In 1985, the military and civilian arms of the Nigerian looters came together and aborted the march of Nigeria to true independence and development. At the time, the duo of Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon held sway as Head of State and Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters respectively.
Prior to their assumption of office on 31 December, 1983, the prognosis for the state of health of the country was very bad. The country was clearly in need of resuscitation in the intensive care unit, yet the ‘doctors’ on duty told the world Nigeria had never had it so good. The two gentlemen, on the other hand, had also clearly identified Nigeria’s fault lines and were bent on stamping them out to put us on the path to being a proud nation. The League of Looters in uniform and agbada would hear none of that. The wreckers of our nation came together, mobilized their resources, manipulated public opinion using the media used their wide network to take out the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. True, the regime was not perfect, just as the present one is not.
The same elements and tendency in our history that abhorred and aborted General Buhari’s regime are the same that saw to it that Chief Awolowo was never allowed to govern Nigeria to deliver a Singapore of sub- Saharan Africa.
In 1993, Chief Moshood Olawale Kashimawo Abiola, a member of the gang, had his second ‘Damascus’ experience. Not because he deliberately sought it but because he found himself an unwanted member of a caucus of which he had sincerely seen himself as one of those with unlimited access to the ‘holy of holies’, the inner sanctum. He felt he had caught enough whiff of the aroma of power and wanted to experience what it meant to wield power. As he was told in 1983 whilst a member of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), he was again reminded that the Presidency was not for the highest bidder. That experience taught him a lesson. He became a changed, people-focused person. He publicly proclaimed his alignment with the people of Nigeria. Of course, that was class suicide. Not surprisingly, his former allies decided he must not only be stopped from taking power but must be severely punished for jumping ship.
One evening in 1992, my colleagues and I had visited a very wealthy Nigerian, a Yoruba man, because we were shopping for investors to build a media company after leaving Chief MKO Abiola’s Concord empire. The meeting held in his sprawling and extensive palace in Ikoyi, Lagos. Up till this moment, one still cannot put a finger to what this does for a living but he has lived a life of affluence since the late 1960s. After he had had his fill of expensive champagne, he took us on a tour of his palace whilst he regaled us with stories about his extensive connections and ties with the mighty and powerful in Nigeria and abroad.
Our discussions turned to politics and the impending elections in Nigeria. Our man of wealth rubbed his face with his hand as if trying to see clearly. He thereafter delivered a verdict on the election that was still eight months away. “Young men,” he said, “a mo oba to je l’ana, a mo eyi to je l’eni, a si mo eyi to ma je l’ola; Abiola o si lara won.” Loosely translated, all he said was that ‘they’ (custodians of the Nigerian commonwealth) knew the kings of yesterday, those of the present time and the ones that would be installed in the future and that Abiola did not fall in any of the categories. He delivered his verdict with a stoic certainty. We were stunned.
We prodded him to tell us why. He did not delve into Abiola’s ability or lack of capacity to lead Nigeria. He simply said: “he is not one of us.” That effectively meant Abiola was an outsider in the power loop. Remember, too, that this was about the same time Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo had gone to Zimbabwe or was it Namibia, to say Abiola was not the messiah we were looking for. Despite our differences and disagreements with Abiola at the time, we rooted for him and dismissed the conclusions of our potential investor as the rantings of a man high on champagne.
The elections held and, behold, Abiola was denied the opportunity of assuming power in spite of winning with a clear majority in a most decent election ever conducted in our clime.
‘They’ are gathering again. ‘They’ stopped Chief Awolowo; ‘they’ stopped the duo of Generals Buhari and Idiagbon and ‘they’ stopped Chief Abiola. They ensured that none of these well-meaning individuals carried through their agenda to free Nigeria. This time, we must not allow them to derail the second attempt by President Buhari to set the country on the right path.
It is not enough to wish and yearn for development. We must let the manipulators of our nation know that we have come to understand their antics. Nigeria is not looking for a messiah. All we seek is a sincere, honest, patriotic and incorruptible Nigerian who will build for us a solid foundation upon which others will come and construct a magnificent edifice. That job of foundation building, we must insist, is one that Buhari be allowed to complete.
Imagine, for once, that Buhari and Idiagbon had been allowed to carry through their reform agenda in the 80s. The story of Nigeria would have been positively different today. The enemies of a great Nigeria manipulated us and we shouted all manner of inanities against the government until we provided them the ripe atmosphere to overthrow it. Then Babangida came, flashing his gap-tooth at us and together with Chief Olu Falae and other collaborators, came up with the SAP contraption. See where all of that have led us. We must not tread the same path. Never again.
Ojudu is the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters