‘The political machine works because it is a united minority acting against a divided majority’ –Will Durant
In the thick of the June Twelve annulment brouhaha General Babangida had announced that he was, after all, ‘stepping aside’. And many said that ‘stepping aside’ was his political transition’s tragic denouement
-that after all the transition procrastination and in spite of even the annulment, for him it still had to come to such mournful anticlimax. And so the annulment of June 12 many said, was now like an ‘own goal’ ending a timeless leather game of deception.
From having repeatedly shifted the transition’s goal post, the great IBB had at last dribbled himself out of power. And you wondered, since he was still to leave office anyway, why might he not reconsider the annulment of June 12, validate the election and hand over to the winner, MKO Abiola?
So that that way both ‘bloody civilians’ and their jackbooted military oppressors would nobly have been reconciled. But no. In pacification of the ego of esprit de corps, Babangida chose rather he would hand over to an unelected kinsman of Abiola, the famed UAC mogul Ernest Shonekan, under a contraption called ‘Interim National Government’ created, many said, to sing the Nunc dimittis or the funeral dirge if you will of June twelve.
Ironically Shonekan who was to be the ‘Head Of The Interim National Government’, was conceded only the authority of a ‘Head of State’ but not the powers of the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, C-IN-C.
As a matter of fact a special one-page Decree had been promulgated and circulated to that effect. A shadowy, often bleakly bespectacled de facto 2IC and alter ego of IBB, General Sani Abacha was to stay back as Commander-In-Chief, C-IN-C of the Armed Forces, and essentially so as to secure the contrived diarchical interregnum which also had the mandate, any time in the future, to conduct another election.
But Shonekan would not only lack the power to command the armed forces, he was also not to have the complement of a cabinet with the nomenclature all federal cabinets in both modern democracies and even in aberrant military dictatorships, were always known by: rather than ‘ministers’ they were to be called ‘Secretaries’.
So that in place of a ‘Ministerial Cabinet’, Shonekan was to have a ‘Secretarial’ one; nominated and constituted for him by the departing IBB, to function ‘in-loco-ministrum’.
In family law, a ‘guardian’ is said to act in-loco-parentis (or ‘in the position of a biological parent’). And so in-loco-ministrum was my own creation for Shonekan’s ‘Secretaries’ who essentially were to function and operate as though they were Ministers.
The idea perhaps was to create a lame ‘government’ and not allow it have a sense of possessing the essential attributes of a government.
And just when this anti-Jun twelve contrivance was about to be constituted, one quiet, low-key weekend at the Villa, General Babangida ran into some of our members, -namely of the State House Press Corps- and as it was often the case, this time also the ‘democrat’ –rather than the soldier in him- got the better of his sense of camaraderie.
And he would ‘generously’ extend to us a conditional offer of one slot of a ‘Secretary’ in that soon-to-be-constituted Interim National Government. The caveat was that whoever we were presenting must be elected through the due democratic process.
Such irony, you would say; that the man who had just brazenly subverted the electoral will of an entire nation, annulling the freest and fairest election ever, would be recommending to us, ‘watchdogs of the society’, the virtue of applying the due democratic process in the squaring of every little ‘bone’ and every ‘brown envelop’.
And in fairness to IBB’s conditional offer, it did remind us, journalists especially, that the democracy that we were crusading for the nation should not only place a demand on politicians to abide by the due democratic process in partisan politics alone; but that even as minuscule as a 53-member professional fraternity like ours may be required to live up to the demand of the democratic process.
Unfortunately, in spite of its inherent democratic moral instruction, IBB’s offer to us would soon become the proverbial apple of discord, rending us apart along sectional and tribal fault lines.
It soon proved to us that Nigerians were as swiftly schismatic at the realm of national politics as they can also easily be at the minutest levels of professional groupings that arrogate the right to interrogate others.
By the way, IBB’s offer would later turn out to be a ‘Greek gift’ -to the prospective beneficiary that is. But first how was it an ‘apple of discord’? NTA’s then State House Chief Correspondent, the famous Sola Atere had indicated his interest to vie for the offer. But then there was a snag. He was a non-participating member.
He had never identified with the Corps. Let alone attend its meetings. But I was one of few members who appreciated the fact that Atere had too much on his professional plate to afford to be an active member of the Corps.
He was in fact on the permanent list of the President’s domestic and international travels; and so he traveled en-suite with IBB in the Presidential Jet.
Not a great number of us representing major organizations, were on the rotational list and we traveled third class by commercial airlines -often with the President’s advance team of protocol and security personnel.
There were minor assignments we could afford to miss once in a while. Atere had to cover and report every presidential movement. And so he was locked up always in NTA’s Mini State House Studio editing or programming –so much that many of our colleagues interpreted his non-participation in the activities of the Corp to mean a disdain for it.
Yet, even those of us who appreciated his busy schedule still believed that it was not sufficient justification not to occasionally identify with Corps.
And now that Atere was interested in the offer made to us through the very body he was believed to have scant regard for, the argument arose whether he was a bona fide member of the Corps, and if so, whether he was entitled to contest the offer.
Again I was one of few members who had no difficulty admitting that technically he was one of us; because I believed –and still do- that the qualification for being a ‘State House Correspondent’ is superior to, and predates the criterion for membership of the ‘State House Press Corps’.
You are automatically a member of the Corps if you are accredited as a Correspondent to cover the State House. And so accreditation to cover the State House and not fidelity to an in-house fraternity known only to us, was the key.
And so since IBB’s offer was made not to us as individuals, but to a body that pre-existed our individual membership, I thought that Atere was justified like any one of us to vie for IBB’s offer.
It was how those who supported him treacherously went about it, (in much the same way Saraki did to grab the Senate Presidency) that is the bird’s eye view by which I intend to espouse the concepts of ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities’ in a democracy.
To be concluded