Monday, 31 January 2011

Article: Why Ribadu Matters

Nuhu Ribadu

By Feyi Fawehinmi

Nigerian politics is not yet at the point where democratic institutions have taken deep root so the 'type' of leader we have sends a lot of 'signals' down the food chain which in turn gives the government whatever character it is seen to have.

So Shagari was seen to be incompetent and spineless, this was a signal to men like Umaru Dikko and many others in that government that you could pretty much take whatever you wanted from the commonwealth with impunity. Likewise when  a few days to the 2007 elections, President Obasanjo described it as a do or die affair, this was a powerful signal to every politician, especially those in the PDP, that whatever barriers to rigging that were in place previously had now been removed. The result was that we had a shame of an exercise that must never be referred to as an election.

The examples are endless. After Murtala Mohammed became Head of State, civil servants were said to be reporting at their desks by 7am. Fast forward a few years and our civil servants are more likely to be found watching Africa Magic or hawking all sorts of wares in the office.

The President does not need to patrol every ministry unannounced to make our civil servants sit up at their desks. He only needs to send a strong enough signal, in word and in deed, that things will no longer be as they have and people will sit up.

Similarly, we need leadership that will send a strong signal to the rest of the world, that things are different now so we can attract the quality foreign investment we need along with the skills transfer this would bring.

But most of all, we need leadership that sends a strong signal to every Nigerian that things have well and truly changed and after so many false starts, our country can finally get going. One man cannot unwind our totally corrupt system but he can at least introduce punishment into the system so that people know that there will consequences for robbing the nation. A system whereby people facing trial for corruption are awarded multi million naira contracts sends out all the wrong signals to the clerk in the ministry.

Nuhu Ribadu's candidacy excites me. For one, I know that the ONLY way he can be President is if Nigerians come out in their numbers to vote for him. Perhaps in my lifetime, this will be the first real transfer of power from the people, via a mandate, to a man they have deemed worthy of presiding over the affairs of the nation. He cannot rig his way into office neither can he buy his way to the Presidency.

I am also excited by the fact that this candidacy is getting a lot of its power from those who will own this country tomorrow. Those who will be called next. I need not bore you with the man's biography or achievements. His Wikipedia page has all the information you need.

A foolish consistency they say, is the hobgoblin of small minds; the time for doing the same thing 'one more time' hoping for a different result is gone now. It is getting boring even. I watched the PDP primaries in 2003 that handed Obasanjo the party's presidential ticket to contest that year's elections. It promised so many surprises to the point where I stayed up till very late in the night listening to Tom Ikimi repeat 'Oba-sanjo' again and again till I was nearly in a trance. And then a few weeks ago, I watched again as 'Jonathan' after 'Jonathan' was called out. This time I didn't wait very long before going to bed.

We are being asked once again to vote for a candidate delivered by the exact same system that has produced his predecessors because after 12 years, this time it will be different. I leave you to imagine what signals will come out of Aso Rock in 4 years if we are to continue with the PDP.

No word has been as much abused as the word 'change' especially when it comes to politics and campaign. And because Nigeria cries out for change so obviously, change has become a single door through which a throng of politicians try to run through at the same time whenever elections approach leaving the race not to the best but to the most thuggish.

But I can make my decision based on those who indeed brought change when they had the chance to do so...anyone can brandish a credit card with change written all over it. At some point, real cash will have to be involved to complete the transaction.

My name is Feyi Fawehinmi and I am 32 years old. If I had been born in the east end of London, in my lifetime I would have seen Canary Wharf rise from the ground from a part of London that was no more than a glorified marsh. And I would have grown up with a vision that no longer sees the obstacles in front of me but the possibilities.

Or if I had been born in Beijing, I would have watched in my lifetime as my city was completely transformed into one of the most developed cities in China good enough to host the Olympics. And I would have grown up not being overwhelmed by the problems but excited by the possibilities.

I could have been born in Atlanta, Georgia and I would have watched my city transformed by the 1996 Olympics and seen life spring up from empty spaces all over the city turning the city into a world class town. And with that, never again will I look at an empty dark space the same way again. And when Barack Obama says 'we do big things', I would nod in understanding.

As it turns out, I was born in Nigeria so the gutters that have been open for as long as I can remember remain open till today...filled with quite possibly the same stagnant water. I might therefore think that covering gutters (which will in turn reduce mosquitoes that still kill our people) is such a big deal. And when I travel round the country and see open gutters everywhere, I am more likely to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problems that have been left to fester for forever.

The inimitable Pius Adesanmi put it best when he said; "You are not likely to consider constant electricity in the 21st century a right that must be fought for if your mental universe is such that you want to mount the pulpit on Sunday and give testimony that you went to the lord in prayer and fasting and came against the spirit of darkness and, behold, “NEPA did not take light during the naming ceremony of my child!"

In other words, because I am a Nigerian, my idea of development and advancement is completely warped (not different, warped) and I have come to view certain things as perhaps acceptable. We underestimate how far behind we are from where we should normally be. And we forget that the world is not sitting down somewhere waiting for us to catch up. We cannot continue to flirt with a party that is more likely to produce a Peter Odili as governor than it is to produce a Rotimi Amaechi.

We are all partly to blame for where we find ourselves because as much as we have had the misfortune of being ruled by the most clueless of generals, there have been those moments when an olive has been offered us and we turned it down. We could have perhaps voted for Awolowo instead of Shagari and our story might have been different today. Or maybe not. The important thing to note is that we had a choice then and we have a choice once again now.

A wise man once said that the reason why God gave us Mondays was so we could start again even after a very bad week.

I am voting Nuhu Ribadu because Nigeria is crying out for positive change and nothing says change like his candidacy...not just a change in the choice of headgear.

We are at a point in our nation where we are being sold second hand sophistry packaged in a new wrapper. That the presidency is defined by a man who would be nowhere in the reckoning were this to be anywhere near a serious open contest. That a man propelled to the top of the nation's leadership by a series of events that would make Lemony Snicket green with envy apparently had all the solutions inside of him all along. That a man, just like his late boss, who had never been known to aspire to the highest office in the land is now the best man for the job...presumably after having seen what the job entails and declaring it to be only slightly more difficult than a cakewalk.

It is important that we pause and listen to the arguments being presented to us. Yours truly is an accountant and I work in a firm where I report to a Director. If something were to happen and my boss couldn't make it in to the office one day, I could probably cover for him for a couple of days using whatever knowledge I have gleaned from working with him. This does not however automatically make me a director. If my boss were never to return to the office again, the reasonable thing for the company to do would be to call for applications for the vacant role and if I felt confident enough to apply, I would do so like everybody else. I would not expect to be treated differently even though I might have an edge.

But in Nigeria we have created a system whereby, as long as you are able to reach the Presidency by whatever means, you automatically become the 'best man for the job'. To sit on the chair is to be. And invariably the country is dragged to your level of competence...usually downwards hardly ever upwards.

Nigerians are once again faced with a choice and we can be fixated on the person sitting on the chair to the detriment of every other person. We only postpone the evil day in that regard.

So when I look at all the candidates running for office, I comfortably come down on the side of Mr Ribadu as the best man for the job. I am not moved by luck or chance. I choose to remain clear eyed when making such a serious decision.

It is practically impossible to talk about the candidacy of Nuhu Ribadu without talking about Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos state and ACN chieftain.

Without mincing words, I am no fan of the Asiwaju mainly because I think he lacks the intellectual capacity to come up with a vision as leader of the Yorubas, never mind Nigeria, as he is seen to be these days.

But unto Asiwaju what is due Asiwaju.

Wole Soyinka once said that 'records are not kept to assist the weakness of memory but to serve as guides to the future'. So a quick recap will suffice.

Olusegun Obasanjo got elected in 1999 in an anomalous fashion in that he lost his entire constituency (South West Nigeria) but went on to win the Presidency. In a parliamentary system such as the UK, David Cameron would no longer be Prime Minister if he were to somehow lose his constituency of Witney in Oxfordshire.

Four years later this anomaly was seen as a weakness for Obasanjo and there was much grumbling directed at him from within the PDP. Invariably having learnt the lessons of politics, he needed to correct this problem. So by hook or crook he needed to 'deliver' the South West to the PDP from the AD. This was achieved in various ways from outright rigging to giving false assurances to men like Segun Osoba.

Yes it is true that Lam Adesina was considered to be pretty much useless by the people of Oyo state but today they have Adebayo Alao-Akala in his place, a man who has plumbed the depths so far that the only place left to go is for him to drop out of the earth's bottom.

Yes it is true that Olusegun Osoba was seen to be disconcertingly haughty by the people of Ogun state but he was replaced with Gbenga Daniel who is never far away from the gravest of allegations ranging from murder to theft.

Yes it is true that Bisi Akande and Adebayo Adefarati were seen to be old and lethargic by the people of Osun and Ondo states respectively but they were replaced by Olagunsoye Oyinlola who never once let anything stand in the way of his enjoyment around the globe and Olusegun Agagu who performed so woefully in Ondo state that he saw fit to hire Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson and such like to aid his re-election in 2007.

Yes it is true that Adeniyi Adebayo in Ekiti state was seen to be a spoilt and privileged daddy's boy but he was replaced with Ayodele Fayose who spent billions of naira on a shameful poultry project in the state where not ONE single chicken was ever seen.

In the end, the PDP hostile takeover of the South West in 2003 was a self serving move led by Obasanjo using his patented brand of do or die politics.

Now pause for a moment. And imagine if the PDP had completed a clean sweep and taken Lagos state in that same 2003. The APP/ANPP had also been decimated by the PDP from 9 states down to 2 states.

Today the ACN is in control of 4 states and has more than a good chance of capturing at least 2 more states in April. The ANPP remains stuck on 2 states and is likely to remain at that after the coming election.

There is therefore no doubt that the ACN is the #1 opposition party in Nigeria today. And it would never have been possible if the Asiwaju didn't somehow stand firm in 2003 to repel the PDP juggernaut. The only hope we would have an opposition worth the name today would be us waiting for the PDP to implode and spin off a new arm.

Then there is of course the question of legacy. No amount of garnishing can turn a plate of frog meat into something palatable that one would want to eat. However if push came to shove, one would at least make a choice in favour of the frog with an egg inside says the Yoruba proverb.

Obasanjo and Tinubu were motivated by the same selfishness when they were picking their successors in 2007 but it is hard not to imagine that Babatunde Fashola is in fact the frog with an egg inside it when placed side by side with the late Umaru Yar'Adua.

The ACN as the main opposition party in Nigeria today presents the most realistic vehicle for Nuhu Ribadu to achieve his aim of change. Politics always comes in packages; It is not a Christmas hamper where you can take what you want out of the basket and abandon the rest. This is the reason why Barack Obama rose out of the same party in the same state of Illinois as the hopelessly corrupt  Governor Rod Blagojevich.

To repeat; this is not a defence of the Asiwaju...he comes with baggage. But the office of the Nigerian president does not tolerate a godfather for too long and I am confident that Mr Ribadu will be his own man and set the agenda as President. Because I know he at least stands for something.

I believe a new Nigeria is possible. And on April 9th I will vote for Nuhu Ribadu as the man best able to deliver the vision of Nigeria I have when I close my eyes and imagine the possibilities.

But I will also abide by the choice of the Nigerian people. Whoever wins will be recognized as my President. And not a drop of any Nigerian's blood will be shed in the name of any politician, Ribadu included. And I am confident that our votes will count. And the people's voices will be heard.

But I do not love any one candidate more than I love Nigeria to the point where I believe he has to win or nothing else. Presidents will come and go but Nigeria will endure. I will vote my conscience and I will accept the result. I am not afraid. 

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