The event of the first phase of Nigeria's general elections, or as some say lack of it, was a month old, two days ago, and fearfully for some of us for whom the whole thing is deja Vu, the evil birds are flying home to roost, fluttering ominously, over their unwelcome perch. If I were to, for a moment, take a walk outside my body, it would almost become possible to see that in the collection of adjectives in the first sentence of this post, an important reason can be instantly presented for why tyranny almost always overcomes truth in Africa, at least in the immediate. We are all afraid of the fracture having to stand up to the ruling oligarchy for the next four years or so will definitely afflict our lives with.
I say it is deja vu because, rearrange a few deck chairs on this our new Titanic, and you will surely begin to feel like these were the first years of the protracted struggle to 1)Wrestle power from General Sanni Abacha and 2)if possible reclaim the mandate which Nigerians had freely given Moshood Abiola to become President.
Abacha seized power in the early to mid nineties of the last century after a hugely free and fair election had been thrown into turmoil by another Military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, intent on staying indefinitely in power, and unmindful of the price his fellow citizens would have to pay for his ambitions to be realised. Babangida and Abacha after him, deployed all manner of strategies and tactics to first break apart all arguments being marshalled at that time to reverse the annulment. They bribed lawyers to suborn themselves in courtrooms, journalists were intimidated and where possible purchased outright, prominent citizens were recruited and mobilized with funds to travel the shiny glass and chrome capitals of Europe and the Americas to make them 'see reason' and remember the danger America's eight percent or oil supplies sourced in Nigeria was being put to unless a strong man was in charge in Africa's Most populous nation. Other 'darker emissaries' were sent out to assassinate opponents, or failing that to procure assasinations by other means.
Business men supporting the opposition were squeezed and their means of livelihood taken away. Nigeria's business by patronage system of government, which under normal(if anything even remotely resembling that word was ever known in these climes) circumstance makes up an obscenely greater portion of enterprise in our business structures was adroitly used to first strangle dissent and ultimately to reward loyalists.
At the end of the day the major sectors: oil, and all the other things which flowed because of the oil namely banking and construction, import and export of essential goods, and the largely governement controlled sector of electricity power generation, were concentrated in a few hands whom the ruling junta considered 'trustworthy'. Standards were jettisoned since results were no longer the aim of participation in business. The overall aim was to ensure that all movements of huge funds in the economy be in rotation among the Military government's bosses, who could now dispense them by way of favours in exchange for fealty.
The economy became unworkable and since rulership was now by contracts and huge kickbacks, even the few factories which were left over from the irresponsibility of the Shagari Government, the last civilian government from which the Army seized power, were run aground, their noses rubbed with brute force into the concrete earth that was the business climate under the Abacha dictatorship.
The next curtain call was for the institutions. The judiciary tucked its tails between its legs and declared a moratorium on truth and honour, the educational system threw in the towel mainly for lack of funding, which Lecturers took advantage of by becoming merchants of school grades and academic performance score sheets, ensuring that at least one generation of Nigerians would definitely all be knuckleheads, the civil service had nothing better to do but to collude with the military, for its own survival, rendering tutorials to the army on novel ways to raid the treasury for meat which even the army did not realise or believe was still in existence after they had gone over everything with a fine tooth comb. Oil wells and blocks which were yet to be discovered were auctioned off to the highest bidders who invariably were men in Military uniforms for whom civilian lackeys appeared as fronts, a single GSM Telecoms License was awarded to a a Telecoms company purported to belong to the Head of State (this in a nation of more than one hundred and twenty million people half of them potential users), which was now expected to act as an authority to sublet licensing to all other companies.
And the political class? What did the political class do? They all got together and at a huge party in Abuja surrendered their interest in the Presidency of the Republic to the same man who had orchestrated this rape!
Without a doubt Abacha's actions and the attempts by pro-democracy to checkmate him had both fed off each other. Because pro-democracy divined that Abacha had designs of hegemony, and some said even some kind of hereditary participation of his offspring as in a Monarchy, opposition to the whole idea of his rule was stepped up. Since government must necessarily abhor a vacuum, the option of Moshood Abiola as a resurgent President riding into Abuja to reclaim his mandate appeared to be God-sent.
However to each new declaration by pro-democracy did Abacha enact a new draconian decree until it almost became Treason to speak Abiola's name within earshot of a Military officer.
In trampling upon rights he created an image that was putrescent for Nigeria before the International community and these quickly began to sever every kind of tie formerly held. In the end it became impossible to source spare parts for the refineries, leading to fuel shortages. In addition Nigeria's power generating Monopoly NEPA was subjected to slow attrition so that in the end it was useless to everybody including its own offices, to which it could not assure a steady supply of electricity light for a few malnourished, short hours in every single day. So coupled with a shortage of petrol to power cars and NEPA, and the delinquency of NEPA itself in generating a steady stream of power for the factories to use and increase capacity, Nigeria soon started to die a slow death. Of course one would sy, in a very Marie Antoinettish way, "Why didn't the factories buy generators so that they could still be producing, even at a little increased cost?". Well, the answer: I did tell you a while ago that the refineries had all packed up and so petrol prices......
Since Transport in Nigeria was and still is mainly road-based and a majority of the poplulation was and still is involved in agrarian pursuits, the result was a very dangerous mix of spiking prices of foodstuffs which naturally affected all other prices. In the end life became troublesome, to put it mildly, for a majority of Nigerians.
This is the picture a lot of people remember when they see the leaders of the current opposition to April 14/21 stand up before television cameras and invite the poor, ordinary citizens of Nigeria to Mass action, a euphemism for street rallies and Moral ,or if necessary, physical pressure designed to force the government to buckle under and not go ahead with its plans to inaugurate Umaru Yar' adua as President, come May 29 2007. The question people who remember the years of the locust, but who also are mindful of the costs of inaction are asking, as those birds flutter wickedly over those perches, and prepare to land their ungainly frames in a roost we have neither built for them nor invited them to come and take over, is "why, why, why, and again so soon, after the fire the last time?"
It is indeed a not so sublime irony that the two leaders of this current opposition were individuals who played a prominent part in the activities which propped up Sanni Abacha as a maximum ruler in his heyday. Muhammadu Buhari headed a Petroleum Trust Fund set up ostensibly to help ease the problems which instability in the country at the time was sporadically throwing up, in addition to helping see to it that revenue from oil sales was disbursed quickly to sectors of the economy which needed the capital sorely, in a manner that bypassed bureaucratic obstacles. For his own part Atiku Abubakar was a top executive in one of the parties which banded together to anoint Sanni Abacha their presidential candidate even though he was still a soldier.
Oh and if you are wondering at the title of this post, well part of it is a description which the acronym of the new name of Nigeria's power generating monopoly has been twisted into. Its old name NEPA(National Electric Power Authority) was generally transfigured into Never Expect Power At all. The Problem Has Changed Names (PHCN or Power Holding Company of Nigeria) appears to do it much justice in terms of the place it occupies in the heated zones of our emotions as well as the metamorphosis which Nigeria's election debacle is expected to experience.