Dr. Usman Bugaje, former aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo and former member of the House of Representatives reviews Nigeria’s journey down democracy lane and submits without equivocation that the same people who helped Abacha to his grave have hijacked government again
Ordinary Nigerians believe that Nigeria’s democracy at 10 years so far is not yet democracy but civil rule. It is very interesting listening to the views of people. People have put it in different ways. Some very philosophical, some profane. The people are disappointed. Essentially, there were expectations that in 10 years, we would have consolidated the gains of democracy but what has happened in the last 10 years is not consolidation but a deficit. We have registered a deficit in democratic experience.
We started in 1999 with a lot of hope but unfortunately, what we did not seem to take note of is that the same people who advised (Late Gen. Sani) Abacha and helped him in his dictatorial tendencies quickly sneaked in and surrounded (Olusegun) Obasanjo. Of course Obasanjo had the proclivity to do what he did; he had the element in him to destroy democratic gains, to want to continue ruling forever. So, they played on that and they encircled him. And even if we don’t mention their names, you know the people. Just go back to the Abacha era, remember those who organized the two million man march, and those who went abroad campaigning for him as the best man to rule Nigeria. They are still there. They are the ministers. They chair most of the juicy boards.
They were the ones that surrounded him. And even now, some of them are around (President Umaru) Yar’Adua. They have consistently been on the corridors of power and all they do is to play on the weaknesses of leaders. They exploit the weaknesses of power and they will always want these people to rule for ever. Obasanjo is an accomplice. He played a very active role in having them around because if he was not that kind of person and if he did not like them, he would have kept them away. But clearly, they were birds of the same feather and so they flocked together.
These are the people who started by destroying the basis of democracy which is political party system. Obasanjo undermined internal democracy within the PDP. He also used his own moles which he planted within the other political parties to undermine internal democracy in those parties and to personalize politics. He moved away from issues to persons. All these within a span of eight years. And Yar’Adua is a stooge precisely brought in there to ensure that this pattern which Obasanjo established, where the man at the top determines what happens, where primaries don’t mater at all, where votes cast at general elections don’t matter, using state apparatus and public resources to finance campaigns and to corrupt people and destroy institutions remains. In the last ten years, what the PDP government under Obasanjo and now under Yar’Adua, has done is to destroy the labour of many of us who fought the military to re-establish democracy again.
Whether you are in NADECO, G18, G34 etc, it did not matter. Remember some people died in the process. A lot of us suffered trauma and deprivations. Some were arrested and detained and the trauma is still with them in their families. Our passports were seized and we could not travel. Our homes were searched and our families subjected to all sorts of harassments. All these were trauma we suffered to re-establish democracy in Nigeria. Now, all the things we fought for is being destroyed by a cult of people led by the likes of Tony Anenih, all Abacha people who now hold this government to ransom. This is what people are complaining about. But to be specific, the PDP has never allowed elections to hold even within its fold. You can see that as a consistent character. It even showed itself in their last convention under Yar’Adua. Before then, the very primary at which Yar’Adua himself was chosen can not pass for a primary. There was no election. For instance, in my own state Katsina, where the president comes from, the former speaker, Aminu Bello Masari was not even allowed into the venue where the primary was said to have held. He was a contestant. How can you call this democracy? They used anything and everything they could lay their hands on just to achieve their personal ambitions. Their ambition was not democracy. No, it was not.
Their objective has never been democracy or the people of this country. They don’t even think of the people they claim voted for them. Their objective is their own personal, selfish, narrow interest. And you can see that in how much money they make. You can see how Obasanjo ripped off this nation using Transcorp in which he had shares which he hid until we discovered it at the National Assembly through oversight investigations. Only God knows how much money he really made from the power sector. See what all the probes are turning out. So, these 10 years have been very traumatic. Very depressing if you like. However, the real challenge we are facing as Nigerians is not to be depressed by all that is happening. In fact, we have to rededicate ourselves. We have to acquire a new determination to face the challenges and be able to overcome them the best we can.
The easiest way out is for the opposition to come together because the challenge is to remove PDP from power. As long as PDP is in power, this culture of the personalization of politics will definitely continue. So, the best thing is for the opposition to come together not to replicate or replace what the PDP has been doing but to set the criteria for a new beginning. The opposition itself has to move from the politics of big man to the politics of big ideas. In other words, our politics must begin to be driven by ideas and not people. So much so that people will belong to the extent that they have the capacity to deliver on the issues people are focusing on. At the moment, if you want the three most important issues in Nigeria for me, first is infrastructure especially electricity, second is security and three is Niger Delta. If you can resolve these three major issues, the entrepreneurial capacity of the average Nigerian is enough to develop the country.
The importance of the rule of law is given. It is already there it’s just that it is not being practiced. Our constitution enshrines the rule of law. But the judiciary itself has become corrupt because this lack of development has created a vicious circle of politicians who want to use money to buy influence within their own party, in the national assembly and in the judiciary so they can control power. So, I think if we are able to address these three areas, the democratic space will open up. Because in doing that we will be addressing poverty, development and issues of security which is at the base of everything we want to do. Addressing security means setting high professional standards for the police and the relevant agencies, throwing out the rotten eggs among them and of course equipping them to do the work so that what happened in Ekiti would not happen again.
I don’t really think that this PDP government can deliver on electoral reforms. They are the greatest beneficiaries of the lack of this reform. And I don’t see them pulling down the same structure that got them into power. I don’t see them dismantling that. They will just play along like they have done with every other thing. Yar’Adua said he was going to reform. He set up a team quite okay, made up of some of the best Nigerians I have come across. By the time the team was up he sat on it for three months. And after that he simply watered down their recommendation.
He trivialized the whole thing. He went from some white paper then to council and then to the council of state for governors to decide what they want and what they do not want. They governors had to choose and drop. Who are the governors? You said you want Nigerians to decide and they decided and you go in to ask the governors again. Your job would be to forward the recommendation to the National Assembly which will decide. If the governors don’t want it, they can wait when it come to their state, they can convince their houses of assembly not to vote.
The governors said they don’t want the removal of SIECs simply because that is the instrument through which they rig local government elections in the country. That is so because they can deploy state security apparatus to rig local government elections. And shamelessly, they went and said they don’t want SIEC taken from them. Incidentally, laws are made by the National Assembly. The National Assembly represents the voice of the people that is in places where they are elected. Here, they are appointed, some anointed then selected and appointed. Of course there are some decent people in the National Assembly and also some parties who would not do the sort of thing PDP does.
One you must appreciate that it is not all the opposition parties that are really opposition. Let me start with the ANPP which many people think or believe is an opposition party. The ANPP, even before the 2007 election, is not an opposition party. It had long been undermined and bought over and put in the payroll of the PDP. I will be surprised if Nigerians ignore this fact. When we were fighting the third term agenda, you will remember that some of the most prominent supporters of the project were all from the ANPP. Look at them. Borno, Yobe, Jigawa.
Remember the then governor of Yobe said Obasanjo should not be given a third term but an unlimited term until he chooses to leave or dies as if the country belongs to his father. The governor of Jigawa was the man who brought in money. He was in court and said in one day he brought in N18 billion in cash into Abuja from his state. He said he gave N9 billion to Andy Uba for third term. He has not disclosed exactly who he gave the remaining N9 billion. You need to find out where the remaining money went into. My worry is that some of the people who are occupying offices in the presidency may have collected part of the money. These are monies that are never accounted for. I am not even sure they signed for it. Coming down to the point, the issue remains that a lot of those people you think are opposition parties are not really. So many of the 50 registered parties are actually PDP appendages. PDP sent its errand boys to register them.
The idea is that if one or two of the real opposition parties boycott the election, it can get the remaining to join it and then claim that only two out of 50 boycotted. We forget that these parties are shallow and don’t have real existence. So, some of them you look at as opposition are just PDP appendages who wear the garb of the opposition to deceive people. However, the genuine opposition parties oppose on the basis of principles and that is where Action Congress falls. Most of its members are those who disagreed with the PDP on matters of principle. You remember that I had remained consistent with my views against the PDP even when I was in the presidency. Even when I came to the National Assembly in 2003, I was clearly fighting the PDP. Some of us felt there was no way we could go back to that party. It is no longer a democratic party. They have destroyed it. It is now simply the biggest vote rigging machine and most of us would not want to associate with that.
So, the Action Congress remains the genuine opposition party left. Some elements of the ANPP who have now parted ways with the PDP/ANPP ought to have worked with the AC to achieve a common platform. This was attempted actually but I think the vision of some of the leaders were so short-sighted. They could not see that what was at stake was not the realisation of personal ambitions but to salvage the country. But with what happened in the 2007 election, the opposition has now realised its mistakes. It has now realised that what is at stake is not personal ambitions but rather salvaging democracy in Nigeria. Therefore, those in ANPP, AC and some PDP who have now realised that they can’t move forward with that party are now coming together.
Whether this takes the shape of a mega party or a different platform it is what is needed now. People should encourage it because that was the way Kenya went to be able to dislodge Arap Moi. That is the way the Congress Party of India went to dislodge the BJP. So, we are back actually to where Abacha left us. We are back to a situation where different forces had to come together to ask for democracy. We must first fight to salvage democracy and once we achieve that, then people can go and contest for office on different platforms.
I served under Obasanjo administration, Yes, I served in the Presidency in his first tenure before I left. I left because I realised that the man was fake. He was not real.
When he came into power in 1999, he told everybody that his emphasis will be on agriculture. He sang it like music. He talked agriculture everywhere he went. And people believed him. But I soon realised that the man who was talking agriculture all the time had no programme for agriculture. When you take all his budgets, you will realise that he never gave more than N15 billion to agriculture and he still said that was his focus. He was starving agriculture of funds. When we asked him he said agriculture and water were the same and that both ministries can complement each other in what they get. That is not a sign of one who is serious. Only fake people do that. When I realised that I said this is not the man to trust. I left his government.
Dr. Usman Bugaje, former aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo, former member of the House of Representatives and now National Secretary of the Action Congress (AC)