“Anambra State: The Moment of Truth” Nigeria World Wednesday December 15, 2004

In the past two, weeks in this column, I serialized a two part commentary on the Anambra and Plateau crises and other incidental issues on the state of the Nigerian nation. My article was titled “Ngige, Dariye and the Presidency: The Morality of the Absurd” (part I-November 30, part II December 6). In this effort, I will not repeat, but would rather recommend for background reading, what I wrote then. But drawing from them, I continue the discussion in the light of the unusual hot exchange of correspondence between the Chairman of Nigeria’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Audu Ogbeh and Mr. President, the “leader” of the ruling party. The two letters have left ripples across the nation that will not be in a hurry to wither. It is important to bear in mind that even though the dominant issue in the two letters is the Anambra crisis, the famous epistles touch on the tenure of Mr. President, the general state of the Nigerian nation in manner that may have grave implication for the future of our democracy (See Reuben Abati, “Audu Ogbeh’s Letter to Obasanjo-The Guardian, Sunday 13 December 2004). I will nonetheless restrict this commentary to the “Anambra Saga” as Mr. President has called it.

In case you have not read it Mr. Ogbeh wrote that in regard to the Anambra crisis and its potential as an igniting match that could inflame and consume our democracy, “the buck stops” at the President’s table. According to Ogbeh, “you [Mr. President] and you alone, have the means” to bring all the criminals and treasonable felons and their activities in Anambra to account. Ogbeh’s letter has a tinge of urgency. And he minced no word in urging Mr. President: “Do not hesitate; we do not have too much time to waste”. Mr. Ogbeh says that it is time to act to check the sliding descent of the Nigerian State to anarchy. Reading Mr. Ogbeh’s letter, I am inclined to make the following observation: Mr. Ogbeh must be commended for the courage to speak out even as he rightly acknowledged that “an overwhelming percentage of our party members feel the same way though many may never be able to say this to you [the President] for a variety of reasons”. Ogbeh leaves you to guess what those reasons may be.

Ogbeh’s choice to write to the President a letter that was probably deliberately leaked to the press speaks not only about a major crack in the “demented PDP family”, but also of a major crisis of confidence in the ruling party that was clearly confirmed by Mr. President’s fiery 14-page reply. Again, Ogbeh’s deliberate disregard for the Senate President by not copying him a letter that was copied to the Vice President, Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees and the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a bold statement on how much the office of the Senate President has been compromised under Senator Wabara. It also hints on the depth of the crack in the ruling party. When things that could ordinarily be discussed by folks (so-called members of same “family”) who have easy access to one another are committed to writing, such an approach carries a strong message that points to setting the record straight for posterity, of playing safe; it is also indicative of frustration, distrust and crisis of confidence, etc

Ogbeh’s letter helped the President to use his reply to unburden his gross displeasure over his perceived failings of Ogbeh’s leadership of the party. Rueben Abati of the Guardian Newspapers prophetically declared a day before the President’s reply that even though Ogbeh’s letter was presented as an advice, Ogbeh “must know that he was dealing with a President who has since declared that he is not under any obligation to accept anybody’s advice….” Abati also prophesied that “in due course Obasanjo’s spokesmen or even the President himself would reply Audu Ogbeh and he would be called names after a fashion” in a gradually growing prestigious litany that parades Soyinka, Achebe and their likes. And true to type, the President came out smoking. Sure, Ogbeh was called names and much more!

Ogbeh is said to be pursuing a hidden agenda, a chameleon that has just come out in true colour; a person in whom the President has totally lost confidence. The President has argued that Ogbeh is incompetent as a party chairman and that it was his dereliction of duty that has escalated the crisis in Anambra State. Ogbeh is also accused of being disrespectful to the President. Not done, the President accused Ogbeh of being opportunistic in seizing the popular and surely moral high ground by speaking out at this point in time on the Anambra crisis.

Here are few “snaps” from the President to Ogbeh:

“Unfortunately, as in many other instances you failed to do what you should have done as the chief executive of the party and rather preferred to insult me not only as the President of the nation but also as the leader of the party which you never seem to recognize and acknowledge”. Again, listen to Mr. President to Ogbeh: “But since you had shirked you responsibility as party chairman…” Continuing, Mr. President punched further, “whatever may be your reason for the ambivalent disposition and the handling of party problem in Anambra like you have done in other places and the ulterior motive of your letter…[in which you make] many unnecessary and unwarranted insinuations” …

Ogbeh’s latter made reference and contained a direct warning in regard to his second republic experience to which fate he analogized ongoing drift of Obasanjo administration. He writes “after several months in prison, some of us were freed to come back to life penniless and wretched”. In less presidential and petty response, Mr. President queried whether Ogbeh wished the second republic fate for this administration and that, in any such event, Ogbeh “may not now go out penniless”. Finally, the President did not fail to seize the opportunity of Ogbeh’s snubbing of Wabara:

“I am copying [this letter to] the President of the Senate, the number three man in the present hierarchy… whom you deliberately left out…for reasons best known to you”.

Done with the “niceties”, now, let us go to the President’s forced defence of his role in Anambra State crisis. In “The Morality of the Absurd”, I quoted the President’s characterization of Mr. Chris Uba as “a young man who worked hard to help the PDP to win [rig] the last election in Anambra State”. Fast forward to his letter to Ogbeh, the same Mr. President wrote that in his presence Mr. Uba pointedly told Dr. Ngige: “‘You know you did not win the election’ and Ngige answered “Yes, I know I did not win. ‘Chris Uba went further to say to Ngige, ‘You did not know in detail how it was all done'”. This was how the young man helped the PDP to rig (Mr. Presidents says, “win”) the election in Anambra State. What did the President do? He ordered them (Ngige and Uba) out of his presence, banned them from having access to him, and in the wake of Ogbeh’s alleged incompetence, the President “deliberately remained aloof about political events in Anambra State” subject to “whatever may affect security and loss of life and property”. But note that despite the President’s proviso lives and properties have been lost and security breached in Anambra State!

The President had in his characterization of the Anambra crisis which I addressed in “The Moality of the Absurd” made it seem that the moral burden was only that of Ngige. But it is so clear in his letter to Ogbeh that the President had greater moral crisis. He knew that the election was rigged in Anambra State. Ngige did not know the details of how it was rigged. Uba knew the details and the President was in a position to know as defacto leader of the rigging Party. The President did not feel the moral burden to sack Abel Guobadia, the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman or otherwise seek to know the details of the rigging and hold somebody to account. This speaks so much about the President’s pursuit of virtue and morality.

I have been vindicated when I wrote in the last couple of weeks in “The Morality of the Absurd” that: “Since the President appealed to morality in the evaluation of the Anambra crisis, let me suggest that the key moral issue in Anambra State is the im/morality of the stolen mandate of the people by the PDP, the party of the President, Ngige and Uba. Ngige is the official arrowhead of a stolen mandate; Uba is an unequivocal facilitator and the President an executive endorser”. Why has the judicial process taken such a long time to deny Mr. Peter Obi, APGA and Anambra people their stolen mandate if the President is really concerned about morality? Why couldn’t the President get his party to withdraw its ongoing defence of Ngige’s election “victory” and admit that the PDP lost the election in Anambra State if the President is concerned about morality as he would have us believe?

The problem for Mr. President is that for too long by commission or omission he has made it possible for his party men and indeed Nigerians to second-guess where he stood in the Anambra crisis. For most insiders in PDP, Ogbeh’s position in the Anambra saga is hardly in doubt, and as Ogbeh rightly pointed out, the President has the means to stem the ugly Anambra tide because Ogbeh has no constitutional power over the police and does not have all the instruments of the state at his disposal. When Ogbeh tried and sacked/suspended Uba and his group, they quickly found their way back with a bang. Most of the actors in the Anambra crisis are known to have been dropping the President’s name and Aso Rock in the pursuit of their agenda. How much has the Presidency and Aso Rock distanced themselves from those claims and name droppings?

The latest crisis provided the President an opportunity to right all the wrongs in Anambra State and, if possible, seize the moral high ground. Ogbeh did not see that coming and that was perhaps why he spoke out on behalf of his party. Ogbeh wrote on behalf of the PDP, on whose behalf did the President write? That is food for thought. Ogbeh could not wait any longer hence the urgency in his letter. Sounding urgent in the wake of the festering crisis, in “The Morality of the Absurd”, I wrote that if this current phase of the crisis results in the murder of Ngige “no one can accurately predict the consequences of such event in our fragile democratic polity…there is still time to avoid the unknown. Not to do so now reduces morality into absurdity of sorts”.

A curious slant to the President’s reply to Ogbeh’s letter is the President’s comparison of Chris Uba and Ngige to two greedy armed robbers. For the President, Ngige is the greedier one because he coveted the loot from a joint operation to the exclusion of his partner in crime. What the President failed to see is that while Ngige may have coveted the loot, he is using it for the people and what he has done is there for all to see. For whom would Uba have used his loot? For the President, his concern is to seek justice between the robbers at the expense of the victims, the “looted” people of Anamabra State, the people of Nigeria, the opposition APGA and it governorship candidate Mr. Peter Obi. Many have paid with their lives in this presidential adjudication between armed robbers. While the President seeks justice for robbers, the victims bleed to death. If this is the President’s sense of justice I am deeply troubled for Nigeria and the PDP.

If morality and honour have any meaning in corridors of power in Nigeria, the ruling party should withdraw its defence at the Anambra State Gubernatorial Election Petition Tribunal forthwith and admit that it rigged the elections. At worst, a repeat election could be organized, or at best APGA is handed back its stolen mandate given by the common people of Anambra State. Morality and justice demand nothing less. The same process should be followed through in all elective offices in Anambra State, including the presidential election so that the records could set straight.

Abel Guobadia, his men in Anambra and Chris Uba should be called to explain in detail “how it [the rigging of the elections] was done”. All the felons who have tormented the people of Anambra State and destroyed public property and attempted forceful removal of a sitting governor by self-help should be held to account for their crimes. Because the President was concerned with seeking justice between his armed robber party men, and ignored the victims, he should ensure that the consequence of his misjudgment in Anambra State should attract restitution to the people for all these years of terror and psychological warfare.

On a final note, again, Ogbeh must be commended for speaking out after several frustrations. He certainly is in tough and rough position and has seized the moral high ground. I do not agree with the President that Ogbeh was opportunistic. He waited for too long to speak out. In fact, he would have chosen to resign. His courageous initiative is damningly risky; it speaks so much in his favour. Ogbeh is right; in politics, perception is reality. The President is wrong; not all Nigerians have a perception that is “manipulated for sinister purpose”. In the bar of public opinion Ogbeh’s two-page short letter dwarfs the President’s 14-page bitter umbrage. Surely, Achebe’s perception and Soyinka’s perception and the perception of millions of others who are “undeserving of Nigeria” cannot be based on sinister motive.

No one disagrees with the President and remains in his best books. Pius Anyim is a living testimony. Ogbeh will be deserted and he may be in a hot and lonely place now, but it is a place of strength. Since he wrote for the party, now is the time to test the sole of the PDP. Can this be the beginning of the end of the party or could it be time for badly needed awakening within the party? Either way, the buck stops at the President’s table. Ogbeh could have written the letter and handed it in with his resignation notice. He chose not to. It is an act of courage. Perhaps something good may come out of the Anambra crisis. Instead of rocking our democracy, Anambra could well help to strengthen it. It is all left for the President. I am afraid his letter to Ogbeh does not give me hope for badly needed optimism. “It shall be well with Anambra State”; it shall be well with Nigeria. The truth is like smoke, it would always find an escape route despite every attempt to bury it. For Anambra State, now is “the moment of truth”, as pastor Bakare would say.

 

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