By Olukayode Ajulo
I received word to review Okoi Obono-Obla ‘s new book, The Making of a Change Agent with much anticipation. Knowing it’s author ‘s antecedents and prolific political themes, I could tell from the very title that he had decided to take on a range of issues which are not just contemporary but historical in their depth and wider context. The book does a lot more as I will very quickly point out, noting the controversial issues taken on and the conclusions, directly and indirectly, that can be drawn from its resourceful pages.
However, I was made to wonder as to the author’s rationale to invite me to review this crucial work of history, knowing full well I represented the other side of the political divide when the All Progressives Congress was in the trenches as a newly formed opposition party in Nigeria. As a former National Secretary of the Labour Party, our position cannot be said to have been favourably disposed to the APC and we fervently pursued our own agenda as against the APC’s. The Nigerian people, however, made their choice. If I found the invitation curious, I also found it brave and a testament to the author ‘s readiness to run the gauntlet of critical review.
Nigeria remains Africa’s most populous nation, with a wide geographical spread and mileage, imbued by an abundance of natural and mineral resources, and further inhabited by a people united by a mutual political history with an overwhelming cultural diversity. However, despite its blessings of human and material wherewithal which makes it an envy among nations of the world, Nigeria continues to trudge on wearily on the path of true progress and development. Her natural and potential strengths, including the petrodollars and intellectual properties have no commensurate or corresponding effect on her development.
Despite these potentials its citizens suffer ubiquitous lack, poor infrastructures, public health challenges, insecurity, official profligacy, corruption and terrorism. These banes have gone on to limit whatever chance at development it has ever had, from its very first days of independence to the present.
The untidy state of things in Nigeria has been pointedly attributed principally to political inadequacies and instability, and it is this train of thought and conclusion that Chief Okoi Obono-Obla (hereinafter referred to as Obono-Obla), a vibrant and versatile Nigerian lawyer, rights activists, presently the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution and a keen observer of socio-economic occurrences in Nigeria, has, in his new book, adumbrated on, introducing new perspectives to the narrative with acute insights.
Obono-Obla’s standpoint is to the effect that military misadventure into politics was an interregnum that, for several years, tied Nigeria to base, coupled with sixteen uninterrupted years of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s reign, which he believes heightened the nation’s ailments.
From its very first chapter, Obono-Obla makes a case for change by an interrogation of the handlers of the Nigerian political power- from the military days to the present. The socio-economic life of the country is tied to the political choices of its military rulers and ‘civilian pirates’. A term which presupposes the hijacking of the people ‘s mandate and power to meet selfish ends. From the end of military rule, particularly through the sixteen years of PDP rule, the country was mauled by sectarian interests with party loyalty superseding a commitment to the country and its developmental goals. However, he refused to appreciate the significance of change in the civilian rule since 1999 as against the inglorious military era.
For the author, the sorry situation into which Nigeria and Nigerians were plunged into gave birth to a push and pull political atmosphere which got the Nigeria population disenchanted and despondent. Corruption continued in the increase, laws were flouted, all with dire consequences on the Nigerian people. The living condition of Nigerians got even worse, with the country itself named in just about every poverty indices in the world. The elevation of theft and money laundering to a norm, flagrant display of impunity and disregard for the Nigerian people led to the crave for a new direction- social and political. To meet this need, a new ideological drive became necessary. It is on the foregoing premise that Obono-Obla lays the evolution of the APC.
Obono-Obla holds the belief that political and economic abuses under PDP was both incremental and exponential, and that the (now ruling) APC was born as a matter of urgent need of political sanitation and restoration by political comrades and likeminds across the decides, firstly to present a viable alternative and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to takeover political power to remedy the seeming permanence of irregularities in the country. This portrayal of events and plays that inspired and led to the merger of various political associations, as it were, and founded the All Progressives Congress (APC) was comprehensively portrayed in the second chapter of the book.
That the persuasion for the merger was about the desire for change in Nigeria as portrayed by the author will remain questionable and argumentative in history. I am of the opinion that the desire was principally to takeover power from the PDP and this have been demonstrated by the political conflicts the APC has continued to mismanage after it took over government. It therefore suffices to say we had a people made friends by a common enemy.
In punchy style, Obodo-Obla traces the history of Nigeria’s formation of political parties right from the pre-independence Nigeria up to now, drawing interesting attention to how the egg of today’s giant APC was laid, hatched and happened, including the tortuous travel of the party from the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) through other nouns and times until the last merger that eventually caused the desired change. Though Okoi did not give special narration of how the APC benefited princely from the ruins of the erstwhile ruling PDP, he reminds the reader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC and the Democratic People’s Party, DPP.
In the shape and shade of competent historic literary construction, the author in the third chapter, gives a vivid account of how the whole process, right from the point of merger, was midwifed, the individual and group efforts that gave life and rise to the new political grouping that would be remembered in the nation’s political annals as one very popular and vocal opposition. Obono-Obla did give first hand hints of events that can only be well told by an active political participant. He relived how the party sojourned through hitches, in the face of scorching and daunting doubts in a manner that leaves the reader, a political actor or the apolitical citizen with lasting lessons of perseverance even when the times are trying.
The sacrifices and sorts of sojourn that resulted in the various party conventions at different regions and ends of the country were treated with refreshing nostalgia in the fourth chapter of the book which is captured in seven chapters. In the fifth chapter, the author refreshes readers’ memory with what would pass for a testy campaign in the history of the country’s presidential electioneering. The seven cardinal programme as given political audience during the fierce campaign is relayed with great taste, and we have: War against corruption, Agriculture and food security, Accelerated Power Supply, Integrated Transport Network, Free Education, Devolution of power, accelerated economic growth, affordable health care, industrialisation, human rights, housing and women and gender issues being the offspring of the cardinal programme. This is for Nigerians and time to say if the party is still in consonance with these lofty manifestos.
Sixth and last chapters recall the eventual victory, lauds the concession phone call by the defeated President Goodluck Jonathan to President Buhari. The author recalls the players whose deeds made it happen as it refreshes the mind with tales of talents that contributed pointedly to the formation of government.
The catalogue of electoral offences narrated in this book exposes the inadequacies of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and makes a major indictment on our nation. While the author probably did not remember to mention similar atrocities by the APC, it is important to state that the Nigerian Laws are well established as to punishment for electoral crimes/offences. In fact, the law empowers INEC to prosecute electoral offences and until that is done, we may not move an inch forward in progress. I have over the years advocated this cause of action open to the electoral body in the event of electoral frauds during an election. Also, in this vein, I’d like to recommend that a thorough investigation with a view to prosecute if indicted be carried out in Chief Arthur Eze and other cases as catalogued in the book. This way, the INEC and other law enforcement agencies would be doing a service to the nation and its laws.
Obono-Obla’s work is worthy in many fronts. Besides building a bold bonding for the party – APC – a party whose history of rough ride to power the author has painstakingly preserved through this invaluable literary effort, it’s a sincere service to a nation that is politically evolving and needs to tell her stout stories. The author has done political actors and actresses, researchers and the general public alike a good deal. I won’t therefore hesitate to recommend the book as a bible for those that desire to organize political party particularly political party in opposition, students of Politics and aspiring political leaders. I therefore appeal that this book be made available to the National library and libraries of tertiary institutions of learning in Nigeria. With all sense of honour, I also wish to recommend this book to the present opposition parties in the country, particularly the People’s Democratic Party as the party have a lot to learn from this.
*Ajulo is the Founder/Principal Partner, Kayode Ajulo & Co. Castle of Law, Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission for Africa and was the National Secretary, Labour Party.
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