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The people rose in anger and horror. Nights were loud with wails, days with silence. Bonfires melted

the bitumen on tarred roads. Houses went up in flames. “Demo” sympathizers were doused with gasoline in

broad daylight and torched, to the singing and dancing of irate mobs. The “wetie” uprising had begun.

 

 

A Poet Engages the Head of a Nation

Dear President Obasanjo: Another Letter

By Niyi Osundare

 

When I told a friend a couple of days ago about my wish to write another open letter to you (my fifth in five years), his immediate reaction was “Don’t waste your effort over a lost cause. Obasanjo is irredeemable”. (This friend, by the way, was one of your staunchest supporters in 1999). The results of the so-called gubernatorial and Assembly elections were out, and all the contested positions were falling like nine pins for your Party, the great PDP, “the biggest political party in Africa”. From the south to the north, from the west to the east, your great Party had stormed into “victory” like a behemoth, trampling all rules of decent engagement, raw, astonishingly greedy, and disdainful of the will of the Nigerian people. But I have decided to send these few words to you all the same, knowing full well that in the communication between the two of us, the Nigerian people are the eavesdroppers who are, in actual fact, more significant than the primary interlocutors.

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President Obasanjo, Nigeria is dying in your hands. But like some strange figure from another planet, you seem absolutely unaware of the enormity of the problem. Every act of yours demonstrates your lack of respect for the people you rule, and your gross underestimation of the level of political consciousness they have attained in the past eight years of “nascent democracy”, the degree of experience they have gained from their suffering under your yoke and the yokes of your equally oppressive predecessors in power. Everywhere you have turned in the past four years (sometime in the future, you would wish you hadn’t had a second term), your feet have fallen on thorns and pebbles: the fomenting of wasteful political disaffection in Anambra, and Oyo States, the cunning mavouevering that has turned you into an absolute monarch of your great Party, the PDP, your routine disrespect for legitimate court injunctions and well-deliberated laws from the Legislature, your back-handed attempt to extend your presidential tenure, and your embarrassing showdown with your Vice President over how BOTH of you have mismanaged and squandered the resources of the Petroleum Trust Fund Development (PTDF).

As scandalized Nigerians watched their so-called Number One and Number Two citizens dancing so abominably naked in the streets despite their lavish robes, we all wondered: what manner of rulers are these that have absolutely no sense of shame?! Your Excellency, you remind me of the proverbial king that has shat on the throne. Your nose may be too far from the message of you discharge, but the country is surely choking from the stench.

Without a doubt, Mr President, the climax of all these acts of misrule is the conduct of the on-going general elections. Right from the outset, Nigerians, tutored, no doubt, by past experiences, have expressed their grave concern about the dubious functionaries you appointed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), stating without equivocation that the “Independent” in its nomenclature is both a ruse and a fraud. Their memory still reels with images of FEDECO and its blatant manipulations of the 1983 elections, and the electoral commission that arranged your great Party’s “landslide victory” in 2003. Nigerians complained about INEC’s lack of preparedness, its tardy deliberations, its untidy arrangements, its shocking incompetence (even by Nigerian standards!), its utter corruptibility.

As if to confirm the people’s suspicion, a few weeks to polling time, voting machines and other sensitive and secret electoral materials were discovered in the private residences of some chieftains of your great Party. The country watched with mouths agape as law enforcement officers wrung their fingers, moping over their complete helplessness about this act of supreme criminality. The culprits were untouchable, unarrestable by virtue of the order from above. This and similar acts left us wondering why evil people find it so easy to thrive in your company; why nation-wreckers fester so recklessly under the umbrella of your authority.

Then came election time, and INEC played out your script to the last letter. Its madness became a method, its seeming rowdiness a well-rehearsed ruse – all in the service of rigging out a dubious victory for your great Party. To be sure, Nigeria has a notorious legacy of violent electioneering, but none has surpassed this one in its blatant perfidy: ballot papers with the logos of opposition parties or the photographs or names of their candidates missing; deliberate shortage of voting materials in opposition strongholds; swapping or/and stealing  and/or disappearance of ballot boxes; lateness or total absence of electoral officials; pervasive thuggery – all this under the collaborative watch of state security agents. In those places where no voting took place, INEC made sure it voted for the electorate and awarded landslide victories to your great Party. Under-age pupils were corralled out of their classrooms and made to thumbprint ballot papers for a fee; babies were roused from their cradles, their big toes used in place of adult thumbs. In many towns, the number of votes cast is about double the entire population. . . .  

Your Excellency, this is the excellent sham and charade that produced your great Party’s excellent landslide. The people’s voice has been stolen, their integrity trampled in the dust, their commonweal frustrated, their sacred trust ridiculed and profaned by venal philistines. What INEC has awarded you and your great Party is a Pyrrhic victory, dripping with blood, sizzling with omens. It is the kind of victory that has defeated Nigeria’s attempts at nationhood since independence. Difficult to believe, but the papers have quoted you as describing the elections as “free and fair”, while Maurice Iwu, your INEC Mephistopheles, is wild with self-congratulation. This shows how tragically far both of you are from reality, how so terribly cynical your judgements have become.

Mr. President, take a sobering stroll down memory lane. Consider this: apart from occasional religious riots and their ethnic fall-outs, no other issue has brought Nigeria closer to the brink of disintegration than rigged elections. Remember the Western Region elections of October 11, 1965, rigged with the same kind of blatancy by a party which shares the same pedigree as your great Party, the PDP. Just like your great Party, the National Democratic Party NDP, (nicknamed “Demo” by the people of the then Western Region), decided to force itself by every foul means on a people thoroughly tired of its oppression and resentful about it tactics. Weeks before the election of October 1965, its chieftains, sensing how unfriendly the electorate was, had boasted that they were bound to win, whether the people voted for them or not. And as your great Party has just done, the ‘Demo’ Party literally dissolved the people and voted itself to power by a process of massive rigging and savage intimidation.

The people rose in anger and horror. Nights were loud with wails, days with silence. Bonfires melted the bitumen on tarred roads. Houses went up in flames. “Demo” sympathizers were doused with gasoline in broad daylight and torched, to the singing and dancing of irate mobs. The “wetie” uprising had begun. The oppressive government of the day reacted by flooding the streets with fearsome police armed to the teeth. Security agents combed every street and filled the detention centres with opponents of the “Demo” party. But the crises continued unabated. Although the uprising was basically in the western part of Nigeria, the tremors were felt in every part of the country. The country started to totter. Things were no longer at ease. This was the situation that led to the military coup of January 1966, which in turn led to the massacre of the Igbo, the counter-coup of July the same year, the attempted secession of Eastern Nigeria, and the gruesome civil war (from which we have yet to fully recover). You were one of the “heroes” of that war, Mr. President, and you remember that the casualties numbered in thousands.

Should I remind you about the elections of 1983 which the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, (again cut out of the same cloth as your great Party), under the presidency of the God-fearing Alhaji Shehu Shagari, rigged so shamelessly in their brazen effort to cling to power by all means? Clearly three months before that election, a colleague close to the corridors of power had told me how many states of the federation the NPN had decided to take and how many it was going to concede. I dismissed my colleague’s prediction as some kind of beer-induced gossip, and my laughter nearly brought down the roof of the staff club. “You will see”, he said as he picked up his car key and left. When I saw him three months later and about two days after the election, he looked at me with a mischievous smile on his face and asked: “Didn’t I tell you?”. Mr. President, just as your great Party has done, the NPN violated the commonweal of the Nigerian people. The people reacted, and as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

Mr. President, just in case you have forgotten the NPN’s Landslide 83, do you remember the historic events of June 12, 1993? Your comrade-in-arms, General Babangida dribbled the country “a little to the left, a little to the right”, but the people persevered, bent as they were on throwing off the yoke of military dictatorship. To everyone’s surprise and much against General Babangida’s expectations, the election of June 12 went so smoothly, and was so universally accepted, that many of us were beginning to see the germ of the Nigeria of our dream. But Babangida killed that dream by annulling the election and sending us, Sisyphus-like, back to the bottom of the frightening mountain. The country has yet to recover from the trauma of the Babangida blow. I have never stopped asking: why is it that every time the Nigerian people team up to vote for progress, their rulers always make sure they mock their plight and abort their dream?

President Obasanjo, here you are again, a link in a long and troubled chain, a joint in a chequered juncture. You and your great Party have ruled this country for eight years. Our people are sicklier, hungrier, more insecure, more illiterate, less confident, less hopeful now than they were when you and your great Party mounted the saddle. They are yearning for a change and they see the ballot box as a peaceful and legitimate route to that change. But you and your great Party have decided to violate the people’s will and frustrate their yearning. Now Nigeria is back again, on the brink. Bonfires at the barricades. Houses aflame. Corpses by the roadside. Days of trouble. Nights of turmoil. International observers who witnessed ballot boxes being snatched and swapped at gunpoint, who saw fantastic figures being declared for areas where no voting ever happened, are wondering: where will this lead the country? When will Nigeria grow?

You were reported as having said the elections were free and fair. If indeed they were, why are towns burning? Why are the so-called election-winners on the run? Why are some of your landslide governors holed up in their gubernatorial fortresses, afraid of stepping out in the streets? Why are there no victory dances in the streets? President Obasanjo, you had the greatest opportunity in the world to shape the destiny of Nigeria and put her foot on the road to the future. But you turned the noble act of political competition into a “do-or-die” battle. And true to your words, the country is dying from your doing. Time there was when you were a statesman, respectable and respected worldwide; how could you have so rapidly slipped to the status of a PDP apparatchik? Electoral violence might have served you and your great Party in 2003. But, alas, this is 2007.

Our rulers may be the same venal, visionless bullies they have always been. But the Nigerian people are not where they were four years ago. That is why the barricades are up again. That is why women are demonstrating in the streets, their clothes turned inside out. Read the handwriting on the wall. President Obasanjo, Nigeria is dying under your watch. You and your great Party have put our country to shame by turning it into the laughing stock of the international community. Cancel these jungle (s)elections and dismantle INEC, your great Party’s house of fraud. Nigerian people will only be led by those freely elected by them. They will not be ruled by ghosts.

Your Compatriot,   

Niyi Osundare 
New Orleans 
April 19, 2007               

posted 25 April 2007  

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Sex at the Margins

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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Persistence of the Color Line

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Ancient African Nations

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Related files: Nigerian Elections 2007   Niyi Osundare At 60   The Remains of the Day   I am Alive  Osundare's Universe of Burdens  PraiseSong for Niyi Osundare  (Mona Lisa Saloy) 

Niyi Niyi Osundare (poem  by Lee Meitzen Grue)