Tony Momoh, The Vanguard
NIGERIANS have grown up never to deny that what is in the air is all smoke without the possibility of fire. The thing just floats from nowhere and people say it is  gossip; others that the merchants of doom are at it again; many more that what is floating across the national screen is impossible and that no leader in their right minds  would ever think of such things. But what emerged as marketplace talk becomes, in due time, part of our bitter experiences because we failed to nip them in the bud.

The latest talk is interim government in place of the constitutional demand that after four years, those who represent us in elective positions must, if they qualify so to  do, submit themselves for consideration for extension of mandate. If they win, they stay. If they lose, they quit. This is the demand of due process. Subterfuges have  always derailed us, and any scheme in that direction by whatever name will derail us again. History is my witness. But our problem is that we always think that our  own case would be the precedent for a different order. In the seventies, those close to General Yakubu Gowon persuaded him that the promise he had made to  return power to civilians could not be kept. How could you give power to people who are not mature? He changed the date of return to civil rule and paid dearly for  it.

In 1979, power was returned to civilians because General Olusegun Obasanjo and his colleagues refused to be pushed into staying. He rode high on that record and  that may well have been part of the consideration for his return 20 years after. The Shehu Shagari government ran into stormy economic waters within three years of  taking office. Salaries of workers were left unpaid for months. We refused to grow our food and ate imported rice on credit.

Even in that deprivation, a few lined their pockets without a thought for those who gave them the mandate. In 1983, instead of allowing the rules regulating the choice  of road we had taken to moderate the elections, we were confronted with results which some party men described as a moon slide victory. Such daylight robberies  could not last and the government was toppled on December 31, 1983. In 1984, the Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari regime did not even make any promise to return  power to civilians.

They had unpaid bills to attend to; the mounting foreign debts to pay; the economy to revive; and the corruption that had eaten deep into our national life to tame. But  they had no programme of return to civil rule. They may have thought that putting the economy back on track and paying debts would pacify Nigerians. Even if it did,  those who called the shots were not persuaded. They removed him in 1985. The promise the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida government made about return to civil rule and  the elaborate plans announced for the gradual democratization of the polity may have smothered the turmoil that would have visited the regime if it had not floated a  dream of reversion to due process. But the manipulation of the programme forced a situation where a transitional arrangement was made and an interim government  was put in place. The Constitution of that interim government had a life span of six months. What would happen after seemed to have been unprogrammed because,  looking back, the life span of the interim constitution was meant to be less than six months!

The government of Chief Earnest Sonekan fell in November 1993, less than three months after it had been installed under a document the courts declared null and  void. If Gen Sanni Abacha had any agreement with Babangida, the liquidation of all that the IBB regime did, politically and economically, was more than enough to  undermine that agreement. Abacha scrapped the two political parties that IBB had structured.

He changed the whole economic focus of IBB and brought in conservative economist, Prof Sam Aluko, who did not believe in the Breton Woods institutional cures  for solving the problems of developing countries’ economies. So, SAP disappeared from our dictionaries. The death of Abacha in 1998 brought Gen Abdusalaam  Abubakar who did not have any shortage of crying supporters for his continued stay in office. They said there would be chaos if he left, and even if he did not want to  go, he should spend more time to get things working.

He did not fall for the ploy, and he remains one of the few credible former leaders we have today. Another who can join Abubakar and be comfortable in retirement  is President Obasanjo. But, the price he has to pay for posterity to remember him is what he does with the change of batons in 2007.

It is already too late for him to restructure the country. The promise he made on May 29, 1999 that he would, within six months of taking office, initiate a political  dialogue, presumably to revisit the structure of the country, got lost on the way through time. The late coming of that promise in early 2005 when the National Political  Reform Conference was held gave hope that things could still be salvaged. But the praise singers twisted the gathering into a body that would endorse continuation of  tenure. That the project later collapsed in spite of five solid reasons which would have made it have a smooth sale should be a pointer to the fact that God is not  asleep in moderating the affairs of men. In the first place, we had a sitting President who had the clout to make things happen in his favour. Two, the President’s party  had more than the required majority at the National Assembly and the states of the federation to make changes in the Constitution within 48 hours. Three, the PDP  spin doctors had tons of money to give to those who would just say yes to the proposals.

Who would not collect N50 million to just say one word and smile home to pass on a little of the booty to hungry constituents! Four, the President is the  commander-in-chief of the security forces who are there ready and willing to do his bidding. They obeyed instructions to take over Plateau State when a state of  emergency was declared there. The Army, Police and Air Force stood by in Bayelsa State when the governor was removed without due process. No one addressed  whatever impeachable offence he was accused of.

Their interim report found the governor guilty of jumping bail! The security agencies orchestrated the removal from office of the governor of Oyo State even when the  quorum was not there to effect the change. No, the blame is not for the security agencies which carried out the orders, but those who were in a position to give orders  and did not care a hoot about the conditions precedent to giving those orders. Finally, the President had an opposition that was loud on paper and poor in resources  and commitment. There was, therefore, no one to stop a moving train that those campaigners for tenure extension were. Yet, the tenure extension plan collapsed like  a pack of cards. It may well be because of the miraculous way God has been coming on stage in redirecting governance in this country that people who have a sense  of history are saying that this talk of interim government should stop at this formative stage.

It stinks, and will destroy anyone who presides over it. The President must distance himself from it because history has never favoured any interim arrangement. The  Action Group Crisis that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region in 1962 was a political victory for the NCNC and the NPC, but the  repercussions changed the history of Nigeria. All the military coups were the equivalent of interim governments, being children without parents because they emerged  outside due process. They all set the hand of the clock back. The current call for an interim arrangement is a call the Constitution has no provision for. It will never be  a plus for our President whose every move nowadays is seen in the light of staying in office.

Our President has one way out of the mucky waters politicians and professional sycophants have navigated him into. He must defy the shameless praise singers and  decide to give Nigeria the last gift he has and can give –credible elections. If he does not do this last national and redeeming chore, he will go down in history unsung  because the record he created by being the first military head of state to hand over power to a civilian administration has been equaled by Abdulsalaam Abubakar. If  he does not give us credible elections, he would have lost a place in the records of time.

The so-called economic gains are one window of looking problems of existence in the face. Someone may see things differently and twist things around, even for the  better. The interim storm must stop in the teacup. Or, to borrow the expression of our inimitable Kingsley Mbadiwe, the come will come to become.

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