Friday, September 6, 2002
Obasanjo: The sinking Titan
Dr Aliyu Tilde
This is the text of Friday Discourse (130) which we could not publish three weeks ago.
It is three years since this column featured Obasanjo Has Failed, an article that passed a verdict of failure on this regime while it was only 100 days old. We did not call Obasanjo, sat him on the ground, and looked into the future of his administration by reading the sand, as Malam Babba Na Kofar Gabas would do. Neither were we the old woman in the famous song, Qari’atul Funjan, of the late Abdul Halim Hafiz, while sitting with Obasanjo in a café, read his overturned cup and said, "My son, you are doomed, you are doomed..."
We were neither Babba nor Hafiz. What we did was a rational calculation of the performance of Obasanjo against the background of our expectation as a nation as at May 1999. He is the captain of our ship for four years. Our opinion was high regarding his navigational competence, just as passengers of the Titanic had on their captain. Suddenly, to our utter dismay, we found that he could not read a compass properly. So right from our takeoff, he deflected from the course of his destination. All calls on him to do the right thing fell on deaf ears. He was dumb. Then, the weather became cloudy, the sky dark, and the winds violent. As the tides started to rise and twist the ship in whatever direction they pleased, we started seeing water seeping into some of its cabins. Who would, after seeing the impending disaster, wait for a Hafiz to tell him, "My son, you are doomed, you are doomed..."?
But men are those who even at points of desperation are given more to hope than to despondency. They would rely on necessity to ignite their instinct to escape danger in one way or another. When the instinct fail, some would pray for a miracle; others would subscribe to fortune. However, for Obasanjo, his instinct was too dull to capture the strength of the signals of the impending danger, so the ingenuity to device an escape failed to be ignited. Neither did he qualify for a miracle, of course, for the mountain of misdeed piled by his administration. As for fortune, it knocks only on the doors of the lucky, and Obasanjo was as unlucky as he was dumb and faulty. Who is surprised now that his ship is really sinking?
Obasanjo, we said in that article, came to power under a unique circumstance, when the entire nation believed that only a person like him could successfully lead the Fourth Republic out the mess it would inherit by May 29, 1999. Nigerians were humble in their hopes, which were limited only to national reconciliation, democracy and corruption. All that is needed was the honest intention of the leader and the goodwill of his citizens.
Nigerians were not naïve when they massively supported Obasanjo in 1999. They had valid reasons on which they founded their expectations. As a southerner, we thought Obasanjo was a good choice to quench the fires of hate and ethnic sentiments that were ignited by the crisis of June 12 and its aftermath. As the only military head of state then who handed over power to a civilian administration we thought he was honest enough to be entrusted with a country that had been brutalized for fourteen consecutive years. On corruption, we thought he was prudent enough not to permit the plunder of our resources. However, by his commissions and omissions, he has only helped to compound our problems. Now the Naira is officially at N130 to a dollar, food has tripled its price, and government is so bankrupt that it cannot even pay the salaries of university lecturers and magistrates. The worst part of it is that Obasanjo is not ready to go quietly.
As for the citizens, they have proved their support and loyalty beyond reasonable doubt by voting massively for him, regardless of party, ethnic and regional affiliations. It was left to the leader to sustain that support and nurture it further through performance which, though not expected to be wonderful, would at least start mitigating the suffering and turmoil of the past. Obasanjo deliberately chose to abandon the course of performance and preferred incompetence, condoned corruption, elevated sycophancy and pursued the parochial goals of vendetta and ethnic chauvinism.
We are the least happy regarding this development. We wished in the succeeding months and years Obasanjo were able to prove us wrong regarding what we said about his administration, 100 days into its tenure. Surely, this is our country; it is greater and far more important than the ego of any of us. After all, had he succeeded, we could have simply taken shelter in ascribing the inaccuracy of our prediction to the imprecision that escorts humans whenever they adventure into the wilderness of the future.
It is no longer 100 days now, not a year, not first half of the tenure. It is few months to its end. It is unfortunate that our earlier verdict regarding the performance of Obasanjo has come to typify the opinion of the majority. It is no longer only a North that laments over marginalization, underdevelopment or instigated unrests to divide its people for reasons of political expedience. Today, all zones of the country, except the Southwest, are complaining of neglect and inertia. They have come to appreciate the colossal incapacity of the President to competently administer our politics and economy. Even media houses that were hitherto enthusiastic about supporting him, together with those who used to dine over his table at Aso Rock and rub their palms with the cream of his largesse in return for turning a blind eye on the inadequacies of his administration have started to cry wolf.
Two examples are enough. Consider the editorial of Thisday which was published three days ago, on Tuesday 6 August 2002, titled, As the Nation Bleeds: Our President Goes to Jamaica Again. It noted that the President has squandered our reputation overseas. His hosts are tired of his ubiquity. During his last visit there he was not received at the airport, but had to drive, according to the editorial, "to State Department, the equivalent of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet with Secretary Powell. This is the same Powell who drove to the airport to meet the president of Equatorial Guinea who was accorded the treatment worthy of a visiting head of state."
The editorial went on to say: "At a time when the country is bleeding from all its pores, when the economy is in a tailspin and the polity is overheating, we expect the president to roll up his sleeves, jump into the trenches and lead the spirited struggle to tease a realistic way out of this muddle. But either out of a myopic understanding of the crisis at hand, or just a plain disdain for the country, our president jumped on another flight of fancy. All we can be reminded of is the unfortunate image of Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burns."
But the most interesting part of the editorial was in the conclusion: "At a time when dark clouds are gathering all over Nigeria, this trip is a flight in irresponsibility. And to be sure, Nigeria is in dire straits. The economy sinks deeper into coma. The 2002 budget is yet to be implemented even when the year is in the third quarter. Inflation and interest rates are hitting the roof. The exchange rate is on a yo-yo. The Naira is on a cascade. The Federal Government and the state government owe workers’ salaries and will owe more. Unemployment multiplies daily. Poverty chokes the land.
"The same regime of rudder-lessness and uncertainty pervades the political realm. Four days to the date fixed for local government elections, electoral registers are yet to be received. The electoral commission carries itself like an imperial agent, rather than serving as an unbiased umpire. Violence dogs primaries of political parties. Party conventions are meddled with. Gradually, democracy that we all suffered for is slipping out of hand. The system is being needlessly overheated.
"These are the challenging problems that qualify for a national emergency. And that is the more reason why the president should sit at home and shepherd this country through these turbulent times… Unfortunately, Obasanjo surrounds himself with courtiers who deceive him that he is doing a marvellous job… But the ugly truth is that these are fat lies. Nigeria is going down the slope…"
All we can say to Thisday here is, "Good morning."
Consider also the Vanguard columnist Pini Jason who wrote a piece last Tuesday titled, This Government is Wicked. (Wicked? I wish I could be so sure and bold!) He said, in reaction to the pro-Obasanjo sentiments and statements expressed by a columnist in the Guardian, "President Obasanjo has himself and his advisers to blame for his unpopularity among Nigerians. He and his team of Abacha men and anti-democrats have really annoyed Nigerians. They took Nigerians for granted as if they put their lives on the line to fifth Abacha for Obasanjo and the rump of Abacha men can treat them anyhow. Haba! Look at the crises that litter our political landscape. They are all as a result of Obasanjo bullishly heading in the wrong direction, while pretending that he knows it all.
"Those who say that it is too early to expect miracles from Obasanjo miss the point. After three years, certain directions ought to be discernible, not the confusion we have everywhere. It seems we have to wait for Godot!"
That is precisely the point we made three years ago. Directions cannot be discerned because the ship has strayed right from the onset. The "confusion we have everywhere" is precisely because the ship is sinking and the captain has abandoned the wheel, as the editorial cited above has indicated.
Mr. Pini Jason is advising us to wait for the Godot, whatever that means. However, you do not wait at the middle of nowhere. Unless you waive and shout loudly, the rescue team would not know that there is someone alive seeking rescue. Which is the reason why the nation must come together, in unison once more, to chase this administration out of office as it did with others before. We owe that woman a moral obligation to save her from her wicked guardian. We must find her not only a better guardian but also a better husband.
The ground for that consensus is gradually becoming firmer, its voice stronger. Even at this early stage, people like Wole Soyinka have started making obvious comparisons between the regime of Obasanjo and that of Abacha. By the end of this year such comparisons will be odious, as the English would say. The only person that Obasanjo will be compared with then will be himself. He will have no parallel in history. He will take over the trophy of bad governance from whoever is holding it among our past leaders now. He will become not only the champion, but also the symbol and embodiment of maladministration.
The framework for chasing him out of power is already on ground. We do not need any movement or organization to fight him from overseas, certainly not a NADECO or anything similar. Nigeria is operating a democracy, or at least, that is the benchmark rules of governance to which Obasanjo has sworn to employ as his modus operandi. The constitution has specified a definite time and a definite procedure for his exit. It is not discretionary, not a promise, not a concession, but a duty which he swore to undertake. Anything less would tantamount to courting a trouble of a proportion far more catastrophic than he could imagine.
We would not like to sound alarmist but no rational mind will rest assured that everything is well with 2003 in view of the obvious things that happened regarding the constitution of independent electoral commission, state independent electoral commissions, local government elections, voters registers, and so on. How sure can we trust a government that would withhold, for two years, funds required to renew voters register, a constitutional pre-requisite for any nationwide election? How reliable is a government that does not believe in fairness but has an insatiable penchant for scheming to gain political advantage for its party or officials while executing every statutory function?
How can we trust electoral commissioners who were appointed to ensure the political survival of their incumbent masters rather than seek to offer equal opportunity to all parties? How competent is a government to conduct free and fair elections if it cannot even contain the violence that has characterized the primaries of its party? How safe are we when the deliberate mistakes that terminated previous republics are eagerly repeated today with a recklessness of the stupid and the impunity of the tyrant?
The answer to all these questions is that Nigerians must learn to stick to their guns, come 2003. If we want an end to tyranny and incompetence we must be ready to terminate the lifespan of this government come 2003, in spite of whatever crude and desperate effort it makes in its dying minute. We must be on the supremacy of the constitution and the democratic process over the ambitions and dictates of Obasanjo.
He has nowhere to hide. Nigerians can see right through him. He has lost the genuine sympathy of his party members. In the past three years he has used excessive resources and influence to get things done his own way only, both in the party and the government. But victory extracted at the instance of undue influence and injustice could only compel hate and command repulsion. Here the dictum of Danfodio must be remembered: An empire can endure with unbelief but never with injustice.
The ruling PDP and the President’s campaign managers are boasting of incumbency and access to insurmountable amounts of resources. Adamu Ciroma, the chief campaign manager of Obasanjo, once asserted that since they could not be defeated when they were yet to ascend power, they couldn’t be defeated now when they are in it. What a tragedy to reason this way!
This quickly reminds us of Pharaoh. He once boasted to his Egyptian subjects saying, "Oh my people! Does not the power of Egypt belong to me and aren’t these rivers flowing beneath me? Do not you see?" Few years later, the Almighty made the rivers to flow over him.
It is déjà vu. We have seen and heard it before in the NPC, NPN, SDP and UNCP, successively. Their control over power appeared invincible in the respective republics and regimes they led. They perfected all strategies of winning through persuasion, coercion and rigging. However, they have been reduced to history.
This returns us to our simile with the Titanic. When its engineer perfected its plan, completed its construction, he marvelled at his work and boasted, saying, "Even God cannot sink this ship." And that is precisely why it sunk, in spite of its meticulous engineering, its giant size, and the calibre of its passengers. Likewise, Obasanjo and other schemers who boast of ingenuity, wealth and power should know that above their force is the superior and inexorable force of the Almighty which He specially reserves for the tyrannical and the boastful. We must learn to depend on Him only for our salvation.