DAAR communications chairman, Raymond Dokpesi, who is one of the major conveners of the South-South political movement that bolstered and galvanized the emergence of the region that produces the most wealth in Nigeria into national reckoning, recently allegedly voiced the opinion that PDP made a mistake in fielding Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ, as her presidential candidate in the last election.
When the acolytes of the outgone president, particularly former presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, and PDP spokesman, Olisah Metuh, literally ‘jumped into his throat’, Dokpesi decided to be politically correct by ‘clarifying’ that his statement was twisted out of contest by the opposition as it was actually directed at the lower rung of the PDP political spectrum, whom he accused of fielding unpopular candidates, hence the current reversal of the fortune of PDP from the ruling to opposition party.
Dokpesi’s comment about GEJ’s unpopularity and unsuitability as presidential candidate in 2015 sounded familiar to me because somebody else had held that position and voiced out it boldly about five years ago and it led to a vicious political persecution and loss of personal liberty.
That person is former governor of delta state, James Onanefe Ibori, who is now serving a jail term in a UK prison.
His opposition to GEJ’s presidential ambition in 2010 on the ground that it was against the grand strategy by the PDP to return power to the north after residing for eight years in the south, with Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, as the custodian,was rebuffed and even drew the ire and bile of the ‘principalities and powers’ in Aso Rock villa at that time.
Ibori has always insisted that his opposition to those aiming to go against the well established PDP power rotation principle that held the party together like a glue is not personal but an altruistic commitment by a party loyalist to the sustenance of the PDP as the ruling party, but his plea, as it were, fell on deaf ears.
Now, I know that some antagonists would argue that Ibori confessed to the crime of money laundering in the UK, hence his incarceration, but we are all aware of the circumstances under which he did. His entire family – only sister, wife, daughter’s mother and lawyer, were encircled and jailed, compelling him to capitulate.
Also keep in mind that with the way Nigeria is wired, when the authority decides to ‘nail’ a public officer, there is hardly any escape from being found guilty of malfeasance, but if a person is enjoying the goodwill of the govt in power, he or she is accommodated like a blue eye prince and could therefore get away with murder with the authorities looking the other way.
Take for instance the issue of the celebrated Halliburton, Siemens and other sundry multi million dollars acts of corruption involving former top Nigerian political office holders, that have earned foreigners involved in the crimes with them, prison terms, while the Nigerians are yet to be made to face the consequences. This is simply because the indicted Nigerian leaders are in the politically correct camp and as such arraigning them would rock Nigeria’s political boat.
Another case in point is the recent call by SERAP, a civil society organization, on the new attorney general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, to prosecute the thirty one (31) state governors whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, reported as corrupt and which was accepted and adopted by the National Assembly in 2006. That 31 of the 36 governors were found guilty by EFCC of corruption, suggests that virtually all the governors in OBJ’s era have been tarred with same black brush, so singling out Ibori for persecution after the unfortunate passing away of former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was a deliberate punishment.
Similarly, another parallel can be drawn in the recent dismissal of fraud charges against former Bayelsa state governor, Timipreye Sylva, by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on the ground that arraigning the ex-governor three times on same charges (2012, 2013 and 2015) after the cases had been discharged was abuse of court process. This underscores the fact that I had made earlier that governments can raise charges against a perceived enemy at their whims and caprices.
It may be recalled that Sylva served only one term in Bayelsa state and was stopped from getting a second term ostensibly for fraud and incompetence but in reality, his political career was truncated for allegedly falling out of favor with the then occupiers of Aso Rock villa which is similar to what happened to James Ibori.
To be sure, the use and abuse of government power is not perculiar to Nigeria or Africa. If you are looking for an example in the advanced society, look no further than the recent downing of the Russian war plane by Turkey when her airspace was violated. Russia has now decided to invoke charges against Turkish merchants for poor standards of goods exported to Russia, which more or less means a shut down of trade with Turkey (a very critical element in Turkish economy) in punishment for shooting down her war plane. Invariably, without using her military, Russia is embarking on a retaliatory war against Turkey, albeit economically.
By opposing GEJ’s intention to run for the office of the president in 2011, Ibori certainly stepped on sensitive toes and the rest as they say is history, as he is now on the last lap of his long incarceration, but what’s intriguing is that it took about half a decade for another party stalwart, Dokpesi, who felt same way as Ibori to speak out, and even then he was quickly gagged and in the interest of peace he has modified his comment.
Amazingly, even after the unfortunate catastrophic consequence that Ibori predicted would befall the PDP should his caution against fielding Jonathan not be heeded has materialized, (as the PDP has now fallen from grace to grass at the March 28th presidential polls) no other current PDP member of considerable weight has voiced the concern publicly, so the sentiment about the calamity that Jonathan attracted to the PDP has remained in the realm of closet gossip.
Strangely, former PDP leaders whose opinion on the unsuitability of Jonathan for the presidency in 2015 in convergence with Ibori’s position in 2011, include OBJ who had to tear up his PDP membership card in the full glare of TV cameras in protest and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who also led five PDP governors out of Eagle Square last year in protest before subsequently defecting to APC. So Ibori basically was the first to ‘bell the cat’ and he was slammed by the system.
It is indeed a pity that, like Egyptian pyramids,evidence of not being visionary enough to steer the former ruling party away from the precipice was looming ,yet PDP bigwigs then and even those still left in the party, are still living in denial by pretending like an ostrich that buries its head in the sand, falsely believing that all her body are also cancelled, but unbeknownst to the bird (and in this case the PDP) its whole body except the head is sticking out like a sore thump.
Events that threw up Goodluck Jonathan as the vice presidential candidate of the PDP in 2007 and literally thrust him into national limelight, are still fresh in my memory because l was there when it was unraveling, nearly a decade ago as late Umaru Yar’Adua was being elected the presidential candidate of the PDP. Under the chilling cold harmattan weather, at the Eagle Square, Abuja, l had the rare privilege of being the returning officer for Yar’Adua who was then, Katsina state governor and presidential candidate of the PDP. Uche Secondus,the present acting PDP chairman ,would remember that event clearly because he was desirous of being the returning officer to Yar’Adua before I was detailed to perform the duty.
The responsibility for being the returning officer to the presidential candidate was thrust upon me by Yar’Adua who conveyed his request through one of his close confidantes at that time, Abba Ruma, who was later to become a super minister of the Yar’Adua era.
I recall elder statesman,Tony Anenih, then chairman of PDP Board of Trustees pacing up and down in the Eagle Square courtyard following then president, OBJ inspired changes in PDP constitution stipulating that going forward, only ex-presidents would become the party’s BOT chairman.
Chief Anenih was understandably worried because that night he lost his position as BOT chairman, even though the change of policy was not discussed or negotiated prior to its announcement at the conference.
Also that night, when l went to the rest room, I bumped into GEJ , who had just won the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa state and as a PDP delegate, he was in Eagle Square to exercise his voting rights in determining who would win the coveted crown of PDP flag bearer. Perhaps, like me, he wanted to answer the call of nature.
At that time, GEJ must have been basking in the euphoria of having won the governorship election of Bayelsa state since he was hitherto serving out the second term of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (now late) who was impeached as governor under forces external to the state that the embattled governor could not counteract.
I’m convinced that at that moment in time, GEJ was obviously oblivious of the future of being the next Vice Presidential candidate of PDP, a piece of news which he received about 72 hours after the PDP presidential primaries.
As chief Seattle, the renown American Indian chief of the Suquamish- original indigenous tribe in USA, once posited, “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Although, Peter Odili, then governor of Rivers state, was angling for the job, having stepped down his ambition to succeed Obasanjo, the lot strangely fell on GEJ who had no interest or inkling that such a feat was possible how much less, him being the beneficiary.
Also on the queue for being the vice presidential candidate was the youthful enterprising and dynamic, Donald Duke, ex-Cross Rivers state governor who was also left in the lurch like Odili.
As the psychologist, Mary Schlesinger, has noted, life is full of surprises but as rational humans, we have to be psychologically prepared for the foibles, therefore she admonished that “We can be negative and cynical or we can be charged and hot wired to find a way through it, over it, around it, under it”.
I’m convinced that the folks like Odili and Duke have now moved on in life having gotten over the shenanigans, but they would certainly not share my friends, Doyin Okupe and Olisa Metuh’s sentiments that PDP did not make a mistake in fielding GEJ in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
After the presidential primary election, it was Anenih who had the responsibility of breaking the good news to the lucky GEJ that he had been chosen to be Yar’Adua’s running mate.Upon the victory of Yar’Adua at the polls in 2007 presidential elections, GEJ became the Vice President of Nigeria.
As fate would have it, Yar’Adua passed away in 2010, leaving Vice President Jonathan to serve out the two years of his four year term, as acting President.
Instead of sustaining the PDP’s grand strategy of returning power to the north that graciously passed it over to the south in the interest of peace and unity of Nigeria in 1999 following the unfortunate incident of the death in prison of Moshood Abiola (the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election), GEJ and his cohorts, leveraging on the power of incumbency, had the bright idea of controverting PDP’s agreement-in-principle of rotating power between the north and south.
That grievous misstep of repudiating the informal and unwritten but highly weighted agreement ,signaled the demise of the PDP that once boasted that it would rule Nigeria continuously for the next 60 years.
When Abubakar stormed out of the Eagle Square venue of PDP delegates conference, (where Jonathan was coronated) with aggrieved governors in tow, the handwriting was clearly on the wall, that the demise of PDP was imminent, just as the ‘internecine’ war that divided into two factions, the governors’ forum, nailed PDP’s coffin.
According to J.F Kennedy, one of the most celebrated US presidents, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘CRISIS’ is composed of two characters, one represents danger and the other represents opportunity”. In the course of the crisis that engulfed PDP, GEJ choose the former which is danger that resulted in the splitting of the party into old and new, instead of the latter which was a window of opportunity for dousing the brewing tension hence the party’s sudden demise.
As Dokpesi takes the driver’s seat in trying to fix the broken PDP after a critical postmortem which is being currently undertaken, the implications of the dictum,’power corrupts, absolute power, corrupts absolutely’ should be closely examined with a view to determining if the concept of making the party’s presidential candidate also the absolute leader of the party,does not amount to concentrating too much power in one individual who could be susceptible to corruption.
Just as concentrated systems don’t support thriving economies, concentration of political power in one individual hinders a democracy from thriving.
In operations management, once a problem is identified, it is considered 50% solved.
So PDP must first truly identify and acknowledge the problem with the party,so that it can solve it.
Being mindful of the existential reality that human foibles can make a saint become a sinner,nobody is infallible . Think about the biblical account of Judas Iscariot who accepted bribe to betray his master, Jesus Christ and Elisha who accepted a gift from Gehazi, the leper whom his master Elijah had healed of leprosy but warned Elisha not to accept the gift that Gehazi had offered in gratitude for his healing.We must remain mindful of the fact that it is the lure of filthy lucre, also known as money,that was too irresistible to Judas and Elisha,hitherto very good men,which is why they succumbed to the voice of greed, while damning their masters.
With Nigerian constitution already conferring too much power on the president, (There is a joke that Nigerian president is the most powerful in the world) granting similar absolute power of control of the political platform (party) that brings the president to power,on the same man or woman, in my considered opinion is at best,unimaginative and at worst, a folly as evidenced by the current dire straits that PDP, has now discovered .
Nothing illustrates better or highlights the allure of power more than the fact that OBJ even attempted to self perpetuate as president after serving out his mandatory two terms by contemplating altering the constitution to facilitate a third term bid.
Had it not been that he met a resistant National Assembly, national team led by then Senate president, Ken Nnamani, who in my view has remained an unsung hero,Nigeria’s political evolution would have taken a different turn.
Although, not in jail like Ibori, Nnamani too has been paying the price for stepping on powerful toes as he is now in a sort of political limbo, while their traducers are either serving as nemesis to former allies, forming new political alliances, or celebrating birthdays.
Given all the dark and sinister activities that preceded his stealthy escape from the shores of Nigeria, somehow Ibori’s supporters believe he is a ’cause célèbre’ or prisoner of conscience.
Wether that assessment is right or wrong, would only be discovered over the course of time and perhaps in memoirs by the dramaties personae in the theater of the absurd which a cursory look at the nation called Nigeria ,would reveal.
Certainly,future candid accounts by political stalwarts like,OBJ,GEJ, Atiku, Anenih,
Meanwhile, what OBJ could not achieve in Nigeria, Russian president Vladimir Putin, accomplished by tinkering with the constitution in the iron curtain country of Europe and returning himself to office as president after stepping aside temporarily as president.Closer home in Africa,it was a fait accompli for, Pierre Nkurunziza,who also recently succeeded in accomplishing a similar feat of extending his term in Burundi by altering his country’s constitution.
Even president Barack Obama of the USA during his last visit to Africa and in the course of his address to African Union, AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, (in making a case against African heads of govt who refuse to leave office) noted that he would have loved to serve a third term as president of the USA, but he is constitutionally bared.
This implies that the lure of power can be highly irresistible ,but unlike Russia and Burundi ,the American system does not confer on the president the absolute power to do and undo, otherwise the hugely popular ,John F. Kennedy would have served many terms as president and so would the charismatic Ronald Reagan and the infectious and affable,Bill Clinton.
If the new ruling party, APC makes the same mistake of concentrating the absolute power to control or manipulate the party on the president, l foresee calamity ahead because even though president Muhammadu Buhari is universally acknowledged as God fearing, honest and forthright,absolute power corrupts, absolutely.
In the wisdom of the philosopher, Carl Sandburd, “Time is the coin of life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you”
If president Buhari does not use the power concentrated in him as both president and leader of the party absolutely corruptly, hawks around him would try to influence him to do so or could even use the power by themselves, in Buhari’s name.
So, my humble advice to APC is, learn from PDP’s mistakes and to the PDP, I would say, first of all diagnose your ailment correctly, so that the appropriate medicine could be administered to cure the disease.
Onyibe, a development strategist, futurologist and former commissioner in delta state govt and an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, USA, sent this piece from Lagos.