(Vanguard of Sunday, March 18, 2007)
I apologise to the gentleman who told me the story of the River Bathers. Because of what some people would say, he withdrew that story from a documentation he was putting together and which I was privileged to look at. I know that if I ask him to let me tell the story, he will accuse me of a breach of confidence, but what is happening now in our country points directly to what happens in that story. And I must tell it.
This is the story. People left a village and went to the river which was their source of water supply. It was where they always jointly bathed and washed their clothes and danced and laughed. Because the village had a large population, they took turns in going downhill into the river to have their bath, wash their clothes and fetch water they would use at home. A time came when a few people went to the river and stayed put.
When it was time to leave for others to go down the slope and wash their clothes and bathe and fetch water for use in their homes, they refused. There were frayed nerves, but the river bathers would not come out for others to take their turn. The people went home, grumbling. Then there was a heavy rain. They fetched water at home, washed their clothes and stored water for their use. Then at nightfall, they heard cries from the river and saw the bodies of the river bathers being brought home. They had been in the river when it started to rain and the slopes had become slippery. There was heavy flooding and the river began to swell. They scampered out of the fast-rising river, but the slippery slopes threw them back; and they were drowned, to the last man.
The friend who told me this story is not a dreamer. He is a seer, and when the third term project failed, he called me and thanked God for saving this country once again from the clear disaster that tenure elongation portended. Looking at the project, there was nothing visible that would have stopped it. The ruling party had 28 states in the federation, and they needed 24 to push through whatever changes they wanted to make in the Constitution.
The National Assembly needed two-thirds of the total membership of each house to push through whatever changes they wanted, and this requirement was met. There was also the weakness of all opposition parties which would never have been able to stop the ruling party’s moving train. Money was even in issue, and those who said that N50 million was being offered to every legislator, with a piece of land in Abuja as giara, would only have been exaggerating, not peddling falsehood.
Now, there is little doubt that money was there to be given out, if we must accept what the top two have been saying since they went to the market place to dance naked. The security agencies were also there to deal with anyone who overreached themselves in protesting the changes that were envisaged.
Then, on the day that more senators and more members of the House of Representatives would increase the number of those in support of tenure elongation, the whole project collapsed, and all the amendments that would have made the constitution more operational were consigned to the dustbin of history.
My friend has been telling me that he sees a cloudy sky as we march towards the exit day of present political actors. One thing I am worried about is that in the documentation I told you about, he is briefed about two sets of events. There is thunder and lightning and heavy rain and flooding. Many run for dear life, abandoning their property, even their relatives. The other event is that people were warned about the weather and they ensured they were in safe places. There is still thunder and lightning and rain and flooding, but very little damage was done.
My friend was asked to shout this danger on the roof top so that prevention would be better than cure. He was told on October 19, 2005 when this material was downloaded, “If you refuse to speak to your country about the coming split in the nation and call for the judgment of God on perpetrators, there will be as many casualties as when the rain fell without warning. The thunder warns those who are blind but can hear. The darkness of the sky warns those who are deaf but can see. “He was further told, “Do not forget that a predicted war cannot even kill a cripple if he heeds the warning and obeys the voice.”
I have watched closely as things degenerate. About three months after the downloading, the deliberate eviction of the Peoples Democratic Movement from the Peoples Democratic Party started and the battle lines between the president and his deputy were drawn. A year later, in December 2006, Atiku accepted to run for the office of president under the banner of Action Congress.
One thing about what someone has described as two faces of the same coin is that PDP is always lounging at AC and AC is always attacking PDP. There is very little time for these two political gladiators wanting to destroy themselves to put before the people a consistent programme of how to ensure their welfare and security.
Countrywide, fires are being set on political activities. There have been serious clashes in Ogun, Lagos, Bauchi, Gombe, Ekiti, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Kogi and some other states. Instead of political parties moderating their campaigns as happens in civilized democracies, those who believe they have power to control what happens step on toes that can cause avoidable stress. Even more serious is the raw power being exhibited by the presidency which seems to be pushing INEC to do what is clearly unconstitutional.
The most appropriate illustration of what is happening is what the Abia State government has done. The government purported to have set up an administrative enquiry which indicted the presidential candidate of the PDP and his running mate! It produced a white paper on that exercise and gazetted it. This is making a mockery of the type of administrative or judicial enquiry which section 137 (1)(i) of the Constitution envisages.
But the truth about what Abia State government has done is that it has the same nuisance status as what the federal government has done and which INEC is wanting to enforce. If INEC has asked the court to interpret the section, is it not obvious that it must, until that interpretation otherwise decides, abide by the decision of the court on the matter? Is it not neater to disqualify someone who won an election before he was found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction than to prevent him from contesting the election before the court finds for or against him? What if after the elections from which people are barred, the court decides that they are innocent? Is it not obvious that what is happening is deliberate disenfranchisement of people?
The clouds are gathering as we approach the April elections and some of my friends are already sending their families outside the country. The warnings of the pending thunder and lightning and flooding are loud. It is clear that the deluge, if it comes, is going to sweep many of us out of reckoning.
Our elder statesmen, from General Yakubu Gowon and other non-committed former heads of state, to our former chief justices of Nigeria, should initiate a meeting and invite the gladiators to sheath their swords so that we can have credible elections. The whisperings about an interim government are unacceptable, if we make elections impossible before the elected executives and legislators quit the scene on May 29, 2007. So, it is better we sit down and look at the document that brought us into the offices we occupy and abide by its provisions.
Any further denial or distortion or disobedience of its provisions can only darken the sky and put a question mark on our ability to sustain a due process which would make the difference between order and discipline on the one hand, and disgusting abuse of power and corruption on the other. We can brighten the skies with our vote which is the most powerful weapon we have to salvage this country.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 295 – 298; Lagos, 2008).