Obasanjo: Ask IBB and Abacha Forgiveness
Fulanis say four things must never be trusted. I will mention only one today: Laamu, or Power. And in Obasanjo I see the import of their maxim more than in any Nigerian ruler before him.
It was disgusting to learn what I never wanted to believe. Though I have muted its possibility many times, I never believed that Obasanjo would be so foolish to tread the path of his humiliated predecessors. I thought, from his display of mammy-market brand of scholarship and his newly acquired born-again status, Obasanjo will be eager to the reach 2007 mark, when, as a born-again, he will throw away the yolk of leadership and retire to God, seeking His Forgiveness for whatever crimes and sins he has been committing throughout his life. Alas, he has fallen into the cheap trap of wanting to delay his departure and, to hold the nation to the indefinite spell of his caprice.
It was barely a two ago when he told a world gathering that he was under pressure to remain in power beyond 2007, something which, according to him, he has been resisting. Much earlier, he has assured the world that he will not stay in power beyond his present tenure. I believed him, at least on this matter, all along, because even the most docile cow, except the one with coconut head, if it exists, would hesitate to borrow from the imprudence of a chain of predecessors.
Obasanjo was caught in the shameful act of circulating a draft constitution at the ongoing political reform conference in which he seeks, among other things, to extend his tenure, along with that of the governors, by two years, implicitly. The manner in which the document was published and circulated was very disgraceful. The Presidency did not have the courage to attribute its name to it, and if it were not for the fear that the identity of the authors was about to be discovered, it would have remained anonymous forever. But Agabi, a former minister of justice and now an adviser to the President, bulged and said it is indeed the orchestration of “the executive.” The conference snubbed the President and said, “It is too late.” What a shame!
Until now, two reasons, I thought could have prevented Obasanjo from falling into the self-succession ensnare. One of them was that he was not leaving power for the first time. He has experienced the inner bitterness of losing it and tasted the fruits of fulfilling the promise to hand it over to someone, willingly and amicably. He was for two decades remembered as the only military ruler who handed over power to civilians. Logically, therefore, the desire to repeat that glory would have superseded whatever incentive is there to betray it.
The second reason is criticism of the self-succession bid of his predecessors who attempted to hold on to their seats as babies cling to their mothers. Gowon was the first, though today the waning memory of man and the profoundly corrupt atmosphere in the country has turned him into a saint of a sort. He ruled for nine years and more than once postponed the day he intended to handover power to civilians. He was eventually toppled by Obasanjo and his comrades in 1975. The next person who was very reluctant to transfer power to civilians was Babangida; he finally caved in to pressure at a time when the whole nation was tired of his fickleness. The third was Abacha, and in him too, like in the case of Obasanjo, I never believed that he would entertain the desire to stay put. I was thus shocked when his wife, in a BBC Hausa interview, confirmed the suspicion.
When Obasanjo’s failure to consult reason and his reluctance to abide by the historical event that earned him a celebrity status are added to his shameful rigging of 2003 elections, we are left with a bare rock personality that is characterised by recklessness and greed. This has forced us to reconsider the acclaimed merits of his tenure as military head of state. His handing over in 1978, it must be clear by now, was not a child of his thought but one prompted by the undertaking of his immediate predecessor, Murtala, to which other military officers were committed.
Since the desire to extend his tenure is now established beyond doubt, I find it more rewarding to turn our attention to examining the reasons behind what has become an undesirable syndrome in the history of contemporary Nigeria. If it were something that happened once with Gowon in the early seventies, we would have regarded it as accidental, or treated it as an exception, to the norm of our political development. But a blunder in history which successively repeated itself three times legitimately earns itself the notorious label of a syndrome which we are forced to properly study and for which a remedy is necessary. I have therefore, for the rest of this article, decided to turn away from flogging Obasanjo, for that is a punishment that will be meted on him by several other writers in the near future. Rather, I will concentrate on studying, albeit briefly, the roots of the tazarce syndrome to which I believe we must find an everlasting solution.
Why do our leaders, as did many African and Arab leaders, endeavour to remain in power by all means? There could be many reasons but five are easily discernible to any dispassionate analyst. The first is natural rule of self-preservation which expresses itself here in the desire of an incumbent to perpetuate his power. As a leader of a country like Nigeria where the bulk of power is deposited at the centre; with the prevalent corruption and the absence of rule of law and due process in distribution of resources and execution of projects; with virtually the entire political elite becoming subjects to necessity of wealth or slaves of its vanity; it is difficult for any executive at the centre or the periphery to maintain his moral decency and live by his words when it comes to parting away with power. Under such conditions, the chances that the leader will succumb to the natural rule of self preservation are very high. Moral obligations, like conducting free and fair elections and sticking to constitutional provisions regarding tenure, become a cumbersome consignment that could be dispensed with at the instance of natural desire. The animal in man, or the animal called man, therefore, relocates quickly from the lofty position of moral rectitude that makes him unique among other animals to the low position of moral barrenness that is common to other members of the kingdom.
Obasanjo has returned at a unique time in our history, when coups are outdated, when the nation itself is under privatization, when there few who are ready to swim against the tide of corruption in a post ideological era, and, more importantly, when the country is at the crossroads, politically. The urge to benefit from the resources at his disposal in such a free atmosphere as well as the opportunity to shape the future of Nigeria along his dream becomes irresistible.
The second reason is the group pressure which I alluded to in my previous essays. This is the angle from which the President speaks when he complains of “intense pressure from people to extend my tenure.” Those who surround the President, which include people from his party, tribe and religion, have been enjoying the colossal power in the Presidency for six years now. They have enjoyed the power to do and undo, to hire and fire. 2003, and now 2007 appeared ages away at the beginning of his tenures. Suddenly, now, with 2007 only two years away, these people are confronted with the hard fact of retiring into where they were before, into our status of ordinary citizens who contend daily with problems of insecurity, poverty, unemployment and abuse. Let Obasanjo look around and see how many AGIPs are on his team, the same people misdirected IBB into the idea of self-succession.
In fact, members of this group include the governors who, with very few exceptions, are enjoying the mismanagement of state and local governments’ funds. Twenty-five of them we learnt recently are under the dreaded lens of EFCC. They have reduced states to the status of personal estates which they can plunder at will. It is easy to read the motive of these governors, ministers, presidential advisers and assistants when they attempt to preserve their positions by pushing Obasanjo to the brink, as did the lieutenants of Babangida and Abacha before.
The third is what I call the web of evil effect. In the past six years, this country has suffered form the ruling elites’ pervasive invasion of its treasury and reckless disregard to the rule of law. They have committed so many crimes, did so many wrongs, stepped on so many toes, all in the bid to accumulate wealth and retain power. And according to the maxim of Brutus, the evil of these men do will be alive after 2007 when they will be stripped of their immunity and the scams will, as usual, be copiously reported in magazines for the world to see.
The evil of greed, apart from that of fear, is equally persuasive. The recent scam over the sale of federal houses is enough a pointer to the avariciousness of today’s ruling elite. We are overwhelmed by the manner serving and retired military officers and political office holders were able to produce the average of eighty million naira each at the turn of this single instance. Privatization of large public corporations like NEPA and NNPC, NITEL, NPA, etc, which are yet to be concluded, and unfettered prospect to squander our treasuries offers them what seems to be limitless more opportunities, if we are to judge from how Ajakouta was sold out. Why should such prospects end simply because a constitution demands so, when the constitution could be changed by an easy chorus of the ruling party?
So, either from the angle of fear or from the perspective of greed, the persuasion of group pressure is expected to be strong. Members of Obasanjo’s group are begging to postpone the day of reckoning. Let us assure them, as Nigerians, that that day, no matter how long it is delayed, will certainly come. Guided by the maxim of Machiavelli, they should know that whoever postpones an inevitable war to a later date does so to his disadvantage.
The fourth factor is the self-delusion that these leaders may be suffering from. I have heard some people saying that Obasanjo is the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria. I hope he is not using this as a basis for extending his tenure because what they mean with Nigeria is simply their pockets. Even if he is given ten more years, he will, by the style of his incompetent leadership, leave Nigeria engrossed in more problems than he met it in 1999. He does not have the capacity to solve the problems of NEPA or the refineries, for example. Over N300billion has been pumped into NEPA but it generates today less than half the power it used to generate under Abacha. Obasanjo must not think that Nigeria is impotent of producing a better president than him even within the mediocre herd of the ruling PDP. If he drops dead today, would that be the end of Nigeria?
The fifth and last reason is mathematical. The possibility that the present ruling elite can play with the intelligence of Nigerians by pulling some strings, especially those that divide us, is always high. We are a docile nation. Imagine what happened during the April 19 election. That is the worst assault that could be inflicted on the conscience of any nation, the worst abuse that could be meted on its people. Yet, when the main opposition candidate threatened mass action, he was rebuffed almost unanimously by te elite. Go to the courts, he was told, knowing well what the courts are in this country; finish the democratic process, he was instructed, I remember by the labour leader among many, tacitly approving the continuity of the incumbent’s treachery. What locus does the labour now have in fighting against Obasanjo when it turned down the chance to cooperate in removing him? The possibility that Nigerians will remain docile when Obasanjo extends his tenure would strengthen their political recklessness. I doubt if the leader of the Transition Monitoring Group can make true his threat that Nigerians will fight against it with their blood. Why didn’t they do that in 2003?
Are we not living in the same world with Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Georgia, Tajikistan, Ecuador and Togo, or recent? The difference is the hypocritical stand of our elite and the gullibility of our people. The latter think newspapers alone can fight their battles. Unless we are propelled by ethnicity, or other primordial reasons – like the June 12 saga, or on the instigation of the political elite, we have never risen against a dictator. If it were our culture to do so, we would not have sunk this deep into the abyss of corruption and poverty amidst our plenty in number and in wealth.
Other reasons could be proffered. Whether Obasanjo will succeed in his attempt to extend his tenure or not is left to the future. I have twice addressed this issue before. I have pointed out in previous discussions how cheaply the self-succession bid could be achieved. He will certainly buy the national assembly in his bid to amend the constitution to accommodate his whim; he will certainly be supported by the majority of governors who have equally fallen victims to the vanity of accumulation and profound influence of power; majority of the houses of assembly will support the amendment once paid some peanuts and their re-election assured or threatened. This is a post ideological era and money appears to be the end for many. So far, only one governor, Bafarawa of Sokoto State, has kicked against the idea of self-succession. “Nigerians,” he said, “have tolerated us so long. It is six years now, and we are even lucky to talk of eight years. No set of governors ever got this opportunity in this country. We must leave by 2007.” The others, it appears, are anxiously waiting for its success.
The question, therefore, is not whether Obasanjo will succeed or not. The question is whether Obasanjo will consult his conscience and abide by the oath of office he took to protect the constitution and live by its provisions. He vowed to stay for a single, additional and last term of four years as the constitution demanded. His conscience, if upright, will certainly ask him to stick to his words.
He may wish to also consult history. Our recent history will tell him that all leaders that sought to stay in power longer than the dates they promised ended up humiliated. They cannot run against time. They have to leave one day, stripped of every respect and honour. Though his regime shares the history of their corruption and deception, he can spare himself the humiliation that greeted their departure. The Africa in which he claims to be a statesman is replete with his kind: Numeri, Siad Barre, Mengistu, Sadat, Mubarak, Mobutu, Gaddafi, etc. History too, will thus advise him to leave on 29 May 2007.
Finally, Obasanjo should confess and seek forgiveness from Gowon, Maryam Abacha, and IBB. With his hands clasped and straightened to his stooped forehead, he should kneel down before each of them and say, “Forgive me, for I have sinned. I promise never to trust power again.”