Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
firstname.lastname@example.org | 08024565402
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution makes the pious and solemn declaration that the security and life of the people shall be the primary responsibility of government.
Additionally, Section 33(1) specifically provides that “every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life save in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Sadly since the constitution came into operation in 1999, we have continued to behave as if these constitutional provisions must be obeyed only in the breach. A look at the number of the lives lost and property destroyed through extra-judicial actions by governments at all levels and non- governmental actors will make the point.
In 1990 I was in New Delhi India when news started filtering in about the imminent release of Mr. Nelson Mandela who was held in prison for over twenty years by Apartheid regime in South Africa. India has the enviable record as the World’s biggest democracy. It has a vibrant press. The most excellent newspapers in the Commonwealth of Nations are produced in India. News of the imminent release of Mandela made the front pages of all Indian newspapers until he was free. I guess Indian media gave Mandela that much attention because they knew something new, unusual and great would come out of him. In 1994, Mandela was elected President of South Africa.
The policies of his government saved South Africa from the bloodbath that was anticipated after majority rule came South Africa. Amazingly South Africa has managed its affairs very well and has remained much more peaceful than Nigeria.
Nine years after his release from Prison, the great Mandela Nine was here in Nigeria to witness another great event on the African continent. Nigeria had been under military tyranny from 1984 and was about to witness a transition from military to civilian rule. Already similarities were being drawn between Mandela and Obasanjo. Both men were incarcerated unfairly by tyrannical governments and served prison terms before their election as presidents.
The similarities ended there. Mandela had spent 27 years in prison with hard labor. During the long period, he thought hard about his country and came out with strong convictions on how to save it from an impending racial catastrophe. Even before his release, he was placed under watch for some years as he was moved from one safe house to another where he was scientifically examined whether he had the mental status and capacity to lead a country. On release in 1990, the Apartheid people knowing fully well the mental torture they inflicted on his psyche still put him under observation until 1994five years there when they saw him fit to become a President. On the other hand Obasanjo was imprisoned in 1994, hardly spent five years in goal, never placed under the watch of psychoanalysts and just inflicted on Nigeria as a President. If there is one Nigerian who regretted his role in Obasanjo’s transformation from prisoner to president, it was the late PDP chieftain, Chief Sunday Awoniyi. In my several private conversations with him, he regretted his actions, particularly at the Jos convention of the PDP where Obasanjo emerged as the presidential candidate of the party. He told me he had gone beyond regret and ‘repented’ of his actions on that occasion and begged God for forgiveness. The fundamental difference is to be found in the personalities of Mandela and Obasanjo and how this reflected on their leadership style and legacies. In Mandela there was an elected President with a graceful heart who was willing to forgive all his white tormentors, including even the prison warder who made it a routine habit to urinate on him at Robben Island where he was imprisoned. Mandela was conscious of the fact that if he led on the basis of revenge and pettiness, the rest of the country would follow and sooner or later his country will be up in flames and doomed. In Obasanjo we have a self- serving President who was petty and vengeful without a vision of where he wanted to take Nigeria. Mandela did not imprison any of the Apartheid leaders; Obasanjo according to Awoniyi refused all his private counsel not to visit his unfair incarceration on the Abacha family. He locked them up.
Thus the fresh air which came with Mandela into South Africa at the end of Apartheid did not come into Nigeria with Obasanjo at the end of military rule. I take the difference here very seriously because just before he took office, I was in Accra Ghana. Over some drinks at the National Press Center, a Ghanian journalists expressed his disappointment with the fact Nigerians refused to break with their past and were instead bringing up one of those who messed up the country to come back as President. I felt touched and challenged.
Obasanjo’s style of government soon proved the fears of the Ghanian journalists right.