United By Politics, Divided By Ambition


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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United By Politics, Divided By Ambition



 Levi Obijiofor




culled from GUARDIAN, April 14, 2006



All through human history, ambition has defined the rise and the fall of men and women of substance. Like a horse, some politicians have ridden ambition to their demise while others have seen ambition take them to the height of glory. Some people have the capacity to check their ambition so that it does not constitute a menace to others but some other people perceive ambition as a piece of chocolate cake - hard to resist. To many politicians, ambition is like a dream. Above all, it is free. It is not a criminal offence to possess ambition but many politicians hardly admit to possessing ambition. Once, when the late political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was asked in the late 1970s during an election campaign whether he possessed political ambition, he replied that he had no political ambition but that he had political aspirations.


In human society, there is a general perception that there is a limit to ambition. Ambition that does not recognise the laws of social behaviour in any society must be defined as vile ambition. That is what is driving the current frosty relationship between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Right from the time Obasanjo and Abubakar started their odd marriage of convenience (some people prefer to call it "marriage of inconvenience"), both men knew they possessed ambition but they also believed that wise counsel would prevail and that maturity - the hallmark of adulthood -- would see them through tempting times.


Abubakar must now admit to being politically naive right from the beginning. He trusted the words of his fellow politicians, including his boss. That's where Obasanjo, the wily retired army general, beat him in the exercise of common sense. In politics, you must never trust anyone. In the good old days, when both men shared jokes and slapped each other on their shoulder blades in a friendly manner, Abubakar believed that he could check his personal ambition and wait for eight years. He had calculated (wrongly, it would appear) that, as a former military head of state, Obasanjo would be bored of life in Aso Rock after eight years in office as an elected president. But things never go according to human plans. Abubakar forgot to acknowledge that Obasanjo had ambition.

Abubakar was wrong in his calculations and dead inaccurate in his projections of how politicians would behave in office. His fundamental error of judgment was his inability to read or predict human behaviour, in particular his boss's behaviour in politics. You see, ever since Obasanjo cast aside his military uniform and transformed himself into an authoritarian democrat, he had taken on all the attributes of a fox - always slippery, always difficult to understand, always inconsistent in his public statements. Against this background, it must be mystifying that despite the proximity between Abubakar's office and Obasanjo's office, as well as the regular meetings and interactions between the two men, Abubakar still couldn't predict his boss seven years into an eight-year tenure. Abubakar tended to perceive Obasanjo through the innocent but cracked and coloured spectacle of a rookie politician. In Abubakar's blank state of mind, eight years of "loyal" service to Obasanjo should naturally be rewarded with automatic anointment to the presidential throne. That naive view of life in politics has turned out to be Abubakar's undoing.


A vice president who can't understand or read his president for nearly eight years has no business aspiring to succeed his boss. The tragedy in the weird relationship between Obasanjo and Abubakar is that, while Abubakar presented himself as a saint to the president, the president chose to perceive Abubakar as a rapacious politician who should be watched carefully. While Abubakar went about singing personal choruses in public about how deeply loyal he had been to Obasanjo, the boss who benefited from that loyalty did not recognize the servant. It is a relationship in which both men plotted the downfall of each other in their private moments. None wished the other goodwill. For a very long time, Obasanjo had held deep suspicions about Abubakar and his political motives.


On many occasions, Obasanjo openly or surreptitiously tested Abubakar's elasticity of patience and loyalty by deliberately approving actions that were designed to hurt the integrity and authority of Abubakar. Occasionally too, Abubakar had taken the bait and used public speeches to snap and snarl at his boss. Abubakar's major mistake was his inability to see a trap and avoid it. His enemies say he was too arrogant that he failed to recognise his personal weaknesses. For that reason, Obasanjo's aides had questioned the sharpness of mind of a man who would not identify an easy trap on his route. Abubakar was such a guy who did not bother about political traps and other kindergarten tricks often adopted by people in high political positions to damage the image of their colleagues. With Abubakar, if a trap was set on his path, he often shut his eyes to it or he pretended the trap wasn't meant for him. He walked straight into the trap and was caught and bruised. In politics, that's not a good strategy for survival.


Another of Abubakar's weaknesses was his inability to maintain silence over certain national issues. He likes to talk and talk and talk. In this context, he failed to borrow a page from Obasanjo's most recent fictional book entitled How to manoeuvre your friends and enemies in politics. Whatever anyone might say, Obasanjo must be given credit for making it difficult for his enemies and friends to read his mind on the question of his third term ambition. His consistent reference to waiting for directions from angels and God is evidence of his determination to keep everyone - hecklers and cheerleaders -- guessing about his next political move. Even when Obasanjo was cornered in a Cable News Network (CNN) interview on the subject of third term during a recent trip to the United States, Obasanjo confounded his interviewers and journalists by invoking the name of God for the umpteenth time. It was a card Obasanjo played so well at the end of his first term in office and it worked for him.


Now, as questions begin to pile over Obasanjo's ambition to amend the constitution that would allow him to run for a third term, Obasanjo has refused to say which direction the angels would push him. Assisted by an increasingly abusive team of aides, the key message from the Presidency is that Obasanjo must not be rushed into making a judgment. The president has a job to do, we have been told, and nothing would distract him from doing that job. The future of Nigeria can wait while Obasanjo confers with the angels that serve as his unofficial advisers. That is the way we like to play politics in Nigeria. When things get tough, you must appeal to supernatural powers to provide you with the superior insight. Until that guidance is received, life must grind to a halt in Nigeria.

For Abubakar, the man with ambition, such political drivel would not do. He has heard such poppycock stories for the past seven years and has had to block his eardrums with home-made ear plugs. He wasn't going to tolerate it any more. He had waited for Obasanjo to play the gentleman's game of politics but Obasanjo seems to be defying every counsel to drop the ambition to run for a third term. The dilemma for the country really is: how do you convince Obasanjo (with his elephant ego and vaulting ambition) to respect the constitution, quit Aso Rock in 2007 and give way to Abubakar who has served or undermined him for nearly eight years? How we untangle that dilemma would depend on which side of the two implacable enemies we line up.


Abubakar is a man in a hurry. A delay in politics can be a delay in a lifetime. Until their relationship soured to a point where it could no longer be retrieved and knocked back again, Abubakar believed Obasanjo was a "Baba" (elder) whose words must be trusted. In our society, elders are respected and are regarded as repositories of knowledge and emblems of forthrightness. In hindsight, Abubakar must be wishing he never trusted Obasanjo or worked with him.



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