By Bolanle Bolawole
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A young man was led into my office as the editor of The PUNCH one day decades ago; his name: Ibe Eresia-Eke (where is he now?), Executive Chairman (as title-crazy Nigerians often over-burden the title “Chairman” as if, standing alone, it is not “executive” enough!) of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers state. He should be happy being an “Executive Chairman” but he was not because fire was on his rooftop.
The advertisement notice he brought for publication, and which moved me to cause him to be interviewed, is as captured below. Titled “Don’t break IBB’s heart”, it speaks for itself, as they say. Please read: “The temptation has been strong to write to the President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, about the blatant and disgraceful use of State power to crush and annihilate opposition party governments in Rivers State.
But knowing how much effort he has personally and gracefully invested in the democratic process, it may just be too heart-breaking if he knows that some powerful people in my state are now practically spreading petrol over his carefully-constructed edifice of democracy, ready to strike the match. The cases are legion now. Some of them have already been profusely reported, especially in the Sunday magazine (TSM).
And, certainly, many more, even much more shocking, will be published by the fearless media outfits around, given the manner the power drunkards are carrying on.In the interest of our nation, however, it has become almost imperative to corroborate much of what the press is doing to fight the wild anti-democratic trends in our dear state.
I will attempt to do this by recounting some experience that one has had lately as Chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, one of the LGAs controlled by the opposition party in Rivers State, but where can I start; what do I state; what do I leave out in this short piece? Anyway, let’s just take a case and be brief.
During the councillors bye-elections of Saturday, 19th July, 1992, state force literally over-ran the LGA beating, intimidating indigenes of the area, and destroying properties. Naturally, people reached for the recesses of their homes to hide. Voters had to face the concern of escaping with life, a fortiori standing on the queue to vote. Of course, this sounds so much like fiction. It is almost incredible. But we can list even the numbers of vehicles employed in the operation, namely: RV 8119 DA, RV 8075 DA (both belonging to the Rivers State Transport Corporation).
And to clear any stubborn doubts about the source of the vehicles, there was also a Toyota Jeep with registration number 25 RSVG 9. The vehicles, loaded with uniformed policemen and thugs, fired with the zeal of men on a State mission and armed to the teeth to do havoc to persons and property. As you may have guessed, many indigenes, including those standing in the election on the platform of the opposition party, were bundled to far-away Port Harcourt, the seat of power, to be locked away and (to be) thoroughly tortured.
The private home of Dr. Kingdom Ogbangba, Deputy Minority Leader in the State House of Assembly, was verily vandalised. Let us leave out things too obscene to be published in a respectable medium like this! Of course, you may already have guessed this: At the end of the day, “election results” were announced and landslide victories were recorded! It may be reasonable to ask: What did the police in the area do when all this was being perpetrated?
But what does a conscientious and upright police DPO and his men do in the face of “superior onslaught”, knowing the command structure of our police system? Indeed, as if to add salt to injury, shortly after an earlier DPO was transferred out of the area, probably for being uncooperative, his successor faces the same fate already.
A local paper has, in fact, reported that the DPO has been threatened by kulaks with the right party connections with “immediate transfer” from the LGA. Of course, much of all this only goes to corroborate and confirm reports of intention to destabilise; annihilate the local government controlled by the “opposition party” and impeach its Chairman by “all means possible”.
Part of the strategy has been to spread all manner of calumny against the local government and its Chairman to cause disaffection in the local community, hoping to garner a major unrest within the area and then nullify the government and appoint a sole administrator. Given the grassroots support of the government, however, and the grace of Almighty God, none of their wishes have materialised.But the fight is being intensified through all means as promised.
Already, police have reported that at least three of their most influential agents… have made very desperate efforts to use our councillors by offering them huge sums of money to sign a document containing cooked-up allegations against my person (the LG chairman). The reports have, in fact, pleaded with the police to “commence thorough investigations to find out their financiers. I will not relent until their allegations against the Deputy Governor are proved” The outcome of the investigation has not reached my office but what is evident is that four formally loyal councillors have resigned. Many believe they fell for the huge financial inducements offered them.
The whole game-plan is to weaken the numerical strength of the loyal councillors, inject their own men and, finally, impeach or turn me into a stooge taking instructions from Government House. Whether this works or not remains to be seen. For good measure, let me add that given the devilish desperation with which they are purchasing their fancy “by all means”, whatever happens to me should be traced to them. To be sure, this tendency to deal with the LGA governments of the opposite parties all over the State is the same.
But the import of all this comes once one extrapolates what is happening in Rivers State to all the states in the federation. Viewed from that perspective, it comes out clearly that the gravitation is towards annihilating the opposition parties even at the Local government level. Gradually, this tendency may infect the entire nation and two consequences are possible: That all should acquiesce and join one party or resist and fight back. Whichever way the reaction comes, it spells the end of democracy once again.
This is why I had thought that, maybe, IBB should not see this because given the investment in time, men and resources that have gone into erecting the democratic edifice this time; these trends may break his heart. But one thing is very certain, the security forces must do something fast to arrest the “hoodlums against democracy” in whatever guise they may appear, be they deputy (or despotic) governors!”How events eventually played out in that LG, I cannot now remember. Maybe, someone familiar with the story should fill us in.
That was during the unending transition to civil rule rigmarole of IBB beginning in the 1980s, which eventually climaxed in the June 12, 1993 elections which MKO Abiola won fair and square but which was annulled by the IBB junta, throwing the country into a political logjam or impasse that was not resolved until after five despotic years of the vilest dictator of them all, Gen. Sani Abacha, and the benevolent dictatorship of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, stained, however, with the death in detention of Abiola.
With the benefit of hindsight today, can we not say that the confidence reposed by Eresia-Ike in IBB as the defender of democracy was misplaced, given that the self-same IBB annulled the freest and fairest election in the land, thereby wasting the huge resources expended on the process and truncating democracy? The shenanigans that caused Eresia-Ike to run from pillar to post took place some four decades ago:
Can we say we have made appreciable progress or are we still trapped in the woods? Do opposition parties fare better today? I leave everyone to judge!If he looks back today at his illustrious but chequered career, I think I can guess a few things that must have broken IBB’s heart.
One is the parcel bomb that killed the celebrated journalist, Dele Giwa, on 19 October, 1986 during IBB’s watch. The unresolved nature of the dastardly murder must be giving the former military president sleepless nights. More so if the reported last words of Giwa: “This must be from Mr. President” continues to ring in IBB’s ears.
The Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar coup of 22 April, 1990 is another incident that may give IBB heartbreak. IBB escaped by the whiskers but not before the coupists had taken him and his government to the cleaners. The terrible things said about IBB, if they continue to ring in his ears, may trouble his heart. The outgoing government of Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue State must have opened old wounds and pointedly directed an arrow at IBB’s heart when, last week, he announced a decision to honour Orkar by not only naming a street after him but by also justifying some of his allegations against IBB and his administration.
The “SAP with a human face” letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to IBB was said to have unsettled and rattled the gap-toothed self-styled military president. Not given to pulling punches, Obasanjo pummeled IBB and his government hard, accusing both of putting Nigerians through unthinkable suffering and unmitigated misery. Whenever IBB thinks of a man who hits you hard but you dare not hit him back, his heart may break.
Next is the IMF debate during which Nigerians rejected the IMF loan and its conditions but IBB and Chief Olu Falae, at first IBB’s Secretary to the Federal Government and later Minister of Finance; went ahead against popular opinion to accept the loan. That decision laid the foundation for the decimation of the Naira. If the national currency has lost a huge chunk of its old value today, the blame rests with IBB and Falae, aka Mr. SAP. Which conscionable leader will remember that and not suffer heartbreak?I can go on and on!
The execution, on 5 March, 1986, of Gen. Mamman Jiya Vasta, said to be a childhood and bosom friend of IBB, by the same IBB regime, cannot but give anyone a heartbreak, especially when, years later, Gen. Domkat Bali, the man who announced to a bewildered nation the execution of the alleged coupists “about an hour ago” was quoted as saying he was not sure they were right in the decision they took in executing the alleged coup plotters! Who will hear that and his heart will not break, especially each time the media decides to conduct interviews with Vatsa’s widow and children that opened old wounds? IBB’s decision to step aside on 27 August, 1993 was not an easy one. Reports had it that his wife and glamorous First Lady, Maryam, never brooked the idea of their vacating power.
As editor of The PUNCH, we published on the front page a daily “Countdown to Democracy… so and so days to go” which impeccable sources said enraged Maryam. “Who told them we are going?” she was quoted as saying! But go, they did! Could that not have broken IBB’s heart? IBB stepped aside and has not been able to step back in ever since. Seeing Obasanjo and, next, Muhammadu Buhari (IBB’s arch enemies?) achieve the feat of military Head of State and, later, civilian President, is that not enough to break IBB’s heart?
TO BE CONTINUED.
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.