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Atsar Terver

Public Commentator
Port Harcourt

more articles by Terver  

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars.
by Atsar Terver

In their time the political campaigns were vibrant and full of issue-based political debates. The gladiators were great thinkers, philosophers and intellectual colossus. They exerted their intellectual energy, they suffered for what they believed in, and they served the people rather than their stomachs. They were real stars that illuminated the Nigerian political galaxy.


The first time I saw a helicopter was in 1979. As a village boy, together with my primary school mates, we had gathered in the open field of the LGEA School Ikpapam on that sunny afternoon to witness the arrival of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the then Presidential candidate of the UPN. Our enthusiasm was not as much about Awolowo as it was for the mode of his coming. We had been told that he would fly over our area by helicopter. This was the fascination! After hours of waiting, he finally showed up. His arrival was announced by the buzzing sound in the sky. We gazed in awe as the helicopter flew by as low enough above the sky as to enable a hazy view of the occupants. In three minutes, it was all over. The noisy contraption glided overhead and disappeared over the horizon as they headed for Adikpo town (the Headquarters of Kwande LGA) where he later delivered an address to his supporters.


Much of what I can recollect of my childhood memory of Awolowo came from the political songs and eulogy played over the loud speakers mounted on the back of the party campaign bus owned by Uncle Akange Ikyagh who was the Mbagwaza Ward Chairman of the UPN. The campaign songs constantly eulogized the programmes of his party and her candidates, Chia Surma who was running for Governorship and Awo for the President. Even though he was basically an illiterate Uncle Akange was blessed with political savvy and the power of persuasion.

Looking back on the political climate then, comparative to what we have today, it is amazing how much we have degenerated instead of developed on the basic rudiments of democracy which include free and issue-based competition. Here was an opposition party existing vibrantly, being allowed to propagate their message unhindered in the midst of the dominant NPN without intimidation or molestation by thugs.

Here was an opposition Presidential candidate flying all the way from south-western Nigeria to a remote village in Tivland to solicit for the votes of the locals because he believed their votes would count. And this candidate did not come with an empty head. He was armed with a philosophy, an ideology and a promise. Awo promised free education and free medical care (things he had already done successfully in his Western Region). It was clear what he stood for. He stood for democratic socialism. His party’s slogan was ‘For the glory of Nigeria’.

Awo was popularly described, as “the best President Nigeria never had” because of the extreme political adventure he embarked upon in effort to get elected into national leadership. In the 1979 election that took him to Adikpo, Chief Awolowo secured 4.9 million out of the 16.8 million votes cast. Despite his stressful journeys in all the nook and crannies of the State he scored only 2% in Benue because the people rejected his candidacy. Awo never won the election but he won the admiration of many. He was a true leader. He was visionary. He was a star.

Fast forward to 2003 Obasanjo, Awo’s kinsman, already with a 4-year record of failure as President and no contribution to Benue’s uplift ‘scored’ majority of the vote (not cast) in Benue, this was after he had invaded and sacked Zaki Biam, retired prominent Tiv Generals in the Army, victimised Senator Waku, humiliated Barnabas Gemade and sacked the only Tiv Minister (Ayu)! The real voters rejected Obasanjo but he still ‘won’ by farce. He was not a leader. The late Chuba Okadibo aptly described him as a pocket-sized dictator. He was just a little star even though he desperately hoped to be cast in the mould of the likes of Mandela, Kenyatta, Nkrumah who have remained true beacons of hope on the African political coastline.

Instead of building a sound democratic culture that could groom true leaders for service, Obasanjo spent 8 years creating dimwits and foisting them on the nation as leaders. He looked for thugs and corrupt shenanigans that could do dirty (do-or-die) politics and placed them in positions of power. Thus when one scans the Nigerian political skies these days, it is awful to observe that it is populated by little stars twinkling almost lazily with little or no impact on the thickness of the darkness that has enveloped the nation’s leadership structure. They are the products of obasanjo’s insipid political adultery.

The culture of hand picking people to hold electoral positions, which was introduced by Obasanjo has created a pool of ‘qua
si-leaders’ all over the country. Some are Governors; some are in The Senate and House of Representatives. They are responsible for the now annual boxing festival Nigerians have in the National Assembly.

In the coming elections, some of these little stars are either being bandied around or they themselves are deluded enough to see themselves as opinion leaders, as governorship or even Presidential materials. The list is long. It includes half-baked immature and shallow pseudo-intellectuals, clowns chameleons, pretenders in various shades. It has gotten so bad that four months to the General Elections, even Jonathan is yet to publicly declare his candidature.

 If Jonathan is not yet sure if he is going to run, then how are we sure he is ready to serve. What is his strategy for winning if he has no plan to tour the whole Nation to ask for their votes like Awolowo did in 1979? When will Jonathan come to Adikpo? Or put the other way, does Jonathan even believe the voter in Adikpo counts?
I imagine that the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, J.S Tarkaa, Waziri Ibrahim, The great Zik of Africa, Aminu Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Kura, Abubakar Rimi, Lateef Jakande, Aper Aku, Shehu Shagari, Alex Ekwueme,(dead and alive) should be green with envy at how easy it has become for one to become a national leader in Nigeria. In their time, it required huge sacrifice on their part.

In their time the political campaigns were vibrant and full of issue-based political debates. The gladiators were great thinkers, philosophers and intellectual colossus. They exerted their intellectual energy, they suffered for what they believed in, and they served the people rather than their stomachs. They were real stars that illuminated the Nigerian political galaxy.

Today, Alhaji Shehu  Shagari remains a poor man after serving as a head of state whereas Obasanjo became a multi billionaire from a bankrupt ex-convict that he was before becoming President. The late Aper Aku of Benue State left almost nothing for his family but George Akume became a billionaire after 8 years of carnivorous plundering the food basket. It’s the same story for Balarabe Musa and a host of other second republic politicians. They served more and looted less because they carried a burden of leadership rather than curry the pecks of their offices.

The five political parties of the Second Republic (UPN, GNPP, UPN, PRP, and NPP) had clear manifestos based on well articulated political philosophies. It was not ambiguous what each one stood for. It was therefore almost a taboo for members of one party to just wake up one day and declare for another party with a different ideology. In Tivland, politicians needed to be thoroughly ‘washed ‘to purge them of their former political ideologies before being admitted in a new party. Even though the NPN won at the Presidency, the other four parties also had good representation in the National Assembly as well as State Governorships in their regions of stronghold. Today opposition politics is dead

 We have over 50 political parties but none, not even the ruling PDP can unambiguously articulate what they stand for. Their leadership structure is as vague as their agenda. In the PDP, instead of the party controlling the president, the reverse is the case. The President can change the Party Chairman the same way he changes his handkerchiefs. An Nwodo could jump straight from another Party and become the National Chairman of the PDP, not because he has something to offer but because he has a dirty job to do for the President. It was the same thing for Ahmadu Ali, who OBJ hired for the sole aim of getting a third term and perhaps ‘dealing’ with Atiku. When he failed, Ali became a sudden critique of his benefactor. He was a little star. Just like Ali, Nwodo will twinkle for a while and then go into oblivion.



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