Religion Magazine

Gani’s Major Mistake, Ige’s Death and The Lost Youths, By Demola Rewaju

By Samoluexpress @Oluwasegunsomef
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By Demola Olarenwaju

No Nigerian youth of my generation (from 25 – 35) can claim ignorance of who Chief Gani Fawehinmi was. For many – he was a god. In a country where many were corrupt Gani maintained his integrity till the end. In a country where many wavered and capitulated to the wiles of the military dictators, Gani was as constant as the northern star.

My admiration for him knew no bounds for a very long period of my boyhood days until I succumbed to the then new wave of positive thinking preachers and I heard a voice in my head telling me Gani was too caustic and critical for me to follow. It was at the time that Uncle Bola’s column became the appetizer to Sunday lunch for me and I replaced the former with the latter. Uncle Bola was as clearheaded as they come and at his death, someone described him as having the ability to leapfrog over details while arriving at the precise conclusion within a shorter period than Awolowo was able. Read books by both leader and heir-apparent and you will find evidence of this – Awo was painstaking in details and his writings could bore you at points where Ige was more sympathetic to the reader. Gani though was of a different mold even though he subscribed to the economic principles of the revered Awo. Unfortunately for us, he made some mistakes in my opinion, the effects of which we have to grapple with today.

Gani’s mistake was that he was unwavering to the point of not being a team player. Knowing others could easily betray him, enjoying media attention and having an almost cultish popularity, he usually went it alone. The few times he succumbed to popular participation led to the adoption of two major demands by the opposition to military governance – first was for a Government of National Unity (GNU) to be put in place and second was that a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) should be convoked. When Abacha died and Abdusalami Abubakar took over and rolled out a transition programme, Gani refused to participate – a major offshoot of the first mistake. He stuck to the initially taken collective position insisting that Abubakar should handover to a GNU which would then convoke a SNC. Ige alongside other Afenifere leaders held a meeting with Abubakar and came out convinced that the man would handover to a civilian government after the transition. Ige famously declared in his column: “there is no device for knowing the heart’s intentions from the construct of the face but I believe Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar is prepared to follow through with this transition programme”.

Ige’s political group was so formidable because the was a general consensus that the South-West had to be favoured even if the rules had to be bent. Alliance for Democracy did not meet the electoral requirement of forming a political party as it failed to win elections outside Yorubaland but the late Justice Ephraim Akpata allowed the party to stand and thus were born three political parties – Alliance for Democracy, All Peoples’ Party and the Peoples Democratic Party. Left in the cold were followers of Gani who criticised Ige directly for participating in an election based on a constitution he had not even seen talk less of making an input into. Ige for once had no response.

I believe history may have changed if Gani had participated in the 1999 election or if he had registered his National Conscience Party for elections at that time. His party would have been our hope for rescue at the moment because in terms of manifesto, ideology and activist-models, Gani’s party would have been the ideal. Registering for election in 2003, Gani was four years late. Femi Falana (a Gani follower) had already printed election posters to contest in 2003 on the platform of AD until the courts intervened and other political parties were registered including NCP and APGA.

Gani’s non-participation led to the emergence of pseudo-progressives under the Alliance for Democracy banner and restricted the participation of people like Femi Falana, Osagie Obayuwana, Olisa Agbakoba, Festus Keyamo, Mike Ozekhome and very many others in 1999. But how could Gani be anything else if not intransigent on some matters such as contesting elections organised by a military government even though MKO Abiola had conveniently died and thus killed any Hope ’93 agitation?

Fate would play a cruel one on Nigeria though when Bola Ige died in 2001. Of all the pro-democracy activists, Ige was the better at planning for life after the military government. Gani on the other hand was not a politician – only a social critic so he knew little about matters of government, political party organisation or how democracy was to be deepened. Gani’s only concern was the proletariat – the masses, which noble as it seems is not a factor if you cannot secure political power by making necessary concessions with other groups in a multi-ethnic nation and forging a way forward no matter if it is just a step. Ige in the two years of democracy in the fourth republic he enjoyed showed us the way forward but Gani even though he lived till 2009 kept our consciences stirred against government evil but failed to show leadership in political organisation and constructive criticism.

Gani’s influence in those years is still being felt today – every time I see protesters shouting ‘we no go gree!!!’ I remember Gani and wonder if any of them can articulate clear positions on what should be done or whether they have any understanding of how government works, how people can be better organised for affirmative action in a democracy or even what they refuse to ‘gree’ about. Take a simple matter as the higher recurrent budget we have this year – it is affected to some extent by the deal reached with ASUU, NMA and other protesting unions while we still carry the burden of redundant government parastatals (like JAMB, PCC and others) which the president had tried to scrap based on the Oronsaye report. To agitate for a lower recurrent budget and higher capital budget without understanding such small matters as this will only lead to half-baked solutions which is where I fear for those of my generation who assume that a heart of service and love for the masses is enough to rescue them without a proper understanding of governance, politics and democratic leadership.

In the year after Ige died I gained admission and my plans of becoming a partying club boy changed after one speech at a union congress. I had to study democracy beyond the average students I hoped to lead and I came across Alexis de Tocqueville’s On Democracy in America which did what Ige could not because he died and what Gani would not. Democracy is not mindless opposition to an elected government – it derives its roots from the majority of the people.

Sometimes in my dream life I see the party where student activist would easily find a party to join and several role models to look up to which NCP could have been but for Gani’s rigid stand. Some of us wouldn’t find ourselves leaning towards PDP or APC – the two major political parties today. Can that hope be somehow regained? Not without the strong commanding force of a leader like Gani. This was his mistake, one that we must rise and move forward from.

© CC BY-NC-ND 2014

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