In 1992, military president, General Ibrahim Babangida was widely accused of implementing a transition program that may keep him in power indefinitely. Below is the full text of a speech General Olusegun Obasanjo had reportedly wanted to read at a National Executive Council Meeting, in Abuja.
“We are in the grip of a grave national crisis. There are very many dimensions to this crisis. The aspect that has been the talking point lately is the crisis of succession that has arisen from the botched presidential primaries and the lackluster effort to manage it. Then there is the economic crisis, which has received little or no attention in recent times and has been growing steadily worse. In the social sphere the story is the same: social services and infrastructures are crumbling and the human condition, the quality of life is deteriorating. Nigeria is on the verge of total paralysis.
Most of those who can with some respect and credibility speak out against the ills of the present have become victims of the practice that has come to be called “settlement”.
Choosing a moment when they are most vulnerable, the government steps in with generous assistance, to fly them or their dependants abroad for life-saving medical treatment or favors of lifting oil or supplying fertilizer-patrimonial governance. From that point, their silence is assured. With the nation’s health care delivery system on the brink of collapse, only very few would not yield to such blandishments. But can such blandishments be offered to the retired schoolteacher, the retired railway worker, and the retired postal clerk? Or to the farmer, the peasant or the Nigerian market women who constitute the majority of our people? Are they too not citizens, entitled as of right to all the good things that their nation can provide? Won’t the high and the low be better of, if we improve the national health care delivery system?
The silence and acquiescence of those who have been co-opted into the system is thus assured. Many of them have acquired wealth beyond their wildest dreams, and will not now threaten it by principled dissent. For all such people, engagement with power has been a kiss of intellectual death, an abandonment of independent thought.
All the values we hold dear are under assault. The nation is wracked by tension and despair. Hope has become a scare commodity, and fear a constant compassion.
I believe that the immediate context in which this meeting of the National Council of States has been convened is the crisis of succession arising from the unsuccessful presidential primaries. But this meeting cannot resolve anything, for the council itself is of dubious constitutional validity. Under the constitution, the Council should be presided over by an elected president of the Federal Republic, and should include the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the National Assembly. A president can of course invite people to advise him or by law set up an Advisor or Consultative Council, but that Council cannot have the status of the National Council of States prescribed by the Constitution. As far as I am concerned, this is not a meeting of the National Council of States. I chose to attend primarily because of the opportunity it will afford me to put my views across on the number of fundamental national issues. Mr. President, I have on few occasions in recent times sought this opportunity to meet you privately and discuss these issues. But the chance never came. So, despite my strong doubts about the constitutional validity of this forum, I intend to speak for the record as an invited adviser. I shall be blunt, Mr. President.
For the crisis we face requires blunt, forthright talk, not empty platitudes.
The primary elections for the presidency, it now seems in retrospect, were designed to fail. As it became clearer and clearer that they would fail, many in Nigeria and Abroad were expressing doubts about the credibility of the transition program and about the good faith of the administration in the entire process. Though believing that the law and the process were being manipulated and that the result could only be a deformed baby, I nevertheless held that men and women of goodwill in Nigeria would have to come together in a spirit of community to nurture the deformed baby to normality. Little did I know that we have on our hands not even a stillborn baby but a permanent pregnancy, an abnormal situation fraught with great danger for both mother and child with agonizing state of anxiety for the father and the family?
The crisis was preventable. All that was required was honesty of purpose, and diligent implementation of the transition schedule in a manner that would not raise questions about the integrity of the managers of the transition. What we have had instead is manipulation on a scale almost beyond belief, and rationalization of the most absurd kind. In the name of political engineering, the country has been converted to a political laboratory for trying out all kinds of silly experiments and gimmicks. Principle has been abandoned for expediency. All kinds of booby-traps were instituted into the transition process. The result is the crisis we now face.
There is a growing feeling that some (not all, I must add) Executive governors have forgotten that they are the products of the transitional process and have been elected to further foster it until full civilian democratic rule has become a reality in Nigeria. They have not been elected to subvert the process. Anyone of them, individually or collectively, who advises you (for whatever personal benefits) to extend the life of your administration even by one day betrays the trust of his people and is therefore a traitor to the country’s democratic process.
In any case, the alleged electoral malpractice’s that are now the subject of concern and shock have not been absent from both local and state elections (including gubernatorial elections). Only the scope and magnitude of the manipulations are bigger and larger. Our
Executive Governors who participated fully in the process should not give the impressions that they are saints. This will impress neither one nor Nigerians. They must not destroy the very ladder, which they have climbed to where they are now.
The transition was aimed originally to terminate in 1990. For reasons that were never convincing, it was shifted to 1992. It was claimed that the transition that led to the Second Republic was “rushed”, and that that was why the Second Republic came to grief. By stretching out the transition this time around, it was said, the outcome would be stable and durable. I am sure those who made this claim know better. The public is certainly wiser about their motivations. As I pointed out then, a transition can be made to occupy whatever space anyone choose. What counts is the result. If the outcome of the transition over which I had the honor to preside with your support did not endure, it certainly cannot be because it was “rushed’.
The government decreed two parties into existence, claiming that the five parties of the Second Republic did not make for national cohesion. Yet the said truth is that, even with two parties, the nation is more polarized, more deeply divided, than it was during the Second Republic. The situation was different for that matter during the First Republic when regional, largely ethnically based parties, held sway. In both periods, persons whose authority was recognised and accepted by the rank and file led the political parties. You could speak to the leader or leaders of the party and be sure that you had spoken to the entire party membership. Not anymore.
Those who call the government-created parties parastatals are even being generous.
Parastatals at least have effective and accountable chief executives, who can enforce order and discipline. The same cannot be said about the government-created parties. And yet they are the vehicles through which it is hoped that a stable democracy will be built and nurtured.
We delude ourselves.
The good manipulation we have witnessed these past years are all the more disturbing because they do not even go to the heart of the matter, which is to institute an enduring democratic order in Nigeria. The concern has been with the rules and methods of selection, not with the building and sustenance of democratic institutions and traditions. The managers of the transition are furiously refining the means, long after they have forgotten the end. Our country deserves much better.
Last March, at the University of Ibadan, I gave a lecture reviewing the Nigerian situation. The interesting thing, Mr. President, is those three months after that lecture at Ibadan I was stopped by armed robbers and my car stolen. If I had been killed in that encounter, many Nigerians would have found it difficult to exculpate the authorities from responsibility in the matter. I was grateful to you for your prompt action in visiting me and helping with security vehicles. I had to bear testimony that it was the act of pure criminals who could not even recognize me. I state this to underline the deep-rooted suspicion and unbelief of Nigerians and the credibility gulf between the government and the general public. That is why the fragmentation of power and authority that now characterizes your administration is dangerous.
So also is the existence of all kinds of shadowy, government-funded associations, which make it their business to speak authoritatively for the government, attack decent citizens in the most uncouth language, set individuals against individuals, community against community, religion against religion, soldiers against civilian, Muslim against Christian, and government against citizen. In the process, they have almost destroyed the sense of community without which this country cannot move forward. In the last seven years, the labors of our heroes past have been steadily undermined. Not even that armed forces, which we have always held out as the bedrock of Nigerian unity has been spared this steady devaluation, clearly we cannot continue along this path of destruction.
Prolongation of military rule cannot be the answer under the present circumstances. The honor and integrity of the armed forces in whose name you have governed this country these past seven years are at great risk. The handing over of power to an elected civilian government on January 23, 1993, must proceed apace. There lies the honour of the military, which must not be destroyed. All that needs to be done between now and then can be done if there is seriousness and honesty of purpose, and if the system is allowed to work without manipulation.
We have a voters’ register, we have a national electoral commission in position, with all the support system, for what they are worth, we have two parties. Let the caretakers’ organized party conventions with the assistance of NEC to elect the party flag bearer to contest the presidential elections on the basis open-secret system. Let the ballot papers which can be printed in one week – we did that in 1979 – be printed with the photographs of the two presidential candidates against which the choice of a voter can be indicated. Mr. President, it is a matter for great concern bordering on shame to Nigeria that Angola with more inadequate infrastructures than Nigeria, being engaged in civil population could organize a decent, world-acclaimed, free and affair election within a space of one year with open secret ballot. Of course, where there is will, good intention, determination and integrity, there will be way.
Any prolongation of military rule in the form of diarchy or any other arrangement will not only bring the armed forces into utter disrepute, it will amount to a declaration of war against the sovereign rights of the people of Nigeria to choose their own leaders and conduct their affairs in accordance with the constitution. Enough is enough. Asking NEC or governors to advise AFRC on such issues as timing and period of transition with a view to passing the buck is a big joke and no serious mind is amused or deceived by it. The responsibility is squarely yours.
Except mentioning it in passing, I do not intend to dwell on the issue of destroying the base of the Armed Forces through the ill-advised reported proposal of moving Army Headquarters to Minna, Air Force headquarters to Kano and Navy headquarters to Lagos. The capital of almost every nation I know is also the seat of he headquarters of the Armed Forces. I have it on strong authority that some others have advised you against such precipitate action. But as one has come to know you a little bit better now that you are in power and with power, you could toy with anything believing that Nigerians will shout only for a while and you either silence them with chocking largess, intimidation, hack letters or that time will silence them. You have acted and voiced this tendency in the past. But Mr. President, every word, work and act of yours goes into history. Nobody is immune from the verdict of history.
As someone who was in the battlefield during the Nigerian Civil War and who unexpectedly but providentially assumed the mantle of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria and the leadership of the government, I beg you in the name of Allah not to mistake the silence of our people for acquiescence or weakness and the sycophancy of the greedy and opportunistic people who parade the corridors of power as representative of the true feelings of our people. Nigeria needs peace and stability. It is too fragile to face another commotion. In God’s good name drag it not into one. This is the time for you to have some honorable exit.
May God help you and help our country”.