The news of the fall of Comrade Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, ex-President of the Republic of South Africa, is no longer news.
It was high on drama and suspense, then there was the denouement, the climax, after which a new man, Cyril Ramaphosa, took charge.
South Africans thronged the streets in ecstatic celebration of the exit of the man who had held them by the balls while he was having a ball at their expense.
He had to go, and go he did. Triumph of people’s power. Supremacy of party over one man’s whims and caprices. A lesson indeed for other African countries, especially Nigeria, where parties exist only in name but with little or no firepower; and where there’s bark, no bite. And, for many of the mushroom political parties around, they exists only in the living rooms and briefcases of the founders.
But with the oldest-surviving party in Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), it was a different ball game. Twice, they have forced their erring leaders and presidents to bite the dust. Thabo Mbeki fell when he started to misbehave, while Zuma was shown the door marked ‘exit’ when he became stubborn and powerdrunk, and, as it soon became obvious, began to fiddle with the collective till.
That Zuma fell was not much unexpected, given the avalanche of controversies that mired his nine years turbulent rule, from sex issues to graft matters.
Many observers of South African politics would agree that it was not always if, but when, he would go. Last week ended that jigsaw. The wily political warhorse of course gave a good fight to cling onto his job.
By his exit, Zuma joined the inglorious list of leaders who fell from grace to disgrace, finding company with the likes of Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Samuel Doe of Liberia and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire, among others.
But, the questions many are asking are: Would Zuma have resigned, if he were a Nigerian? Would he have been asked to quit by his party, no matter the pressures by Nigerians?
The answer is obvious. No. Never. Nigerian leaders don’t resign. Nigerian politicians have no such word in their dictionary. They fight till the last drop of their blood. Even in a few cases when they are forced, they go with a bang: screaming, cursing and kicking!
So, you can understand the reason many Nigerians have been expressing their shock over Zuma’s quiet surrender after it became obvious he had lost his plum position.
Now, here is what Zuma would have done, if he were a Nigerian. First, being from the majority Zulu ethnic nationality, it would have been near impossible to pass a ‘no confidence’ vote in him. The move would have been frustrated by his people, who would claim that their son and brother was being targeted by his detractors, and preventing them from enjoying their mandate.
If Zuma were a Nigerian, he would have rented a huge crowd and mobilised them to the presidential palace, clutching placards, chanting songs and denouncing his opponents. He would have stormed the party headquarters with stern-looking men and beaten the party officials who dared suggest that he either resigned or be sacked.
If Zuma were a Nigerian, he would have deployed a hefty financial war chest to bribe party officials to drop whatever charges they had against him and let him continue in office, to finish his tenure before the 2019 general election.
If Zuma were a Nigerian, ethnicity, tribalism and religious sentiments would have long been brought in, to frustrate the move against him. There would have been attempts to obsfucate the whole issue as a witchhunt and persecution. Not the corruption charges as alleged!
If Zuma were a Nigerian, some ‘smart’ lawyers would have jammed the courts with all kinds of motions, expartes interlocutary and what have you, challenging the ANC and seeking to halt the whole process. The lawyers would have found a way to prevail on the courts through a friendly judge to deliver either a Jankara or midnight judgment!
If Zuma were a Nigerian, he would never have quit office, a powerful office of a whole President of a country. For where?
But, by the forced exit of Zuma, South Africans have done the continent proud. They have demonstrated political sophistication, which we should not be ashamed to learn from.
Issues and principles should never be sacrificed on the altar of sentiments. We should never play politics with leadership and governance issues. Poverty knows neither ethnicity nor religion.
South Africa shamed us by what happened in the Zuma saga. Yes, he was forced to resign. But how many people were in the streets to demonstrate in his support? Are there no hungry people in that country who could have been hired to cause trouble when the game was over? Are there no lawyers and judges in South Africa?
The political parties in Nigeria also have a big lesson to learn from what happened in South Africa: Integrity of the party must be kept sacrosanct. Party must rise above the mess of patronage to defend the rights of the people to have decent leadership that caters for the welfare of the generality. They must beat erring leaders into line. We saw that happen in the second republic. The Unity Party of Nigeria, under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, maintained an iron grip on the governors of the then progressive states in terms of adherence to party manifesto. We saw the transformation that it triggered in the UPN states. There was also strong leadership in the National Party of Nigeria. They called erring or under-performing governors to order.
But not anymore. Sadly, the party system in Nigeria is weak and toothless. If we will get our democracy right, the first place to start is for parties to forge ideological movements and fuse to propagate their vision. What we have now are more like SPVs, to run for elections with a view to getting into office. That is the real tragedy of the Nigerian situation.