his frenzied criss-crossing of the country in recent weeks, not to mention his numerous foreign trips, is taking on the aura of a carefully choreographed political intrigue whose dénouement is already known by a cabal responsible for the plotting as well as execution of previous assaults on Nigerian democracy. At any rate, I take it that you would resist that kind of sinister design allegedly being contemplated by the political mafia around Obasanjo if you were here in person. You would tell Marwa and his sponsors that collecting scores of traditional titles and laying claim to having been a Babangida boy are not the attributes Nigerians expect from a prospective president. You would call for a level playing field to be established for the various political parties and their candidates. You would ask the people to rise and reject once and for all any undemocratic imposition whatsoever.

As a footnote to this self-perpetuation matter, it has been reported in the media that a mysterious document purportedly proposing the extension of the life of the current Obasanjo regime is making the rounds at the Abuja conference, with the name of the ubiquitous Jerry Gana mentioned as one of the characters charged with seeing to it that the conference adopts those changes to the constitution that would give Obasanjo what he wants. If true, this development should add to the charge that Obasanjo’s anti-corruption campaign is essentially serve-serving in nature. And regarding the criticism of the president’s anti-corruption crusade, I would like to draw your attention to perhaps the most apt admonition so far – that by the Oracle of contemporary Nigerian politics, Chief Sunday Awoniyi of the ACF. In his address over a week ago to a gathering of National Assembly members from the northern part of the country, Chairman Awoniyi stated bluntly that corruption flows from the presidency. He added that the president is guilty of spiritual corruption and as such his sanctimonious talk about fighting corruption at the National Assembly and elsewhere cannot be trusted. It is worth mentioning here that Awoniyi prefaced his criticism of the president’s attitude to the problem of corruption by indicting northern politicians whom he accused of neglecting their responsibility toward the people. Some of the northern legislators, he alleged, had been involved in electoral corruption in 2003 and as such can only lay claim to a dubious mandate.

It goes without saying that this corruption wahala is bothering a lot of Nigerians these days. Corruption in all its ramifications has held us back as a people and for any politician to use it as a bait in the search for political relevance as seems to be the case with the president is quite unfortunate. Nigerians in their moral majority appear sceptical, and rightly so, about the blatant, TV-driven campaign currently being waged by Obasanjo. In my commentary on this issue last week, I did not mince words by dismissing the campaign as largely selective and vindictive in nature. This hypocritical posture of Mr. President regarding the imperative to fight corruption is what you yourself never ignored in your various writings. But let me get to the main topic of my letter to you. It has to do with what can be regarded as the president’s first wide-ranging public defence of his current anti-corruption campaign. I am hoping that the integrity and transparency you consistently exhibited in public discourse will help us in our attempt at understanding president Obasanjo’s defence of his campaign.

In a chat with journalists before he left for overseas again, this time, on a 14-day trip to Asia, the president railed against almost every strategic section of the Nigerian society. He was angry that media practitioners were not considering the anti-corruption mantra of his regime as the gospel truth. He threw tantrums and barked at members of the National Assembly. He cast aspersions left and right, including, remarkably, on people within his government by accusing them of trying to sabotage his anti-corruption war which he promised would be “total”. You could sense his frustration and disappointment. Disappointment that Nigerians were not signing on to this new credo of his. But much of the president’s anger and frustration would seem to have been provoked by the damning allegations in the media about corruption involving his family. In his defence of Gbenga, his son, against allegations that the latter is corruptly enriching himself, Obasanjo limited himself to claiming that the young man does not have $22 million dollars in his American bank accounts. Obasanjo is telling Nigerians to believe his version of the story. He wants us to trust him. And if one may ask, what would be the basis of this trust?

I can imagine how you would have thrown scorn on this weak defence by the president. You would have wondered, as some commentators are already doing, why Gbenga Obasanjo, an adult and a successful businessman, according to Fani-Kayode, cannot defend himself. You surely would have insisted on the police (and the EFCC) carrying out a thorough and transparent investigation into the bank accounts – foreign as well as local – of the younger Obasanjo. You would have gone further than that, all in the name of fairness and transparency. You would have called for an investigation of the alleged business deals of Gbenga Obasanjo as well as those of his associates. You would have moved further up the family ladder to ask the NNPC to open their books. You would have denounced the recent hiring of a foreign outfit to audit the accounts of the NNPC as an attempt at whitewashing the rot there. You would most definitely have insisted on the need to broaden the anti-corruption campaign to other sectors of the economy. Just like Gani Fawehinmi is doing, you would have also asked the president to tell Nigerians what his various businesses are and how much he is making from those ventures. Further more, the president would be required to tell fellow citizens how many wives he has and in what businesses, if any, the wives are engaged. And in the light of the scandal involving the sale of government houses in Lagos, Nigerians would want to know if other relatives of the president should be placed on a morality watch list.

Nigerians remember vividly how the avuncular Wada Nas taught them enduring truths about themselves. Avoiding the temptation of easy remedies, you were insistent but fair in your scrutiny of the current so-called democratic experience. Thanks to you, it is no longer considered as a heresy to acknowledge that Obasanjo is running perhaps the most corrupt and most violent government in the history of Nigeria. You told us that the Abacha government of which you were a member did put in place more viable economic measures than those of the PDP-led regime of president Obasanjo. This earned you the derision and hostility of some sections of the national media. You refused to be cowed and continued to castigate as well as entertain in the best tradition of public discourse. These days, even the most scathing of Abacha’s opponents readily concede that Nigerians were economically better-off under his regime than they are today. With Obasanjo’s PDP, Nigeria is fast regressing to a Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short. Except, of course, for the pigs of the corrupt system in place who are increasingly electing to spend their last days on earth far away from the land they have actively ruined - in Western capitals.

On that note, allow me to say that in death as in life, you hold useful lessons for us all. The manner of your last voyage is in itself profoundly symbolic. You chose to live and die amongst the people. You lived a fulfilled life. You were not rigid in your thinking. Only fools maintain a closed mind by rejecting the merits of self-revision. The values which you lived by will continue to guide Nigerians.

I hope to maintain this exchange with you on the state of the nation. Our encounter by way of the posthumous open letter should be seen as an important aspect of the necessary dialogue citizens need to have with those figures whose ideas deserve to be immortalized on account of the lasting impact they are bound to have on the society.

Au revoir, Wada Nas. You deserve your rest.

Aonduna Tondu

New York

Posted by Administrator at April 18, 2005 03:52 PM


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