Rulers who governed in their own selfish interest are the oligarchs and their government we know as Oligarchy. Religion, violence, insecurity and corruption are instruments for the promotion of Oligarchy. What Nigeria is passing through today is the ideological war waged by the Oligarchs against the enthronement of Democracy in our nation.
Solomon Adun Asemota SAN
Note: This is a paper presented at the Change Agents and Ideas Seminar Series held at 1 Addington Square, Cambridge, London on Saturday, 18 August, 2012 by Solomon Adun Asemota (SAN) and circulated via the Nigerian World Forum. I find this paper timely, interesting and a call for action to all Nigerians, home and abroad.
Permit me to thank those who have made it possible for me to meet Nigerians in the Diaspora in the hope that you will analyze the substance of this discussion with a view to restoring the position of Nigeria in world affairs, as it was in 1975. Let me say that I am not a member of any political party in Nigeria or anywhere else. I am also not in the employment of the Federal, State or Local Governments, or any Board of a parastatal. I am a Legal practitioner in private practice that was called to the Inner Bar in 1986. I belong to The Patriots, a body of Elder Statesmen convened by Chief F.R.A. Williams of blessed memory with Professor Ben Nwabueze as the current Chairman. I am part of the Nigerian elite but not an oligarch. The difference will be made very clear in the course of this presentation.
When considering the title of this discussion paper the question that should readily come to mind is, “Save Nigeria from what?” The answer to this question includes, but is not limited to, saving Nigeria from itself.
At Independence in 1960 the world saw Nigeria as a potential world power. Today it is regarded as a “failing state” which could not win a single bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Nigeria needs to be saved from insecurity, corruption, piracy, violence, militias, bad governance and terrorism. These are weighty issues. However, I want Nigerians in general and those in the Diaspora in particular to help save the country from the raging ideological warfare (Oligarchy at war with Democracy).
From Despotism to Oligarchy
Before Amalgamation of 1914 the ideology which is defined as a “system of ideas and principles forming the basis of an economic and political theory” was Despotism. Then we had rulers with absolute power and citizens held land at the pleasure of the Emir, Oba or Chief. Thereafter colonialism as a result of conquest or treaties by the British that introduced the indirect rule system, which has been described as “decentralized despotism.” The main objective of the colonialists was the economic exploitation of Nigeria. The British did not practice democracy in their colonies and did not do so in Nigeria. However, a few years before independence, the British tried to set up democratic institutions, and this they did by sending Nigerians to Britain for crash programmes in administration, in preparation for the independence of 1960. It has become very clear that Nigeria did not have the institutions that are necessary to sustain democracy.
Democracy is defined as a form of government in which the people have a say in who should hold power and how it should be used.
Oligarchy is defined as “a small group of people having control of the state, “government by the few” or, if you like, “government by a few coup plotters in khaki and their associates in agbada.” Rulers, who governed in the general interest of the people, are classified as Aristocrats and their government is described as Aristocracy. Rulers who governed in their own selfish interest are the oligarchs and their government we know as Oligarchy. Religion, violence, insecurity and corruption are instruments for the promotion of Oligarchy. What Nigeria is passing through today is the ideological war waged by the Oligarchs against the enthronement of Democracy in our nation.
The Development of Oligarchy in Nigeria
On the grant of Independence, the British left a vacuum. The democratic institutions available could not sustain the Government and the coup of January 15 1966 was staged as a result of this vacuum. However, in a country that was sustained on the principle of divide and rule, seeds of disunity were sown as a policy of government. North versus the South, East versus the West, Muslims versus Christians, Majority versus Majority, Minority versus Minority, the rich versus the poor, the educated versus the uneducated, ethnic nationality versus other ethnic nationalities etc. This seed of disunity, sown some seventy years earlier, germinated and bore fruits of disunity which led to the Civil War of 1967-1970. It is therefore safe to conclude that the military coup of 1966 laid the foundations for present day Oligarchy.
The Coup of 1975 – was it driven by altruism?
Prior to 1975, the military regime of General Gowon had concluded the civil war and the government policy of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation was in progress. Like most post colonial countries Nigeria had development plans, particularly a five year National Development Plan 1970 – 1975. Under that plan the economy grew at the average of 11.75 percent per annum until the implementation of the plan was terminated by the coup of July 1975. This coup was followed by a massive purge of civil servants who were inherited from the British colonial administration had been largely loyal to the service and the nation.
The abandonment of the National Development Plan quickly truncated the efficient use of national resources for the “Common Good”. However, it will be fair to state that had Gowon announced the date for the restoration of civil rule at the end of the Civil War in 1970, even if it was five or ten years later, Nigeria would have been spared the trauma and the emergence of Oligarchy. As I have documented in a paper which I recently presented titled, “Where did we get it wrong?” In that paper I suggested that Gowon was overthrown by Northern officers like himself because he refused to change the state governors. Thus began the mentality of “it is our time to eat”. An all-military cabinet was established and was dominated essentially by “made in Nigeria armed service officers.”
Gowon went on self-exile and it seemed a happy ending for the coup plotters until a few months later when the nation woke up to Dimka’s failed coup. Then began the sham trials: Ogbemudia and others were tried three times for the same offence by different military tribunals. After the event a law was promulgated by the Obasanjo Administration which made non-armed forces personnel liable for military offence and subject to a Court Marshal. A total of 32 Plateau State officers were convicted and executed, a type of ethnic cleansing. Ironically the same law was used 19 years later to convict Obasanjo.
The Oligarchs and the Change of Baton
A three-year moratorium came when power was returned to civilians with Shagari as President in 1979 after the promulgation of a new Constitution; Shagari was overthrown because of the rotation policy of the NPN. The intention was to move the presidency to the West. The coup of 1983 delayed the shift to the West for sixteen years.
In 1983, the Buhari/Idiagbon coup toppled Shagari; Babangida toppled Buhari; then stepped aside for Abacha who died in mysterious circumstances in June 1998 bringing General Abdulsalami Abubakar to power. Abdulsalami handed power to Obasanjo this time as a civilian on May 27, 1999 in a political process fully dictated by the Oligarchs with the Constitution only released for the first time at Obasanjo’s swearing in ceremony. This was how and when the Oligarchs consolidated power.
Need to re-assess the Coup of 1975
On Tuesday 31st July, 2012 Oluwatoyin Adepoju asked the question, in a web forum, whether the July 29, 1975 coup was justified. He wrote:
All coups have been a waste of our time and all retrogressive. Knowing what we know today, was the Federal Government of Yakubu Gowon corrupt? Was the coup that saw Muhammed, Obasanjo, and T. Y. Danjuma emerge as key players justified? Was Gowon’s Federal Government incompetent?
I leave you to form your opinions and judgments.
Those who took part in the coup of July 1975 used propaganda to convince Nigerians that it was because they, the coup plotters, wanted to clean up ‘a dirty’ government, that compelled them to stage the coup, M. D. Yusuf, the Inspector General of Police at the time, told us something slightly different. In his biography written by Ayo Opadokun, M. D. Yusuf said, “Having cited corruption as one of the justifications for the coup that overthrew Gowon, Murtala Muhammed took steps to clean out the Augean Stable. He tagged on this reasoning to seize houses belonging to some of the governors, although he lacked evidence of official corruption.
Moreover, as MD recalls, Murtala usually mentioned a personal experience that made suspect the Gowon governors’ good “fortune” of securing loans from the banks. As a junior officer Murtala himself had applied for a housing loan and had been turned down despite his having sufficient opportunity to repay the loan. Thus when Murtala became Head of State and he saw the vast acquisitions of the governors and ministers through supposed bank loans (whether they had only two or 100 houses), he accused them of having exploited their official positions to secure the mortgages. Murtala went on to ensure that his anti-corruption crusade permeated the grassroots. MD recalls: “Murtala pegged his regime’s agenda on a purge of the Civil Service. He took personal interest in the exercise. He believed that civil servants were the origin of corruption so they had to be purged. ” This explains why some of the seized properties were later returned to their owners when it was established that the acquisition of a property was legitimate. The seizure, in my view, was intended to deprive these officers of resources to challenge the coup plotters. It also provided an instrument for ethnic and religious cleansing and to strengthen the Oligarchy.
Oligarchy and the Executive
The Army co-opted the Police into governance and included the Inspector General of Police as a member of the Supreme Military Council. It is perhaps a bit farfetched to imagine those who commit treason in order as they say to tackle corruption will not do everything within their powers not to cover the crime that an offence ceases to be an offence if successful and treason if it failed. These illogicalities sowed the seed of insecurity in the country. There is need in the circumstances to re-examine the credentials of some of those parading themselves as heroes, elder statesmen etc. The theory that the end justifies the means has no place in a Democracy where the rule of law is paramount.
1999 Handover of Power
The very few persons with power of life and death in their hands were the coup plotters. The wider group included their friends and relatives. In this wider group are the traditional and religious leaders that helped the coup plotters to consolidate power. The truth is that Oligarchs have no intention whatsoever of promoting Democracy.
When, in 1999, the military government was forced to hand over power it instituted a system whereby the coup leaders continued to be the effective rulers, even though we were supposed to practice democracy. A part of the strategy was providing the nation with a Constitution encumbered with several contradictions. The Judiciary was later to join the Oligarchs because of the adage that if you cannot beat them, join them. The Judiciary could not defeat the military nor was it equipped or willing to contest for power. This explains why a Federal High Court granted perpetual injunction against EFCC so that an Oligarch should not be made to account for alleged diversion of N100 Billion during eight years tenure as Governor of River State. It also explains why the appeal courts were not united in their judgments, giving contradictory rulings to please the Oligarchs especially in Election Petitions.
Before handing over power the military determined who would and did succeed them. This they did by ensuring the complete control of the political parties. If they did not approve a candidate, that person was defeated at the primaries. As there was no independent candidacy, political ambition was halted where it was not approved by the Oligarchs. All the political parties have subsequently become much the same. Democracy is thus struggling to maintain a foothold in Nigeria and, judging from recent events such as the Edo State Gubernatorial election, one could see that the Oligarchs’ grip of power in Nigerian politics is gradually being reduced.
In Edo State the Oligarchs were christened “Godfathers” and they controlled the Governor of the State from 1999-2007. They have sabotaged free and fair elections over the years and it took the court in 2007 to reverse the decision of the Electoral Commission and installed Adam Oshiomhole as Governor. From the outset Oshiomhole realized that he is in the business of winning votes and set about it efficiently. Today he, as he said, has defeated the Godfathers. The Oligarchs through Retired General Charles Airhiavbere, wanted to undermine the electoral process but the people of Edo State would not let them. I have no doubt that the people of Nigeria will not allow anybody to sabotage future elections.
However, at national level in 1999, the Oligarchs brought Obasanjo and made him president as a consensus candidate they could control. But Obasanjo surprised the Oligarchs and virtually took over the party. Today, having lost the party, he decided to team up with another Oligarch, to make life difficult for President Jonathan and it must be emphasized that the Oligarchs are able to achieve this much because of their control of the secret police, first known as Special Branch and later as National Security Organisations (NSO) and at present the State Security Services (SSS) in keeping with Oligarchy. If this organization decides to abandon Oligarchy and opt for democracy, Nigeria’s transformation will be phenomenal. The most unfortunate aspect of the conduct of the State Security Service is that it treats Democrats as enemies of Nigeria if they oppose the Oligarchs.
Thus the practice of Oligarchy, in my view, is responsible for the backward slide of our country, especially when any sign of disagreement among the Oligarchs, or between the Oligarchs and the democratically elected governments threatens the security of the country. The Oligarchs will do whatever is necessary to maintain control of Nigeria even if that means the country will descend into the depths of conflict and economic turmoil. Thus Nigeria is constantly at war.
Security and Oligarchy
Modern Nigerian history is a clear case of the struggle between oligarchs and democracy. When an institution charged with law and order decides to breach the law, no matter how “justified”, it creates insecurity. This occurred in Nigeria in 1966 and all attempts to clothe the coup in the toga of a revolution by the coup plotters failed completely. It was downright treasonable felony. No coup can be justified, especially against a democratically elected Government as that of Tafawa Balewa in 1966. Having justified treason, the flood gate was opened for criminality of all dimensions.
Security enforcers and criminals should be as distinctly different as day and night. They are not supposed to mix. The resultant effect of these coups made institutions created for law enforcement to become not only politically, but also ideologically incorrect. Today, Nigeria has ideological Armed Forces more concerned with the politics of the nation and the protection of the Oligarchs than with the defense of the nation. All security apparatus including Immigration, Customs and Police, Road Safety, Traffic Wardens are nationally controlled and have gradually become paramilitary. Retired Inspectors General of Police are now the spokespersons for the Oligarchs on security. One would have taken them seriously, had they not included one convicted Inspector General and another under trial in their union. There is no doubt that these Police retired Generals misunderstood the State Governors who are demanding for State Police Establishment (not a Force) for the ‘prevention and the detection of crime’ simplicita. They are not asking for an ideological, political and or religious police force like the one superintended by these retired Police Generals.
It was only in 2011 that Nigeria, for the first time, had a genuinely democratically elected President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Having witnessed all elections in Nigeria since 1954 and having participated directly or indirectly as Presiding Officer, Counsel in Electoral Tribunals, member of the Constituent Assembly 1988 and Legal Adviser to a political party in many elections, I can say in all sincerity that Jonathan is the first properly elected leader (not ruler), of Nigeria. Democracy only has room for leaders, not rulers. Unfortunately, President Jonathan has to operate within the mould of the Oligarchs as an honorary member, not being a military man himself. To step completely outside this mould would, at this juncture, likely mean the termination of Jonathan’s Presidency by the Oligarchs. Jonathan and all democrats need to cast a new mould for democracy, a mould built on the Rule of Law and Freedom. For this we need a new constitution, not a “patch”, “patch” old constitution.
I have had the opportunity of discussing one-on-one with President Jonathan and my impression of him is one who is youthful, articulate, understanding and kind. He is not an Obama or on the other hand an evil person likes some of our military Generals of the past. Once he is allowed to operate in the mould of democracy, he will perform well and the country will move forwards.
Recommended Strategy for Nigerians in Diaspora
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe rightly attributed Nigeria’s Independence as won on a “platter of gold”. However Nigeria is yet to be fully independent and democratic. We are informed by Michael Vickers in his book A Nation Betrayed that, “Nigeria’s leaders rejected out of hand the adoption of any African or indigenous Constitutional model, it was the foreign Westminster model that was unanimously favoured.’’ Democracy formed the basis of our founding fathers’ acceptance of independence. The demands of Boko Haram 50 years after independence, like other demands such as the Ogoni Declaration of Emancipation from Nigeria, are not only unacceptable but belated.
I have no doubt whatsoever that when we practice democracy fully in the spirit of the Rule of Law, we will give meaning to it as, “Government of the people, for the people and by the people”. In that context all ethnic nationalities will find room for cultural expression and will contribute to a united Nigeria with one and only one ideology. For this purpose, Nigerians in the Diaspora must immediately form a Nigerian Union in Diaspora or any such name, in the mode of the West Africa Students Union (WASU) of the pre-Independence days. The headquarters should be in London because of her historical influence in the political development of Nigeria and being politically and geographically beyond the reach of the Oligarchs.
The key pursuits of the new association should be guided by the following:
(a) An appreciation of the fact that a revolution is most likely to take place in Nigeria in the very near future, and therefore work to direct this to a peaceful revolution rather than a violent one, as Nigeria cannot survive another civil war.
- The promotion of Liberal democracy devoid of Oligarchy or its influences.
- The relevance of traditional institutions at national level in a Democracy needs to be re-examined as there are signs that the Emirate system is also under attack.
- Nigerians in diaspora have tremendous influence over their local communities in Nigeria, considering the remittances which they send home periodically. This influence will be enhanced if the recession now taking place in Europe and America reaches Nigeria as our people would be made to depend even more on such remittances.
- Every Nigerian in the Diaspora must encourage and engage in the debate aimed at evolving a genuine Constitution for the country, born of the people of Nigeria, which the people can truly lay claim to and append their names by saying “We the people…”
Points to Note by Nigerians in the Diaspora include the following:
- There is a need to tell all Nigerians at home and abroad that they are stake holders in the ‘ Project Nigeria’ and must remind the National Assembly that the 1999 Constitution is a false document which was given to us by a small group of Nigerian Oligarchs in 1999, and not by the people of Nigeria.
- That no amount of amendments with the free use of “whereas” will make the 1999 Constitution legitimate. The only solution available is to have a Constituent Assembly write a new constitution and have that constitution approved by all Nigerians in a national referendum. Anything less is another disservice perpetrated by the Oligarchs on the people of Nigeria. After about 100 years of amalgamation there is no better time for a new constitution than now, to take effect if possible January 1, 2014.
- The Oligarchs in Aso Villa, the National Assembly and the Judiciary are making it very difficult for the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to perform his constitutional duties as Chief Law Officer and they prefer ideological and political solutions over constitutional or legal ones. In a healthy democracy the rule of law is always preferred to the rule of might. It is not a family affair when a member of the ruling party is caught stealing. Nigerians in the Diaspora, most of whom live in mature democracies in Europe and America and who are part of the development and progress in these countries, have a duty to work for replicating such progress in their country of origin, where ignorance and under-development is regarded as an act of Providence.
- You may also wish to inform your fellow Nigerians that countries that engage in fierce ideological warfare do not win medals at the Olympic Games, not withstanding 2.3 billion Naira spent in the pursuit of Olympic medals. It takes more than Naira and Kobo to win medals. Nations that win medals are focused with a common destiny. This is what Nigeria needs at present.
- One must sound a note of warning that the Oligarchs are finding their way back to Aso Villa in the form of solutions to Nigeria’s security challenges. It is of course not true that they have solutions other than those that would continue to secure their hold on power. This cat and pigeons approach has never worked no matter how trained the cat is. Oligarchy is no substitute for Democracy. The Oligarchs have systematically eliminated the democrats from the seat of power in Nigeria and their attempts to secure their positions in the power structure can only come at the expense of democrats.
Since 1979 the quality of Nigeria’s Democracy has created a conflict between the people of Nigeria and the Oligarchs who control the resources of the country and have made life unbearable for over 75 percent of the masses surviving on a pittance, below one US dollar a day. The Oligarchs have unilaterally arranged to be paid better than their counterparts in the Executive and Legislative branches of government in more mature democracies in Europe and America.
In order to save Nigeria, Nigerians in the Diaspora need to remind President Jonathan that he is in the business of winning votes and not stooping to the whims and caprices of 100 oligarchs out of about 80 million voters. At the same time, Nigerians should not reduce the quality of their votes by succumbing to Oligarchy because, in this war of ideology, Democracy must prevail if Nigeria is to survive and flourish.
Democracy is the solution to Nigeria’s problems.