I am a citizen of Northern Nigeria and by my training and upbringing, I am taught the virtues of respect for the elderly and obedience to leaders. Coming from Zaria, I have grown up to understand that trust and honesty are important pillars for leadership and this leads to dissent as a result of leadership failure, which always find legitimacy in the absence, or perceived weakening, of these pillars. This leads to the rise of injustice and descent to immorality and criminal conducts in society, giving rise to crisis of confidence.
On December 31, 1983, when you spearheaded the overthrow of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led Second Republic, one of the justification for the coup was the ‘crisis of confidence afflicting our nation’. The reality before us since 1999, as Nigerians, is that we continue to face this crisis of confidence. In fact, if your coup speech is to be replayed, word for word, it would reflect present national conditions. And like in 1983, the yearning for change is evident in the conduct of our politicians which you so lucidly captured in your 1983 speech as follows:
“It is true that there is a worldwide economic recession. However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement. We believe the appropriate government agencies have good advice but the leadership disregarded their advice. The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities; Instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefit and unnecessary foreign travels, et. al ,which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented. As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largey on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources. Nigeria was already condemned perpetually with the twin problem of heavy budget deficits and weak balance of payments position, with the prospect of building a virile and viable economy.
“The last general election was anything but free and fair. The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties. This conclusively proved to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources. While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of underdevelopment, these two evils in our body politic have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society.”
With very minor editing and emphasis, these would aptly describe our reality today. The only fundamental difference was that, unlike in December 1983, our political reality today is in spite of your active partisan involvement. Active partisan involvement to the extent that you were the strongest opposition presidential candidate and one of the political parties that contested the last general elections (2011) was a party you organized, promoted and field candidates for. The party today has a serving governor for Nasarawa State, senators, House of Representatives members and many members of Houses of Assembly in many states. The fact that based on performance or conduct of these elected CPC representatives, I can not differentiate them from PDP representatives is the source of my worry. I am therefore writing you this letter as a contribution to the process whereby we must critically evaluate our actions and honestly provide leadership to the process of moving our people and nation forward.
Let me quickly admit here, in the effort to move our people and nation forward, our primary task must be to develop the capacity to fight oppression and injustice. This requires a capacity to live above board. In other words, the capacity to live exemplary life as a source of moral authority, if you like, discipline, which has today come to be strongly associated with your leadership qualities. To that extent therefore, one would expect that the CPC state government of Nasarawa will be a model and a source inspiration for Nigerians. Alternatively, we should have a situation where CPC legislators would be “alive to their constitutional responsibilities” and would not be “preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels.” Unfortunately, we are not able to make this assertion. Perhaps, it is still very early since there is still three years ahead of us.
It is with these issues in mind that I believe it is important I write you. Your recent declaration as reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on April 13, 2012 to the effect that you would contest the 2015 elections compelled me to, not just write to you, but make my views open to the public. In making my views open the public, I am conscious of my limitations as an ordinary citizen and to that extent therefore, my views will not enjoy the benefits of wide publicity and acceptability.
Consistent with my upbringing, I intend to state my views honestly, truthfully and with the utmost respect to your person. Also, consistent with the training of my parents and teachers, I will, with the best of intentions, convey to you my feelings with high sense of obedience to you as a 70-year-old who has not only paid his dues but has remained the only surviving leadership model for my generation. I say this with every sense of responsibility and conscious of the fact that I am not a member of your party and did not vote for you in the last general election. In fact, I am a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and contested the 2011 elections as its senatorial candidate for Kaduna North.
I am sure with this disclosure you might be tempted to dismiss my views. However, being the leader you are, I also expect that you will at least read the letter before you pass your final judgment. I will therefore proceed to state why I believe your declaration to contest the 2015 Presidential election will not lead us to the desired changes we all aspire for Nigeria.
First, like I infer above, your party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is not different from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, the truth is that it has been taken over by what I can call the PDP virus based on the fact that the only serving governor of the party was a member of the PDP and only decamped to your party after being denied the opportunity to contest on the platform of the PDP. As a result, his team (Commissioners and members of the State House of Assembly) are predominantly PDP.
In addition, the representatives of the party in the National Assembly have not differentiated themselves from the dominant conduct of PDP members. They have in fact joined the PDP club of legislators to enjoy fat salaries and benefits. They are part and parcel of unaccountable and corrupt legislative order whose business today is predominantly to resort to blackmail and intimidation, with several reported allegations of corrupt practices. Arising from this, we have a national assembly that is unaccountable, whose budget is known only to its members. It is not only CPC representatives that are accomplices to this ugly reality. Representatives of ACN, Labour Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and all other opposition parties are equally guilty.
The second issue is the fact that the situation we have today is a product of the way your party recruited its candidates for the 2011 elections. I am one of those who sincerely believed that you lost the party at the point of its formation because you were not able to control the process that led to the emergence of leaders of the party. This gave rise to a situation where those who emerged as leaders of the party at national, state, local government and ward levels are people with the same orientation like the PDP, orientation driven by greed and lust for money and power that have dotted our political landscape today.
On account of this, the party leadership openly courted and facilitated the emergence of known PDP members as candidates of the party for the 2011 elections, people whose value is completely at variance with what you stand for and represented. There are of course other situations where people that may not be PDP but are known to have openly fought against you between 2007 and 2011 in your former party, All Nigeria People Party (ANPP), people who have undermined your leadership and sabotaged your cause, became the dominant players in CPC based on the opportunistic strategy of winning elections. Many have won the 2011 elections with your endorsement and are today as guilty as the PDP people you are fighting.
The third issue relates to your inability to convert your mass followership into electoral victory in states and other levels. I expect you to blame this on PDP’s rigging machine. I believe there is PDP rigging but I also believe that the PDP rigging machine overpowered your popularity because of internal poor party administration, which led to cases of injustice. The case of Katsina and Kano states are good example. It is clear that your party lost the governorship election in Katsina State because of mismanagement of the party primary. Otherwise, how do you account for a situation where the CPC won majority seats in the State House of Assembly and National Assembly but lost the Governorship election? If the party could defeat PDP at those levels, why was it not able to defeat the PDP at the level of governorship?
The case of Kano is worse. Being a state where the CPC was very popular, it was a tragedy that the party only contested the governorship and presidential elections. This is because all the candidates for House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate virtually withdrew from the contest on account of perceived injustice to Mohammed Abacha who won the party primary but was asked by the party’s national leadership to withdraw for Col. Lawal Ja’afaru Isa.
Related to this is the recent case of Kebbi State. Citizens of the state were shocked when, after winning a court verdict from the electoral tribunal nullifying the 2011 gubernatorial elections and ordering a re-run, the CPC leadership in the state, including the gubernatorial candidate, decamped and withdraw from the re-run election. The ACN gubernatorial candidate also did the same. This was possible because the CPC leaders are in the first place PDP in content and substance but found their way into the CPC in order to pursue their greed and lust for power and money.
My fourth issue has to do with the failed attempt for the merger of opposition parties under the National Democratic Movement (NDM) initiative in 2009 and the alliance between the ACN and CPC in 2011. Without going into details, the accounts that is open to the public was that you opted out of the merger negotiations having succeeded in registering the CPC. With respect to the failed alliance of 2011, the account was that while the ACN was ready to withdraw its presidential candidate, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in favour of your candidature, the CPC refused to concede the position of vice president to the ACN.
All these accounts have not been refuted by either you or the CPC leadership. If anything, they were rationalized. Now my worries have turned to fear. This is because I have so many questions that are bothering me. These are: now that you have declared to contest for the 2015 elections, will you have a new approach in the runoff to 2015 or will it be another repeat of the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections experience where ordinary citizens had very high expectations that you would provide leadership for the electoral defeat of PDP? Will your campaign be driven by the same team of administratively incompetent and politically naïve and deceptive people who have failed to develop a national outlook and expand your support base to cover all parts of the country?
This leads me to my fifth point Sir. As a northerner, to that extent do you intend to use your aspiration to first throw up credible contestants for political offices in the North, contestants that upon winning elections would spearhead the socio-economic and political development of the region? Remember, your political presence alone is a determinant of who win and lose elections in most parts of the 19 states of Northern Nigeria. This will not be an issue at all if your party leadership, your campaign team and other candidates that would be fielded by your party exemplify your values. Unfortunately, this is most probably not going to be the case. The truth is that most of the members of your party’s leadership, your campaign team and party candidates are PDP in every respect. Some of them are even worse than PDP. They would not only emerge as candidates of your party but they would also be promoted by you and aided to win elections.
I make this argument with the benefit of experience. It happened in 2003, 2007 and 2011. You will recall that in 2003, ANPP defeated PDP in Kano with your blessing. It is now history how the ANPP government in Kano between 2003 and 2011 mismanaged and squandered public resources to the point where the people became nostalgic of the PDP government of 1999 – 2003, which partly accounted for the second coming of Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, no thanks to the mismanagement of internal processes of your party, CPC. Similarly, Alhaji Isa Yuguda won the 2007 governorship elections in Bauchi with your support. Again, it is now history how Isa Yuguda defected back to the PDP shortly after the 2007 elections. Since the emergence of the CPC government in Nasarawa following the 2011 elections, there have been speculations around the Nasarawa governor, Tanko Al-Makura, that he was planning to go back to the PDP. Although there has been constant denial by your party leadership at both state and national levels, this speculation has remained.
What this points out is your inadvertent contribution to the phenomenon of bad governance in Nigeria. This needs to be addressed. And looking at the simplistic way you announce your declaration to contest the 2011 elections, it is important we draw your attention to this fact. I call it simplistic because it doesn’t come with critical evaluation of your experiences and a commitment to change the way you played politics in 2003, 2007 and 2011. If that happens, the result is most likely to be the same – the PDP will again overpower all opposition, including your very humble self and our tragedies and woes will continue.
My sixth point, relates to the fact you will be 73 when the 2015 elections is conducted. Looking at your personal life, I believe you are sincerely troubled by the absence of alternative leadership in the country and this is what propels you to continue to offer yourself. In evaluating this issue, I think it is really unfortunate that our national situation is almost pushing you to follow the inglorious path of the Robert Mugabe’s and Abdullai Wade’s of Africa. With the administrative incompetent and politically naive team that you have, the probability that your presidential candidature for 2015 will be overpowered is very high.
What do we do therefore? Do we simply just surrender to PDP without a fight and to that extent ask you to withdraw your interest in contesting the 2015 Presidential elections? If we ask you to withdraw, would that not simply translate to abdication of our responsibility to our people? What are the options before us?
Sir, these are not easy questions to answer, yet we must answer them convincingly. First, we must on no account surrender to the PDP. On no account should we allow a situation where we inadvertently facilitate the rule of PDP in anyway. To that extent, therefore, your aspiration to contest the 2015 presidential elections must be discouraged because of two fundamental reasons. The first is that the same altruistic reasons driving your aspirations will not regulate the structures of your campaign and would not be able to fight against the emergence of greedy and corrupt politicians who would be embraced by you and supported to win the elections. The second reason is that your aspiration would blur our peoples’ vision as they will not be able to see beyond you.
I therefore submit that our society will benefit more without your aspirations for 2015. In the circumstance, it is my hope that you consider changing your role to that of leading the negotiation process towards strengthening the capacity of opposition parties in Nigeria. Events in nearby Senegal should serve as a source of inspiration. To strengthen opposition parties in Nigeria would require a strategy that would throw up completely new candidates at all levels in 2015 including the presidential elections. Your moral authority to serve as the facilitator of this will engrave your name in the sands of Nigerian history as one nationalist who sacrificed everything, including his personal aspirations, to ensure that the monster called PDP is defeated.
I am convinced that members of the CPC who are pushing you to contest don’t wish you well and you should not listen to them. In the event that you listen to them and contest the 2015 elections, in the manner you did in 2003, 2007 and 2011, history and future generations of Nigerians will be justified if they turned out not to be kind to you. In fact, for those of us in the North, would be justified to be aggrieved with your decision, especially given the quality of leadership your aspirations have nurtured and imposed on our people at other lower levels.
My conclusion therefore is to remain a member of the ACN in spite of my respect for you. In remaining a member of the ACN, I am conscious of the challenges facing all of us in the North. Part of it includes the fact that arising from my inability to join your party, I will remain a political orphan in my constituency with greater probability that my candidate will not attract your support no matter his/her credential and therefore might not win election. Unfortunately, my party (ACN) leadership at national level appears to be operating in a comfort zone and as a result might only start prioritizing the development of the party’s structure in my constituency when it is too late.
Admittedly, I must recognize that the problem of administrative incompetence and political naivety, which define your party, CPC, also gets manifested in different ways in my party, the ACN. One of the ways it gets manifested is the inability to recruit new membership in other parts of the country outside the South West and Edo. While it is a reflection of the failings of many of us from outside the South West and Edo to encourage and nurture positive disposition towards the development of party structures, it must be recognized that the dominant approach is to look in the direction of aggrieved politicians in PDP who have resources to expend in the development of structures of the party.
This is a fundamental problem because what it means is that our opposition parties in Nigeria, inclusive of your CPC and my ACN, share the same political culture with the PDP, culture which you aptly describe in your 1983 coup speech as resulting in problems of indiscipline and mismanagement of resources thereby leading to loss of confidence. Therefore, at this stage, what should occupy our attention is not individual aspirations but that of sanitizing our parties and making them distinctively different from the PDP. And in 2015, without you contesting for the Presidency, a credible Nigerian can be thrown up. In addition, with your towering charisma, you are the best person positioned by history to facilitate the unity of all opposition parties in the contest for 2015.
The elements requiring the unity of opposition parties must not be taken for granted especially with the experience of 2011 where information available to the public was that CPC/ACN failed because Pastor Tunde Bakare, your running mate, refused to step down. I am convinced that it was your tacit prodding that encouraged Pastor Tunde Bakare to adopt a hardline stance and refused to consider making the much needed sacrifice. I am also tempted to argue that it was your towering charisma that gave Pastor Bakare the courage and cover to be able to undermine a patriotic national calling of the time.
Many would also emphasise the point that my national leadership also undermined the patriotic national calling of that time by failing to forgo their demand for the substitution of Pastor Tunde Bakare with their nominee. These are all true but very convenient arguments. My position is that the alliance couldn’t have worked because of two factors. I believe the parties negotiating the alliance (CPC/ACN) were not deeply committed to the negotiations, and to that extent, hardly see the negotiation in terms of defining the kind of government that would have taken over from the PDP. In other words, if there were discussions of programmes, they were secondary. As a result, the main focus was just the 2011 elections.
This leads me to a more substantive issue, which informs my objection to your aspiration to contest for President. To the ordinary people, their belief is that if you win the presidency you will be able to fight against corruption and injustice in the country. Given the configuration of your party and all those directly driving your campaigns and aspirations, it is debatable if you can fight corruption as President. This is the crux of the matter and all those who are quick to cite your performance as head of state between January 1984 and August 1985 should ask themselves the following questions: does your campaign team and current CPC leaders share your vision and have any commitment to fighting corruption? Are they any different from the PDP you are fighting? Can you replicate the same governance policies and approaches under the 1999 constitution as amended?
As my elder and leader, I will urge you to sincerely answer these questions. I am convinced that, given your honestly, you will not allow your personal aspiration to influence your answer. I am also convinced that your aspiration is more challenging for those of us in the North. Therefore, I must admit that your aspiration also means a challenge for the political survival of many of us in the North. Without any doubt, it also raises question about the capacity of politicians in the North to assert their independence. Rather than follow the bandwagon, I draw inspiration from Mallam Aminu Kano’s 1950 memo where he proclaimed that “I have seen the light in the far horizon and I intend to march into full cycle, either alone or with anybody.” The task therefore for many of us from the North, who genuinely want to move our nation and society forward, is to follow the direction of the far horizon and march towards the full cycle. Whether it is a journey we will make alone or with other fellow patriots, it is a task that is necessary and politically obligatory for our survival.
I do hope you would reconsider your decision and give us leadership in this journey. Otherwise, as your loyal children, we have learned the appropriate lesson – go against the current in the service of fatherland!
Mr. Lukman of People and Passion Consult Ltd., sent this piece from Abuja