Of Aspiration And Responsibility


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Of Aspiration And Responsibility




Olusegun Adeniyi





culled from THISDAY, November 29, 2006


Despite his frail, even saintly appearance and the butter-cannot-melt-in-my-mouth mien, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua has shown with the experience of House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Bello Masari, that he is a man adversaries would underestimate at their peril. Because, behind the facade is a deadly politician who knows what he wants and how to achieve it. At the recent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) congress in Katsina, Yar'Adua, with ruthless efficiency, dealt Masari's gubernatorial dream a mortal blow. But last Tuesday, I had to tease him: "I understand you are being pushed by the Transcorp people (a loose terminology for President Olusegun Obasanjo's business associates and friends) to join the presidential race..."

Smiling, Yar'Adua said nobody was pushing him and that he deliberately joined the presidential race late because, to use his exact words,: "I have had to manage my aspiration for presidency with my responsibility as an elected governor of Katsina who has a mandate of eight years. Besides, there are rules in this game and I follow the rules. In a contest like this, there is usually a time when you are supposed to be on your marks, then you are set before the bullet is fired for the race..."

The politics of succession in Nigeria has always been fascinating in that when the chips are down, power most often goes where it is least expected. In 1979, the gladiators in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) were Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Maitama Sule and Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki. The man most favoured to win was Ciroma and he had the support of the Northern establishment. Or at least so it seemed until a certain Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, a senatorial aspirant from Sokoto State, emerged from the blues to clinch the party's presidential ticket. The rest, as they say, is history. In 1999, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, as leader of G-34 that later metamorphosed into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was well positioned to become President following the death of Abacha which made General Abdulsalami Abubakar to embark on a short transition to civil rule programme. Ekwueme was indeed the man of the moment. But in the cold calculations of the period, it was felt that the presidency should go to a Yoruba man to compensate for the efforts and eventual death of the late MKO Abiola. Ordinarily, for people on the streets, such contest would narrow down to one between Chief Olu Falae and the late Bola Ige. At the end, a certain General Olusegun Obasanjo was brought from prison and despite his feeble (some would argue hypocritical) protestations, the rest again is history.

Until a few weeks ago, the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua was not known to harbour any presidential aspiration. And his name did not feature in the equation when discussing PDP contenders. But with many governors, business men and party leaders now lining up behind him, he is emerging as a possible dark horse in the contest. Yet practically little is known about the man, the kind to whom the late Chuba Okadigbo would say you cannot attribute "any quotable quote."
But as I resume my series on the presidential aspirants, I cannot but pay particular attention to this new entrant who is enjoying support and attention from unusual quarters. I have not been to Katsina State so I do not know what Yar'Adua has done as Governor to make him a material for Nigeria's number one job and I would not place premium on what people say about his stewardship in making my judgment. When I therefore heard that he was arriving Lagos on Tuesday for a three-day campaign of South-west, I sought from one of his campaign organisers whether I could have a private audience with the man and I was obliged. The session took place on his arrival in Lagos Tuesday afternoon.

My intention was not to interview him, at least not in the formal sense. I just wanted to chat him up while observing him close and in a way it was revealing. In 1999 when he was being sworn-in as Katsina Governor, he declared his assets publicly, the only public official who did that then. I sought to know whether he would do same if elected President. I also asked him how many billions he has accumulated in the last seven and a half years of what must have been a 'flourishing' tenure. His response: "As to what I now have compared with what I had prior to 1999, just wait till the end of my tenure as Governor because I will again declare my assets publicly so people can see the difference between what I had in 1999 and what I now have...these are things that are easily verifiable. If I am elected president, I will do the same so we can begin to build trust in leadership. It is very essential."

Trust. That word again. But nobody would doubt the fact that he has hit the nail on the head. That is one thing that is lacking, and has always been lacking, in Nigeria. The pertinent question: How can we trust those who say one thing and do another? In Yar'Adua's case, the challenge is even bigger: how do we trust a man we hardly know?

The Katsina man is a recluse and I reminded him that the first and only time I ever met him, and that was even from a distance, was in March 1999 at the Arewa House in Kaduna, at an event for his late brother, Shehu Yar'Adua. That was two months before he was sworn-in as Governor. I told him that people say he has not travelled up to three states in Nigeria in the last seven years. In fact I gathered that aside Kaduna and Abuja, he hardly ventures anywhere. While disputing that, he confirmed that indeed he hardly travels out of his state. His explanation: "My responsibility has been to the people of Katsina..if there are events that warrant my leaving the state, I do so but I concentrate on what I consider my primary responsibility...Having been elected by the people of Katsina, I should stay there to do the job...I am first and foremost responsible to the people of the state but now that I seek a bigger audience, if I am elected President then Nigeria would be my constituency. That time you can blame me if I don't venture outside Abuja."

I have read a bit about Katsina and what Yar'Adua, a Masters Degree holder and former lecturer, has done in the area of policy articulation. For instance, he got a legislation for contributory pension scheme which is still running in his state. He also got a legislation from the House of Assembly that limited recurrent expenditure to no more than 30 percent of the entire state revenue so he could devote 70 percent to the provision of infrastructure. But of greater interest to me is that he is perhaps the only governor in Nigeria today who does not expend public funds to send anybody on pilgrimage to either Mecca or Jerusalem. His position is that going on pilgrimage to Mecca may be one of the five pillars of Islam but it is not compulsory. "The Quran enjoins you to perform Hajj only if you are able. There is therefore absolutely no justification for any official giving public money for anybody to go on Hajj...in fact, the Quran frowns on such habit because you are abusing public trust by doing so."

What all these policies add up to is that prudence would be his watchword as president, a virtue we need at this period when Nigeria has accumulated huge foreign reserves that could be easily frittered by a wasteful government. But is he the best man for the job? In observing Yar'Adua, I could not help but conclude that he is a clever man who knows what he is doing. While appearing disinterested, he has perhaps always craved the presidency and definitely has his own agenda. But he must have adopted Robert Greene's position in 'The 33 Strategies of War' that "it is never wise to seem too eager for power, wealth, or fame...Better to disguise your manoeuvre for power: you do not want it but have found it forced upon you."

Notwithstanding, I have my fears about Yar'Adua's aspiration. One, it would be another shot in the dark. Because it is hard to know the position of a man who hardly talks. Where do you stand with such a man?  Two, leading a small, mono-ethnic and mono-religious state like Katsina is not the same as ruling a vast and diverse nation like Nigeria. Three, does Yar'Adua have the capacity for the job and can he tame the military? Four, what economic agenda has he?

These are questions the governor of Katsina would have to contend with in the days ahead but I would enjoin Nigerians to pay close attention to him. Yar'Adua is also a man we should engage very seriously. It is in our collective interest to do so. Before we are traded what we may later discover to be a lemon instead of an orange.


Why Atiku Must Run


President Olusegun Obasanjo evidently does not want Vice President Atiku Abubakar to succeed him. He may have good reasons for that. But it is not in his place to determine who rules Nigeria at any point in time, including after him in May 2007. That is why the Lagos High Court ruling of Wednesday which voided the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) report and that of the Administrative Panel which indicted Otunba Johnson Fasawe and Atiku is a landmark decision worthy of commendation. While no one should condone corruption, I have always argued that there is no greater corruption than an abuse of process to achieve a predetermined end which was exactly what happened in the case of Atiku. In what was a throwback to the military era, the whole 'indictment' was conceived and executed in a manner that revealed clearly that it was not to serve the end of justice but to exert vengeance on a ‘disloyal’ deputy.
Here, I am not saying that Atiku is innocent of the allegations against him and he indeed has several questions to answer, questions that may make his presidential aspiration no more than a joke if he cannot properly answer them. But by behaving like a military tribunal where members usually dance to the tune of the Commander-in-Chief, the Bayo Ojo- administrative panel and the Federal Executive Council resolution lack credibility. What's more, the whole saga assumes interesting dimension against the background that the man central to the whole scam, United States Congressman William Jefferson, an eight-term House Democrat, early this month led the polls in his re-election bid and is facing a run-off next week.  I followed his campaign because I wanted to know how the American voters would react to a public officer (who must have learnt some lessons from his Nigerian friends) stashing his loot in a fridge!
 A few days before the election, a Jefferson supporter, Herman Hill, 53, who adorned a "Don't Mess With Jeff" campaign pin was asked why he would still be rooting for a corrupt politician and he replied: "All politicians are stealing. They say they want to help people, but they're helping themselves...All of them are doing basically the same thing -- but he (Jefferson) just got caught."
Jefferson is the central figure in the PTDF probe which led to the 'indictment' of Atiku. The FBI actually has a video footage of him accepting $100,000 from an FBI informant. He was also taped putting a suitcase containing the bribe money into the trunk of his car. A search of Jefferson's Washington residence revealed that the money was hidden in his freezer. But Jefferson, who, like Atiku, has not been charged to court insists he committed no crime and hence in the eyes of the law (in America) an innocent man. He is lucky that he is not a Nigerian. What makes Atiku's case interesting is that the alibi has always been that FBI asked for the report on him yet the same FBI could do nothing to their own countryman, Jefferson who was practically caught in the act.
The court affidavit notes that there is probable cause to suspect that Jefferson committed wire fraud and bribery of a Nigerian official which many assume to mean Atiku. Since a former Jefferson aide and a Kentucky businessman have already pleaded guilty in the case, we can even infer that the man is not innocent. But the bottom-line is that even with all these weighty allegations, since Jefferson has no legal conviction, he was allowed to run and the people had a say in who should represent them. From the way things are, he will most likely lose the run-off poll but the point is already made.
What I am saying in effect is that since there is no legal conviction hanging on Atiku's head over his role in the PTDF saga, he has a right to aspire for the presidency of Nigeria or any other office for that matter. It is then left for us to decide whether we would want to elect a man so damaged as our next president. Personally, I will not vote for Atiku because he does not have the qualities I want in my next president or rather that he has 'qualities' I do not want in my next president. But there are many other Nigerians who believe he symbolises what they want and they have a right to their choice. We must all defend that right.




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