By Farooq A. Kperogi
In this season of vicious partisanship, I think it’s proper to begin this article with a disclaimer. I am not affiliated with any political party, nor do I have any allegiance to any politician in Nigeria. This opinion was actuated purely by my personal repugnance for Ghali Na’Abba’s politics.
I met Na’Abba for the first time at the midpoint of his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives. He had come to pay a visit to the corporate headquarters of Weekly Trust, then located in Kaduna. I, along with other editors, had an informal conversation with him on a wide range of issues. And what struck me about the man then was his spectacular—and disturbing—emptiness. He couldn’t articulate a coherent thought. His logic was tortured, his vocabulary severely limited, his reasoning embarrassingly off-center, even infantile, and he came across as one opportunist who didn’t deserve the public perception of him as a formidable political steamroller.
The first thing I said to my editor after the chat was: “This Na’Abba is actually an undeservedly overrated man.” I couldn’t reconcile his superficiality and rather facile disposition with the fact of his being a 1979 political science graduate of ABU. This man was at ABU during the period of the robust flowering of arguably the finest critical social science and humanistic scholarly traditions in Africa. He was probably taught by the late Bala Usman, Bjorn Beckman, Abdullah Smith, Patrick Wilmot, and a whole host of other profound, clear-headed fountainheads of critical knowledge that made ABU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Science easily the most intense breeding ground for critical thinkers and revolutionaries in Africa at the time. I wondered how Na’Abba could pass through such a place and still be such a disconcertingly simple-minded and frivolous airhead.
So when I read of Na’Abba’s return to the People’s Democratic Part (PDP) this week, I was not really shocked. The man doesn’t seem to have any core principles that he cherishes. Like most politicians in Nigeria, his politics is simply animated by naked rapacity and the love of power for the hell of it. What got me concerned, however, were the reasons he proffered for deserting the party that once gave him sanctuary in his moments of Obasanjo-induced political trauma.
According to the Daily Trust of last Friday, Na’Abba said his decision to return to the PDP was inspired, among other puerile reasons, by his sudden discovery of the deficiency of “moral rectitude” in the Action Congress (AC)! Now, I don’t care a tinker’s damn about the AC. As far as I am concerned, it is tarred with the same brush as the PDP. But what, in heaven’s name, is “moral rectitude” in a political party?
When has “moral rectitude”—whatever in the world Na’Aba understands by that— become a criterion to judge the soundness or lack thereof of a political party? You would think this man was talking about Jama’at Nasril Islam or the Christian Association of Nigeria—or some other religious organization. Well, it is all well and good to preachify about the lack of “moral rectitude” in a political party, but political parties all over the world are not known for their concern for morality. And the rest of us mere mortals don’t expect any morality from them either.
What we expect from them, especially in Nigeria, are programs designed to liberate the ordinary people from the morass of avoidable penury and squalor to which they have been unconscionably consigned since independence. What we expect from political parties is a commitment to transform our utterly prehistoric economy to a modern and globally competitive one. What we expect from them is a dedication to provide security of lives and property. We expect them to rejuvenate our embarrassingly decaying infrastructure. And so on. If they can provide these—or even be merely truly concerned about and committed to providing them when they get to power—they might as well take their damn morality and shove it down their begrimed pockets.
Well, let’s grant Na’Abba the latitude to agonize over and sermonize on the absence of morality in politics. So are we expected to take his return to the PDP as proof that the PDP has now become the ultimate sanctum sanctorum where saints abide in splendid isolation, untainted by the moral stains of society? And since he is so concerned about “moral rectitude,” do we also take it that he is himself now the very apotheosis of moral uprightness, Nigeria’s nonpareil personification of morality, unblemished by the faintest sprinkle of ethical dirt?
I think we should begin to critically engage this disreputable horde of flighty, shallow and scatterbrained simpletons who pose as politicians in Nigeria. Appeal to morality has become their favorite hiding place in the face of their scandalous ineptitude, improvidence and lack of principles. These scoundrels know only too well that the fatalistic disposition of the masses of our people makes them easily susceptible to religious manipulation. So at every turn, our unscrupulous politicians now invoke “God” and morality as convenient masks to conceal the nakedness of their appalling avarice and sloth.
To be fair to Na’Abba, he is only deploying a wellworn strategy that has been perfected by more experienced Nigerian politicians: deflect attention from the main issues by invoking religion and morality.
Given the well-known primitive acquisitive impulses of our politicians, we all know that the main issue Na’Aba is trying to disingenuously obscure is his naked ambition to be invited to “come and eat,” as the late Sunday Afolabi once crudely but accurately put it. But Na’Aba said he couldn’t be looking for an appointment from the present government because he was “the number four citizen in the country.”
This is another featherheaded japery that should be exposed for what it is. How does the fact of being a former “number four citizen in the country” sequestrate anybody from other people who are hankering for crumbs from this illegitimate government? How much salary did Na’Abba earn as Speaker of the House of Representatives that has insulated him from the financial vicissitudes that befall Nigerian politicians who are outside the orbit of the thievery of the reigning power structure? Hasn’t another ex-Speaker shamelessly sold his party to Yar’Adua in exchange for demeaning leftovers? Or is there something we do not know that accounts for Na’Abba’s financial omnipotence? Well, let’s see what happens in the next few weeks.
In any case, Na’Abba only contested for and won an election in just one local government in Kano State on the basis of which he came to the House of Representatives. He did not win, nor has he ever won, a national election. And before he became Speaker, he was a mere struggling employee of Bashir Tofa. So what’s all this swaggering bluster about being a former “number four citizen” about? For all we care, he could very well have been a mere local government chairman since he has never even won a statewide election.
Na’Abba betrayed the real reason for his political prostitution when he dissented to Abubakar Rimi’s insistence that Obasanjo must be removed as chairman of PDP’s board of trustees as a precondition for the return of alienated former members of the party. His strange logic was that it is unacceptable to set prior conditions in the process reconciliation.
But what is reconciliation if not the artful arbitration of differences, including preconditions? But even stranger than his juvenile logic is his apparent newfound love for Obasanjo, that terrifyingly repulsive monster that almost ran the country aground and who is the reason for the abiding and festering rancor in the PDP.
I am not surprised, though, that Na’Abba is now friends with Obasanjo. Paradoxically, Na’Abba owes his political relevance to Obasanjo. It was Obasanjo’s crude arm-twisting of the National Assembly and Na’Aba’s opportunistic resistance to it that lionized him and made him an unlikely hero. Were it not for this, Na’Abba would have suffered the same lustlesness that is worthy of people of his intellect and lack of principles. All the swashbuckling simulation of political machismo that Na’Aba now habitually exhibits is traceable to the misplaced public perception that he “stood up” to Obasanjo. But I hope people now know better.
If Na’Abba were smart, he would have quietly honored Yar’Adua’s invitation to “come and eat” without insulting our collective intelligence—and making a fool of himself in the process.