WITH our eyes locked firmly on the Nigerian electoral process, and the forthcoming Presidential elections, on the one hand. And battling the creeping and crippling economic crisis in our country, on the other, we can be forgiven for missing some noteworthy events in our world. Early this week, former Marxist guerilla, Jose “Pepe” Mujica ended his tenure as President of the South American Republic of Uruguay.
He was often described as “the world’s poorest president”; for others, he was the “president every other country would like to have”. The BBC’sWyre Davies, who interviewed him recently, argued that “whatever your own particular ‘shade’ of politics, it’s impossible not to be impressed or beguiled by Jose “Pepe” Mujica”. Davies said while the world is certainly full of “principled” politicians, none “comes anywhere close to the outgoing Uruguayan president when it comes to living by one’s principles”.
As president, he refused to live in the presidential palace, choosing instead to remain in his wife’s farmhouse, on the outskirts of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. He had only two policemen as his security details plus Manuela, a three-legged dog.
Annual wealth declaration
The president and his wife (also a former Marxist guerilla) worked the land themselves. In 2010, his annual wealth declaration, which is mandatory for all public officials in his country, was just $1, 800, the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle car. It was in 2012, that his assets was “rebased” at the equivalent of $215, 000 when his wife’s assets of land, tractors and a house were added. President Jose “Pepe” Mujica was donating 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12, 000 to charity.
He argued that: “I can live well with what I have”, because “I’ve lived like this most of my life”. He noted that: “I’m called ‘the poorest president’ but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more.
This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself. I may appear to be an eccentric old man…But this is a free choice”.
Solitary confinement: President Mujica was elected in 2009; but he spent the 1960s and 1970s as a member of the Marxist guerilla group, the Tupamaros, which had been inspired by the Cuban Revolution.
He was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, most of it in very harsh solitary confinement, two of them lying at the bottom of an old horse trough. The experience almost broke him mentally, especially because for about eight years, he was not even allowed to read a book! Mujica said of his experience, that “prison, solitary confinement had a huge influence on me.
I had to find an inner strength”. On his modest lifestyle and the response of people, he argued that: “This world is crazy, crazy! People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me!”
He went on: “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life and (other) leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring or copying a rich minority”. It is also instructive that he left presidency with Uruguay having what was described as “a relatively healthy economy with social stability” and “the most liberal country in South America”.
He carried out some controversial social and political initiatives, including the legalization of cannabis, which he defended: “Marijuana is another plague, another addiction. Some say its good but no, that’s rubbish. Not marijuana, tobacco or alcohol- THE ONLY GOOD ADDICTION IS LOVE (my emphasis!)!”
He went on that: “But 150, 000 people smoke marijuana here and I couldn’t leave them at the mercy of drug traffickers. It’s easier to control something if it’s legal and that’s why we’ve done this”.
Looting life style: I have brought up this remarkable man’s exemplary lifestyle today, as a contrast to what we have in our country. The political and economic elitesare in cahoots in the looting and underdevelopment of Nigeria.
Our legislators are said to be the richest in the world, and a few weeks ago, it was concluded that the Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives would be on life pensions.
So Senator David Mark will add his senate pension to the one he collects as a general of the Nigerian Army. In our states, people like Bola Tinubu, Bukola Saraki,Danjuma Goje and GodswillAkpabio, to mention a few, worked unconscionable pensions for themselves, on top of the billions that they accrued running those states over an eight year period.
The public service space has become “privatized” to deny the Nigerian people basic decencies of existence, while those given opportunity to rule, behave like lords, with attitudes worse than those of medieval feudal rulers.
It was in Nigeria, in June 2012, that I asked President Jonathan during the PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT, why he refused to publicly declare his personal assets and he answered me that: “I DON’T GIVE A DAMN”!
Yet, in our world today, a president of Uruguay declared publicly what he had which made him known as “the world’s poorest president”! President Jonathan was angry when people said Nigerians were poor. No, he said, we have the largest number of private jets in Africa.
Our rulers are addicted to ill-gotten wealth. But President Jose “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay said “THE ONLY GOOD ADDICTION IS LOVE”; love of the people and of our country!
The politics of elections in Borno
OVER the past two weeks, the security situation has taken a turn for the better in many parts of Northeast Nigeria. The Nigerian Army, along with allied forces from the neighbouring countries, took the battle to the Boko Haram terrorists. In the process, many occupied communities were liberated.
The most interesting development of the past week must be President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to liberated areas in Adamawa and Borno state, but especially the town of Baga, where hundreds or thousands of people had been killed (depending on which statistics one chose to accept), when it was sacked by Boko Haram in January.
To cream off as much advantage as might serve his electoral fortunes, President Goodluck Jonathan appeared on the scene dressed in full military fatigues and with a swagger, obviously well rehearsed, for NTA viewers.
He was unable to avoid cheap politicking with what should have ordinarily been used to rally Nigerians for unity, by visiting the Adamawa liberated area with the PDP governor of the state, but refusing to go to Baga, with the APC governor of Borno state!
But the more worrisome issue that is being played out in the Northeast is where the elections will be held, especially in respect of people in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps in the affected states. There are individuals in the PDP, especially from Borno state, who are alleged to be advising President Goodluck Jonathan to lean on INEC by insisting that IDPs should be returned to their communities to cast their votes. Those behind these harebrained ideas are arguing that such a step is the only way that they can “help” the PDP and President Jonathan to either “win” in Borno or get the requisite level of percentages in the overall calculations for the presidential election. But it is clear to whoever knows the essence of what has happened in Borno, as I do, that there is no way that people in IDP camps can be returned to their communities in time for the elections. There are many reasons why I say this. Many of these communities had been occupied by Boko Haram, for up to six, nine and twelve months, in a lot of instances. In these communities, basic facilities like health centres, schools, borehole facilities, and the residences of these people have been completely destroyed by Boko Haram. When Boko Haram took over Baga in January, they destroyed at least 90% of residences; they even burnt up trees as we saw in satellite pictures posted by international human rights organizations on international television services. There is nothing to return to and returning people just for electoral reasons will make absolutely no sense.
In order to return people to their communities, an enabling environment must be created such as the reconstruction of residential accommodation, rehabilitation of boreholes, health facilities and rudimentary economic life and the provision of security that will give people the confidence to return and stay.
One of the enduring tactics of Boko Haram is to repeatedly return to communities to attack and disrupt the livelihood of people, often seeming to be possessed of a permanent suicidal streak. That much has been evident in its repeated attempt at taking over Konduga, the most recent of which happened this week, leading to the killing of over seventy terrorists.
There is also the problem with the mining of roads, farmlands and residential areas, which would have to be cleared before IDPs can return to their communities. For example, the distance between Cross Kauwa and Baga is less than 30 kilometres, yet the Nigerian Army was said to have cleared about 150 mines, as they attempted to liberate Baga. These are serious issues that speak against any rushed plan to return people to devastated communities.
And if such dispersal of people into tenuously secure communities is enforced, we might end up giving Boko Haram the opportunity to carry out its vow to disrupt the elections! Thus defeating the plan to use return of displaced people as a tactic to “assist” President Goodluck Jonathan. It will just explode in the faces of unconscionable politicians, who put their political agenda above the security of the people.
For those who don’t know, there are 17 IDP camps in Borno state alone. To maintain the hundreds of thousands of IDPs in these camps, the Borno State government provides 600 bags of rice EVERYDAY to the IDPs. In each of these camps, at least a cow is slaughtered everyday for the IDPs along with the provision of other cooking items and vegetables. It is a very expensive business taking care of people who have lost practically everything and have been traumatized by the horrific violence visited upon them by Boko Haram. It will be the height of insensitivity to attempt to rush people back home just because of the politics of the electoral process. Besides, INEC has made the provision for people to vote inside the IDP camps; so let them stay there to vote and thereafter, a methodical and well thought out process of return to properly secured communities can be implemented.