Fellow Nigerians, please I have no intention of scaring anyone today but to paint a realistic scenario of what may likely happen soon. Experience has taught me not to dismiss anything as mere rumour these days. I vividly recollect the damage even unfounded rumour can cause in a country so prone to malicious gossips as Nigeria.
Permit me to take you down memory lane especially those who were yet to be born, or old enough to experience first-hand certain events, in1989 that culminated in what was dubbed the SAP Riots. It so happened that an evil genius somewhere had released a bazooka of a rumour about General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and his family. The tale-bearer had mentioned that there was a story in Ebony, an American magazine, which purportedly listed the stupendous wealth of the Babangidas, including coded accounts in Switzerland, a sprawling boutique in Paris, choice properties in a few world capitals and so on.
The rumour ignited like bush-fire in harmattan just as some livid and obviously rabid Nigerians went wild and took to the streets. I don’t remember the exact date of this conflagration but it was on a particular Wednesday in May 1989. I was a reporter working for the Weekend Concord at the time and was out of Lagos when the demonstrators unleashed mayhem in different parts of Nigeria, most especially in Lagos and Benin City. I had returned on a Friday to my desk while the first edition of our wave-making and audacious newspaper had already gone out. And the cover read: Black Wednesday in Lagos.
I immediately approached my Editor, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, a man with an uncanny nose for news and scoops, and challenged him about the lack of adequate bite in the reportage of that important story. My Editor threw the challenge back at me and instructed me to write another version for the second edition. The story I was about to pen was so dangerously precarious under a military regime but I challenged fate and broke down the eventful riots into pieces and took the readers back into its original source. Every newspaper had celebrated the story but they were just too timid to situate the reasons for the total breakdown of law and order apparently for fear of a backlash from the petulant military rulers.
What I found preposterous was the fact that no one had made sufficient effort to look for the original publication that supposedly printed the satanic story. Even the famous social crusader, Dr Tai Solarin, who led a chunky part of the rebellion, said he had not seen an original copy of the magazine. Everything was thus based on rumours upon rumours and hearsay upon hearsay. Fortunately for me, as I sat down to write one of my most difficult stories ever, our Managing Director, Dr Doyinsola Hamidat Abiola, received some current editions of Ebony magazine from our Chairman, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who had just flown in from one of his marathon trips abroad. Dr Abiola, as if in spirit, had urgently dispatched the copies of Ebony to my Editor who in turn sent them to me, and that confirmed our worst fears that there was no such story and it was all a mere fabrication to smear the government.
I must have written one of my best stories ever that night. I traced the origin of the rumours and painted a vivid picture of the allegations. I mentioned authoritatively that we had combed several issues of Ebony and there was no such story ever published. For extra effect, we made a bromide of the latest Ebony cover and plastered it on the cover of Weekend Concord. As I sweated over the story, I uncharacteristically sent for a bottle of beer to calm down my nerves. The Publisher of Classique magazine, May Ellen Ezekiel, had walked in to submit her MEE column which I had the privilege of editing, and asked why I was looking so tense. I told her about my delicate story and she was wowed by my bravery. That very night, she started working on how to poach me to her magazine. What was more, our Lagos edition of Weekend Concord sold 80,000 copies that Saturday.
My mind raced back to this experience about four weeks ago as I ran into a Nigerian lady in Madrid who told me she had left Nigeria in order to escape election violence but was returning because it was postponed. As I write this, I know of many families running away from Nigeria between now and next week. If you doubt the veracity of my gist, please call or try to book flights on any of the major airlines and tell me your experience later. Election has become a war and a matter of life and death in our country. I was hoping things would be different after watching the peace accord document that was voluntarily signed by our political gladiators in Abuja, before man and God. I was particularly encouraged by the loud banter exchanged between President Jonathan and Major General Muhammadu Buhari. It is tragic that the accord broke down almost as soon as it was signed.
I won’t make you more miserable by regurgitating some of the nonsense campaigning we’ve been subjected to by adults and supposed nationalists who should know much better and act decorously. But the situation has so degenerated that no one can predict what would happen next. Now the scaremongering has reached a crescendo. The biggest rumour in town is that the ruling party has decided that it will never hand over power to the opposition no matter the outcome of the election. And these rumours are emanating from some of those very close to the corridors of power. The First Lady, in particular, has not hidden her disdain for her husband’s main challenger. I’ve taken time to watch most of her campaigns after my well-circulated open letter to her hoping to see a mellowing down in tone and tempo but she seems to have charged back with a vengeance thus spiralling out of control. The hate speeches have shone clearly that our nation is on tenterhooks and we need loads of prayers to have this cup pass over us.
The doomsday predilection should therefore be taken seriously since nothing can be ruled out in our dear beloved country. The power-mongers are never tired of trying new stunts. Who would have believed in 1993 that Chief Abiola would win the election and a few people would sit in a room and cancel what had the potential of unifying Nigerians forever! But it happened before our very eyes. Unfortunately, Nigeria has known no peace since then. We have become more divided and stupidly disunited since then.
The actors and characters currently in power seem to want to try their own June 12 fiasco. They have been going round taking lessons and tutorials in how to hold a whole country to ransom and by the jugular just because they must hang on to power. They do not mind wielding guns and cudgels in broad daylight on the streets of a megacity, with security agents in tow. They have reduced the issues of performance and under-performance to ethnicity and religion. I thought it should be obvious that elections are not won by force but through deliverables and persuasion. Rather than encourage Professor Attahiru Jega to do a better job this time, I’ve watched all manner of hirelings on television cooking some hocus-pocus in order to discredit the man and hopefully boot him out. Someone high up even assured me Jega will be removed by today because he would never be permitted to conduct the forthcoming election and it just didn’t make sense to me.
If I was going to dismiss the Interim Government rumour out of hand I was immediately jolted back to reality after the latest warning by no less personages than Professor Wole Soyinka and Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade both of whom have access to very solid and credible intelligence. General Olusegun Obasanjo had also spoken copiously against it and must have had good cause for doing so. In case some of the present warriors have lost their memory of the June 12 crisis, let me remind them about what happened to each of the dramatis personae one by one.
General Babangida was the President who supervised that election which Professor Humphrey Nwosu conducted efficiently. After the annulment, Babangida, who went by the moniker Maradona, was forced to step aside and he never succeeded in coming back as he seemed to have planned and designed. He lost to boot what would have being his most glorious moment. Chief Ernest Degunle Shonekan was forced on the nation as Head of Interim Government but he hardly settled in before some soldiers put guns to his head and forced him to relinquish power in a jiffy. Chief Moshood Abiola was deceived into believing that General Sani Abacha would hand over to him after a coup that would flush out the Babangida renegades but it turned out to be a grand scam. Abacha took power and decided to sit pretty and the owner of the mandate was left out in the chilly cold.
Abacha wasted no time in arresting Chief Abiola and kept him for most part incommunicado and in solitary confinement. Abacha must also researched those likely to have voluble ambition to checkmate him and he discovered two influential Generals, Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and promptly hurled both into detention after arranging some felonious charges against them. The latter died in prison. Both Abacha and Abiola would later die in mysterious circumstances, just one month apart in 1998. Nigeria itself went into a coma. Over two decades after, we are still grappling with lack of basic necessities of life and we’ve never had things so bad minus the civil war era which some of our brethren in the East also appear to have forgotten by playing race card above potentials.
The danger of plotting against your people is you never know the punishment that awaits you and yours. I’m sure many of those who brought crisis upon us these past decades must be gnashing their teeth by now. Had they concocted a better Nigeria, things would probably have turned out differently today even for them. Our country would have been rescued from the vermin now plaguing our land. Only God gives power and HE is the one who can take it back.
I will give my last example. In 2010, everything was done by the so-called cabal to stop the then Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, from assuming power. The custodian of the power himself was too sick and totally oblivious to the power-game around him. Yet a few people commandeered Nigeria in his name. At the height of the higgledy-piggledy it was even suggested that power was going to be transferred to his wife. We were all afraid that Nigeria may collapse in the process but nothing of the sort happened because God the ALMIGHTY, as always, sorted Nigeria out. Without anyone firing a bullet those playing God ate the humble pie and left power without as much as a whimper.
This is why I’m flabbergasted that President Jonathan is allowing some rascals to mislead and drive him down that same evil alley. A man who was rescued and raised up by God should never play God. There is nothing more to gain by our President. He is the luckiest man I know, dead or alive. What more can he ever ask for? My advice as usual is simple and straight-forward.
Mr President has one week to make history and the only way to achieve that is not to end his career in unproductive acrimony. All those prodding him on, including his wife, have nothing to lose but he has everything to forfeit. I’m sure most of those who worked for the world’s most notorious dictators are still around to enjoy their loot while the despots have all been consigned to the dustbin of history. That is the tragedy that befalls those who listen to similarly wrong people that litter our political landscape and I see so many more of them along the corridors of Abuja.
There is a thin line between success and failure. What Nigeria needs is a visibly free and credible election. We need it now more than ever. If the President wins, so be it. And if the opposition candidate creates an upset, I expect the President to ring him up and concede defeat like other digital leaders such as him. The world shall rise up and give him a standing ovation. But if he plays for broke by deciding to fight dirty as pre-ordained by the hawks that appear to have enchanted and engulfed him, the rest of us shall take solace in the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy Name
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.