OBASANJO: 50 Days of Blunders
I am one of the many Nigerians who believed you as a savior. If some have lost faith in that belief due to your policies so far, I have not. You still enjoy the benefit of my doubt and stand a chance to be graded as better than your immediate predecessors of the last fourteen years. Whether I will also give up my faith later depends on where the balance of your performance tilts.
Having said that, I seek your indulgence to discuss some grievous imperfections that have so far characterized your first 50 days and which, if not checked, will certainly lead to woeful failure.
Phobia for Opposition
There are indications that you have a phobia for a strong legislature. You want a rubber-stamp senate and there are adequate proofs to this import so far. You could have made our Fourth Republic livelier if you had supported Dr. Okadigbo. The beauty of a democracy is only appreciated if the executive and the legislature are seen debating objectively on issues before arriving at a decision that will be in the best interest to the population.
People then are better informed about the intention of government. Those intending to step into your shoes one day are also given the opportunity to learn the art of democratic governance. So far, we have missed that chance. It was not surprising therefore that your ministerial list was passed so easily against the insurmountable agitation against some candidates. The screening was clearly a farce. Both yourself and your party have failed us here, miserably.
The whole country is indignant of your ministerial list. In one strike, you have dispersed the crowd of your admirers: the new generation of politicians, the PDP and the core North that stood by you during the election. A good politician should not have committed this costly blunder so cheaply.
Your list included only members of the old brigade who have on several occasions brought the country down on its knees. It confirms your membership to the old and “wasted generation” that believes in its monopoly of wisdom, knowledge and competence. Without sharing power with younger ones, do these ‘wise’ elders hope to be buried with their ‘wisdom’? If youth is evil, then are we correct to judge that you were not wise enough to lead Nigeria in the seventies?
We also wonder how you will fight corruption with this class of politicians. Neither the public, nor you the president, is confident that your ministers will keep their promise. For this, except the sacred cows among them, you made all to sign undated letters of resignation. What a poor president! It seems you have appointed them only under political duress, that some of them have invested so much in making you the president and, despite your post-election promise that such investments are null, you have to appease them this much. Others, the afenifere, as you correctly judged, were barking for a cake. You threw one or two at them, and an argument ensued: “do we take it or leave it.” True to character, they finally jumped at it. Today, they are singing, “we are with you.” There is a late comer who is saying in his characteristic arrogant verbosity, “we do not have a constitution so we cannot practice a democracy.” Please throw another cake. He will also jump at it and start singing your praises.
The greatest detriment of your list is its inability to preserve the ethnic/religious balance of political power in the country. We thought your modesty is strong enough to prevent you from being prejudiced. For that, we rallied around you to become the president. Unfortunately, bad advisers have made you believe that a section of this country is its bane; all others, especially those from your home state, are angels and the most competent.
No reasonable person will deny the fact that the core North and Muslims have been unjustifiably underrepresented in the present dispensation. Following the agitation against it, I know you now regret it. Hence, you tried to heal this wound by giving them prime ministries. But the action in the first place was totally avoidable and the attempt to heal it might be too late for some minds.
Your party also is surely disappointed with you on this. They said you did not consult them before submitting the final list. I am afraid. How I wish this may not cost you your second term. This is especially so because by the time you successfully cleanse the country of corruption, including that of rigging elections, little room will be left for the party to maneuver another electioneering fraud. Also, as you plan to rid the country of hunger, there may be less empty stomachs that may be ready to sell their votes for a dime.
Please do not try to sell the competence excuse next time. You deliberately refused to take a deep dive into the human resource ocean of this country and bring out its precious stones, pearls and jewels. Rather, for a reason best known to you, you were satisfied with the garbage floating its surface.
Lost Political Investments
I have never learnt where a good politician found it necessary to declare that all those who assisted in his election have lost their investment. Statements like this, in my humble consideration, are too contemptuous in politics. If you are truly so bold, you could have said so before the election. I know you are eager to allay fears that you will not dance to the tune of those responsible for our predicament.
Today we all know that this is not true. The public believes that two generals, both of questionable records, largely financed your election. While you find it convenient to unleash this expedience on one of them, you are eagerly declaring dividends to the other. The latter you were eager to make a chairman of your transition committee; you reportedly wept at his sickness; and made him a minister at all cost even as there was enough disapproval and fear against his health, security and political records. Your cabinet, you were reported saying, is incomplete without him. The papers have reported two of your ministers, this general inclusive, were not requested to sign undated letters of resignation. You have not yet denied the report. Some cows are certainly sacred. Even among the sacred, some are more sacred.
The core North that has voted for you en masse was shocked to find out that you have suddenly made them a sacrificial lamb. Henceforth, you can damp their concerns with a brutal measure of insensitivity since you no longer need their votes. All you need is an alliance based on religion and tribe as shown in the contest for the senate president and your case will pass through.
The Probe Panels
Another area that is full of blunders is your pledge to investigate and fight past corruption and human right abuses. Common sense, if not modesty, should have made you include all past regimes, military or civilian, right from the beginning. After all, you have once said corruption is a timeless crime. You extended the mandate of the panel on human right abuses to include your regime only after some past heads of state have protested.
Here again, the nation wonders how you can effectively fight corruption with the present senate and cabinet composition.
There is a lot of cry also about how past military administrators ransacked their state treasuries. We feel your government should have intervened decisively to include it under the jurisdiction of your corruption panel. Leaving it at the hands of state governors and houses of assembly is another failure in resolve. Some of the governors, powerful traditional rulers or members of your party might have participated in the looting. If so, we can understand their hesitation as well as yours.
Now that you have included your past tenure among those to be probed by the Oputa panel, we are left in darkness about its constitutional implication on your presidency. Are you, or any person holding a public office, ready to resign your position in case you are not able to convince the nation about your “humanness” in the past? If this clause is not included in the anti-corruption bill already submitted to the Senate, it will be another clear manifestation of moral bankruptcy.
I am totally in support of the retirement of ex-governors in the army, if not for the approach. They are just a bunch of ____, anyway. Most of them, as you correctly foresaw, are too arrogant and ambitious to be maintained on a payroll of a democratic government. But I wonder why you gave up halfway. Why not also retire former PRC members, the people who tasted power at its peak? Have you given up on the issue of corrupt ADCs, security chiefs and so on?
I believe the pressure was too much, so you caved in. You recently announced that the exercise is over. So fast? Haba! I do not expect a General to blink so soon. What you could have done instead was to impartially treat each officer, big or small, based on his merit. Again you would have saved yourself accusations of prejudice and you could have cleansed the army even of unborn bad eggs. The situation as it is now has fallen well below the margin of a panacea for any future coup.
One of the greatest shortcomings of ex-generals in political offices is their inability to do away with dictatorial tendencies and accept the democratic principles of consultation and tolerance of contrary opinion. A typical case is Egypt. Its democracy is no better than a military dictatorship. In fact, the regime is as brutal and insensitive as any bad military regime.
Something like that is taking shape in Nigeria under you. Unfortunately for us, with the present composition of the senate and its leadership, with your ability and intention to forge alliances based on ethnicity and religion, it is easy for you to make the executive arm of government undemocratically powerful. You are then free to either totally ignore the senate or simply turn it into a rubber stamp or even buy it out. In your association so far, there are remarkable signs for all these possibilities. The way the PTF was scrapped leaves a lot to be desired in the practice of democracy. Despite agitation in the House and the Senate, you remained adamant and went ahead with business as usual.
You have also abandoned your party. It seems you do not assume them relevant any longer. Who is relevant is the General who was smart to hijack the effort of others; or your tribesmen who denounced you at a time when you needed them most but who today rapaciously and shamelessly declare that you are one of theirs. I only wish it will not be too late, as some wounds could be difficult to heal.
Hostage of the Past
Let me also alert you to a more dangerous weakness. It appears that you have made yourself hostage of your past. You look back at your first regime as ideal and glorious. When you said you would start the Fourth Republic from where you stopped, it meant that you have condemned, in one statement, all our effort and history in the past twenty years. This is too immodest and arrogant. Okay, assume that your stand is correct, and mind you it is not, can you similarly reject other developments of global dimension that have direct bearing on your performance today? The price of oil alone is enough to open your eyes to the generation difference between 1979 and 1999, let alone developments in international relations and information technology. That regime, I will be kind enough to remind you, was a military dictatorship of the seventies, the age of Bokassa, Mobuto, Numeiri, Shah, Idi Amin, etc. This is supposed to be a democracy.
Consider for example your statement that you will “re-introduce Universal Primary Education and make it a success.” I doubt whether you have asked yourself whether this is what that sector requires right now. Education experts will enlighten you on the morbid effect of that hyperplasia and on what we need now to upgrade and maintain the present educational infrastructure to a global standard. Professor Fafunwa and Jibril Aminu are still alive and within your reach.
It is not clear what will be the consequences of these mistakes. But certainly you are bound to pay for them. No political blunder goes unpunished. The more you continue with them however, the more severe their corresponding punishment would be. If you carry your party and the Senate along in future decisions, some could be forgiven. If you will stop to be partial, more still will be forgiven. But if you think you have not made any mistake or you do not give a hoot, there is one thing that is indisputable: the day of reckoning, I mean next election, are just around the corner. Lastly I warn you against driving forward through the reverse mirror. You will crash within the next few meters.
11 July, 1999