“We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato
“There are only two people who can tell you the truth about yourself – an enemy who has lost his temper and a friend who loves you dearly.” – Antisthenes
John Campbell, a member of the American Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria prophesied in his book, “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink,’’ that Nigeria was going to disintegrate by 2015. But even before him, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the espionage arm of the United States intelligence apparatchik, had released a report in 2006 in which it predicted that Nigeria may splinter before 2015 along tribal and sectarian lines if some of the inherent fault lines were not properly managed and controlled.
Even though the United States, especially through its then Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Terence McCulley, denied ever predicting that Nigeria would break up by that year, the fact remains that Nigeria has surprised and, at times, dumbfounded both its friends and enemies by coming back from the brink when everyone else believed it was tipping over.
After the annulment of the presidential election of June 1992, judged the freest and fairest in our electoral history, and said to have been won by the Social Democratic Party’s Chief MKO Abiola, many thought Armageddon was starting from Nigeria.
However, through political brinkmanship, even though it consumed President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who was forced to step aside, General Sani Abacha stabilised the country after showing the exit door to Chief Ernest Shonekan’s interim national government (ING).
To “compensate” the South West, the region Abiola and Shonekan came from, there was a deliberate convergence of interest by the nation’s stakeholders to ensure that General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the man who took over when General Abacha died, handed over to an elected president from that region.
Thus, in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fielded retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, who eventually won and served for two terms. The All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) fielded a common candidate in Chief Olu Falae, ensuring that, head or tail, the nation’s top job went to the region.
Since then, we have had a relatively peaceful polity, though mired by unrest, ranging from simple crimes, farmer/herder clashes to major crimes like kidnappings, robberies and terrorism/insurgency, and lately separatist agitations and banditry by non-state actors.
Amidst all this came this election. For the first time, the issue of a Third Force gained momentum and occupied the minds of those trying to balance political equations.
A northerner was about to round off his tour of duty after two terms. At the political party level, the unwritten political law is that the outgoing president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) should take its ticket to the South since he came from the North. For the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the last president it produced came from the South. He took over from a president from the North who died just two years into his first tenure.
When we go by this, the South had already produced two presidents, one from the South West, who served two terms, and one from the South-South, who served one and a half tenures. The South East has not tasted it.
The North had also produced two presidents – both from the North West; one was midway through his first term when he passed away, while the other is just rounding off his two terms. When you look at all these in numbers, then the South has served for fourteen years and the North for ten.
Those who contested were Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC. For the APC, it had never produced a president from the South; therefore, for the party, it was a fair choice. Then there was Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. For the PDP, the last president his party produced came from the South. The party wrestled with the issue of where to zone it and finally threw it open, and he won. The intra-party crisis that ensued is yet to settle.
There was also Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). These two represented the third force.
But as with every election cycle in Nigeria, there was palpable fear that the election may ring the death knell for the country. As Nigeria witnessed in 2011 when supporters of a candidate killed many people and destroyed properties worth hundreds of millions in naira and no compensation was given to the victims or punishment meted out to the culprits, there was fear that supporters of presidential candidates who lost may visit mayhem in the country.
But Peter Obi, apart from balkanising Atiku’s South East/South South support base, has gone a long way in reining in an “Obidient” movement that could have been in the trenches – physically – by now.
But it is only in such a situation that you know those who put Nigeria first, above other mundane issues, and those for whom Nigeria exists only to cater to their mundane interests. For the average Nigerian, such interests could be religion or tribe.
I am not one of those who pillory Peter Obi over his leaked conversation with Pastor Oyedepo. In this country, the caught thief is the thief, not the one who escaped arrest. However, it will shock many if the conversations between some presidential candidates and the clerics of their faith become public knowledge. Every candidate on each side of the religious divide has deceived the gullible in the same religion as them that it was a fight for religious supremacy. And according to their gullibility, the dewy-eyed followers and most clerics could not differentiate between a theological government and a government headed by one practising a particular faith.
Before the elections, I had a chat with an elderly journalist I had a lot of respect for. He is from the South West and he told me, point-blank, that “there would be no Nigeria if Tinubu does not win.” It shocked me to the marrows!
But unfortunately, he may not have been the only one with such an unpatriotic thought, thought and language I believe Tinubu would never harbour or support.
I thought Tinubu and all the other contestants were contesting because there was Nigeria. The moment a contestant or a supporter, because of a tribe, thinks the country can go to blazes if his interest was not served, then at that moment you know this type does not care about Nigeria. He does not regard you and those who are not from his tribe as equals. These are the real fascists Soyinka speaks about.
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.