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Pendulum: The Battle of The Nigerian Generals

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By Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, I once wrote an article about the Nigerian Mafia on this very page. Yes, Nigeria is a Mafia nation and there are a few Mafia families in play. Some are peopled by civilians, whilst some are a group of military men comprising retired soldiers. There is also a mixture of civilians and soldiers like the Kaduna Mafia comprising Northern elites from both the civilian populace and the military. Apart from the Generals’ Mafia which includes General Olusegun Obasanjo, all of these Mafia families usually consist of men of Northern extraction. There were only two visible Mafia families in the South, namely the Awolowo and Zikist Mafia. However, the latter’s influence diminished long before the Owelle Of Onitsha, Chief Nnamdi Azikwe, who was the arrowhead, passed away, whilst the former has had its glory days dulled by the fractious disagreements which broke out between the acolytes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, The Odole of Ife, after he exchanged mortality for immortality.  This got exacerbated and became open internecine warfare after the revered sage’s wife, the Yeyeoba of Ile-Ife, Chief Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, who had kept the shop together with adroit wiles and guile, died just over 3 years ago. However, the Tinubu Mafia has grown in competition with the Awolowo Mafia in recent times, but even the influence of their effervescent overlord, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Asiwaju of Lagos, may be facing challenges at the moment from rebels within and outside. These coming elections may well be a true test of how efficacious the influence and control of this great and astute politician remains.  

 It is interesting that while the influence of the Italian Mafia seems to have waned over the years, that of the Nigerian Mafia, particularly the Generals’ Mafia appears to have skyrocketed in recent years. There are warlords now spread across our country. And the godfathers and their godchildren litter the landscape of Nigeria. Since the return to civilian rule in 1999, Nigeria has remained under the firm grip of the military class, no matter what the civilians may say or think. It is therefore the Generals’ Mafia that remains in the ascendancy for now. Former Army General Olusegun Obasanjo, incidentally, the Balogun of Owu – a traditional warrior chief – came back from retirement as a former military Head of State and governed majestically for eight wonderful years. When he left, Umaru, the brother of a former Army General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua replaced him, largely on the basis of his relationship to the deceased brother, who was a firm favourite of General Obasanjo, who singlehandedly handpicked him and foisted him on a pliant nation despite his well-documented health challenges. He died in office and his Vice President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan also head-hunted by Obasanjo, took over to complete their first term. Thereafter, Jonathan was endorsed by Obasanjo, leading the Generals’ Mafia for his own first term. Unfortunately, things fell apart, when the falcon no longer hearkened to the falconer, and mere anarchy reigned upon the land. Meanwhile, all this while, Major General Muhammadu Buhari never stopped contesting serially, from 2003 to 2011 by which time he was expected to give up on his dream and ambition. He never did. 

 Buhari returned to contest for the Presidency a record fourth time in 2015 and won resoundingly with the support of the almighty Generals’ Mafia. But since then, he has not been able to hold the centre together and he has fallen out of grace, and out of favour from the super Generals. Some may want to argue otherwise but the proof is easy. He could not win on previous occasions until the powers that be joined him. 

Who are these super Generals, the last men standing, you may want to ask? Let me oblige you, even if you know some or, indeed, all of them already. A few of them are quite visible while others are not, either deliberately or otherwise. The Nigerian Mafia in their totality are predominantly under the control of a few Generals who are members of a very select, privileged and exclusive club of high achievers in the Nigerian military and the Nigerian state. Let me start with the first and the reason he is probably the most powerful and influential.

 General Olusegun Obasanjo remains the most visible and voluble member of the Nigerian Mafia. His official date of birth reads May 5, 1937, but many feel he is older, considering the age of some of his friends and schoolmates. He schooled in Nigeria and continued his military education in England and India. Fearless and brutal, he became famous and was idolised for his fairy-tale exploits during the Nigerian civil war. Though different accounts have claimed that his role was exaggerated and overhyped, even his worst critics admit and agree that he is an extremely intelligent and brave soldier with a no-nonsense attitude who seldom takes prisoners. He shot into prominence when his boss, General Murtala Muhammed was killed in a military coup in 1976 and as second in command, he was catapulted to the number one position of Head of State against his will. He and his team of the Supreme Military Council performed great feats until they handed over power to a civilian government headed by President Shehu Shagari. The fact that he stuck to his terminal date despite the fact that he had reasons to elongate his tenure endeared him to the international community. He acquired avuncular status on the continent of Africa and was much sought after globally. His detribalised nature also helped to place him on a higher pedestal in Nigeria. The man he and Murtala Muhammed sacked from power, General Yakubu Gowon was in exile in England for a long period of time and when he returned his amiable, gentle and religious disposition meant that he was no longer really relevant in the polity and this placed Obasanjo in a prime position to assume the leadership of the Nigerian Generals’ Mafia. Gowon is only sometimes wheeled out when it is time to plead for patience and peace in the land, but the truth is that he is often just left alone to enjoy his retirement! Obasanjo’s stock rose even higher, and that is indeed the frightening reality of the stock of this colossal statesman, when he returned to power for 8 years in the latest civilian dispensation. His bid to perpetuate himself in power through an abortive third term agenda crashed spectacularly. However his power and headship of the Generals’ Mafia remains solid and incontrovertible.       

 Lt. General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi (CFR GCON) remains a veritable member of the Nigerian Mafia. Born in 1940, he rose to prominence and the peak of his military career when he became Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from 1981 to 1983, in the Nigerian Second Republic, under the Shagari government. Wushishi joined the Army in 1961 and received his military training in Kaduna, Nigeria and later at Aldershot in the United Kingdom and finally at the United States War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He had a meritorious service till he rose to the rank of a Lt. General. He was well respected as a very disciplined officer. Now, guess who took over from him as COAS? General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), popularly described as the “evil genius”, and “Maradona” for his deft political and Machiavellian moves when he was President.

 Babangida was born in 1941. After enlisting in the military, he had his military training in Nigeria, India and the United Kingdom. A very brilliant and sociable man, he rose quickly and became a Major General within 20 years, from a Second Lieutenant in 1963 to a Major General in 1983 and a full General in 1987. Babangida participated in all the successful military coups from July 1966 and actually toppled Buhari unexpectedly in 1985. The story of how he successfully achieved a feat nobody thought possible at the time is the stuff of legends and myths and is a story to be told another time! Babangida was the opposite of Buhari. He made many friends but was accused by his critics of introducing favouritism and corruption to our body polity. However, his network of friends is second to none and this has contributed to the vantage position he continues to maintain in the Nigerian Generals Mafia. But for the grave error of annulling the best, freest and fairest election ever held in Nigeria, history might have been extremely kind and gracious to him because he assembled one of the brightest men and women to join him in government. As it is, he is forever remembered by this singular misadventure.

Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma was born in December 1938. Notably, and unlike his senior colleagues in the Generals’ Mafia, he completed and passed his Higher School certificate examinations and was admitted to study History at what is now the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1959. A keen sportsman in his secondary school days and captain of the School Cricket team, Danjuma opted out of University education to join the Nigerian Army in 1960. The rest, as they say is history, for this quintessential gentleman soldier, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General and Chief of Army Staff before retiring in 1979. Since his retirement from the Nigerian Army, Danjuma has been an esteemed and respected member of the Generals’ Mafia. He is a consummate politician who was Minister of Defence during Obasanjo’s first term as civilian President, astute billionaire businessman with interests in shipping, oil and gas and telecommunications where he sits as Chairman atop a myriad of companies, and above all a major gracious and significantly benevolent philanthropist, unlike his peers. It is claimed that his lack of support for President Buhari’s re-election bid stems from the refusal to renew his oil mining licence and a hefty tax bill which his gigantic oil company, South Atlantic Petroleum Limited (SAPETRO), naturally disputes. A man of very few words in public, the spate of senseless killings of his people recently forced him to issue harsh words which instantly brought him on collision path with the Buhari Government. 

General Abdulsalami Abubakar was born in 1942. Like Babangida, he hails from Minna in Niger State. He completed his secondary education and went on to study at Kaduna Technical College from where he enlisted into the Nigerian Air force in October 1963. He undertook military training in the then Western Germany, but on his return to Nigeria in 1966, he was seconded to the Nigerian Army. He rose to the rank of General in the Nigerian Army and was Chief of Defence Staff for over five years during the regime of General Sani Abacha. He was entrusted with the mantle of leadership of the military junta upon the death of Abacha in June 1998 and became the country’s Head of State. Like Obasanjo, he set up a time-table for an early return to civilian rule and remarkably kept his word by organising elections and surrendering power in less than one year. He handed over to his leader and senior Don in the Generals’ Mafia, Olusegun Obasanjo, thereby continuing the trend of the Generals’ Mafia dictating the political leadership succession in the country. He is an international statesman who is acclaimed for returning the country to democratic rule in the shortest period of time. His reputation is however blighted by the death in his detention of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, The Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, the man who won the June 12 Presidential election, an election victory that has now been validated by President Buhari.

Lt. General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau completes the list of senior members of the Generals’ Mafia. This quiet, unassuming and self-effacing gentleman soldier was born in 1943. He has on diverse occasions been Director of Military Intelligence, Director of Defence Intelligence Agency, Director-General of NSO and  Coordinator on National Security. He was National Security Adviser under Babangida, Obasanjo and Jonathan in that order becoming the only man to have held this position under three different Heads of State. He was briefly Chief of Army Staff, under the Interim National Government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, thus following in the illustrious footsteps of some of his fellow dons in the Generals’ Mafia. He was also Minister of Defence in the Government of President Goodluck Jonathan. He is nicknamed the ‘Spook’ because of his secretive nature and his long stint in the intelligence service. He is reputed to have a dossier on all the major actors in the Nigerian military and political scene and is much respected and feared. He deliberately avoids public occasions and avoids controversy. It is fabled that the troika of Babangida, Abacha and Gusau had a pact that all three would become Heads of State and whilst Babangida and Abacha succeeded, Gusau failed in his ambition despite spirited attempts. Indeed, it was Abacha who retired Gusau from the Army when he took over the reins of power from Shonekan in 1993. Nonetheless, Gusau remains a veritable and trusted member of the Generals’ Mafia.

By virtue of his previous positions, President Buhari is also a member of the hallowed club of dons in the Generals’  Mafia. However, until 2015 when he contested elections for the Presidency yet again, he appeared to be an outcast in the Club who was merely tolerated. However, the gang opted to back him in 2015, but for whatever reasons, personal, altruistic or national they appear to have withdrawn that support. It remains to be seen whether lightning will strike twice on the same spot and the Generals’ Mafia which outflanked and outfoxed Buhari in 1985 will succeed in truncating his regime once more. 

Or will it be the case that Buhari has the element of power and surprise and will to outmanoeuvre his fellow Dons this last time.

The elections of 2019 may likely herald and signal the sound of the ‘The Last Post” for this super elite club of Generals. The Presidential election is expected to be remote-controlled by these men and their civilian allies, meaning Buhari has a tough battle in his hands. It is not clear how many of these Generals he has on his side but he seems to have lost most of them which is likely to make the election tougher than necessary. Obasanjo and Babangida have not hidden their disdain. They have spoken publicly against the re-election of Buhari who may be taciturn but is also known to be a deadly fighter. According to insiders in APC, Buhari no longer needs them because he totally controls the apparatus of power and coercion. The palpable fear is for the Generals not to plunge Nigeria into an orgy of violence and for Buhari to execute a free and peaceful election. Many pundits believe Buhari may not hand over power with the kind of equanimity Jonathan displayed. Worrisome.

The President’s supporters believe the Generals have outlived their relevance. Theoretically, this sounds easy but the old foxes must never be underrated. There are interesting days ahead… God save Nigeria.

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COLUMNISTS

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi’s Unlimited Lies 

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By Francis Udoka Ndimkoha

 

It was Mark Twain that was quoted to have said that “A lie can travel around the world and back again, while the truth is lacing up its boots.” This best describes the speed of light with which the lies peddled against the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, by no less a person than the Senate Committee Chairman on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, representing Delta North for a second time.

 

It is no longer news that the insistence of the Minister that the Forensic Audit instituted by President Muhammadu Buhari on NDDC must see the light of day has upset many interests in the Niger Delta, Chief amongst them being the various National Assembly Committees on  Niger Delta. Every spanner has virtually been thrown into the works, to ensure that the audit is crushed. The desperation on the part of those alleged to have held the region hostage has reached an unimaginable crescendo as they daily churn out spurious lies, half truths, twists and turns through various media channels.

 

Recently, the Senate Committee Chairman on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi, peddled a heinous falsehood against Sen. Akpabio about a certain N300m naira fencing contract for a Polytechnic in Akwa Ibom State. It is important to begin by saying that every other allegation, founded or unfounded, against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Akpabio and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC, at this time, is part of the attempt to distract them from the Forensic audit which they are supervising. This fact does not, in any way, deify these personalities. No! They are humans, with their weaknesses. But they are so bent on sanitizing the NDDC, at this time, that they need our support to see through the forensic audit.

Nwaoboshi lied without recourse to the oath he swore as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to uphold the Constitution, while brandishing documents that have no substance in his allegations. It is surprising that a man who has found himself through the corridors of power for several years now is not done with such mannerisms as to deceive the public over what is a Zonal Intervention Project meant for Akpabio as Senate Minority Leader which has nothing to do with the NDDC budget as the Presidency, every year, makes provisions for the two Houses of the National Assembly.

 

That said, Sen. Akpabio has in response to the allegation of N300m contract, denied ever being an NDDC contractor, and insists that Zonal intervention projects of the Senate minority leader is different from NDDC budgeted projects. In real terms, zonal intervention projects of NASS are NOT done with NDDC budget. Project intervention which has a threshold for each Senator and each House of Representative member is a Federally approved Program of the NASS, annually. The Senators identify cum suggest the projects, in writing, through the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDG). In most cases Senators do not know the companies that win the contracts after the bidding is done, by the domiciling agencies. It is therefore shameful that a high ranking Senator like Nwaoboshi would seek to bring the sacred chambers of the National Assembly to riddicule. In his bid to stop the Forensic Audit of the NDDC, he has succeeded in undermining the integrity of the Senate and by extension, the Legislature.

Such is his unparalleled desperation that he has succeeded in corrupting the Clerk of the Senate and inducing him into an  inglorious path in exchange for an extension of his Service year, a move that has generated knocks against the NASS.

 

In fact, for a Clerk of the Senate begging for extension with retirement at his door step to release such zonal intervention letters to Peter Nwaoboshi for a press conference, with a view to deceiving the public, says a lot about how far desperate people can go to sink a good cause. Sen Nwaoboshi lied, in this case, as those contracts referred thereto were Senate Zonal intervention jobs and none has been paid for nor performed, since 2017! It is important for Nwaoboshi to also come forward with proof of payment for the purported job and effectively link the contractors to Sen. Akpabio. The supposed fencing project began and ended on that piece of paper being bandied by Nwaoboshi, unless he has added it to the 1,000 contracts awarded to his front man, Nelson Agbamuche. Otherwise, the embattled Senator should bring proof of the contract award with the name of the company to which it was awarded. Nigerians are not gullible  to believe the lying Senator who has failed to show evidence of payment made to any company belonging to Akpabio or his crony. Again, is there any proof that the job has been executed?

 

It has become clear that many Senators were deceived to suggest projects to be executed in their constituencies, and even though they were appropriated but were never executed. Why is Nwaoboshi desperate to cover the lies even before the Auditors are through? If payments were made for such jobs as he claims, is it not proper to allow the Forensic Audit expose the real beneficiaries? Is he afraid that other lawmakers will discover his grand deception over the years where he has used his position as Senate Committee Chairman to amass voluminous, phantom contracts to himself through his proxy? Should only one Senator be running amok on National Television over a Presidential order for a Forensic Audit?

 

Akpabio is the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and requests for patience because in no distant time the Forensic Audit will expose those complicit in the failure of the NDDC and all who joined to impoverish the Niger Delta region. In any case what has N300m fence job got to do with N3 trillion naira fraud? Or is Senator Nwaoboshi trying to justify his 1000 NDDC contracts, as alleged by the Executive Director -Projects (EDP), NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, against him and his cohorts, Nelson Agbamuche and co? Mr. Agbamuche says the hundreds of jobs he controls do not belong to Peter Nwaoboshi who purportedly acted and continues to act on behalf of members of NASS, but what is left is for Mr. Agbamuche to prove how he won all the jobs and why he merits such quantum of jobs per year.

 

It is a view held in some quarters that the self-styled oracle of Delta state Politics and Senator Representing Delta North Senatorial District mistakes the Delta in Niger DELTA Development Commission (NDDC) to the effect that the commission is a property of Delta State where his brazen rascality is dreaded by those who deify him. Thus he believes he can turn NDDC into his own ATM with which he churns out emergency projects, even in time of no emergency. Nothing else explains how NDDC under his oversight supervision is committed to over 2 trillion naira concerns which has crippled the agency.

 

The NDDC, therefore has no regional project to its name. Only emergency repairs and aimless trainings, running into billions of naira as well as his annual contract for the supply of plastic chairs to schools. This contract which gulps over 3 billion naira annually is usually executed in his personal warehouse in Asaba and never reaches the selected schools, yet, NDDC pays in full for it. These and many more are part of sleaze already exposed by the forensic audit for which they can do anything to make sure it is never completed.

 

As a matter fact, Sen. Nwaoboshi who has pending cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) involving over 22 illegal bank accounts is also the same man who purchased The Guinea House, belonging to Delta State Government, a deal that has become subject of public outcry. This is not a man who should adorn a saintly garb and pretend to care about anything except that which enriches him.

 

Part of the inability of the  NDDC to meet their mandate to the people is the penchant of Sen. Nwaoboshi and his counterpart in the House of Reps to sit on the NDDC budget for months into the fiscal year, until they extract some huge financial commitments from the management of the NDDC or phantom projects are padded into the budget, even if it means, as in most cases, supplanting meaningful projects in the region. This calls to question the source of the powers of a committee  Chairman to adjust timeline for budget defense and presentation, as Sen. Nwaoboshi has been doing.

Just recently, the duo of Nwaoboshi and his House of Representatives counterpart without recourse to plenary, extended the deadline for the submission of the NDDC Budget for 2019, submitted it 5 weeks to its expiration, in order to ensure that it is not implemented for the selfish reason of forcing the IMC to pay for old contracts awarded by the previous Boards.

The Budget failure is simply because only two people sit in the comfort of their hotels to assign details of the Budget, thereby allocating huge sums to Training, Medical Retreat and other non physical and meaningful projects.

 

It might also suffice here to say that whatever financial misappropriation levelled against Akpabio or anyone else, in the context of the NDDC can best be exposed by the forensic audit. So why not let it thrive?

 

It is obvious that Nwaoboshi has so much to cover up as he is running against time. Could it be that he was elected as Senator for NDDC since he has in the past few weeks devoted so much time and resources to frustrate the Forensic Audit by throwing ceaseless mud at the supervising Minister and members of the Interim Management Committee?

Senator Nwaoboshi’s unlimited lies only confirm that he has been the unseen hand that has run the NDDC aground and has kept the Niger Delta region in chains under the Change Government.

Will the leadership of the National Assembly look the other way while a senator cause such grave injustice to a people, so rich yet so helpless? Time will surely reveal the truth.

 

Francis Udoka Ndimkoha is the National Publicity Secretary of Citizens Question For Truth Initiative.

Contact: citizensquest247@gmail.com

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COLUMNISTS

The Anti Buhari Forces in NASS

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Written by Rachel Kufreabasi Nse

In an ideal democracy which Nigeria is copiously adopting, separation of powers is one of the pillars on which Government is anchored.

Notwithstanding the above, they still  complement each other in the onerous task of nation-building and in guaranteeing the positive growth and development of the country.

 

When the 9th National Assembly came into being, and the leadership emerged with the backing of the ruling party, unlike the 8th Assembly that preceded it, the people expected that there will be a better working relationship between the executive, the legislature and of course, the judiciary.

 

Though they exist independently, they are meant to perform the role of checks and balances. In doing so, they avoid encroaching on each other’s responsibilities and constitutionally assigned roles.

As the representative of the people, the National Assembly should be seen to align to their constitutional responsibilities and shun all forms of political and party leaning, in the course of discharging their duties. The above can not be said of this 9th Assembly.

 

The 8th Assembly were rancorous with the executive leading to myriads of challenges and endless crisis arising from disagreements over the manner of emergence of the leadership of the NASS, budget padding and delay budget passage, jumbo pay, refusal to clear nominees of the executive timely, among other issues.

The leadership crisis lingered beyond expectation which led to defection from one political party to another.

 

The  ugly moments took another turn when in a commado style political thugs invaded the Red chambers creating pandemonium made away with the Mace, the symbol of authority of the Senate. The nation watched with dismay and disbelief the show of shame and gross misconduct by one of its own which led to the desecration of the hallowed chamber of the Senate.

 

With the emergence of the 9th Assembly from the leadership of the party, one would have expected more support and cooperation from the National Assembly to the executive. The legislators carry this heavy burden of effective representation with all the seriousness it deserves.

 

The President has expressed his readiness and commitment to the development of the Niger Delta region. Happenings of recent has shown the NASS in the light of a clog in the wheel of the process of development of the region.

 

Heeding the call for accountability and probity by the Governors of the region, the President set out to redirect the course of development by calling for a Forensic audit of the funds that accrued to the region through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Due process was followed and the FEC approved of the auditing firms. The President not wanting any interference set up the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC to oversee the forensic audit process. The IMC is  recognized under the act of the NDDC and they set to work.

 

The auditing firms are gathering momentum and gearing up to deliver within it’s approved time frame. They are carrying out with the cooperation  of the IMC put in place by the President for this purpose.

 

The NASS being fully aware of the Constitutional powers of the President to set up the IMC, bickered over the composition of the IMC. Not done questioning the legality of the IMC, they went a step further by dragging the IMC through a media trial by accusing the 7 month old IMC, for the late passage of the 2019 Budget and other financial misappropriation.

 

In the midst of all these, it is the Niger Delta people that suffer. There’s an urgent need to address the challenges of power failure, critical infrastructural decay, insecurity, crass poverty, corruption, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region, amongst others.

 

The legislators are brazenly undermining the President who in exercising his executive powers set up the IMC to oversee the Commission while it undergoes the forensic audit from inception till date.

The NASS is exhibiting a callous disregard of the democratic principles which empowers the Executive to appoint into positions in office.

A dangerous trend is being set and it’s threatening the continuing practice of democratic structures in the country, if care is not taken.

The Constitution provides for the full adoption of the doctrine of separation of powers and not antagonistic show of strength as the NASS is seen to be of the executive.

 

NASS in a recent resolution have declared  constitution backed forensic auditors of no mean repute as illegal. This is an affront not only to the executive arm of government that hired the auditors following due process but the Judiciary since the NASS have illegally arrogated to themselves the judicial powers of declaring the firms illegal.

 

Rachel Kufreabasi Nse writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State

State Coordinator, Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative

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COLUMNISTS

Pendulum: “I’ve Seen Dictators Rise and Fall. Beware, America”

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By DELE MOMODY

Email: Dele.momody@thisdaylive.com

Fellow citizens of the world, the above title is not original to me. It is the headline of a very profound and inspired article written on June 3, 2020, by one of the greatest novelists of the last century, Salman Rushdie, in the Washington Post.

I know many of today’s readers may not know who Salman Rushdie is, so let me a give brief description of this prodigiously gifted writer and how significant he’s been in the past three decades. I first encountered the novels of Salman Rushdie around 1989 as a reporter at the Weekend Concord. Rushdie had just released his controversial book, Satanic Verses, which many Muslims found gravely uncomplimentary and deeply offensive to their religion and faith.

The book was banned by the Islamic faithful leaders. Riots took place all over the world as the heretical book was burnt and shops stocking it were attacked.

On Valentine’s day, 14 February 1989, a death fatwa was proclaimed and issued on Rushdie’s head by the then spiritual leader of Iran, the much revered and feared Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini. For those who may not know the meaning of fatwa, let me quickly explain. It is a ruling under Islamic Sharia law which leads to a culprit who has committed heresy against Islam or the holy Prophet Muhammad, being declared a persona non grata who deserves to be killed wherever and whenever he is found. This sentence may be enforced by any Muslim faithful and such a Muslim immediately becomes a Martyr. This was certainly dangerous and perilous times for Rushdie. He knew the faith, calibre and fanaticism of those whose faith he had abused and promptly went into hiding under the protection of the British Government. The situation was so charged and inflamed that the British Government and Iran broke off diplomatic relations over the fatwa.

Rushdie himself was not to surface for many years, eventually doing so and appearing, at a U2 music concert in London in August 1993.

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai, India, on June 19, 1947. By the time his second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981, he was already recognised and acknowledged as a distinguished writer. The book was subsequently rated “the best novel of all winners” of the Booker Prize on two occasions, the 25th and the 40th anniversary of the prize. But in September 1988, he bit more than he could chew when he wrote The Satanic Verses.

The book as I have said attracted widespread criticism and protests across Muslim countries and other nations including the UK where Rushdie was then living, when some people realised what they claim to be the irreverent depiction of the holy Prophet Mohammed. He received death threats and ultimately a bounty and the fatwa were placed on his head. Incidentally, ironically, and by a quirk of fate, Ayatollah Khomeini died on 3 June 1989 after having five heart attacks in ten days, barely only four months into the fatwa that he had proclaimed against Salman Rushdie. It is also significant that the Rushdie comment that I am reproducing here was written on the 41st anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s demise.

I first got hold of the highly controversial book in March 1989, through my boss at the Weekend Concord newspaper, Mr Mike Awoyinfa. It was sacrilegious to be seen with the book at the time, although the hullaballoo was not that prevalent or ferocious in Nigeria. We are both greedy about books.

Since the Satanic Verses debacle, I’ve been a keen follower of Rushdie and purchased most of his works. He moved from England to the United States in 2000 and has permanently lived there, acquiring American citizenship about four years ago.

I was excited to stumble on his essay yesterday as I was getting ready to write my weekly column. The article was lucid and logical and I decided to make it available to my African readers for the benefit of the strange acolytes of President Donald Trump in Africa who seemed to have been conned and scammed by the antics of a man who has never hidden his pathological hatred for people of colour. Some of the ugliest descriptions of colour were coined and “patented” by Trump. But for those who think Trump can do no wrong and that he is infallible, the unfortunate and unnecessary wasted blood and life of George Floyd seems to have united the world against the white supremacists of which Trump is the undisputed champion. Let me allow you to read and savour the words of Salman Rushdie…

“In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel “Midnight’s Children.”

In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel “Shame.” The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind.

Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.

President Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself — by no means always correctly — as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular, and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.

I have lived in the United States for 20 years and been a citizen for the past four. One of the most important reasons for becoming a citizen was my admiration for the ideas of freedom embodied in the First Amendment to the U.S.

Constitution. Trump, whose regard for the Second Amendment is well known, needs reminding of the First, which, if I may help, states in part that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

And yet, the man whose incompetence allowed the pandemic to tighten its deadly grip around our necks, and whose inflammatory language full of racist dog whistles has played a significant role in unleashing white-supremacist bigotry upon us all, stands in the Rose Garden of the White House and announces without an iota of shame that he wants to protect peaceful protesters. At that very time, just down the street, his security forces, some of them on horseback, are attacking a peaceful protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. A moment later, he characterizes the demonstrators as terrorists and characterizes their protests as crimes against God.

He has the pictures to prove it: the fleeing young people, the clouds of tear gas, the line of horses advancing in the name of the Law. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s how to construct an image the cameras will like.

This man who, before he got his present job, was almost never seen inside a house of worship, then holds up a Bible outside a church to demonstrate his piety, and if the bishop of the diocese denounces him soon after, accusing him of misusing the church in the service of “a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus,” what of it? Once again, he has the pictures, and they speak louder.

We are so inured to the behavior of this man, so used to his lies, his inexhaustible self-regard, his stupidity, that maybe we are tempted to think of this as just another day in Trumpistan. But this time, something different is happening. The uprising that began with the killing of George Floyd is not fizzling but growing. The man in the White House is scared, and even, for a time, takes refuge in the basement and turns out the lights. What is such a person to do at such a time?

If he is allowed to use the actions of a tiny minority of criminals and white extremist infiltrators to invalidate the honorable protest of the vast majority against the murder of Floyd, the violence of the police toward the black community and the entrenched power of American racism, he will be on his way to despotism. He has threatened to use the Army against American citizens, a threat one might have expected from a leader of the former Soviet Union, but not of the United States.

In my most recent novel, “Quichotte,” I characterized the present moment as the “Age of Anything-Can-Happen.” Today I say, beware, America. Don’t believe that it can’t happen here.”

Thank you, Sir. Nothing more to add with respect to the reckless and dangerous bully that Trump is. For me, his day or reckoning is imminent, and he will get his comeuppance very soon at the conclusion of the November 3 election in America. Maybe then, the scales will fall from over the eyes of those black people, particularly Christians, who see Trump as some sort of Messiah who has come to provide them salvation from the heathens that other Americans represents to them. On the contrary, for me Trump is the archetypal Anti-Christ doing exactly as the Bible predicts and deceiving the shallow and the unwise.

However, it is important to draw lessons from the above piece by Rushdie for African leaders who think they can rule in perpetuity by using ethnicity and religion to divide their people. It may work for them for some time, even a long time in some countries, but that time will finally end and the people will suddenly realise how much they have been brainwashed, hypnotised and hoodwinked by these selfish and unpatriotic leaders. The day is therefore coming, and very soon too, when the people of Africa will wake up from their deep slumber and reject the primordial sentiments, packaged as parochial bigotry and prejudice founded on the insular and divisive tenets and platforms of sectarianism, ethnicity and religious intolerance. Unfortunately, these divisive policies have kept most of us in Africa in bondage almost forever.

Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see should watch out, listen, and see how the death of one man can ignite the fire of togetherness and unity across the world. There have been too many deaths before now. But this is obviously one death too many. The frenzy for equity and justice for George Floyd in particular, and people of colour in general, is reaching fever pitch all around the world. The fire will consume all in its wake who do not see the conflagration reaching out to tear the barriers, shackles, manacles, blinkers and blindfolds that have prevented Blacks from achieving real freedom, egalitarianism and emancipation for themselves. What is becoming clear is that Black people will not wait for these to be handed to them anymore, they will grab it themselves by fire, by force. George Floyd’s blood was not a sweet blood for vampires and, so, it has turned into poison coursing through their infernal veins and internally and eternally worrying and exterminating his killers and their ilk.

May George Floyd’s soul rest in peace…

#icantbreathe

 

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