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« The Quest Among the Igbo | Main | The Most Intelligent People on Earth cannot Elect a Skillful Manager? »

June 11, 2006

The Month our Hope Lived

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) --- Dear readers, I apologize for delaying the continuation of the article ‘Is oil worth a drop of blood?’ Since the first part was written and published many interesting developments, both in my country, and elsewhere, have captured my attention. Be assured that, God willing, the next installment will appear in subsequent editions of our delightful BNW magazine.

May 2006 was quite an interesting month in Nigeria. Exhilarating and inspiring. But also reflective, and at a time, a month when all Nigerians and her friends held their breaths in deep anxiety. Was the country fast-forwarding back to the dark ages of dictatorship in a month, which has, since 1999, been regarded as the month in which democracy was born again after a long hiatus of military rule?
By now everyone knows what I am talking about. The resounding defeat of the proposed amendment to Nigeria’s constitution which would have extended the tenure of the president for another four years in the Senate Chambers on May 16. Many people have hailed it as a victory for democracy in Nigeria, nay Africa. Stomach-knotting spectres of what might have been if the controversial bill had sailed through, given the entrenched opposition and the equally virulent support among certain members of the political and business powerbrokers, have thankfully been sent back to where they rightly belong. Thank God our nightmares are over. At least for now.

But I do not think the celebratory booze should be drunk to a state of stupor. For me, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a flawed document. It does not meet the aspirations of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, highly complex and sophisticated federation like Nigeria. Given its antecedents this is not surprising. It is a document of necessity, forged by military blacksmiths in a hurry to abandon the overwhelmingly hot workshop of Nigeria’s politics.

Throughout the seven years of Nigeria’s democratic experiment, calls for a national conference to fashion out a generally acceptable arrangement for the federation – which, in my view, is a call for constitutional engineering – show that what Nigerians have is not the best. And the other one hundred and seventeen proposed amendments, which were packaged with tenure elongation are vexatious issues in Nigeria.

But you do not carry out an immediate and major surgery on a fresh accident victim who has not been revived. President Obasanjo and his team, if they did not have other plans, should not have gone for the complex exercise when they did and the manner in which they did it. Why stick to tenure elongation when the president’s mandate is about to expire?

The fight against the third tenure was a fight by strange political bedmates that were thrust together by a common challenge to their aspirations. Now that the amendment is dead, political alignments and realignments have begun. Unfortunately, deep-rooted political-cum-ethnic differences, which seven years of democratic experiment have done little to moderate, are still strong. Hausa-Fulani politicians and ex-military powerbrokers claim the powerful presidency for themselves. Never mind they have held it the most under both civilian and military dispensations since Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The numerically minority groups in the coastal oil-rich South, who have never controlled the job, believe access to it will ameliorate their plight in Nigeria. The Igbo of the East believe that a shot at the numero uno position will be an indication that the tragic secessionist attempt by them from 1967 – 1970 has been fully consigned to the history books. Quite a stiff business. But the key question is: will the democracy, which we all cherish, highly flawed though it is, survive these bickering? As the 2007 elections approach are our institutions capable of assuring Nigerians of a clean break with a sordid past? I sincerely wish the Professor Maurice Iwu – led Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria well. If they can pull off reasonably free and fair elections in 2007 they deserve a medal. For quite a few forces are bent on seeing them fail if that will achieve their ambitions.

I am not one of those commentators who have consigned Olusegun Obasanjo to the garbage heap occupied by men like Idi Amin, Sani Abacha, even Robert Mugabe and ‘mild’ democratic – dictators like Museveni, Meles Zenawi and Paul Biya. Perhaps the man, for all his famed political craftiness – a vital tool for survival in Nigeria’s citadels of power -, came close to making the biggest mistake of his life by assuming that he had all the answers to Nigeria’s hydra headed challenges. But an objective assessment of the road travelled by his government since 1999 would show that he means well. Sadly, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. I do not think it is too late for him to seek for politically ambitious yet technocratic young Nigerians from his circles who share his vision. But in the interest of democracy and the country he claims to love so much he should allow the processes of democracy, even when they are not in his favour, to flourish. Thank God the ruling party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, ate the humble pie.

Finally, a big thank you to all who did all they could to keep Nigeria’s democratic hope alive. Maybe May 29 should not be Nigeria’s Democracy day; maybe June 12 – in remembrance of Nigeria’s best election, which tore down age-old walls – is the right date. But May 16 was a day in which we saw that our dream would be realized.
Viva, Nigeria.

An award winning writer, Henry Chukwuemeka Onyeama
lives in Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at June 11, 2006 02:11 PM


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