On Monday, 29 May, 2032, our renascent democracy took another giant step forward with the seamless handing over by one democratically-elected civilian president to another, as retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-chief of its Armed Forces, handed over the baton of leadership to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, winner of the Saturday, 25 February, 2023 presidential election on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The current Fourth Republic is the longest stretch of democratic experiment that we have had as a country. The First Republic (October 1, 1960 – January 15, 1966) lasted a little over five years before the military shunted the civilians aside, after which successive military regimes took turns to rape the country and pillage and or waste its resources. The short-lived regime of JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi (January – July 15, 1966) was followed by Yakubu Gowon (July 1966 – July 29, 1975) and then the assassinated Murtala Muhammed (July 29, 1975 to February 13, 1976). Olusegun Obasanjo took over (“against his personal wishes and desires”, as he said, but who ever believed him!) and handed over power to an elected civilian president in the person of Alhaji Shehu Shagari (of the National Party of Nigeria) on July 29, 1979. Shagari was three months into his second term of office when he was toppled by the military on 31 December, 1983, signalling an end to the Second Republic.
Major-General Muhammadu Buhari stepped in and ruled till 27 August, 1985 when he, too, was toppled and gap-toothed General Ibrahim Babangida took over. Babangida’s regime initiated the Third Republic, which was unsuccessful in that Babangida himself wired it to fail because, in his heart of hearts and judging by the manner in which he serially shifted the goalposts in the middle of the game, disqualifying contestants on flimsy excuses, he did not want to relinquish power. In the end, the one described as “Maradona” because of the way he dribbled Nigerians with his unending transition to civil rule rigmarole, dribbled himself into a bind. He allowed the June 12, 1993 election to hold but surprised by its outcome and thinking he could dribble the country one more time, he annulled the election, adjudged by many as the most credible ever in the annals of the country, thereby instigating a chain of reactions, the end of which consumed IBB himself. He had to “step aside” from office and from power on 26 August, 1993; replacing himself with an Interim National Government headed by business mogul, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was designated officially as “Chairman” of the ING. Shonekan himself was pushed off the chair on 17 November, 1993, forced to read a resignation address to the nation by Gen. Sani Abacha, who then took over as president. Abacha, like IBB, started his own transition to civil rule rigmarole whose goal was for him, Abacha, to transmute from military to civilian president. Death, however, put an end to his schemes and shenanigans on 8 June, 1998.
Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar took over after the death of Abacha and followed in the footsteps of Obasanjo by returning Nigeria to civil rule on May 29, 1999 with Obasanjo returning, this time, as elected civilian president. Since then, we have had 24 uninterrupted years of civil rule: From Obasanjo (1999 – 2007) to Umaru Yar’Adua (29 May, 2007 – 5 May, 2010 when his death, in office, was announced) to Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who assumed office, first as acting president and later as president, 2010 to May 29, 2015 when Buhari, like Obasanjo, returned as elected president. Buhari was in office until Monday, May 29, 2023 when he handed over power to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the same APC. So, there is more than one sense in which we can say that democracy is taking firm roots here.
We have amassed more time under our belt – 24 years at a stretch. We have had a transition from ruling party to ruling party; we have also had an opposition party turning the tables on the ruling party, which is rare in these parts of the world. We have had power moving along geo-political divides from South to North and vice-versa. We have had a minority person become president, even if in fortuitous circumstances. This is very instructive in a country sharply divided along ethnic lines. So also is the fact that a Muslim-Muslim ticket (for the second time in our history) has won election in a country where sensibilities around religion are as volatile, if not more volatile, than the ones around ethnicity! But I digress!
Penultimate Monday I was in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state to give moral support to Gov. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel as he rounded off his eight-year tour of duty as governor of the state. The first glowing remarks I heard of Gov. Udom Emmanuel came from Femi Falana, SAN. Each time I advocated restructuring and fiscal federalism as panacea to Nigeria’s myriad problems, Femi would say “Go to Akwa Ibom and see what their governor is doing there”! He specifically mentioned Ibom Air founded by Udom. His argument was that despite the imperfections in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, there is still a lot that any serious, focused and competent governor, like Udom Emmanuel, can do to make a difference. The second person I heard the name Udom Emmanuel from was my brother-journalist, US-based Dr. Moshood Fayemiwo, publisher of the very popular “Razor” and, later, “Sunset” tabloids with which he fought the iBB/Abacha military dictatorship. Moshood and I hail from the same town, Owo in Ondo state but more importantly, we were both in the trenches as Nigerians fought Babangida and Abacha. Along with many other activists, we were hounded, harassed and detained but were lucky to escape with our life. Dr. Moshood called from the US one day and said he wanted me to work with his friend, Gov. Udom Emmanuel, who was gunning for the PDP presidential ticket in the last election. I told him I would think about it. I decided to pray. I called one of my prayer partners but as soon as I mentioned the name, he interjected: “I know Udom Emmanuel” His testimonies about the Akwa Ibom governor were eloquent and inspiring.
The word of God says from the mouth of two or three witnesses the truth of a matter shall be established (2 Corinthians 13:1). That was how I came to work with Gov Udom Emmanuel as his presidential spokesperson. Had he been given the PDP flag, the result, I dare to say, would have been different. But hope deferred is not hope denied! Coming with him to Akwa Ibom while we were on that campaign, I saw more than Ibom Air. I saw the coconut oil factory and when the sample I took to Lagos with me got exhausted, my wife moaned. I was in Akwa Ibom again from Monday, 22nd May to the inauguration of the new governor, Pastor Umo Bassey Eno, on Monday the 29th May to honour Udom, whom I describe, without any hesitation, as a special breed of a leader that we call, in Yoruba, “akanda eniyan” (specially made by God). All the superlatives that were deployed to describe him as he commissioned one project after another in his last few days in office were, in my view, richly deserved. His record of achievements are astounding, to say the least.
I have since added Udom Emmanuel’s name to those of JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, NDLEA’s Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa, and retired but not tired judge of the Kogi State High Court, Justice Alaba Ajileye-Omolaiye as public officials who, having performed creditably well in their given assignments, deserve a place in the government of competency that our brand-new president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has promised to run. To this list we must now add Architect Bamidele Samson and his wife, operators of the BOVAS Group of fuel stations noted countrywide for their honesty and integrity.
I dare to say that Akwa Ibom has been fortunate and privileged to offer Udom Emmanuel the pedestal on which to showcase himself. Like Archimedes said: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world” For Udom Emmanuel, Akwa Ibom was the “place” (on which) to stand. His record of achievements was the “lever long enough”. But it was not a bed of roses for the former governor; Nigeria’s political landscape is strewn with charlatans, petty jealousies, acrimony, blatant lying and the now-famous PHD (pull-him-down syndrome). There was a tinge of sadness in Udom’s voice as he narrated his experience on this score, first at the valedictory thanksgiving service and dedication of the International Christian Worship Centre, Uyo and later the same day at his end-of-term media parley. He was miffed at the deliberate destruction of facilities provided at great cost for the benefit of the same people now destroying them for political or selfish reasons. The strife between communities over boundary issues which his mapping policy was meant to address was deliberately misinterpreted by political detractors and ignorant people to cause mayhem and destroy projects meant to provide jobs and enhance the state’s economic prosperity.
Udom knelt down on the altar at the International Christian Worship Centre and decreed: “No evil man, no wicked man will rule over Akwa Ibom” Turning to his successor, Pastor Umo Eno, he passed unto him the same mantle of grace that had been upon him (Udom) for eight years, enabling the state to enjoy unparalleled peace and development, attested to by even the man on the street. The service was still ongoing when the news was received that Udom Emmanuel had been conferred with the national honours of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Udom and his wife Dr. Martha Udom Emmanuel were also honoured by the Christian community with titles rooted in the scriptures.
At the media parley, Udom passed this message across to his people: “You cannot have a better state than yours”. So people should stop deliberately pulling it down to score cheap political points. Satisfied with his efforts, which have made many to refer to him as the architect of modern Akwa Ibom state, Udom declared: “I am leaving this state better than I met it”. He expressed confidence that the massive infrastructural development of the state under him and the unparalleled investment he has sunk into human capital development would endure and catapult the state to greater heights.
These days Nigerians flock to Dubai but hear what a citizen of that country said about Nigeria and Dubai in a post that had since gone viral: “If you compare Nigeria with Dubai, Nigeria had (crude) oil before Dubai. They (Nigeria) are richer than us. They have agriculture, they have mining, they have everything, you name it; they have it. Am I right or wrong? When you have true leadership – which we have – we have nothing but we have everything because we have the right leadership. That is the only thing you need – a right leader for your country… That is what brings your country to the top. You don’t need anything (more). We don’t have water; we don’t have agriculture; we don’t have mining…” but Dubai has good leaders, which Nigeria has lacked, despite its huge potentials. It could not have been better put!
That, in a nutshell, is the real value we must attach to the likes of Udom Emmanuel – providing the right leadership; true and sincere leadership – which he demonstrated in Akwa Ibom. So, the last may not have been heard of this man. As he leaves office holding his head high, his next bus stop lies ahead – in the womb of time. His success in coming from the corporate world to not only survive in the murky and turbulent waters of partisan politics (serving two uninterrupted terms) but to also succeed in leaving behind his imprimatur, successfully selling his “beloveth son in whom he is well pleased” – Pastor Umo Bassey Eno – to Ibomites as a worthy successor, is clear indication that Udom Emmanuel is no longer a political neophyte but has matured into the league of the “Big Boys”. Watch out for him in the years to come!
*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.