Nixonistic Obasanjoism


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Nixonistic Obasanjoism




Godwin Agbroko




culled from THISDAY, May 29, 2006



The title of this piece is fashioned after a similar one by the late Mr. Andy Akporugo, the inimitable wordsmith of Nigerian letters. At the Nigerian Observer where the man worked, Akporugo wrote a piece in the early 1970's titled, Nasseristic Ogbemudianism in which he compared the military governor of the Mid-west Region, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia, to the Arab nationalist and Egyptian President, Gamel Abdul Nasser. As a young man in high school toying with the idea of life as a newspaper man, I was not only titillated by the bombast of the title of Akporugo's piece, I was enthralled by the depth of analysis and logic.
From all conceivable nuances, Obasanjo is even closer to Nixon than Ogbemudia was to Nasser. For the entire duration of the third term agenda, President Olusegun Obasanjo was Nixon in action. And like the Watergate scandal did to the American presidency of Richard Nixon, the third term infamy has brought something of a Nixonian finish to the Obasanjo presidency.

Both men share an uncanny congruence in character and politics. Putting their uncharitable styles and personal foibles aside, there is pretty little doubt that both presidents deserve a hallowed place in their country's history. But like the Greek character with the fatal flaw, they chose to perish by their own hubris.
Take Nixon of which Obasanjo is the Nigerian incarnate. Few American presidents, before and after him, have contributed more positively to the foreign policy of their country, especially the breakthrough he achieved in China and the ending of the Vietnam War. At home, his domestic policies were uplifting. Yet, he ended up needlessly bringing the Watergate scandal upon himself. Even more galling to his countrymen was the fact that Nixon was unrepentant about Watergate even at the point of resignation.

As Nixon's nemesis, the special prosecutor, Archibold Cox, has noted, Nixon's resignation speech could only have been good for a president who was resigning because he was ill, or one vacating office because he had lost congressional support over policy differences, not one who had grossly violated his country's constitution in a criminal way. The nearest Nixon came to admission of guilt was a few words of contrition. I deeply regret," he said grudgingly, "any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision (to resign). "I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation..."

Nothing could have been more insulting to a people whose psyche had been traumatised by their own president and the result was instantaneous. The congressmen who had resolved to pass a resolution to halt any proceeding against Nixon, changed their minds immediately. Even the ten republicans who belonged to Nixon's party on the House Judiciary Committee were so incensed by the resignation speech that they turned round to repudiate their man in a minority report they signed, saying that Nixon resigned after having "substantially confessed to the crime of obstructing justice."
Even in disgrace, Nixon's conspirational mind and uncharitable spirit, not to talk of his overweening pride, did not allow him to give even a morsel of remorse to his sympathisers to chew upon.

President Obasanjo has followed this Nixonian trajectory every inch of the way, even up to his speech of May 18 where he resigned himself to the defeat of the third term agenda. Like Nixon, he tried to give the impression of a man more sinned against than sinning. There was no morsel of regret over the trauma inflicted on Nigerians, not even a grudging acceptance of the possibility that the agenda could have brought a serious crisis to the country. Instead, he proceeded to surmise that "the acrimony, threats and media excesses that accompanied the constitution amendment exercise must have created or deepened conflicts and divisions within our party."

Though the president was addressing his party members on the occasion of the speech, he rightly acknowledged that he was by extension addressing the nation. Yet, in addressing Nigerians (even if indirectly) on the failed third term agenda, his extreme partisanship could not let him see beyond the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to admit that Nigeria itself was riven by "conflicts and divisions" (including his own presidency) while the elongation scheme lasted.
Beyond this unbecoming partisanship, what ought to worry Nigerians more is the presidential turn of mind that Obasanjo has. From the tenor of the speech, the only reason he was concerned about "fence-mending, soothing of relationships, closing (of) gaps and reconciling and ensuring inclusion wherever possible" is so that the PDP membership that has been severely flagellated by tenure elongation can come together once more to enable the party have the upper hand in the next electoral contest. While we may not begrudge him this sort of partisanship that fails to recognise that Nigerians as a whole needed to be reconciled, it is unacceptable for the president to begin to label his fellow country men and women who presumably defeated the third term agenda as "detractors, predators, dividers and destroyers". As a matter of fact, as these words thundered out of the president's mouth like swear words, they sounded more natural to Obasanjo than his affectation of reconciliation.

Just like Nixon's resignation speech, President Obasanjo's address was self-justification at its meanest. Where he did not make a scapegoat of media excesses, then he was standing truth on its head. Against what actually took place, it is a reinvention of reality for the president to assert that "as a democratic party, (the PDP) did not impose its decision (on third term) on its members..." and that "members were allowed to discuss freely and to act or vote according to the dictate of their conscience." Pray, where was the president when the party chairman and secretary were openly threatening anti-third term National Assembly members with sanctions? And was the president not in this country when chairman Ahmadu Ali described those opposed to tenure elongation as people "speaking through their arse?" And while all this was going on, was the president no longer the leader of the party?

In the matter of financial inducement of National Assembly members, it must be stated that "bribery from above" is somewhat like the wind; it is felt but never seen. Those in New Orleans may never have seen the wind, but the destruction it left behind is enough evidence to show that Hurricane Katrina passed through this way. If the anti-corruption agencies cared sincerely enough, they would find plenty of evidence of either financial inducement or physical coercion or both. The idea of tenure elongation was not only contrived out of nowhere, it was so preposterous that no sensible person could have been relied upon to support it freely. It was plain that those who supported it did so either out of fear or for a consideration. Which explains why pro-third term legislators and their promoters were mortally afraid of live television coverage of the debates on the constitution amendment bill and also why they would equally prefer to sponsor unsigned adverts promoting the cause.

The most egregious twisting of reality was the president's posturing as a neutral observer of the third term drama. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was Obasanjo himself who started it all when in a deliberate choice of lecture on his reform programmes to a well-appointed audience of African students in Germany, the president proclaimed that he was under tremendous pressure to go for a third term. From his hurried convocation of  a national political conference in the twilight of his second term, through the forcible seizure of the PDP structures, and the attempts to sell the need to anchor the reform programme, nobody was fooled about who was behind the stratagems to rail-road a third term presidential tenure into the constitution with the possible exception of the president himself. Not even the promoters of the agenda who, in any case, did not believe in the product they were selling, were fooled into believing that it would ever be bought by Nigerians. At any rate, even if it succeeded by hook and crook as they intended it to be, the president would certainly have had no country to rule over in 2007.

By attempting to distance himself from the third term project, Obasanjo only succeeded in turning himself into a poor initiation of the ostrich. No matter how much he tries, there is one overriding fact he cannot deny. Because the tenure scheme ran so violently against the grain of constitution-making, the only way its proponents could justify it was to tie Obasanjo's name to it, namely, that he needed more time to conclude his presidential good work. And rather than maintaining a studied silence as he would want Nigerians to believe, Obasanjo was more than vocal as such matters go.
While he was in his merry-go-round transition programme, Ibrahim Babangida's mantra was, Insha Allah, I will not stay in office more than a day necessary. Sani Abacha was never known to have uttered one word about his stay in office, not even after all the five political parties had adopted him as their sole presidential candidate.

In the case of Obasanjo, every Nigerian heard him say just last month that he was yet to make up his mind whether to seek a third term or not and that God would decide for him. The president's own verdict on his so-called communion with the Almighty: "I also believe that God is not a God of abandoned projects. If God has a project, he will not abandon it." What further evidence does anyone need to conclude that Obasanjo was seeking a prolongation of his tenure to complete his reforms as was being argued by the third termists? For someone who was not fully certain of the outcome of the constitution amendment, this was how far the president could have gone in the circumstance. Even if Obasanjo did not utter a word throughout the duration of the third term hysteria, that was no evidence of his neutrality. By the use of his name alone, he had taken a position in support of a third term plot, unless he spoke expressly against it. The fact that he didn't do so, but expressly hinted at the possibility showed that he was the chief accomplice in the agenda.
In which case, critical issue Obasanjo must now have to grapple with is that the third term defeat is equally his own defeat and humiliation. It is the unraveling of all he has affirmed all these years, his grandstanding on democracy in his speech, notwithstanding.

Does this mean that Obasanjo will be on the bad side of history? Well, that is where the Nixon factor will have to come in. Unlike Nixon, Obasanjo is still the president despite the third term cloud. Between now and next year when he leaves office, there is still a lot he can do to secure his place in history. But the critical thing that may determine where the pendulum swings will depend on the credibility Nigerians will attach to the electoral process that will throw up his successor. If it is by a sham election, then democracy will forever regard him unkindly.

But if his successor comes by a transparently credible process, then Obasanjo is well on his way to self-rehabilitation. But even so, he would still have a lot to learn from Nixon, the grandmaster of political survival. In the twenty years left of his life after retirement, Nixon reinvented himself by writing scores of insightful books demonstrating his unfailing concern for solutions to America's domestic and international problems. When he died in 1994, three former presidents and the White House incumbent, Bill Clinton, attended his funeral. President Clinton's funeral speech was a fitting epitaph to Nixon. Said Clinton: "Today is a day for his family, his friends, and his nation to remember President Nixon's life in totality. To them, let us say, may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire career come to a close."

My prayer is that when the time comes, may Nigerians judge President Olusegun Obasanjo in totality.



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