Obasanjo and 2003
Let us return to politics today, even if reluctantly. I have read a number of articles and heard many people, both over the radio and during personal conversations, discussing the chances of the President getting re-elected in 2003. I do not exonerate myself, for the theme has featured a number of times in this column.
There is a sort of consensus among many, I would not like to say most, northerners that the North will surprise Obasanjo in 2003, not with a success as they did in 1999, but with failure, as a proof of what some of us perceive as his unapologetic betrayal of the region. Space will not allow us here to present an inventory of the complaints that constitute that betrayal. We will rather work on the assumption that the material is current not archival, having been discussed in a better way several times by other commentators, like our indefatigable elder⎯Wada Nas.
What we are presenting this week is the first dimension of the matter: the legitimacy and justification of the President’s ambition to seek for re-election. We will postpone the question of his success until next week.
First of all, let us dispel any doubt regarding his ambition to contest the Presidential elections in 2003. I have heard him denying the sponsorship of the ongoing campaign for his re-election, but he should understand that especially with our recent experience in self-succession manoeuvres under Babangida and Abacha administrations, we have developed formidably efficient radars that enable us to accurately sense approaching political objects.
I do not doubt what he said about sponsorship. He doesn’t need to sponsor them. He was sponsored in 1998 when he had nothing, having just then come out of prison. Yet, he won. Today, he is the President of a company that could rightly be called Nigeria Plc., with enough assets under his control that make the few billions used for his election in 1999 look peanuts. In his present position, there will be thousands of people ready to serve him as an expression of gratitude to the benefits of associating with him as the President, or as an insurance that covers present and future benefits. No wonder, Nzeribe is at it again, tasking his self once more with convincing other parties (3 or 9?) to nominate him as a consensus candidate.
Perhaps, the ‘self-appointed’ campaigners for Obasanjo 2003 might have picked the ambition of his second term just as you and I would have done from our formidable political radars. They are only being smarter, exploiting the information they gathered from the equipment to harness their personal interests. The best servant does not wait for his master to demand for an apple. He learns how to present it at the right time, to the delight of his master.
I will return to Nzeribe and co. later in the discourse. Meanwhile, let me categorically say that my agreement with the president about sponsorship does not form a premise strong enough to validate the conclusion that he is not interested in extending his stay in Aso Rock beyond May 29, 2003.
But why do we expect that Obasanjo will be in haste to announce his ambition for a second term? He is not yet half way through the first. An experienced President like him would like to keep his intention close to his chest. In fact, if he would say anything, it is expected to be a wrong signal, such that the ensuing stampede of ambitions will clearly reveal the identity of other contestants. He would then have a good chance to plan and execute strategies that will exhaust their energies and resources before the real fight begins. This is what is expected of a General.
Nor am I saying that Obasanjo should not run for a second term. Sam. He has every right to do so and his ambition is supported by the tenet of democracy, history and his position as a General.
Democracy supports the President running in 2003. The provision for a second term in the constitution presupposes that four years are too brief for a good leader to complete the implementation of his good programs. Now, unless the President wants us to believe that he does not see himself as the good leader that requires enough time to carry his reform programs to their logical conclusion, we have no ground whatsoever in the concept of democracy that would support such an inference. His record between 1978 and 1999 does not support the contrary either. During that period, the President has always posed as the able physician that has an encyclopaedic knowledge of our illness. He has been critical of every government that came after his. Now, if he says he is not running, we are bound to ask what has happened to his vast treasure of knowledge on political construction from which he used to consistently source the advices he gave to previous leaders?
If we are patient enough to look at the present, we will immediately see that he is not devoid of ideas on where to go from here. His compass, or say GPS, is still functional. He has outlined programs which he believes will take the country out of the circle of poverty, inefficiency and corruption. He came when there was shortage of petroleum products, without a single refinery working; when NEPA was suffering from low power generation and poor distribution; when corruption has eaten deep into our political and administrative psyche; when the rehabilitation of our infrastructure was carried out by an unconstitutional organization called the PTF, which he promised to scrap and replace with the more efficient and constitutionally acceptable channel of ministries and state governments; when everything was moving on, except the naira that remained static for five years at N84 per dollar; when only 50 - 60% of the population was living under the poverty line; when security personnel and law enforcement agents were so weak that OPC and ethnic motivated killings were non-existent; when the military and the police were poorly structured and ill-equipped; when...
He promised to change all these, though he was frank to admit that he is not a magician that can make the bad that accumulated over the years to turn good overnight. He needed some time, true, which God has granted him. Nigerians are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their votes: the problem of fuel will now be approached in a better way. The fault of previous governments was to maintain the refineries and regulate their products. His government has concluded, and nobody can stop him, that the best option is to sell them out to private entrepreneurs in order to enhance their efficiency through the momentum of private ownership. The NNPC itself should be privatised in pursuit of the same objective. Once this is done, and with the removal of subsidy on petroleum products and their price allowed to flow along the smooth terrain of the Nigerian market, we will have abundant petrol in our filling stations and the price of petrol will be forced to obey the law of gravity, just as it happened to fertilizer.
Rehabilitation of infrastructure is going on at a faster rate than how it was under President Sani Abacha. The places of the slow moving heavy trucks and equipment of Julius Berger, Dantata and Sawoe, Sterling and Strabag have been taken over by the wheel barrows, diggers and shovel of indigenous contractors.
Stocking schools and hospitals with essential teaching materials and drugs, the purchase of buses and many other projects are also going on better than during the late Abacha. There is also a lot of progress on agriculture and poverty. Farmers are glad that they are encouraged today by government to produce crops without subsidy (dependence on government is bad); they should be on their own. In fact they must work hard to instantly acquire skills that will enable them compete with their counterparts in America and Europe. As such poverty level has progressed to 70%, to quote the statistics of the President. The poverty alleviation program was allocated up to N10billion last year, just one-eighth of the cost of the tokunbo aircraft. And conscious of the large percentage of our agrarian population, farmers this year will get benefits during the third quarter, perhaps as early as August, when they need them most! The naira in their pockets has been given a push down the devaluation lane by 50%, so far.
So much progress has been made. The reader needs only to stop and look around to find enough evidence to prove that the President is on track, working hard to fulfil his promise to Nigerians.
So the President has a lot of programs and we will be only fair if we would allow him a second term. That will ensure that the more tasking programs, like privatisation, would mature to completion, the masses and workers would then afford their widest smile. We must not allow our Messiah to abandon us halfway through our journey to salvation. We are fortunate that a second term is permissible under the constitution.
Just as the President is not tired with his programs, we will not be tired of finding reasons that will justify his second term. Another reason is historical antecedent. Without seeking to take the reader back into our archives, I would like to remind Nigerians that Obasanjo is not the first to seek re-election or to attempt a self-succession manoeuvre in office. Both Tafawa Balewa and Shehu Shagari have won second terms. Babangida has tactfully extended his rule to eight years⎯the longest term any civilian President would be granted by the constitution⎯and Abacha stayed for five years⎯a term longer than that of Shehu Shagari, the first Executive President. The question is, if this is the rule, why should Obasanjo for any reason be an exception? A sincere electorate must allow him a second term, as it did to others, particularly given his mountain of achievements in the past two years.
I have just learnt over the radio during the break that I took after writing the last paragraph that the President is pleading with the Nzeribe group to end their pursuit of making him a consensus candidate. Well, I believe that they are exercising their constitutional right. They will continue, as they did before. We are even awaiting a million-man march as we saw during Abacha, in accordance with their tradition.
We have seen that from whatever angle we look at it the President is most likely to contest in 2003. It is his right both constitutionally and logically. One problem however remains. We have looked at the ambition and its justification, what can we say about its implication and consequences? To know exactly what the implication of the ambition of a second term or self-succession means we need to look back into history.
Have second terms lasted in Nigeria? No. They never did, though winning their elections by the incumbent has on both occasions been successful. The next question is has self-succession succeeded? Again no. On both occasions, it failed, the first ended in disgrace, the second was fatal.
It is not necessary for history to repeat itself. There are differences between Balewa, Shagari, Babangida and Abacha on the one hand, and Obasanjo on the other. There is no Nzeogwu today to execute a coup similar to that of 1966. There is no Buhari in the army to topple the executive president, as it happened in 1983. We will be surprised to see any of his type now because we assume that they have all been sacked at the inception of this administration. There is no Abiola to run for June 12 from the Southwest. He is already dead and has long been buried together with his mandate in the same grave. May their souls rest in peace! Finally, there is no ‘apple’ for the President to taste, as was done to the late Abacha.
But whether such differences are enough to guarantee a substantial difference in political yield is something that no one would exactly tell now. Three things are involved, generally speaking. One, the President must convince us through his performance only to vote for him voluntarily. Two, he has to seek the approval of the Southwest, the main agent in the termination of second terms. He seems to be working hard on that lane and whether he will succeed is best known to people like Falae, not Ige, who has dropped from a presidential candidate to a campaign manager for Obasanjo. Yoruba votes are important for him because he will find it difficult to get a free ride from other regions this time. Three, he must work hard to particularly improve the standard of living of average Nigerians. Seeking re-election while achieving none of these is tantamount to digging the grave of the current experiment in democracy.
But there are specific areas that will present some difficulty. They may appear difficult now, but if he knows how to play the cards in his hand well he will overcome them easily. Until we discuss them next week, I advise Mr. President to remain calm for there is no cause for panic. 2003 is a foregone conclusion.
13 March 2000