Obasanjo Has Failed
The Decline of a General
We start our discourse today with what the students of logic call a categorical statement: Obasanjo has failed. This may sound swift to some ears. But both the attitude of the general and the reactions of most liberal political commentators leave us with no honest option but to conclude that way. When we wrote Obasanjo: 50 days of Blunders we still had some hope that the General will mend his dictatorial behavior to align with democratic imperatives of the Fourth Republic. I remember saying; "whether I will also give up my faith later depends on where the balance of your performance tilts.” Now the balance has tilted heavily against him. It seems that every step the General took since then has only helped to drift optimists like me to the edge of hopelessness.
The number and categories of Nigerians losing faith in the President is increasing almost everyday. Initially, it was a group of ultra-northern intellectuals and politicians who raised the alarm about his susceptibility to ethnic inclinations. On this ground it opposed his presidency. The group insisted that the North has committed no evil to warrant the surrender of its democratic right before a storm of southern political propaganda. Nevertheless, Northerners ignored the group and accepted the hoodwinking pr puff of the PDP.
The general heralded his ascent to the throne by targeting the territory of his supporters with a laser-guided missile, the SCPC, his appointment of service chiefs and presidential advisers. By the time it landed, the havoc was terrible. The ultra-northern group simply said, “Shebi we told you.” Many of his supporters started climbing the fence that separated them from the opposition. They wished they could sit on the fence to give the General the benefit of the doubt.
However, before they could adjust their position on the fence, the general fired a ballistic missile, the ‘ML 99’, that demolished the fence entirely. You can imagine what they did when they saw it coming. They and a lot more had to seek refuge in the ultra-northern camp. This was the effect that the ministerial list had. Many northerners also saw through the political absurdity of the general who tried to set the northern minorities and Christians against Hausa-Fulani and Muslims generally. His insistence on seeing Danjuma cleared for the defense portfolio against all odds clearly suggested that the general lacked the courage and honesty to give the country the charismatic leadership necessary for the situation. Surprisingly, the supporters he lost were not only northerners but also a good number of minorities from the South. I salute the courage of one of them that rejected the office of a junior minister in a baby ministry.
As if that was not enough, as a general, the president wanted to completely ravage the enemy territory completely. He was also not satisfied with the efficacy of his message, the damage ability of his earlier droppings. So he deployed more mega-tonne atomic bombs, the ‘RL 99s’ sorties. This was intended to make the writing on the wall clearer not only to the few northerners remaining in his camp but also to the legislature and the judiciary. The relocation to Lagos order, the defense postings and the ambassadorial list were all meant to serve this purpose, or at least had that effect. We are already seeing the general at loggerheads with the legislature only three months after their honeymoon. Their matrimony is presently gory. He has defied its motion against the relocation order and publicly chastised them of incapacity and idleness. All Nigerians in the House other than those from his ethnic group were able to read the political script encapsulated in the relocation order: the person whom they thought will help them fight against the domination of the northern oligarchy was there to implement his tribal agenda. They formed a gang against what they called “executive high-handedness.” The judiciary, an organ that has all along been independent only in name, is not ready to put up a fight. Let the President ride on. The going has always been rough.
Other missiles helped bring into the opposition additional varieties of Nigerians. For example, human right group and some respected members of the judiciary saw in the anti-corruption bill a reincarnation of the Obasanjo of the 70s who headed a government that massacred university students, maimed Fela’s mother by dropping her from a high building and locked up intellectuals with impunity, to say but a little. The National Assembly, Gani and Bashir Sambo and many others have already cried foul.
By now, it is clear to everyone that Obasanjo is pursuing an AD program as Uncle Bola Ige rightly put it a month ago. As for Balarabe Musa, the President’s problem is Afenifere. To Chief Rotimi Williams, the situation is leading us to a “constitutional anarchy.” To Jonathan Zwingina, the AD has usurped the president from the PDP. To Gani Fawehinmi, the President is a civilian dictator. The Ibos also have now strongly joined the northerners in decrying marginalization. For anyone to support Obasanjo today, he must be one of the three: a Yoruba chauvinist, a political mercenary in the government or a minority suffering from an inferiority complex.
Yet, we would like to assess the president from the perspective of national objectives – or, in this case, the ‘premisses’, when talking about our opening statement - that defined the aspiration of Nigerians during the last elections. Such aspirations centered around three major issues: national reconciliation, democracy and anti-corruption crusade. It will be interesting to evaluate the ‘Messiah’ on each count.
I do not see in anyway how Obasanjo’s action has contributed to national reconciliation. What is rather certain is that he has further dashed the hope of pushing the Federation towards a political equilibrium. Those who genuinely thought he was a good compromise candidate capable of reinvigorating confidence in our nationhood must be embarrassed by his sustained bent towards ethnicity. When he came up with his lists of service chiefs, advisers and ministers, we first thought he was trying to persuade the noisy southwest that has been threatening to secede and who stripped him naked at elections. However, this thought was proved wrong with the relocation to Lagos order, with the defense postings and with his flagrant violation of constitutional procedure and court order.
If this is his shortcut to national reconciliation, he is in for a surprise. The AD and the Afenifere are still demanding nothing less than a sovereign national conference. Whatever that means, it is certainly a consensus among the southwest elite. They have repeatedly threatened that unless the Federation is restructured according to their terms, they will break away. It is not only the language of Fasehun, Ige, Soyinka or Adesanya. It is also the one of liberal minds like Chief Rotimi Williams. I think it is a mistake to write it off as an elitist propaganda, as Balarabe Musa recently claimed. The student of Nigerian history knows that it has been deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Yoruba for over fifty years now. And since the president is all out to satisfy this group, let other Nigerians start dusting their books on constitutional law. A sovereign national conference, in one form or another, is inevitable.
So we are not yet done with the monster of political instability. It is still around, as much as ever. In fact, Obasanjo’s romance with the Afenifere is augmenting its strength. He is fast pushing liberal Nigerians from other regions towards the politics of tribal nationalism. For example, some politicians in the North are already challenging the monopoly of the Yoruba to tribal politics. Therefore, they are making public their intention to form a party on this premise. The President is responsible for this. He appears to be comfortable with the false assurance of those few northerners exploiting his position for their selfish gains. Let him realize that mercenaries are a liability to the Prince. They are useless in war, a burden in peace.
Many evidences question Obasanjo’s status as a symbol of hope for the success of our democracy. First, he finds it difficult to relieve himself of the clutches of martial behavior. Second, he was glad to come to power through the collaboration of undemocratic forces in the country, the people who have consistently rigged elections for the past twenty years. He has surrounded himself with former military colleagues who, like him, hardly comprehend the logic of civilian rule. There is presently a well-founded fear that his administration is working towards running the country as a one party state in line with his long held belief that multiparty democracy is not suitable for Africa. This allegation has some element of truth. The General has been pouching, not in East African game reserves, but on other parties in the country, using appointments as baits. His deputy insists that this pouching is necessary to “enable the Obasanjo Administration to positively take on the challenges ahead.”
His blatant violation of constitutional provisions and court order finally makes it difficult to entrust him with the treasure of our democracy. If he will continue to violate court orders or disregard the rulings of the legislature, a day will come in which his legitimacy to the presidency will be challenged. And I do not see that day as being far away. The speaker of the House of Representatives is now soliciting for the assistance of the press to fight executive malfeasance. Unknown to him, the press that is itself founded and run on the parochial ideals of ethnic sentiments is happy with such a malfeasance. It has responded that let the Speaker fight his own battle alone. They will do theirs when the time comes, implying that it is certainly not now.
Consequently, democracy has to wait for another custodian. This one is its predator.
Some of us were naïve to believe that Obasanjo is capable of fighting corruption in Nigeria. Dr. Bala Usman alerted the general that corruption would not sit down to be punched at, left right center. Well, we saw the two, Obasanjo and corruption, in the ring on many occasions in the past 100 days. Each time, the general suffered a knockout during the first round. One day, I had the privilege of watching one of his horrible performances with a friend. I looked at my friend, my mouth open, and exclaimed, “Ah, Kilo n sele? Wat kind General be dis?” My friend replied: “Kosi kankan”.
First, we read from the papers how he outsmarted his vice-president during the election of leaders of the National assembly. His candidates however were not the best as expected of a general preparing to defeat corruption. Both were strong supporters of “Abacha must continue”. One should have asked then, why is a person set to probe Abacha recruiting his assistants?
Well the answer came very fast, thanks to The News and Tell magazines. Both leaders of the National Assembly have questionable pasts. One is already gone despite the lackadaisical attitude of the president to bid him farewell. The other is definitely on his way. His alleged friendship to the President is inconsequential. Many others, we are sure, are already in the queue. The News has recently turned their searchlight to the Judiciary. We hope the executive will not come next because by then we can say bye to any anti-corruption crusade. When we wrote Challenges in Fighting Corruption, we asserted that, “the present political elite would be the first casualty in any probe into the mismanagement that took place during the Babangida and Abacha eras.” Today we stand vindicated.
Nigerians should await another tale of massive corruption at the end of the tenure of the present administration, if the present trend continues.
It is usual to read the direction of any government in its first 100 days. As for Uncle Sege’s, the rays of hope from all directions seem to be fading, receding fast into a blackhole. We just hope that by the time he leaves the scene, the stage will not look darker than he found it.
With this prayer, this column would wish a situation would not arise in the future to attract its attention about the president. It does not intend to bother itself any more about the President and his actions. I believe that our immediate environment has more important social and political issues to preoccupy our minds. After all, the same Nigerians who survived the worst forms of maladministration in the past fifteen years will definitely survive this. Let the President have the tenure of his wish.
Whoever does as he pleases,
Will (definitely) see what he displeases.
29 August, 1999