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Presidential Politics: Back to Reality

01 Nov. 2010 Back Page article published in This Day Newspaper by Atedo N A Peterside OON

I was at the Hilton Hotel, Abuja in the late morning of 1st October 2010 when a deafening explosion "pierced" the silence. A second explosion followed about 30 minutes later. Nigeria's 50th Anniversary Independence Celebrations had been disrupted by car bombs placed on Abuja streets.

A national tragedy? Certainly! I knew instinctively that, with Presidential primaries around the corner, we were in for a spate of finger-pointing and the attempted politicisation of what is essentially a mass murder investigation. The trigger had been pulled for us to wash our dirty linen in public for 2 to 3 weeks. My prayer was that, this time, it would be different in one material respect - the ensuing investigations would continue methodically and scientifically until all the perpetrators (and any paymasters) had been brought to face justice. We owe this to the families of the victims and to ourselves.

Historically, only a handful of politicians spear-headed the ethnic and religious polarisation of our politics in their desperate bid to garner votes and, the more evil ones amongst them, had a standard "fallback position" when things were not going well; typically, one or two persons standing in their way suffered mysterious deaths and/or they promoted violence in targeted constituencies.

Yes, the October 1st bomb blasts threw us into mourning. Let us remember however that others have mourned before us and that Zero tolerance for criminality does not guarantee a zero crime rate.

A few weeks after 9-11, U.S. investigators had "unravelled" the operation and were in pursuit of those behind it. The U.K. did the same shortly after its own 7th July bombings. We must strive to do the same.

Even a national tragedy can be turned into an instrument for positive change. For instance, Chileans woke up almost three months ago to news of a national "tragedy". 33 miners were trapped more than 600 metres below the surface of a copper mine in the Atacama Desert. Their Government brought in local mining experts who established after 17 days that the trapped miners were still alive. Thereafter, every knowledgeable expert, from anywhere in the world who could add value, was brought in to assist in a gargantuan and well-coordinated rescue effort.

Suffice to say that, by the time the first rescued miner climbed out of the narrow rescue capsule on 13 October, millions of television viewers realised that a national calamity had effectively been turned into a national celebration of efficiency, cooperation, dedication and excellent team work.

After the Chilean mine rescue I received an email that was circulating locally. It was a joke, but with a thought-provoking undertone. It spoke of 33 Nigerian miners trapped in circumstances similar to the Chileans. When a capsule was lowered to rescue them, a fierce argument erupted as to which miner should be rescued first. Like other recipients of this email, I laughed because I visualised seeing an Old Fool on television leading the charge of the "ethnicists" and threatening that the heavens would fall if the first miner to be rescued was not from his own geo-political zone.

Instead of educating or engaging the Old Fool in private, I visualised a Geriatric from another zone jumping unto the bandwagon and going on television to warn that the first miner to be rescued must come from his zone because the zone produced more than 80 per cent of the nation's wealth and so some more Old Fools joined the debate.

Unlike the sloppy Dele Giwa murder investigation, it is imperative that, the investigators of the Abuja Independence Bombings "crack this case" so that we can "derive" some little "positive" emotion from a national calamity. Would-be sponsors of violence would then take note that something has changed. That is about the only silver lining that our security chiefs can garner out of this dark Independence cloud.

Notwithstanding the controversy that surrounded the commencement of the investigations, our Security Chiefs should be undeterred. They must remember that how you start a long and difficult journey is never going to be as important as how you finish it. The good news is that they appear to have taken a cue from the Chileans already by accepting help from foreign experts. They should also feel emboldened by recent developments in our banking sector.

The Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, also had a controversial start. After all the hullabaloo, at the onset, that he was pursuing a "Northern Agenda", he stuck to his guns when investigating bank fraud and was vindicated recently by the conviction of an erstwhile Bank Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Lamido Sanusi also got caught up in "Presidential politics" in at least two different ways. First, a previous NSA (now a Presidential Aspirant) made unhelpful public comments some months ago that could have distracted Sanusi in his quest to recover stolen bank funds and second, the name of another Presidential Aspirant (a sitting Governor) appeared like a recurring decimal in a spate of recent advertisements and rebuttals regarding bad debts owed to a bailed-out bank by companies said to be associated with that Aspirant. The Central Bank did not allow itself to be distracted by either of these developments.

The impression should however not be created that I am pronouncing guilt in anyway. It is obvious that every case file has to be examined on its own merit. Prosecutors should not simply assume guilt because a CEO presided over a failing or failed bank. Failure is not a crime. It is theft that is the crime. 

It is a pity though that our focus is on bankers alone. At the Nigerian Economic Summit held last month, participants watched a documentary that featured incisive commentary on our recent economic history from selected indigenes and foreigners. The loudest cheer in the jam-packed Hall came when a foreign expert compared Nigeria to Indonesia, which also had corrupt military leaders for long periods. His verdict was that in Indonesia, the Military leaders stole, but left enough behind to develop their country. He lamented that, in Nigeria's case, our military leaders stole everything and left nothing behind. The entire audience laughed and cheered, but we all knew that there was a serious message there.

For President Goodluck Jonathan (our first Digital President and Destiny's Child), it is BACK TO REALITY one month after October 1st. He appears to be at his best when he reviews feedback from younger people through Facebook and other channels and then empowers competent people to persevere and pursue matters of national interest to a logical conclusion.

Our youths demand Good Governance. The median age in India is close to 30. Nigeria's could be lower still. Accordingly, those who ignore or denigrate our youth do so at their own peril. In the coming weeks, ANAP Foundation (which has a Mission of promoting Good Governance) will be publicising credible Opinion Poll Results to help bring more of our politicians up to date with the yearnings of the populace.

The issues do differ, but the principles are the same. As with Lamido Sanusi's quest to recover stolen bank funds, our youths are demanding that the long arm of the law catches up with the Abuja Independence Day Bombers.


*Atedo N A Peterside OON, the Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC and Cadbury Nigeria PLC, made this contribution in his capacity as the President of ANAP Foundation; a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote Good Governance