On LBJ and OBJ, for whom the bell tolls
“I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as President” — Former US President Lyndon B. Johnson, on March 31, 1968.
The words quoted above saw the glorious exit of President Lyndon Baines Johnson from US Presidential Politics. The man popularly called LBJ was born exactly on this day, August 27, near Stonewall, Texas in 1908. He eventually rose to become the 36th President of the United States of America, albeit, emerging through the tragic assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The largest popular majority in modern US history subsequently elected him to his own term in 1964. LBJ will be remembered in political history as one of the most masterful politicians in US history: initiator of the Great Society Project in the White House, champion of bipartisan and consensus politics in the Senate and “the man who gets things done” in the House of Representatives. He was indeed a great man.
It is not my intention to dwell so much on the personality and politics of LBJ but to draw attention to the mystery of the man as represented by his memorable and televised speech on March 31, 1968 pronouncing to voluntarily end his presidency after just one term in office at a time America was at crossroads. It is apt at this time in Nigeria’s political journey, when we are at crossroads, to remind us all of LBJ on this his birthday as we once again tread that dangerous path of succession politics.
Let us for one moment pause and recollect. Our British colonial masters organised Nigeria’s first nationwide elections and handed over power to an independent Nigeria on October 1, 1960. By 1964, when the polity was due for another round of elections to be supervised by incumbents, the country was bedeviled by violence leading to wanton destruction of properties and bloodshed. They called it politics. The military struck and prominent players of that era were slain. Events from that eventually led us to a bitter Civil War and years of military misrule and power play. Nineteen years after independence, the military overlords conducted elections and handed power back to the politicians. Four years later, the incumbents supervised the elections using the Dikko Landslide Theory. They also called it politics. The rest, like they say, is history. Well, the military struck again. Famous actors of that scenery were either forced into exile or hauled into overfilled and cramped ‘chalets’ of our prison yards and another long and tortuous era of military hypnosis and fiefdom began.
Once again, we seem to be afflicted by Nigeria’s most ancient political bubonic plague – obdurate narcissism. During their recent tour of the South West, the People’s Democratic Party threatened to capture the Alliance for Democracy- dominated zone at all cost! The AD retorted by warning them to stay clear of their enclave. In Anambra State, the Emeka Offor-sponsored machine has vowed to remove Governor Mbadinuju, come rain or shine and only recently the national network television was awash with images of blood as ‘troops’ loyal to two different political camps in Ebonyi State engaged in a combat for the cards (soul?) of PDP in the State. The earlier postponement of senatorial bye-elections in Kebbi State was in response to the preview of ‘fire for fire’ command and control politics. All the ingredients of 1966 and 1983 are being assembled for 2003 while we sleep.
Pray, we should ask ourselves: Should we draw blood in the name of politics to fulfill the righteousness of the so-called learning process? Must we kill ourselves just because “politicians should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them”? Will the heavens fall if a current incumbent steps down from office after 4 years in power? Will the clock stop ticking if an ambition is not realised in 2003? 1 believe the answer is, and must be NO! Make no mistake about this, whether we like it or not if we continue to follow this path once treaded and continue to play these monkey games to bring forth bloodshed, as the horizon clearly depicts, the military will come back! Unknown to us, they are slowly but surely being invited by this pre-2003 political intolerance. We can wish away the military but they remain integral parts of our polity. There remains a thin line between the ballot and the barrel. Mayhem and terror are not tools for elections, and to those who will use them, shame on you. When the blood begins to flow, the common people will quiver and when the marshal music begins to blare, the common people will cheer. The situation is grave and there is clear and present danger.
My two cents on this is that President Olusegun Obasanjo should take a bold and historic step to save these other 120 million people from another round of military brigandage. He can do this by convening, as a matter of utmost urgency, a National Political Summit to be attended by all stakeholders such as National Assembly Members, Ministers and other Aspirants, Governors, the Civil Society, the Political Parties and Associations, the National Security apparatchik, the Media as well as other relevant political prospectors as may be revealed by security reports which, undoubtedly, are on the President’s desk. The talks must be frank, first on the macro-politics and then the micro issues. These political players must be made to understand the end result of their cankerworm activities in the guise of all-night nocturnal meetings. They should be fully briefed by erstwhile 1984 guests of Kirikiri on the by-product of puerile political muscle flexing. In this emergent cataclysm, politics will not be the solution to our problem because politics is our problem. Mr. President must save us lest this bedlam consumes us!
Let all Nigerians beware that while they billow their rhetoric’s, play their politics and perform their theatrics, they may be the focus of this doom foretold and we must resist the temptation to ignore the facts of history. History, if not managed properly, surely repeats itself. “What is past is prologue.”
The Americans still rate LBJ as a great President and that LBJ Resolution of 1968 is good for Nigeria.