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Friday, May 21, 2010

You're Still Old Brand, Mr. President

You Are Still Old Brand, Mr. President
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
In spite of persistent attempts by government agents and a good portion of the press to conceal his woeful failure over the past four years, Obasanjo admits that he scored a less than average mark during that period. At the national thanksgiving and dedication service last week he was reported to have prayed that his “second and final term would be better.” The papers also reported his self-description as “a brand new president.”
There are indications that Obasanjo has already started gathering disciples for his “brand new President” gospel. Preaching this gospel at the said service, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God assured us that “Nigerians can be sure that they will see a master democrat in this second term of Obasanjo. The Obasanjo that we are about to see in the next four years will be different from the one we used to know.” I believe that this pastor is not alone. There are many others in Abuja and beyond who have already accepted the gospel even before listening to any of its verses, just by virtue of who its apostle is.
Some of us are not ready to suffer a repeat shock. We recall bitterly how the ‘messiah’ propaganda carried us away four years ago. Our preference for Obasanjo in 1999 was largely based on the hope that he will reintroduce a good degree of sanity in governance similar to the one that prevailed during his tenure as a military head of state. On this basis we voted for him, hoping for a forward march that would start yielding dividends even before the end of his first tenure. However, that tenure, which ended a fortnight ago, turned out to be a disaster according to the testimonies and standards of many individuals and organizations at home and abroad. That is how we have learnt to believe in only what we see regarding matters of governance under Obasanjo.
To begin with, the claim to be a “brand new president” who “will be different from the one we used to know” is a clear admission that his failure during his first tenure was deliberate; a calculated attempt in political expediency. It shows that his actions and inactions during the first term were predicated by his desire to secure a second term. Now that he has got the “second and final term”, the inhibitions of such a desire are over. He is free to be an Obasanjo who is “different from the one we used to know.” So the President’s self-description and his pastor’s assurance are more indicting than complimentary.
Which “master democrat” is the pastor assuring Nigerians of, given the president’s four-year dictatorial style of leadership and his 4-19 record? What Obasanjo are we assured of other than the one that emasculated the legislature? What president do we have before us other than the one whose government condoned corruption as much as any other bad government in history?
To become “brand new”, Obasanjo needs to take revolutionary steps that are sharply in contrast to his style during the previous tenure. The zeal for work and commitment to transparency has to permeate through members of his family and cabinet. Its momentum must also be strong enough to affect the conduct of security and law enforcement agents with whom he will check the corruption of governors and civil servants. Unless this is achieved, any claim to being a “brand new president” will remain only a post-election rhetoric, calculated to mollify a nation ‘shocked and awed’ by the massive rigging of 4-19.
Otherwise, I do not see merit playing the most important role in determining his political appointments. As in 1999, patronage and expediency will still reign supreme. He cannot defy his party together and the generals and foot soldiers who did everything possible – good or bad – to ensure his re-election. The party and its aspirants will not allow him spoil their chances in 2007 by his later day romance with prudence and service.
The consequences of daring the party leadership and its members will make Obasanjo capitulate on his dream of leaving a memorable legacy. Right now, there is a fierce competition for ministerial positions from every state. Browsing through the list leaves us with the impression that in its compilation, merit was the least criterion considered.
Talking about national assembly, does Obasanjo feel that he can get his bills passed without any ‘Ghana must go’ that it was accustomed to during his first tenure? Simply put, he is asking them to commit economic suicide. We have witnessed many of them spending well over N50million to get ‘elected’, some as much as N100million and above to become senators. Could they make such a high investment as a sacrifice to the nation without expecting any monetary return apart from their salaries and allowances that are not even enough to maintain their political estates in place? Then they could as well have chosen to work with Buhari as the President.
In his sermon at the thanksgiving service, the fire-spitting President of the Christian Association of Nigeria appealed to “new leaders of Nigeria”, including Obasanjo of course, “to fight corruption at all levels and to refuse to be instrument of corruption.”
The gospel of the Bishop was not new at all. Four years ago, the president was once its apostle when he dreamt of running a transparent government with enough conscience and courage to probe previous corrupt regimes. At his inauguration then, Obasanjo was confident enough to warn us, saying, “there will be no sacred cows.” He added, “Corruption is a crime, and therefore timeless.”
“Aha,” we said, “this guy will extract our rights from those who enjoyed the largesse of corrupt regimes since 1985.” But wiser people did not share our high spirits. I remember Dr. Bala Usman warning Obasanjo that corruption will fight back. And it did with all ferocity. Before Obasanjo could equip himself with the legislation necessary to set up a tribunal to fight it, the corruption monster invaded the Presidency. Half of the corruption in the last four years took place within the presidency, reported Transparency International. Many times the President must have complained of the smell of corruption emanating from the office next to his.
The corruption monster was also fed by the National Assembly and by ministries and parastatals of both federal and state governments. If we will remember, immediately after their inauguration in 1999, allegations of bribery in the national assembly started flying. Later, the legislators received money for impeaching their leaders and the money was right there on national television for everyone to see. As for corruption in various ministries and parastatals, there isn’t better evidence than the indicting publication of the Auditor-General of the Federation.
There were reports of state governors purchasing multimillion-dollar estates overseas in addition to the Saddam-size palaces that are littering elite neighbourhoods like Jabi Road in Kaduna. By the time of their second nomination, no fewer than twelve PDP governors were reported to have cases to answer before the anti-corruption tribunal.
What was the response of our ‘messiah’ then? While not a single minister was ever dismissed on basis of corruption, Obasanjo sacked the Auditor General of the Federation for his revealing publication. Poor Auditor! The PDP governors got their second nomination tickets and all but two have been returned for a second tenure. The same thing happened with ANPP and AD counterparts. They have not shown greater commitment to probity than their PDP colleagues. Business to the governors in both parties has already resumed as usual. One of the unlucky governors, Dr. Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso of Kano, is highly expected to clinch a ministerial appointment in the new Obasanjo cabinet.
The greatest commitments that Obasanjo will have for democracy during his tenure must definitely include independence of the legislature and holding free and fair elections in 2007. However, on 2007 the stakes will remain as high as they were last April. The PDP and its presidential candidate will not allow any retreat from the established practice of massive rigging.
Regarding an independent legislature, we have a clue here already. He has expressed intense interest over the leadership of the National Assembly. This is normal. However, we expect a “brand new president” to go for the best material. Instead, Obasanjo and the PDP have abandoned the scholarly and independent-minded Bugaje for someone lesser. It is clear this “master democrat” still longs for the good old days when the legislature was under Salisu Buhari and Evans Enwerem.
The next few months will certainly provide some clues in answer to our questions and perhaps, luckily, do away with our pessimism. The complete answers will come only after four years. There is already another discouraging clue though: Obasanjo still sticks to his old excuse. He repeated this in the thanksgiving service, saying, “…The last four years have been uneasy years of learning.” To become “a brand new president,” Obasanjo needs to effectively diagnose his failure and attack its virus. He must accept defeat and own up by relating his failure to his own actions and inactions as the executive president and commander-in-chief. Taking the escapist route of blaming the “uneasy learning process” portends only three possibilities: he has a wrong diagnosis of his illness, or he is not sincere enough to admit it, or both.
An advice worth giving Obasanjo and his handlers here is that they should allow his actions to speak louder than his words. His actions since 4-19 tell us he is still the ‘old brand’ president we know.

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