“It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.” George Bernard Shaw.
In the space of two days, President Goodluck Jonathan and Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar III raised alarm over the damage which elders cause by the manner they comment on political issues. The President spoke during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Church Service in Abuja. He regretted that people who are 70 or 80 years, who have seen it all and who ordinarily should know the unity of this country is more important than the interest of any individual “sometime preach hate and even encourage young people to carry arms and kill themselves.” As far as he is concerned, he says, “any ambition I have at any time is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. I will never ever expect any Nigerian to spill his blood because Goodluck Jonathan must fulfill his ambition.” The Sultan also cautioned politicians to watch their utterances as the 2015 elections approach during the 9th Zakat Distribution Ceremony organized by the Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation (ZSF) in Lagos.
How reassuring it will be if these words of caution will have real effect on developments in the nation. Hope is all simple folks will do because clearly, matters are not within their control. Two major centers of activity determine how the vast majority of the population is affected by political developments. One is what political leaders say and do. The other is the manner those who feel an obligation to enforce their designs and plans react. The leaders have huge stakes in a system which is precariously balanced between violence and persuasion. Our democratic system has created a tiny class of powerful and wealthy Nigerians who can determine whether poor Nigerians live, lose limbs or die in defence of their interests. Huge sections of the nation have been captured by fragments of these elites, each establishing a hegemony which equate personal or narrow ethno-religious issues with matters over which blood can be split, or lives lost. Every election
since 1999 has shown the potency of violence in determining the quality of our electoral process, and the nation, even as we speak, is bursting at the seams with para-military outfits and protected, organized thugs whose primary goals are to enforce the designs of elected people.
The tragedy is that the two leaders who have drawn attention to the danger of inciting violence, could, but have no capacities to limit the damage. The Sultan is revered in the nation, particularly by Muslims, but there will not be more than a handful of politicians, in or out of office, who will listen to him. As befits his status, he could advise President Jonathan to weight the implications of his candidature in 2015, but he is likely to get a polite reposte that it is not about Jonathan, but about the PDP and millions of Nigerians who may demand that he runs again in 2015. He could have a quiet word with Professor Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders Forum over his ear-splitting demands that a Northerner must be President in 2015. But he will be advised to prevail on Jonathan not to even think about running. He could caution the President and PDP chairman over the manner the party is disintegrating and its implications for the nation’s security
and unity. He is likely to be told that it will make more sense to warn the defecting governors to tone down their rhetorics against him, his administration and the PDP they have defected from.
The Sultan could have a word with his co-chair of the Nigerian Inter-Religions Council (NIREC), Pastor Ayo Oritsejiafor on the need for greater circumspection in his utterances, or more specifically, in the manner he uses his office in the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) as the spiritual campaign arm of president Jonathan. The Pastor is likely to insist that he has the right and the duty to protect President Jonathan against perceived Northern or Muslim hostility. He will insist that Christians as a whole have retreated against Muslim onslaught beyond what is tolerable, and his office demands that he draws the line at each and every occasion. The Sultan could deepen his productive relationship with clergy such as Cardinal Onaiyekan, but that will only distance them from other clergy who will be responding to traditional demands that faith and political partisanship cannot be separated, and politics.
If the Sultan is hardly likely to make an impact in the fight against a political system that prepares the population as if it is going to face a real war, can President Jonathan do better? Well, he could start by appealing to Chief Clark to play the role of elder and caution rather than threaten. He is likely to be reminded that the Ijaw project cannot be compromised in the face of fear of Northerners who are used to having things their way. He will be reminded that his Presidency beyond 2015 is not an issue personal to him. In the face of the opposition being lined up unfairly against him, all is fair in the manner he and his presidency is defended. Or President Jonathan can appeal to Asari Dokubo and fellow-travellers whose idea of protecting their territory is to light a match anywhere they smell kerosene. He will be told that the enemy cannot be appeased or reasoned with; and if the nation has to go to war or break up because he has to be President
beyond 2015, so be it.
There are a few elders President Jonathan may wish he can influence, but they are beyond his reach. President Obasanjo now writes letters which have to be replied. His letters, including the latest one in which he says he will not leave the PDP but will hold his nose against the stench it celebrates in the South West, tend to place him beyond reasoning with. Then you have people like Senator Okurounmu who recently released a salvo of condemnations that include wards like ‘chicanery’, ‘mandatious’, ‘obsfucations’ at Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) when the latter led the Igbo Leaders of Thought to condemn their own version of the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on National Conference. The Igbo Leaders of Thought themselves will join the league of temperature raisers in the manner they wholeheartedly condemned what they think is the possible outcome of the National Conference.
There is, of course, a way in which all this heat can be avoided. Leaders who have responsibility to avoid playing into hands of elders who want to put the nation on fire should be more responsible in the manner they conduct themselves. In a year when we should be celebrating a century, we ought to have marginalized the doomsday prophets and nay-sayers to the fringes. Alas, people who set standards now turn around to blame those who respond appropriately. There are young Nigerians who have never known a period when leaders and other groups are not routinely abused, insulted, stereotyped or demonized. These Nigerians have been badly let down by a nation which by any standard, could be better. More than anyone else, President Jonathan can do better than lamenting. He could lead with a firmer grip on his government and his circle.