By Dr. Osagie Obayuwana
Mr Chairman, the first thing I wish to say is that the publication we have gathered here to celebrate today is a unique contribution, deserving of a unique review.
Salihu’s “Monograph” as he calls it, represents an audacious initiative by an active participant in an unfolding phenomenon. It represents a distillation of challenges for attainment by those opposed to PDP misrule, within a time frame; a three year period, guided by history, the highest form of patriotism and pragmatism. While the book perhaps may be described as reductionist, but therein lies its strength.
In the work, we witness the author skilfully discuss what opposition politics should be like, trimmed down to a union of Action Congress o Nigeria and Congress for Progressive Change (ACN/CPC), facilitated by two persons-General Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This notwithstanding, a look at the cover of the book makes it evident that the writer has within view, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), Labour Party (LP), All Progressive Groud Alliance (APGA) and the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA): indeed all change seeking persons and groups in Nigeria. Thus, it is only upon a full consideration of the content that one can appreciate that all others are not left out, except perhaps the PDP and what it represents.
A unique review is called for because the debate has already begun, thanks to the internet, Sahara Reporters, Nigerian Village Square, Facebook, Twitter, blogs as well as several newspapers. Reactions to the main proposition by Mr. Lukman are reproduced in the book for wider consideration. Thus, our gathering today is no more than an opportunity to expand the scope of participants, those to consider, critique and enrich the process that has already caught on. Consequently, my review is an attempt to summarise and bring out the highlights of the discussion so far.
Mr Chairman, I am gladdened by the attendance at this launch, of many of the dramatis personae to whom this book is directed. This speaks volumes about the aptness of the issues raised by the author, the timeliness of same, and the responsiveness of many of our leaders and compatriots. Upon my reading of the book, my curiosity was aroused about the reaction of particular personalities mentioned by name. I expect their formal reactions today, while I hope that Mr. Chairman would allow this launch to be as participatory as possible, time permitting.
Mr. Chairman, ordinarily, when we speak of a manifesto of an organisation, what readily comes to mind is the name of the organisation, its aims and objectives, and a program of action, within a time frame. In a different way, what the author has provided is a guide for political action for opposition forces within the time frame of 2013 and 2015. What the author has done is to outline what must be done within this time period and the envisaged gains. The author criticizes opposition politics which has tended to be reactive and calls for pro-activeness. His call is to all patriots to join in the march to Nigeria’s democratic revolution using the instrumentality of the ballot box.
I ask for Mr. Chairman’s permission to say a few things about the author, Mr. Salihu Mohammed Lukman who we enjoyed the privilege of mentoring loosely in a teacher-student relationship, and as comrades in the dark days of the struggle against military dictatorship. In retrospect, I salute the wisdom of his peers who saw in him what some of us as eaglet lecturers didn’t see then, when they elected him as the President in the militant National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1988/1989. Being the product of our Nigerian University experience, with all the imperfections and challenges, it is a source of joy, faith and hope in the inevitability of Nigeria’s redemption, considering that Salihu has turned out to be a doggedly consistent fighter for democracy and progress in Nigeria. It is true that we sometimes feel the disappointment of how many they are, those of our younger comrades who seemingly have turned their backs on those concerns we passionately shared with them, which the military dictators proclaimed we were not paid to teach. Today, I am gladdened that Salihu Lukman is a policy and development expert and has earned for himself a pride of place in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
Salihu had always a style that is disarming, flowing from his smile, his physique and soft- spoken nature, but remains highly effective. Certainly not lacking in courage, he is imbued with an extremely high sense of responsibility to the past, present and future, and I agree with the commentator on the internet who upon reading the manuscript of this book, most highly commended Salihu’s raw frankness. Somehow, all these qualities have been brought to bear in the book before us today.
The author is a member of the Strategy Committee of the ACN and according to him, the contents of the book is the outcome of discussions and deliberations at the meetings of the said Committee. He owned up that his views documented in the book were enriched by other members of the Committee. In the days of strict, iron-fist party discipline, the issues raised in this publication could only have been confined to the membership of the Committee, or perhaps, presented in a dossier to the party leadership. I am glad they were not simply that. Salihu confessed that he found a co-conspirator in distinguished Senator Babafemi Ojudu who offered to facilitate the production of this publication for wider consideration, in confirmation of the truth that you can take Ojudu to the Senate, but you cannot take the journalistic instinct away from him.
Whatever anti-party infractions Salihu’s disclosure may represent is made up for, given his confession in the acknowledgment page that having failed to win election as a Senator representing Kaduna North District, there are sympathizers who told him that he had no chance, even in the future, of becoming a Senator unless he decamps from ACN to the CPC. This he refused to do. He opted to bring the ACN, his party and CPC together, and he marshalled the case in this book like an experienced advocate, to deserve an acquittal. Seriously, Mr. Chairman, I think Salihu deserves the opportunity to serve his people – the Nigerian people whether as a Senator, would be a different kettle of fish. Someone who read his work on the internet said she would vote for Salihu as President!
In his foreword titled, ‘the Imperatives of Politics of Change in Nigeria’ the ever pleasant, amiable but firm Dr. Olukayode Fayemi, His Excellency the Governor of Ekiti State, reminded us all of the crossroads we once had to contend with in 1998 relative to the Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar Transition Program. Following the death of Gen. Sani Abacha, and shortly thereafter, Chief M. K. O Abiola, some of those who were in the trenches together, saw open doors, and insisted on walking right through them to public office. Others were undecided and hesitant, while a third group refused outrightly, aiming at upholding higher ideals.
The result is what Dr. Fayemi called ‘Democracy without Democrats’. Three to four years later, guided by experience, for more of our people who now wished to enjoy their democratic right to be voted for and participate in electoral contest, they had to wage battles against the PDP conspiracy, all the way to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which paved the way for the registration of the NCP, PRP, MDJ, NAP, DA, the Labour Party, and a host of others. At this time, as Jonny Just Come (JJC) or Johnny Just Drop (JJD), we had to contend not only with the unapologetically monstrous PDP, we had to duel with our fellow combatants against military dictators of yesteryears. Chief Gani Fawehinmi ran for Presidency, several others myself inclusive ran for various offices. Even the newly registered parties fielded candidates against each other for the same office, much to the delight of the PDP, which never to take chances, rigged massively. The result was predictable.
Today, we are faced with yet another crossroad. We are called upon by the Author to voluntarily partake in the process of emergence of a new Pro-People Party, embodying the fusion of the most functional of existing political parties. The important dimension this time is the voluntary nature of the union of social democrats as distinguished from the military-imposed fiat the SDP of yesteryears represented. As Dr. Fayemi characterised it, the call contained in Salihu’s book is a wake-up call to all patriotic Nigerians on what needs to be done to return Nigeria to the path of democratic development.
The book in earnest commences with a picturesque description of the all too familiar peculiarity we find ourselves in our dear country. It talks about the dominant politics devoid of clear cut ideologies and edifying values which inevitably results only in contests of personalities in the promotion of primordial sentiments to attain the selfish goals of such personalities. Religious, ethnic and regional leaders hold sway, tending to lead to discord and national fragmentation at levels never before witnessed. All this in the face of unemployment rate as high as 24%, poverty rate over 70%, illiteracy rate not too far behind, side by side with an over 800% increase in Federal government spending between 2000 and 2012 with not much to show for it. He concludes that the legacy of the PDP which has been in control of the Federal Government and most of the states for the past 13 years is that of incompetence, treachery to national aspirations, deliberate poor management, wholesale graft.
For the PDP, in the face of the above, the dominant political discussion still revolves around whose turn it is to produce the next President, come 2015. The clamour is most vociferous between the North and the East, while the South-South insists on continuing. The author recognises this situation as presenting a yawning gap that the opposition political parties must fill, putting forward alternative models that will give the opposition parties a distinct identity and promote a clear choice for the electorate.
The author’s definition of opposition parties embraces those parties, beside the PDP which have Governors and Members in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly. These are the ACN, CPC, ANPP, Labour Party, APGA and PPA. Of these, the ACN holds the leading position with six state Governors and 90 members of the National Assembly.
The author questions how well these parties separately are playing the classical role of opposition parties, and singled out the ACN and the CPC as closer to it; even then he criticises that these are more of reactions than a ‘systemic agenda-setting strategy’.
Perhaps, the most striking feature of the book is the piercing analysis and frank critique of what exists today as opposition parties. He lays bare their challenges.
Conceding that particularly for the ACN, there has been occasional reactive interventions at the national level, for all the opposition parties, there is a weak administrative system, particularly at state, local government and ward levels where there is lack of communication, synergy and competent drivers. Thus, it is not surprising that at state and local government levels, there is a near complete absence of policy engagement. He touches more on the challenge facing the two dominant opposition parties, which holds true for all the others, in the author’s famous letters to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, reproduced in full in the book.
While the ACN Governors may be seen to have started to break new grounds (in infrastructure, education, health and monthly welfare payments to the elderly), it is not so clear whether this is pursuant to strict party guidance or just a display of individual commitment. For the CPC, there is a serving Governor in Nassarawa State, Senators, House of Representatives members and many members of the Houses of Assembly of various states. Given the status of the national leader, General Muhamadu Buhari, in the views of the author, Nassarawa state ought to be a model and a source of inspiration to all Nigerians but this he says is clearly not the case.
He queries the extent to which the legislators of the ACN, CPC, Labour Party, APGA in the National Assembly are guided by their parties, how regularly the engagement is between those members and their party leadership and wonders whether they vote as a bloc.
Coming to party leadership, he queries whether those who emerge as leaders of the various opposition parties at all levels can be said to be free of the PDP orientation of greed, lust for money and power. He challenges their core value system and their level of competence and wonders whether they possess an outlook that is national and whether indeed they follow and share the ideals of their National leaders. In his view, this cannot be divorced from what he perceives generally as poor internal party administration. For the leading opposition parties and all the others, he raises the issue of accountability, probity, absence of budgeting and audit of party accounts as areas where indiscipline and impunity ought not to be countenanced, as seems to be the case now.
Another important area touched upon has to do with party supremacy or party regulation of the conduct of members holding positions in government. Now, it is generally a case of the tail wagging the dog. Members who occupy public office at different levels especially in the executive arm of Government tend to be leaders of the party which he says is traceable to the contribution of such public office holders to party coffers. He thereafter insists that party leaders should lead and to be able to do this, party leaders should have an independent means of livelihood and not professional politicians who rely solely on government patronage.
Finally, he talks about the imperative of party leaders first and foremost being democrats, imbued with the spirit of promoting internal democracy within the party, who must subject themselves to transparency, fairness and justice in the conduct of all aspects of party life, up to and including the process of selection of candidates for elective as well as appointive positions.
Other issues relative to party administration raised by the author include popular participation and democracy in the affairs of the party which he says must not be compromised. He insists that professionalism must be brought into the management of the party and in this regard, he recommends the engagement of financial experts to ensure prudence and accountability in the spending of party resources, and communication experts in the selling of its ideals.
All parties have policy commitments which she says should be clearly understood and shared by all members of the party and should be the reference point and basis for contestation for power at all levels. The above issues he argues need to be animated beyond the cycle of elections, they should constitute the core of the party’s reorganization and re orientation agenda.
The Role of Individuals in History
To the fainthearted, it would appear that the task is too gargantuan to be embarked upon and won, or that perhaps, Nigeria does not have in abundance, angels that are cocooned in some discreet location, who have overcome the above named challenges who at this time could be summoned to perform the magic; and this is the most interesting aspect of the book.
The author defines this challenge first and foremost as the task that the two leading lights of the two dominant opposition parties – Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, leading the rest of us, must champion. Two Generals who have distinguished themselves in various battles and who have in fact become national assets. To the author, history beckons on both of them to spearhead the process of the fusion of their followers. To lead by example in the bridge building imperative between the North and the South-West in particular, both of whom must jointly reach out to the East and the South-South. It is their task he argues, to confront all their followers with the challenges observed above, to let them know that at this time, they must either shape up or ship out. Buhari and Tinubu must hold the whip and become the conscience of the nation, it is, he maintains, part of their bounding duty, to recruit the best hands available to achieve this historical task.
With remarkable logic, he argues that following our recent history, cynicism has set in so deeply in our national fabric, and selflessness and commitment are very much in short supply. The author’s position is that if both Buhari and Tinubu are to retain their ambition to vie for the Presidency of Nigeria, they would have deprived themselves of the free hand to discharge this historical obligation without being accused of unbridled ambition.
The argument is that, while it is true that the 2 eminently qualified titians posses the constitutional right to vie for the Presidency of Nigeria, it would be an unprecedented lesson in sacrifice for them to voluntarily forgo this in the national interest. The more important assignment he maintains is for them both to sanitise the vehicle for national redemption (the party ACN, + CPC +++) and make it distinctively different; that both are eminently capable of identifying in the best Presidential candidate to confront PDP with in 2015. He expresses the confidence that they both have the charisma to unite all Nigerians for a new Nigeria, from now on to 2015 and beyond.
Given this premise, when asked “what is in this for you?” both of them should be able to contentedly say “Redemption of Nigeria, for all Nigerians”. Beyond yet another failed attempt at the Presidency, embracing this historic obligation the Author says would place both of them in the pantheon of the greatest of our national heroes, in glowing tribute to the labours of our heroes past.
Among the urgent tasks identified by the author is
1. The imperative of mobilizing mass organisations in the country
2. Translate the popularity of the CPC into membership of the party.
3. Translate the membership of professionals in the ACN into a working partnership with professional groups.
4. Consult and partner with the NLC, TUC and Civil Society groups.
5. Identify specific interest groups in the country to partner with
6. Formulate and adopt a women and youth mobilization program.
Doing the above will in addition to leading to advances in fund raising and political education, it would put an end to passivity and docility of credible Nigerians and increase the size of the pool from which credible candidates may be selected.
One has to wonder, whether some of the allegedly immediate tasks above do not suggest a continuing parallel development of the parties as opposed to immediate steps being taken to iron out the modalities for the fusion of the ACN and CPC, such that it is the new formation that would carry out these urgent tasks?
Cynics are bound to remind us that Mokwugo Okoye once wrote a famous letter to Zik but it is our hope that the lessons learnt from that experience would enure for the benefit of the realization of the Nigeria of our dream this time.
Reactions, Comments, Debates and Discussions on the Social Media
In this section, I simply itemize the more notable of reactions to the Author’s proposals
1. It is possible to get PDP out.
2. All problems will not disappear if we kick PDP out.
3. There must be sincerity.
4. Ideas can be generated, personalities groomed.
5. The NEPU example of selflessness is necessary, payment of membership fees gives ownership; the disconnect between the party and the people must be addressed.
6. Trust is indispensable, it can be consciously built.
7. More action than talking.
8. Socialism is the way to go.
9. The Manifesto? Healthcare, Education, Infrastructure, Security
10. Build viable structures, then mobilize.
11. Creativity, perseverance.
12. Anti-corruption, good governance are values shared by all Naigerians.
13. Show how you are different.
14. With no nonsense honest leadership, all else will fall in place
15. There has to be a message, an alternative set of values, to mobilize with.
16. Education, Health, Housing for all.
17. All of Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians.
18. Coalesce around ideas, not personalities.
19. Elect and appoint those committed to the ideals/values.
20. The process must be all inclusive, ANPP, LP,APGA
21. Meritocracy, welfarism and national rebirth.
22. The Manifesto? Actualisation of Chapter II of the Constitution (Social Welfarism),the moral and political purpose of the Nigerian state; the soul of progressive politics today, consistent with the philosophy of Zik, Awo, Aminu Kano; the basis for engagement.
23. Since 1999 PDP has failed, 3 terms of failed promises; time for change.
24. Organize, mobilize, energize.
25. Identify common goals and aspirations, pursue them (Chapter II of 1999 Constitution)
26. Teach accountability and responsibility, role of government, peoples’ responsibility, promote cooperation between the People and Government to advance country, protect and provide for citizens, define what a just order is.
27. It is not just possible but inevitable
28. Keep the issues alive until they become unstoppable.
29. Participatory change.
30. Time is of the essence.
31. Put a knowledgeable and dedicated core of organizers in place to generate and engineer the movement as their only assignment.
32. Articulate properly, a plan of change in governance, domestic, economic, social as well as international policy, well informed and realistic development strategy, national reconstruction plan.
33. Formulate a Strategy for civil motivation and open participation.
34. Ideology? The good of the many must be chosen over the interest of the few.
35. No impunity, no godfatherism, no nepotism, no corruption.
36. This is already a project- PROJECT NIGERIA, Nigeria for Nigerians, Home and Abroad.
Mr. Chairman, the charge we must bear in mind can be found in the fall that in this book the Author traced the history of alliances and attempts to merge in 1979 as well as in 1983, which did not succeed, just like the feeble attempt in 2003,2007 and 2011.He admonishes that we must avoid a repeat of this sad history and that it would be a tragedy to have the PDP continue to govern Nigeria or for the next 60 years as they have boasted. A union of opposition forces is a must this time.
I end this review by referring to an article by Snooper of the Nation Newspaper of 25/11/2012, where he affirmed in his inimitable style, that another Nigeria is possible. He reminded us that Murtala Mohammed first transformed himself before seeking to transform the nation. The Professor says that there can be no transformative agenda without first self-transformation. He reminded us that Murtala Mohammed, from being a tribalist in uniform, ethnic irredentist, war scoundrel and a bank robber, transformed himself into an illustrious and iconic military leader. “There are times with all its faults and dangerous fault lines, it is a great honour to be a Nigerian. Nigeria a great nation, waiting for great leaders. Do we have to wait till the end of time for that? What is your answer? E be like say this small boy Salihu wan send him papa dem message o! Is it your wish that Salihu’s proposal be adopted for implementation? What is your answer? Any dissents?
Congratulations Nigerians, Happy Birthday Salihu!!.
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