Rebuffing A Coup In Progress

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Rebuffing A Coup In Progress

 

By

 

Okey Ndibe


  
 

culled from GUARDIAN, March 15, 2006
  
  
 

Make no mistake: the ongoing effort to hastily alter key provisions of the Nigerian constitution in order to serve the inflated ambitions of a few men amounts, simply, to a coup-in-progress. Every step in this illegal grab for power strikes me as carefully choreographed by President Olusegun Obasanjo's strategizing team. The charade that passed for public hearings on constitutional amendments was part of an elaborate scheme to lend a veneer of legality to a predetermined outcome. When Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu retreated with members of the joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives to Omagwa, near Port Harcourt, purportedly to filter public sentiments into concrete legislative proposals, no discerning observer was in doubt that the third term clause was already etched in stone.
 

After Mantu led the joint committee to gratify Obasanjo's desire for an interminable lease on Nigeria's presidency, the senator testily warded off a reporter who raised uncomfortable questions about the shadowy manner of the joint committee's meetings. With a straight face, Mantu told the reporter (and hence the world) that the decision to extend presidential and gubernatorial tenures to three terms of four years each reflected the deepest wishes of the majority of Nigerians. When I related that moronic cant to a friend of mine, he said there was a chance that a man like Mantu was pathological enough to believe himself. Mantu also told Nigerians that his conscience was clear, and indeed that he expected his name to be enshrined in gold for playing a leading role to actualise a third term for the president. I called a psychiatrist on that one. He assured me that politicians are particularly prone to the sudden and absolute loss of their conscience, and are also susceptible to
delusions of grandeur.
 

If Mantu is entitled to any mantle, it is, I suggest, that of mud. The man, about whom the most true and charitable statement is that he occupies space, has certainly written himself into infamy. In the gallery of Nigerian politricksters, he is likely to fall somewhere between Anthony Anenih, Obasanjo's factotum-in-chief, and the loquacious Tom Ikimi who lent his brand of odiousness to the cause of General Sani Abacha, another mad quester after power.
 

Unable to build a credible case for third term on his alleged reformist agenda, the president has recruited Anenih's wizardry as a consummate political fixer. Anenih's resume recommends him for a job like the one at hand, an attempt to foist impunity on a nation whose people have suffered cruelly and long. One of his stellar feats in public office came when he served Obasanjo as Minister for Works. His ministry was supposedly allocated three hundred billion for road construction. If any roads were built, they were of such cosmic scale and nature that ordinary eyes could hardly see them. The man also did a spectacular job when the president entrusted him with disbursing the billions of naira that "eradicated" poverty in Nigeria. Since the selling of a dud is the task, the president could not have wished for a more astute salesman. Is it any wonder that since Anenih's arrival at the strategic helm, the third term agenda has gained momentum? The president and his team of plotters have
settled on two predictable and proven tools of Nigerian politics. One is called bribery or settlement, the other intimidation or coercion.
 

A number of players have revealed that the president's men are offering lavish inducements to legislators at the federal and state levels. As some Nigerians affect nonchalance, the president's men may be using their nation's cash to buy him perpetual tenancy in Aso Rock. Obasanjo, who for seven years has steadfastly but falsely accused himself of fighting corruption, has permitted his team to offer corrupt (and therefore cowed) governors a trade-off if they would endorse his ambition to die in office. It has been reported that members of the president's inner circle have promised cooperative governors automatic tickets to ride in the third term bandwagon-but only if they chanted amen to the constitutional amendment.
 

When the penalty for rebuffing such tantalizing offers is certain visitation by the president's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it should surprise nobody that a number of governors with a history of despising the president have since lined up to recite the catechism of third term. Rendered spineless by their own monumental crimes, most governors are reluctant to cross an all-powerful, desperate president.
 

The president's overweening ambition spells peril for the nation. Attempts are afoot to reconcile Nigerians to the crafty abduction of their collective will by drowning them in the hollow rhetoric of "continuity." Nigerians must ask themselves what they stand to gain from a continuity of hypocrisy, a continuity of corruption, a continuity of violence. They ought to wonder why they should be grateful for a leader who has hijacked the legislature and weakened the judiciary. What is attractive about a presidency that does not observe the most elementary norms of budgetary implementation? Why should we be interested in the continuity of a leader who lends the police to the commission of unconstitutional acts, as in the abduction of Governor Chris Ngige in 2003 and the sacking of Governor Ladoja in 2006? Why should a nation of sane citizens abide the diseased continuity of a man whose ethical outlook is in tandem with that of such characters as Lamidi Adedibu, Chris Uba and Anenih?
 

Nigerians have spent seven years in the democratic desert, thanks in large part to Obasanjo's martial notion of power. They have waited in vain for the dividends of their so-called nascent democracy to be felt in greater governmental accountability, in scrupulous obedience to judicial rulings, in the curtailing of wastages of public resources, in the deepening of democratic habits, in the avowal and practice of deliberative ethos, in the provision of such goodies as roads, more reliable power supply, sound health care and revamped educational institutions. What they have got, instead, is a menu from hell: a hubristic president who disdains fellow citizens but bows to foreign leaders and interests; public officials who enrich themselves at the expense of millions of Nigerians; the decoration of known thieves with national honours; the empowerment of rustics and thugs, and the parade on the corridors of power of fools heady with self-aggrandizement.
 

It is bad enough that this bumbling bunch has for seven years wasted the promise of a nation that has run out of time, and now stutters on borrowed time. It is tragic enough that the president and the kind of officials installed by his party at all levers of governance have had seven years in which to further enfeeble a prostrate nation. To seek to perpetuate their bankrupt legacy, and worse by methods that are more execrable than a coup, is a price the nation cannot afford to pay.
 

Those championing Obasanjo are welcome to their fiction of a president who embodies the finest attributes of leadership. Most Nigerians are unimpressed. Mantu and co, having shed their consciences, may strive with every fibre of their being to hoist their toxic amendment on the citizenry. It is up to Nigerians to repudiate this macabre imposition, to repel this patently decadent notion. Nigerians will be sorry if they lapsed into slumber, telling ourselves that the U.S. government and the European Union won't stand for the Mantu-led raid on the popular will. If the New York Times is a fair gauge of Washington's attitude, then we must know that Obasanjo is being marketed in the U.S. as an ally as well as bulwark against the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union, for all their widely reported umbrage at Obasanjo's wacky plan of perpetuation, is going to act decisively to stop him. That investment is Nigerians' to make.
 

Another monumental mistake would be for some Nigerians to view the battle that has already been joined as one to be fought by the Hausa-Fulani, or by any other section of the nation bent on wresting the presidency. Such an attitude can only play into the hands of the president's team. They are bound to thrive when the resistance can be sundered or rendered half-hearted. Nigerians cannot afford complacency in the face of this devious plot to remake a nation into the fancies of a demagogue and his inebriant drummers.
 

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