Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Five Myths On Nigeria

by Mohammed Alhassan, Minna, Niger State

This article which is reprinted from Sunday Tribune of May 19, 1985 raises a number of serious issues pertinent to the current developments in Nigeria and many African countries.
We took the plunge, or rather they took the plunge on our behalf on the fateful 31 December 1983. There was a wild sense of ecstasy amongst the people. Instead of the usual "Happy New Year", the people greeted them- selves: "Happy New Government". It was indeed a new government but how many people are today repeating the greetings of 1 January 1984?

It is true as the saying goes that you can't know when you start where the road is leading. It takes an historian's insight to do that. We do not know where the destination is. Unfortunately, no historian has told us.

It was after the barbaric shooting of the young cocaine pushers that I asked myself the question: Whither, Nigeria? I had a rude awakening.

Yes, I recalled, our new rulers told us among other things of mounting unemployment which had assumed intolerable proportion; of hospitals which had become mere consulting rooms because there were no drugs and equipment; of graduate unemployment. We are told of our indebtedness and deficit budgeting, of treasury looting and corruption; of pilfering crude oil and petroleum products. All by the politicians who must be severely punished.

The newspapers and their columnists enthused by the new fresh air pinned all our ills on the politicians particularly those they described as the old politicians.

The SMC began churning out decrees. One, two and three - there was an amendment overnight to the last one. Detention without trial. We applauded. It was for the politicians. No. 3, Military Tribunals whose chairmen have the discretion to conduct trials in public or in camera (they have all exercised discretion in favour of secret trials). The provisions are retroactive. Loud ovation. The provision of the Constitution on Fundamental Human Rights relating to "fair trial" suspended. Louder ovation. The minimum sentence on conviction is 21 years up to life imprisonment. Loudest ovation. No. 3 is for yesterday men. The politicians, the treasury looters. Why do we have to worry?

We have even been told that retroactive legislation even in criminal matters is in order. Oh I wish Dodan Barracks can revive the case of Captain Din and the others.

No. 4 came. Those who were hitherto blind to 1, 2 and 3, regained their sight. We were told of the evils of the decree in and out of seasons by the highly principled moguls of the Nigerian Press. Thompson and Irabor, poor boys, were the first victims.

I support the fight against No. 4. But we lost the fight when acquiesced from No. ONE. Our rulers no longer feel free to use No. FOUR. So, others after Thompson and Irabor have gone in under No. TWO.

We weep for the murdered cocaine pushers particularly B. Owoh who got caught under the retroactive provision of the decree. It may sound callous, nevertheless it is true. It is a matter of principle. If you aprobate retroactive punishment in one law you cannot reprobate in another. Why?

The on-going trials of the politicians are no less confusing. The secret trials have made nonsense of the whole exercise. The exercise of clemency by the SMC has only added to the confusion.

I will not be surprised if in future, the death of the cocaine trio will be seen not in terms of retroactive criminal legislation but in terms of their being heroes and not carriers of cocaine.

Even the trials under No. 3 may be seen in future not as an attempt to rid the public of corruption but as the reasons why we lost our fundamental human rights.

After the recent bizarre show at Kirikiri, I began to realise the myth woven out on 31 December 1983. Let's go over them.

MYTH ONE: The guilt of the old politicians in the Second Republic. This is more of imagination than reality. in the Shagari Cabinet, there were only five who can be described as old politicians - Shagari, Akinjide (Justice) Ugwu (Health) Ibrahim Guaau (Agriculture) and Shaahu (Commerce). All the others were freshers and they held most of the key ministries Prof. Essang (Works); Masi (Finance); Oniyangi (Communi- cations); Unongo and Makele (Steel); Dr Atanu (Water Resources); Cirome (Industries); Dr Dosumu (Housing); Dan Musa (Federal Capital Territory - Abuja); Hassan (Mines & Power). Both the Vice President (Ekwueme) and the Secretary to the Government (Musa) were new politicians.

If you accept the apologia being tendered on behalf of Shagari that he was a victim of his own weakness (I don't agree) then could it be that the four old politicians masterminded the whole mass with the galaxy of this formidable freshers rendered helpless?

Look at the advisers too. Only Mdadiwe is an old warrior. The remaining nine are freshers and holding important portfolios too. Prof Edozien and Dr Odama (Economic Affairs); Yahaya Dikko (Petroleum and Energy); Akinyele (Budget); Prof Odenigwe and Dr Okadigbo (Political Affairs); Dr Olaifa (Statutory Boards).

At the state level, of the 19 Governors, only six were old politicians Ajasin (Ondo); Onabanjo (Ogun); Jakande (Lagos); Ige (Oyo); Okilo (Rivers) and Lar (Plateau). All the others were freshers, retired civil servants or businessmen.

The Nigerian academics are the loudest in condemning and offering preposterous punishments and solutions. They can run through the list of cabinet ministers and advisers and ask themselves what role the academics played! As for the journalists, were they not the praise singers? Many of them are still doing just that today. A few of them became emergency contractors too and not a few were on the payroll of politicians.

What about the trade unionists in the National Assembly? Which of them spoke against the fantastic salaries and allowances demanded by their colleagues? The beginning of our national spending spree was in the National Assembly presided over, again by freshers, Wayas and Ezeoke.

It is on record that at the State level, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Ondo presided over by old politicians stuck to the agreed pay for Governors (N20,000 p.a.) and N15,000 p.a. for Legislators and Commissioners. Maybe there was one or two other states which did.

We all in our different ways contributed to the fall of the Second Republic. This is the truth.

MYTH TWO: The politicians looted the treasury. There was corruption and there had been right from independence to this day. Emergency contractors began during the first military administration. The number did not increase in the second republic as there was not much money as in the 1970's.

The on-going trials under No. 3 and the various probes are an eye-opener as to which class was the looter

I wish the newspapers will publish fully the convictions and recoveries made after 14 months of military rule.

How many politicians had been found guilty of enriching themselves, their parties and by how much? The case of Idris is different. The bulk of the money and properties he failed to disclose were acquired when he was a civil servant in the NNPC. He was fortunate that for reasons best known to the SMC the killer decree on bunkering was not made retroactive to 1979 as No. THREE.

Civil servants made much more for themselves from the treasury than the most reviled politicians. The NYSC is a pointer. And what about members of the public too. The business community. How many politicians have been involved in over-invoicing?

In illegal transfer of foreign exchange for goods not received in Nigeria?

. All I am doing is to show that corruption is endemic in our society. We cannot cure our ills by making scapegoats of a few.

'I throw a challenge. Any public officer, be he a civilian or military who owns a Mercedes Benz car as a second car from 1979 to date, should explain how he got the car and how he is maintaining two cars on his salary. I go further, those of them who maintain children overseas should also tell us how they are doing this on salaries less than N15,000 p.a. The result will be revealing'

MYTH THREE: That the ills discovered and revealed on 31st December, 1983 were the deliberate work of politicians and that sufferings must end or will end. Well, the problems have not disappeared. They have assumed alarming proportions. One does not need to elaborate. We are all witnesses.

The men of yesteryear have been consigned to prisons. For all we care, they can die there. They should not even be fed. Their personal accounts in the bank can remain frozen. indefinitely, even if they have not been tried since January 1984. Their children can live on charity. Well, unemployment graduate or non- graduate, has increased. Inflation has run away. We have been told that the clinics have become mortuaries. More factories have closed or are working in fits. Our school enrolment is falling.

MYTH FOUR: The impression we had was that public debt by governments was bad. Some military governors made a fanfare of the debts and commitments they inherited. Many of us were led to believe that their predecessors never inherited debts or commitments; and that they embezzled the loans.

First, there must be very few governments in the world which do not have public debts, not even the almighty US. Even the USSR takes credits. What is important is what you do with loans and your ability to pay back.

I have watched with amusing interest, General Buhari's present visits to the states. Almost all the projects he commissioned or laid their foundation were the handiwork of the thieving politicians with the loans negotiated by them. Where the loans were not drawn before they were kicked out, we did not give them up. The Federal Government must be negotiating new ones and or renegotiating old ones. All to prove that governments, like any big business, need credits to carry on.

MYTH FIVE: The politicians created political instability and wanted to break up the country. Nigeria has never been a united country. We are just striving to build it into one. In 1966, when Gowon took over, he told the country in his very first broadcast that the basis for unity was not there. We can all give our different answers to the question: Is the basis there today?

Politicians and the military can only work within the Nigerian setting. At the inception of the present admini- stration people criticised and are still criticising the composition of the Supreme Military Council. There is an on-going debate on Federal character. Even the trials going on under No. 3 and the way clemency was exercised are being criticised. Both can be faulted on either of two grounds: The North/ South dichotomy or NPN versus the Opposition.

All these are results of fear of domination. How can this fear be removed? The few who have dared to write about seeking a lasting policy for Nigeria, have always danced round the question. They agree, we should all have a sense of belonging. But that is as far as they will go. Mike Ani, Chinua Achebe, Okoye, etc. They theorised and offered no practical solutions.

We are no more united today than we were in December 1983. If there are no loud noises heard, there are murmurings. The fear of guns is taking its toll.

When in October 1983, one of the governors called for confederation or a looser form of federation, a columnist of The Guardian described it as conflagration! Not many today, except the idealists, will see a looser type of federation as conflagration.

For the moment, let our idealists in the Ivory Tower and the political purists tell us how power can be seen to be shared by the different groupings within the country. We should no longer talk in parables or in satires.

Nigerians want practical solutions to the problems of political domination by any group or combination of groups.

The solutions are not coming from the Military. They should come from the people through open and frank discussions. We should stop making any class the scapegoats.

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