2007: The President, Between Honour and Shame
I wonder how Obasanjo likes to be remembered after 2007 or what does he want historians to write about him for generations to come. I am yet to find a Nigerian ruler who means as much the opposite of what he says as the President. This is a person who just a year before he became President educated us on the importance of precision of words, claiming that it is one of the attributes of the military; he strongly criticised Babangida and Abacha for what he called ‘devaluation of words.’ Yet, he has proved himself to be the most reckless in speech and policy, the vaguest in words.
Three months ago, the President at the opening ceremony of the Political Reform Conference came out to clearly mention that the gathering was contemplated for no reason but to find lasting solutions to our political problems. There is no hidden agenda, he declared, to disabuse the minds of delegates who shared our scepticism. Having written on him for six years, I did not believe him. On this page I dedicated two weeks to express the view that the President meant exactly what he did not say, and that was what Nigerians should believe. His supporters and the innocently naïve, as usual, must have accused us of bias, preferring to give the words of Mr. Precision a literal interpretation.
Today, sceptics like me stand vindicated as we have always been on matters dealing with the conduct of the President. Halfway through the conference he sent his AGIP agents to circulate a fake and anonymous constitution. The document, among other things, called for a six year term in such a manner that could make the President the first beneficiary, at least by extending his current tenure for two years. Following the woeful failure of the document to gain acceptance among delegates and the Nigerian public, its couriers came forward and conceded that it is indeed the fabrication of the Presidency.
The main thrust of the fake constitution - a six year term - was rejected not because it is without merit. The delegates looked at the person presenting it and threw it through the window, literally. This is what logicians call argument ad hominem, which in theory is a fallacy. In politics, however, like under many other circumstances, it can be recruited to avert a catastrophe. For what would be a worse catastrophe in our politics than extending by a day the tenure of the most incompetent regime in our history?
It is interesting to see how the rejection of six year tenure of Obasanjo met conditions for both types of ad hominem argument - abusive and circumstantial. It was abusive because of many reasons: the delegates felt that Obasanjo does not have the degree of honesty required to be trusted. They arrived at this from, one, the portrait of his person which he painted as the President in the past six years; two, the manner in which he shamelessly tried to sneak the document into the conference; three, the fronts he used to sell the documents, who included Jerry ‘Ghana’; and, four, the genetic fallacy of Obasanjo belonging to the species of Nigerian leaders who want to perpetuate themselves in power through rigging elections and deceit.
The circumstantial dimension is that of interest: Obasanjo would become the first beneficiary. How do we know that his six-year term argument is not synonymous to the laundering effort of a manufacturer who is marketing his product? The stakes here are high. So the delegates felt justifiably inclined to postpone the adoption of the six year tenure until a future conference.
I join other Nigerians in praising the decision of the conference delegates, though I have been an advocate, along with The Patriots, of single five-year tenure since 2002. This is, in fact, what makes the President’s proposal less transparent. If he were a true advocate of a single tenure, why did not he work for it during his first tenure?
The President should note that he is dancing naked in the market. He does not enjoy our trust anymore, as Nigerians; neither does he enjoy that of his constituency, the United States. Three weeks ago when the
Director of the World Bank was here on a visit, he was compelled by the same mistrust to publicly interrogate Obasanjo whether he will handover power in 2007. Why the question in the first place, if the character of the President was not in doubt? Again, why ask him in public, if doing so in private could suffice?
Despite his setbacks, the President was ready to fight on. After the failure of his emissaries to convince the delegates at the conference, he resolved to fight his own battle directly. He has differently summoned governors of various regions and leaders of the conference to Aso Rock where he did his best to ram his idea of six-year tenure down their throat. He pleaded with them to re-open discussion on the subject when the conference resumes. When the pleading failed, he resorted to his characteristic habit of harassing his guests. The conference chairman in particular was selected for this terrible fate. He threatened to resign. How could the President who said he had no hidden agenda at the beginning of the conference go this far in desperation to actualise his selfish goals?
The governors, knowing how many of them would wish to continue on their seats, were offered the possibility of doing so once they can prevail on their delegates. The Northern governors were the first to be summoned. They refused, or at least some of them refused, claiming that they cannot influence the minds of their delegates. For the first time, the Northern governors, or those of them who spoke against the proposal, have impressed me.
Some weeks ago, I classified Obasanjo along with three other leaders who attempted to perpetuate themselves in power: Gowon, Babangida, and Abacha. I now realise that Obasanjo is in a class of his own, for two reasons: one, unlike Obasanjo who came to power through an election in 1999, none of the three pretended to be running a democratic government, they were all military dictatorships; two, they did not swear to abide by any constitution that stipulated the length of their tenure, while Obasanjo is under oath to abide by the 1999 Constitution that stipulates the maximum of two terms for a President. Now he is attempting to cheat the Constitution by changing its provision at this late hour.
Obasanjo and the beneficiaries of his regime must come to terms with the harsh rule of democracy. They must leave by 2007. It is sheer hallucination to contemplate that there is room to manoeuvre on this matter. The guy was elected in 1999; and when Nigerians were tired of him, he cheated his way through in 2003. Now in 2007, he still feels that the country will cease to exist once he ceases to be its President. Haba. Why did not it freeze after 1978 or when he was in prison? The beauty of democracy is its confidence that among the crowd there will always be someone competent to lead his people, at least better than Baba Iyabo.
I know it is painful leaving Aso Rock. Very painful, indeed. He is leaving behind the privilege of gathering billions within a month, just at the expression of his desire, as he did on his library project; never will he again determine who buys what asset of the federal government; never again will he hire and fire; never will he be in position to marginalise those whom he hates and those he has contempt for. I also understand the grief that is deepening by the day among the beneficiaries of his regime, for some of them may never come close to the corridors of power again. An empire is lost. But this is a fate shared by others before them. They have to swallow the bitter pill of its reality.
They must share the same pill with the governors, many of whom would wish to remain in power forever. They must know that if the seat were lasting, they would not have reached it in the first place. They must join the queue at the tail end, behind past governors who have lost their acquired empire, who can no longer partake in the affairs of the domain over which they once enjoyed absolute monopoly. They are gone together with the people who hanged around them. The only thing that remains is their legacy, if they cared to leave any. Some are remembered today for the good they excelled in; others for the bad; the rest are forgotten because they could not excel in either.
If I were an incumbent, the best thing to do at this late hour is not to fight the obvious that has conquered the rulers before me, for time cannot be conquered, more so with power. Everyday, as the handing over day come closer, there is the realisation that something is not done, another unfinished, and, worse of all, there is not enough time to do the undone or finish the started.
Knowing this very well, I would focus on my exit. How do I make it honourable? Despite my faults and mistakes as the President, for example, what do I do in the next two years to cover them? The mistake often made by leaders under this circumstance is one of the two: either they seek to extend their tenure to create the time they feel will grant them the opportunity to display the nice guy in them, or they go about doing their best to determine who succeeds them. A wise leader, however, though not unmindful of the second reason, will decide to repent and behave well in the remaining period; this is the time to put in his best.
As we have seen, the President has tried the first option, and it has failed woefully. He may think that there is no option now, given his mindset, but to determine a successor by all means. Who succeeds him now becomes the paramount concern. Let us not miss the point here. Any leader will care about who becomes his successor: A good leader would not want a destructive successor who will unwind the clock of progress; while a bad leader would like a successor that will cover his corrupt practices, wishing, in his vanity, to install a stooge whom he can control remotely such that he remains the de facto ruler.
Certainly, in the first instance, Obasanjo and most of the governors would not like a competent successor. So they will opt for the stooge with whom they will strike a ‘no-probe’ deal. Finding such a person will not be an easy task and if given another four years their minds will only be jumping from one candidate to another. They will never find a satisfactory candidate to suit their whim. That is because in the game of power, proxies are always bad candidates. The result is consistent betrayal as soon as they are handed over the baton. Instead of continuing the race on the lane of the incumbent, they successor jumps into another lane or, more often than not, take a completely different direction. So in the game of power, you are your best representative. If our President and governors could realise this, Nigeria would make some progress for the remaining period of their tenure.
However, I doubt if they will abandon the option of a stooge, regardless of its uncertainty and hurdles. First, the PDP’s tradition or guidelines on zoning makes the incumbent to seek for a successor outside his region. This is a major disadvantage, especially if he has to come from an area that the incumbent has marginalised or is contemptuous of. Secondly, the successor has to be acceptable to the politicians of the party in the region; otherwise he will not win their nomination. Thirdly, the incumbent has to sell this candidate to other regions as well before and during the party primaries. Then, finally, the incumbent has to do everything in his power to ensure that the successor-select wins the election.
In taking the above four steps, the incumbent loses the chance of finishing on a good note. To succeed in all the steps means abdicating from his public responsibility and diverting his time and public resources to the cause of succession. More importantly, he must rig elections for the successor.
To this end, Obasanjo has been dangling the carrot of succession to many northern governors, pitching them against one another. His promise or gestures has gone into the heads of many of them; they believe it. Yet, no one can precisely say who the successor will be though we have a good guess of those who will not be, according to his permutation.
It is in this context of succession that his desperate moves in the PDP have to be located. He is doing his best to gain absolute control of the party machinery such that only his candidate will emerge a winner. The sacking of the former party chairman, Ogbe, at gun point, and that of other executives recently is part of the same tragedy. As the party primaries approach, the president will try to meddle with the composition of the party’s leadership at the state and local government levels.. Then, finally, he will change the rules of the party convention that will result in the selection of the presidential nominee. The governors will do the same in their domains. What we are set for in the remaining twenty months or so, therefore, will not be an effort to leave a legacy. It will be the desperation to find a successor who will at least be as bad as the incumbents.
I will still give Obasanjo the advise that he should find a lasting legacy to leave behind, a good one for that matter. I will even suggest one, though it will require him to damn the consequences. That is to abandon the tragedy of finding a nominal successor and go ahead to stage a transparent transition as leaders of other countries are doing. Both Schroeder and Chirac by now know that they will not win the next elections; yet, they will never attempt to rig elections. They will continue to live in Germany and France as respected citizens. Carter and Clinton are still enjoying the benefit of quiet exit. They are true statesmen who continue to represent their countries in missions abroad. In Britain, there is Thatcher and Major. Though we do not hear much about them, they are living in the same condition of honour as other previous world leaders.
Obasanjo must not be different, if he is wise. Nigerians and the international community will often remember him for what he did at his exit. If, on the other hand, he shamelessly manipulates the electoral process and rigs it for an incompetent successor, he will live among us a dishonourable person, like some before him, incapable of travelling without heavy security. If, on the other hand, he elects to stop manipulating his party and conducts transparent transition, that alone will be a milestone achievement that may mask many of his previous shortcomings.
But woe unto a person who will prefer shame to honour; woe unto him for his terrible choice, and woe unto him for what history will say about him.