By Olakunle Abimbola
A community with worthy elders never comes to ruin – Yoruba proverb
When do elders morph from leaders to dealers?
The latest foxtrot on the Rivers crisis, by the South-South Elders and Stakeholders, a group led by Pa Edwin Clark, Ijaw leader and presidential godfather, might just offer a clue.
The Clark-led elders, on July 24, told Governor Chibuike Amaechi to stop blaming President Goodluck Jonathan and Patience, his ever-meddling wife, for the contrived Rivers crisis; told the governor to shape in or shape out; told the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to kick out the governor to serve as warning to other power renegades; pooh-poohed the four northern governors that went on a solidarity visit to Amaechi as cynical meddlers; and branded Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, as an arch-hypocrite who wept more than the bereaved at the legislative banditry of the Rivers G-5, while he kept mute in earlier legislative outlawry in Oyo (where Governor Rashidi Ladoja was illegally impeached) and Soyinka’s native Ogun State (when Governor Gbenga Daniel inspired legislative lawlessness in his gubernatorial dying days).
Indeed, they practically did a pun on the famous author of The Man Died and his work: that the man died in the Nobel Laureate for his alleged quiet at constitutional outrages in Oyo and Ogun states; while jerking awake at the repeat of the same crime in their Rivers!
But, of course, Clark and his “elders”, in their release, never bothered with the rigour of reason. All they barked, conceited folks, was the language of power, boasting neither wisdom nor reason.
The whole thing was some dumb smartie’s response to the five northern governors’ “Save Democracy tour” to former President Olusegun Obasanjo (Jonathan’s estranged godfather), Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, three former soldiers ironically pitched to help save democracy under Jonathan’s reckless assault!
But again, the Clark gambit was a classic from the brilliant dullness of the Jonathan court: no tactics, no strategy, just stark power blundering and bumbling!
Even then, if the so-called elders wilfully lost a bit of their wisdom in anticipation of some power gravy, can’t their young Turks at least work hard to safeguard the integrity of their claims?
The Clark group made the fantastic claim that Soyinka kept mute during the legislative anomie in Oyo and Ogun states. But this claim is either criminal forgetfulness or plain mischief.
On the Ladoja illegal impeachment, Soyinka called for Obasanjo’s impeachment, linking the Oyo legislative crisis to his complicity – just as Jonathan’s link to the present Rivers affront is crystal clear.
“Obasanjo has acted sufficiently against the constitution to warrant his impeachment,” Soyinka declared on 20 January 2006. “There is more than enough evidence to warrant his impeachment”.
That was even a case of 18 (a simple majority) removing the governor in a 32-member legislature, which nevertheless fell short of the constitutionally required two-thirds majority: not a case of Rivers’ “simple minority” of five versus 27! AFP, with Nigerian newspapers, reported the Soyinka stand.
On the Gbenga Daniel legislative shenanigans in Ogun, where the minority G-9 overthrew the majority G-15, Soyinka was no less hard-hitting. “I wish to state, categorically, this cannot and must not be allowed to stand. I call on the citizens of the state to ensure democracy is restored. A minority” he insisted, “cannot sack a majority”.
Indeed, since Soyinka’s famous “Daani Elebo” laconic putdown, he had visited every OGD misdeed with ringing condemnation, including dismissing OGD’s as “government by billboard”.
But where was Clark’s beloved presidential godson in all of these? Feigned culpable disinterest enough to name and retain Daniel as his South West presidential campaign coordinator! For Jonathan, it was, it is and ever shall be: to win and keep power, every constitutional breach is tolerable!
All these were in the public space. They are eminently verifiable with a push of the computer keyboard. Yet, Clark and his elders made such an outlandish claim! Might these elders suffer criminal senility, just to patch up the ultra-bad case of their beloved godson?
Even if Soyinka had kept mum: does that justify the criminality in the Rivers Assembly of five (with a fake mace to boot!) trying to overthrow the will of 27, simply because of collusion from Jonathan’s Nigeria Police? That is the futility and hollow arrogance of power, while these so-called South-South elders ought to have built their case on rigour and reason. It falls flat – even in the ears of the dumb!
But Soyinka was right: if Obasanjo had been impeached for the Ladoja outrage or Jonathan seriously reprimanded for playing dumb, for electoral gain, on the OGD-inspired Ogun legislative crime, this nonsense would not have repeated itself; and the Clark “elders” would not ridicule themselves with woolly thinking to back constitutional evil.
But maybe it is good Jonathan is pushing his good luck. And maybe, if he pushes it enough, he just might be impeached to avert any future presidential rascality! Did these elders ever think of this dire possibility?
Really, it is amusing Clark of all people would doubt Soyinka’s total commitment to a Nigeria driven by equity, justice and fair play, and not arbitrary power. Indeed, when Soyinka landed in Ibadan in 1969, after his Civil War Kaduna incarceration, his first response to the war-time jingle, “To keep Nigeria One …” was a snappy riposte: “Justice must be done!”
A younger Clark was busy collaborating with the same northern forces he now wants to demonise, to willy-nilly protect his godson – a power he doesn’t even have. But that is the way of Nigeria’s power men and women of all seasons!
Soyinka comes from a diametrically opposed culture: justice men and women of all seasons. And names like Obafemi Awolowo, Tai Solarin, Ayodele Awojobi, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana – do they ring a bell? They stand for justice and fair play and would battle anyone, no matter where he comes from, even within their own Yoruba stock, that essays impunity.
So those orchestrated merchants of vulgar abuse, who claim the Yoruba are their problems because Soyinka told Jonathan to rein in his henchmen and women in Port Harcourt, miss the point.
The Nigerian Presidency is not South-South property. Whoever occupies that post must play by the rules or face the flak of right-thinking citizens – Nigeria is a republic, after all! So it is with President Jonathan.
As for Clark’s grouse with the visiting northern governors, the late Chuba Okadigbo called it “political arithmetic”. If Jonathan, with his power delusion and certified incompetence, alienates a wide swath of the North and a good chunk of the South West, how does he hope to win a second term? Indeed, if his party is in disarray and he is, for ego, planting further insurrection in his back yard, how does his centre hold?
Elders are supposed to be wise. Clark and co must do some hard thinking, save Jonathan from self-inflicted ruin and stop playing to juvenile gallery.