by Sam Omatseye
Ike Ekweremadu is not a colourful man. He is not like a Bukola “Eleyinmi” Saraki, who once buried his extremities in his voluminous agbada in homage to the Village Headmaster hero. Neither is the number-two man in the Senate blessed in the art of rhetoric. But you don’t always need such attributes to stir attention if you can string words together that unleash fireballs.
So, the deputy Senate President, with his bland looks and undistinguished diction, hinted that the temperament of our politics may provide temptations to the martial impulses of the men of the barracks. Our wish, though, is that the barrack habitués forbid Oscar Wilde’s notion: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… I can resist everything but temptation.”
Ike was at the receiving end of quite a few flacks. But so was the late Gani Fawehinmi, who saw the vainglory of the political elite with nostalgia for the men of the gun against whom he had railed and duelled more than any politician alive.
But what first struck me was that Ike was not looking inward enough. It is not that we were courting the soldier but that we were already the soldiers. Before we lay claim to being democrats, we were soldiers and we never made the turn to popular will. We have acted more as the cousins of the barracks than we probably know. Even Ike should have looked at his position. He did not get there without a coup. He and Oloye’s scion mimed the soldier. They plotted under inky darkness, hatched and announced in a dawn of impunity. Party decorum was ousted. Legislative regulations out the door. Those who live in legislative houses should not toss stones.
Even if the soldier handed us a limping document as a constitution, we saw ourselves in the mirror. Ugly, subversive, circumlocutory, corrupt and cowering to the worst of our culture. Rather than improve it, we looked at it as a pig at a sty. We embraced even if a vocal minority has continued to hack away at its fidelity to the era of the gun.
So, we are suffering from soldier envy. The Obj era was that on many occasions. First, we brought quite of few of such men into the body politic. Obj, Buhari, Danjuma, Mark, IBB et al. They held the reins of state. The horse of politics neighed in obedience. We heralded from behind. Obj became the baba of politics and relished it as though he were a general of democracy, abiding that contradiction as he spoke and dished out policy.
If the soldiers hanged Ken Saro Wiwa, Obj responded with the Barbarity of Odi. If IBB created and collapsed political structures, we also had ours. We had to trump Plateau State House of Assembly and impeach a governor with a fraction of the members. The state of emergencies in a number of states told us our politicians were not only in love with rascals, the centre was happy to rack them to pieces. Obj’s great tool was the war on corruption. He had what historians call Richard Nixon’s enemies’ list. He had the governors who did not flinch at his Neanderthal habits. Not only governors but also lawmakers. He had a ravenous appetite for ejecting leaders of the National Assembly. Politics was like death march for his foes.
The guillotine list was spectacular. Chuba Okadigbo’s case still rings from his grave. He also removed the PDP chairman who is now agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh.
He brought the language of warfare to politics and designated the 2007 polls a matter of “do or die.” Lagos polls of that year survived the bandit huddles and the then governor of example Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) became helmsman while the Owu chief gawped.
In this era, we have seen quite a few dalliances with the ways of the soldier. Sambo Dasuki, who lived by impunity under Jonathan, is still behind bars against court order. El Zak Zaki is probably asphyxiating in detention even when the law says he should be out. They are no different from the fates of Decrees Two and Four victims who languished behind bars at the mercies of the same Muhammadu Buhari and IBB.
It is not just these very stark examples. We are seeing the examples in the way politicians act in office. State houses of assembly have become zombies of the governors. Local government chairmen act like little monarchs while a few governors carry themselves as though they have attained what Chinese leader Xi just secured for himself: lifetime in power. They forget, as the Greek poet wrote, “as streams are, power is.” Former United States President Bill Clinton was asked about one of his great marvels about power. He said, “time passes.”
A governor recently showed me a quote he works by and keeps him humble, and that was the line from a person who accompanied the Roman emperor in the midst of hurrahs and adoration. The person whispered in the emperor’s ear: “You are just a man.” Tyrants like Caligula and Nero flushed such wisdoms aside. Many of our governors forget that until they are out of circulation and no one stops to stoop at their clay feet anymore. They walk the streets in the solitude of solicitude.
The tempestuous governor of Kaduna State hews down the house of a senator. He owes no one any apologies. It is his power and he uses it with a flourish. Our politicians forget that the first principle of power is restraint.
As Russian playwright Chekhov wrote in his great play The Cherry Orchard, a “giant should not use his power like a giant.”
Herdsmen are on a rampage. They hold guns and kill innocents. In Abraka, a farmer was gunned down while his wife fled. Some governors sponsor militias in self-defence. A party gives its chairman a year extension without the backing of the rules. They will make the law to canonise the crime.
The greatest military quality of our democracy is power centralisation. So, all the resources flow from the centre. Our democracy is like the military chain of command. When Ironsi promulgated decree 34, he was accused of centralising power. But his critics in the military and civil society who took over since have felt in love with Ironsi’s iniquities. So, we have a democracy that envies the soldiers sway and majesty.
We are like the character in Ford Maddox Ford novel, The Good Soldier. A cuckolded man watches with envy as a man makes love to his wife. We are in love with our conquerors, the army. In the same way we love the white man. First, he conquered us, then we are trying to outdo him in his own competencies: the way he dresses, eats, makes money, organises society, wars and even dies.
Ike and his political elite should first purge themselves of the soldier’s way. We don’t have to worry so much about their return. The ghost is already in the house. You made love to her last night.
- This piece was written by Sam Omatseye/The Nation