Nigeria’s politics of sit-tight: Audacity of negative ambition


One cannot speak or write about Nigeria’s near two decades of non-truncated democracy without thinking about how we arrived at May 29, 1999. And whenever a retrospect of such a beginning boggles the mind one is tempted to think more or less of the ugly events that led us to such a date. And when this happens what usually comes to picture is the lengthy years of military dictatorship enmeshed in the politics of sit-tight syndrome.

Nigerians abreast with the political events of those inglorious days of the former military Head of State, General Sani Abacha may be glad to inundate their good memories with the role played by eminent Nigerians who rallied with the sole aim to rescue Nigeria and Nigerians from the dictatorial enclave of the military. It was in this light that the likes of National Association of Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and other pressure groups emerged. When the dictatorial antics of General Abacha rose to its notorious apogee, it was not surprising that the dissent but patriotic voices of these groups continued to reverberate. Through dexterity and strong desire for a better Nigeria they maintained their stance on the call for the return of democracy in the country. To achieve this noble objective varied legitimate means which never precluded sarcastic and inciting speeches were employed. It was such speeches that gave birth to the phrase: “Five fingers of a leprous hand.” The now popular caveat which unsurprisingly drew the ire of the military was said to have been coined by Chief Bola Ige of blessed memory, one of the leading lights from the NADECO side.

The Yoruba sage was unable to stomach the shenanigans of Abacha and he went for the most radical option to burst the bubble. Truly he did and the expression – “Five fingers of a leprous hand” became not only a direct attack on the five Nigeria’s political parties at the time which had adopted the General as their sole candidate at the upcoming presidential election, but also a daring removal of the scales which he believed had hitherto inhibited the man in military garment from harkening to the voice of reason.

As the yearnings to return the country to the pedestal of democratic ethos became louder, those aspirations, on June 8, 1998 presented themselves on a platter when Abacha took a bow through the cold hands of death. The euphoria that greeted that exit was obviously informed by the belief that the country had been rescued from the jaws of despotism, thereby paving way for a return of civilian rule where freedom of expression, movement and association flourish.

The post Abacha election that ushered in President Olusegun Obasanjo on that historic May 29, 1999 was expected to create a roadmap for a better Nigeria. These expectations harbored by many political watchers around the world were that having been stunted for many years by the military quandary, in no distant time emerging leaders would be determined to build a strong, united and better country capable of attaining global prominence in every facet of national endeavor.

Twenty years on, and the country now in full gear for its sixth consecutive general election, there seems to be nothing to applaud when placed our continued leadership quagmire side by side with the cheering verdicts, assertions and aspirations of the yesteryears. Those with the wishful thinking that the return of democratic government would swiftly bring the country to the glorious track of economic and developmental fortunes have been inadvertently put to ridicule. This is because after these years of civil rule, their messages of goodwill have refused to see the light of day. The compelling message here is that these “Prophets” may now continue to walk alone with their tails in between their legs. This is our country Nigeria, land submerged in the mud of underdevelopment by the stranglehold of sit-tight politics. What an ugly scenario that has done the country no good! It is better described as nothing but audacity of negative ambition. Yes, it is the failure of accepting to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest.

Ambition, as history shows, could serve as a destructive pawn for the few who find themselves in the corridors of power, especially when that ambition rooted itself on a sit-tight syndrome. In Nigeria where this narrative seems as factory fit, the authority that goes with power and other various trappings associated with a political office, remains nothing but something of irresistible inclination. With these in mind, this piece therefore, delves into a quick expository and appraisal of Nigeria’s democratic leadership within the years under review. To do this is also to acknowledge our common knowledge that Nigeria since 1999 has had four successive leaderships and in each of these, the ambition of sit-tight has remained a common feature. Hence, none exited office without sheer resistance.

For instance, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whose time in office traversed 1999 – 2007 gave us a classic hindsight of what sit-tight in political office could look like when his treachery and political rigmarole became underlining factor for tenure elongation. Thanks to the Nation’s Constitution, which became stiff and strong for anyone, including a sitting president to bend. To Obasanjo’s utter dismay, neither the “federal might” nor power of incumbency was able to blur the clear letters with which the constitution was formed. No sooner had the Abeokuta-born ex-Army chief realized that his personal ambition was too inferior to the dictates of the Nigeria’s constitution than he threw in the towel.

For Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, his demise on May 5, 2010, just a year before the expiration of his first tenure in office remains the one thing many Nigerians would continue to regret. He was seen in many quarters as a leader with good heart and acquiescence of zero tribal sentiments. This tribal disposition of course is a cerebral trait that leaders in lack of it have continued to pose a threat to our collective efforts of matching forward since Independence.

Whereas Yar’Adua’s poor health and subsequent death deprived the country of what many thought would have been a starling leadership career, the events and counter events leading to the demise of the Katsina State classroom teacher-turned politician, brought the country to a near blind end. It was nothing other than ambition to remain in power. The confusions of those days fetched the country and her citizenry degrees of despicable image and appendage. Just as notable international analysts perceived the country as a nation heading to the abyss, many others described it as accident waiting to happen.

But for the Holy writ which says: Many are the afflictions of the poor but God sees them through (Psalm 23: 19), the Nigeria Senate’s “Doctrine of Necessity,” which mounted Dr. Goodluck Jonathan unto the helm following the incapacitation of his principal became nothing but a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a masterstroke intervention engraved on gold. Thanks in no small measure to the then Senate President, David Mark and fellow senators. It was through their legislative ingenuity that Nigeria was rescued once more from the jaws of chaos and collapse. With Jonathan on the saddle as brand new president, normalcy and sigh of relief rented the air. Suddenly hopes were regained and life continued. But it never lasted.

Yes, the high expectations came as a flash and faded like the morning Rose flower basking under the morning sun. Nobody, not even the sudden presiding officer was ready to learn from the experiences of the past. Nigerian journalists whose adrenalin rose exuberantly with the sole aim of underscoring the lessons from the political episodes of Obasabjo and Yar’ Adua were meant to wait with every sense of promptness for another round of drama cum political gimmick. It became their quick realization and of course that of every other person who was disturbed by the events of that time, that the story of ambition for power may not be vitiated with the passage of time.

President Jonathan, through signals fashioned with events and body language damned traducers and detractors with his election bid. An adventure he courageously embarked on two separate occasions – 2011 and 2015.

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Gozie Ukasoanya

Assumpta Press, Owerri