Urhobo Historical Society

A Statement From  Yoruba Leaders Forum:
 "Threat to Democracy in Nigeria"

    By Chief Abraham Adesanya
Leader of Afenifere

Lagos. February 18, 2002

In what must baffle patriotic Nigerians and foreign observers of the Nigerian situation, there have been calls in recent times from certain quarters for a return to Military rule and the end of this democratic regime. This was widely reported in the Press, especially the foreign press, Specifically the CNN gave prominent airtime to this story, which has since generated serious reactions from various sections of the country. We must make it clear straight away that this conference is not an attempt to join the bandwagon of condemnations against the CNN and other media, who have been accused, of deliberately encouraging the subversion of democracy in Nigeria.

While we agree that journalists should be temperate in the use of news materials, we however believe that leaders must resist the temptation to subject them to any forum of vilification on account of their professional duties. We say this with all sense of responsibility, because dictators usually start their assault on the Press, with attack on the foreign journalists before they gradually extend this to the local media. And once the media is successfully intimidated and cowed, the people can as welt say goodbye to freedom and democracy.

Rather, we have called you here today to alert the nation to the dangers of the subversive and unpatriotic calls for a return to military dictatorship and to warn of its dire consequences to the unity, peace and indeed the continued corporate existence of the nation.

One thing is clear: This threat is coming from a clearly identifiable group from a known section of the country. They have been bold enough to canvass their responsible position in the media, to the chagrin of Nigerians. In Idi-Araba, Hausa Youths openly displayed Placards condemning democracy and expressing preference for military rule. Furthermore, a prominent Northern politician, who was a former civilian Governor and a presidential aspirant, Abubakar Rimi, openly called for the violent overthrow of the present government if possible through a coup detat, in a recent interview with a newsmagazine. Similar calls  have been heard from certain Northern politicians. Others who are not talking openly speak louder with their actions. President Obasanjo knows them too, but has not done anything about it.

Once their expectations were disappointed by the government which they felt they had installed, they resolved to make the country ungovernable by instigating, sponsoring and directly engineering insurrections in all the zones of the country, to prepare a ground for their return to power. For example, they have formented riots and urban violence in Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Ketu, ldi-Araba, Sagamu etc. It is understandable, that those who are used to state power, and had indeed monopolized it since independence, with all privileges and perquisites that go with it, should be expressing a sense of their "loss" in acts of petulance. It is most unfortunate however that the government itself by its own inadequacies allowed the environment that has encouraged these enemies of democracy in their dastardly campaign.

We cannot deny the fact that many things are wrong with the polity. A Newsmagazine in its last week edition catalogued 40 incidences of serious religious and ethnic violence since the return to democracy in 1999. A run down of the list shows that 33 of these cases directly involved Hausa-Fulani Muslims, fighting against one group or the other across the country.

In December, the Deputy Leader of Afenifere and the former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola lge and Honourable Olagbaju of the Osun State House of Assembly were assassinated. Earlier, there have been assassinations of prominent politicians in Rivers State and other parts of the South-South Zone. Up till now the killers in all the cases have not been apprehended. This has further heightened the fear of insecurity in the country. The ruling party, the peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has in large measure contributed to this state of instability. Its leadership has deliberately promoted conflicts even within its ranks. In most of the Eastern States, there is the tug of war between the so-called Abuja group, made up of ministers and other officials of the Federal Government and the Governors at home. This has assumed dangerous dimension in Abia,  in Ebonyi, where a recent visit of the Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim led to the death of several people and Anambra, where Mbadinuju and Offor are locked in a do-or-die battle for supremacy.

When you add to all these, the unprecedented police strike and the threat of another strike by the police and the military, you have a complete picture of chaos, disorder and anarchy.

The shameful and disgraceful Electoral Act fraud, remains one of the sour points of this administration. The parlous State of the economy with an ever-increasing army of the unemployed has only compounded matters. As the saying goes, "An idle hand is the devil's workshop." It is not surprising that the enemies of democracy always find a ready market to recruit those they use to perpetuate their evil deeds. Those who have carried out all the killing, looting and arson in the various ethnic/religious riots are sometimes able bodied, trained and educated people, who otherwise would have been usefully engaged in the development of the nation.

Unfortunately the government had adopted an arrogant, selfish, parochial and ultimately a failed approach to ameliorate the problem. The result is huge wastage of the nation's resources with little to show for it.  The greed and selfishness of those in authority from the local Government level to the Federal level is a further cause of frustration in the system.

Those in authority today care more about themselves than those they took oath to serve. The salaries, emolument and other entitlements of those in government, particularly the executive and legislative arms, at all levels are totally out of tune with economic realities in the country.

Those in government are living far above the rest of the society. And yet their appetite for more seems insatiable. They have become an Island of privilege and luxury, in a vast ocean of poverty and misery. The civilian inheritors of powers, it would seem wanted to enjoy the same benefits, privileges and perquisites as their military predecessors. And just as the military dictators, they too are gradually being alienated from the rest of the society.

We must realize that the military deliberately programmed this democratic experiment to fail, hence the class of those they trusted to power. In spite of all these, there can be no justification for a return to military dictatorship. Could our memories be so short? Have we, so soon forgotten the long years of holocaust, suffering, deprivation, oppression, repression, wastage, neglect and total decay under the military? Certainly not!  The vast majority of Nigerians who were at the receiving end of the military misrule certainly cannot forget so soon. Those who want to impose the collective amnesia on us, capitalizing on a few inadequacies and irritations, are the wicked beneficiaries of dictatorship, who in the first place were unhappy to relinquish power. In their hasty retreats, engendered by the resistance of patriotic Nigerians, they sowed the seeds of future instability, in order to pave the way for their return to power.

Nigerians must note that all the problems we have political, religious ethnic and economic have their roots in the long years of military rule.

The surreptitious admission and membership of Nigeria to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), started the religious tension especially between Muslims and Christians in the country. This was exacerbated by the dictators who promoted and favoured one religion over the other. The arbitrary creation of states and local governments and the siting of headquarters is at the root of the ethnic tension in many parts of the country. It is at the root of the Tiv/Junkun/Fulani crisis, the Sango/Kataf, the Ife/Modakeke, Aguleri/Umuleri, the Urhobo/Itsekiri and Itsekiri/ljaw conflicts. Suddenly, people who have lived together peacefully for centuries became sworn enemies. The annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential elections polarized ethnic relations, and eroded the confidence that Nigerians from diverse backgrounds will receive equal and fair treatment in the country.

In consequence people retreated to their ethnic shells. The pursuit of their self-perpetuation schemes led to the total bastardization of the political system. They banned credible and tested politicians, sponsored and encouraged their business partners to enter the political arena, promoted the use of money in politics, created and dissolved political parties at will and generally turned politics into a huge circus show of absurdities. Economically, the military brought Nigeria to its knees.

They completely destroyed the economy. Corruption reached unprecedented levels. Every major national institution was destroyed and ruined, including the military, (their immediate constituency) the police, the judiciary, educational sector, the civil service etc. That was the military legacy. And all Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic and religious backgrounds suffered.

Certainly, those who wreaked such havoc on the nation, cannot be the solutions to our problems. They are only looking for an opportunity to totally destroy the nation. We must not allow them. No matter the inadequacies of this government, it is still far better than its military predecessors. The worst democratic government is far better than the best and most benevolent military government. This is the time for all Nigerians to gird their loins and rise collectively to defend our hard won freedom.

For the ordinary Nigerians who are being misled, military dictatorship will be another nightmarish experience. Only the privileged cabal will benefit.

We call on all Patriotic Nigerians, the human rights groups, labour, students, market women, political parties and associations and indeed  all Nigerians to commence immediate preparation to defend democracy against the threat of subversion. This is not a defense of those currently in authority many of whom were themselves military apologists of yesterday but a defense of our individual and collective freedoms. This includes the freedom to freely choose those who will govern the nation. This necessarily involves the struggle against rigging of elections, and all forms of electoral malpractices that subvert the will of the people. This is the time to defend and ensure the sanctity of individual s vote. In this way, unpopular governments can be changed by the people without recourse to violence. This is the beauty of democracy, which makes it the best form of government fashioned by man.

The solution to our problems is not military dictatorship, but ensuring that democracy truly works in Nigeria. We call on President Olusegun Obasanjo , the National Assembly, the Governors, the State Legislatures and the Local Government Authorities to behave more responsibly to ensure that military rule is for ever confined to the ash heap of history in Nigeria.

For the avoidance of all doubts, the Yoruba people have resolved never again to be subjected to dictatorial rule. This resolve is immutable and unshakable. Military adventurists are therefore warned - Yorubaland will no longer be part of your play yard.