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BY SEGUN AYOBOLU: #EndSARS protests – Any lessons learnt?

Posted On Tuesday, 08 December 2020 00:11 Written by Segun Ayobolu/ The Nation
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By Segun Ayobolu

Have members of the Nigerian political class transcending, in particular, the two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) learnt any appropriate lessons from the over two-week #EndSARS protests that rocked large swathes of the country bringing the economy in many major cities virtually to a standstill? On the surface, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. For instance, in his well written and delivered speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Historical Documentation and Research Centre, also known as the Arewa House, the Ekiti State governor and Chairman of the National Governors Forum (NGF), Dr Kayode Fayemi, on Saturday, October 31st, gave a characteristically brilliant account of himself even if there was really nothing new in his observations and adumbrations that had not been rehashed, in different words, by analysts of the Nigerian political terrain.

Fayemi’s speech was titled, ‘Unfinished Greatness…Towards a More Perfect Union’. Its historical sweep was impressive and its philosophical depths at times enthralling. The central contention of the NGF‘s Chairman’s address is that, as far as Nigeria is concerned, “There was ‘greatness’ or at least a journey towards greatness which has remained unfinished”. He equally asserts that “it is only by building a more perfect union that we can accomplish the task of greatness for which we have demonstrated so much potential for the better part of our history”. This idea of striving for a ‘more perfect union’ is obviously borrowed from the imagination of the American federalist fathers and the ‘imperfect’ constitution they produced, which constantly inspires and motivates the citizenry in every generation to fight for a polity, that is ever in quest of a non-attainable ‘perfection’.

The NGF Chairman reiterates the right phrases, alludes to the elegant theories of democracy and federalism and emphasizes the need to steer Nigeria in the direction of continuously deepening her federal practice in the interest of enhanced political stability and economic progress. Referring to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in his October 1st, 2009, speech to commemorate Nigeria’s 49th anniversary, Fayemi quotes him thus, “Today should be a forceful reminder of our unfinished greatness, of the promise yet to be fulfilled, of dreams deferred for too long and of the work that is still outstanding”. Elaborating on the late President’s thought, Fayemi writes, “You cannot develop what you don’t have. When the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, asked “When is a nation?’, he was attempting to draw our attention to those questions of nation-building that remained unanswered till this day”.

Still speaking on an upbeat, optimistic note, Fayemi compares Nigeria with such formerly supposedly federal polities – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union etc – that have broken up into diverse, separate countries, and contends that with our over 250 ethno-national groups, “Yet we were managing our diversity very well until we lost the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and justice which we inherited from our founding fathers”. Of course, this kind of idealistic and romantic portraiture of politics and governance in the First Republic has become all too fashionable among our scholars and sundry analysts. But let’ read our history. The political violence, crude and criminal manipulation of census figures, outright rigging of elections, diversion of public resources for private use and every other imaginary evil manifest between 1960 and 1966, leading to the collapse of the First Republic, were only a foreshadowing of the socio-political and economic vices that have plagued successive republics since then.

Speaking specifically about the #EndSARS protests, Fayemi asserts that “From the demand of the #End SARS, we have seen vigorous demands for greater accountability and greater efficiency in government. What I understand the youths to be saying is that we, the older generation, have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodates their aspirations”. But then, Fayemi is a proud and flaunting poster boy of the Buhari administration to the extent that he once publicly declared that he is not ashamed to be called a ‘Buhari boy’. If he has all these beautiful ideas in his head, pray what kind of advice does he offer a man he purportedly loves and admires so much? For, I believe that, especially as the Chairman of the NGF, Fayemi must be one governor who has the President’s ears.

In his opening remarks at the event, the host governor, Mallam Nasir’el Rufai, also vigorously advocated for the restructuring of the country towards a deepened federal system lamenting that the report of the APC Committee on true federalism, which he headed, had been submitted to the appropriate quarters since January, 2018, with nothing, inexplicably, done about it. El-Rufai stressed the imperative of moving fast within the context of the times “with a sense of purpose to remove the structural impediments that hobble our country”. However, like Pontius Pilate, can the Kaduna State governor simply wash his hands clean from any guilt as regards the non- implementation of the APC Committee on True Federalism? Like Fayemi, el-Rufai publicly and proudly proclaims himself a ‘Buharist’. Why then can’t people like this duo that are fiercely loyal to the President and have easy access to the inner recesses of power influence PMB to carry out the lofty ideas they peddle at public lectures and media interviews.

Detracting somewhat from the seriousness of the Arewa House event, the Kaduna State governor’s prefatory remarks were clearly not helpful. In his tempestuous manner, he posited that Fayemi was invited to deliver the lecture for a purpose because the North has a way of pursuing whatever goals it chooses to pursue. That purpose he said would be known in the course of time. Can analysts be blamed then if they concluded from el-Rufai’s insinuations and innuendoes that he has 2023 on his mind? More measured and restrained, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, speaking on the occasion described Fayemi as an adopted son of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, without explicating what he means.

Any members of the two major parties who are still focused on their petty 2023 ambitions without imbibing the lessons to be derived from the massive #endSARS protests are living in an utterly deluded world. If the protesting young and women can mobilize the same kind of energy, resources, enthusiasm, focus, discipline and sense of purpose towards achieving specific political goals in 2023, then let our politicians quickly wake up to the reality that it can no longer be business as usual. At the very least, there seems to be a tectonic shift on Nigeria’s political terrain thanks to the #endSARS protests. It is astonishing that a party like the APC does not realize that, given the direction it is currently headed, its victory in future elections, especially the 2023 elections, cannot be guaranteed.

The APC shot itself in the foot when it peremptorily and unwarrantedly dissolved the party’s National Working Committee headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole when only a minority of two or three aggrieved members was against the former Edo State governor in a NWC comprising no less than 40 members. Now, it appears that the tenure of the Extraordinary Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee will inevitably be extended. The governor Mai Mala Buni –led Committee even appears poised to commence registration of new members, which will have further implications for the holding of its intraparty primaries and convention as originally scheduled. In such circumstances, there will be little meaningful governance in most states controlled by the party until the most likely acrimonious intra-party polls are over.

Of course, this problem of being preoccupied with 2023 to the detriment of productive governance in the short term is not that of the APC alone. We have all just witnessed the defection of the Ebonyi State governor, Mr David Umahi, to the ruling APC. It is all said to be about 2023 and particularly the question of an Igbo presidency. Other big shots in the party are reportedly preparing to defect to the ruling party if the Prince Uche Secondus-led NWC of the party does not give a firm commitment now on which zone will hoist the PDP presidential flag in 2023. Just like the APC, the PDP is putting its cart before its horse. Rather than rediscovering its philosophy of existence, re-orienting itself ideologically, rejuvenating its organizational machinery to guarantee greater efficiency, transparency, effectiveness and inclusiveness, the PDP is unhelpfully obsessed with coming back to power in 2023. Given the organizational potency and vibrancy of the restive youths behind the #endSARS protests, the two parties may in future pay heavy prices for complacency and near total alienation from reality.

SEGUN AYOBOLU contributed to The Nation newspaper

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