Why Obasanjo Wants Third Term


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Why Obasanjo Wants Third Term




Felix Ofou



culled from INDEPENDENT, March 22, 2006



“You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything from them. But, when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he is no longer in your power – he’s free again”.   –Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918, The First Circle)


It was simply a matter of time. He had merely been bidding his time and now it seems that time is here. Not one to miss an opportunity, President Olusegun Obasanjo has lapped on the one chance thrust on him by fate to prove that he was neither a coward nor one to shy away from a fight. He had also gone ahead to declare that he was ready to die, all in a bid to show he had a heart of steel.

But the inner fears about the success of the bid to extend the President’s tenure would not go away; a reality that has made him hostage to fifth columnists desperate to remain in the corridors of power. Yet, he must forge on because of the importance of the project to his persona and ego.


The Coward Within

Until his sojourn in government for a second time in 1999, Obasanjo wore the uncanny tag of one that was cowardly. And everywhere he went, this cowardice soon translated into that of a bully afraid of his inner weaknesses. So traumatised was the man that no soon after he left office as military Head of State in 1979 that he put out a notice that journalists were not welcomed at his Ota farms.

Of course, the only group that Obasanjo singled out for attack and openly vilified were journalists. Matters came to a head that he went further to close down media houses, in a desperate wish to shut out those taunting him as a weakling of which the media was a vanguard. If there was one profession he wanted abolished, it was that of journalism.

More importantly, historians had tended to portray him a coward and an opportunist than the courageous and bold soldier he wanted Nigerians to see. The fact that Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu could not trust him to participate in the 1966 putsch to the claim that he hid himself under a staircase at the Defence Headquarters when Colonel Bukar Dimka moved against the late General Murtala Mohammed, Obasanjo was made to wear the title of a coward.

Historians are also quick to recall that the General Obasanjo who ruled Nigeria between February 13, 1976 and October 1, 1979 did so chiefly at the instance of the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua regarded as de facto head of that regime. Indeed, it has been said that it was the support by Yar’Adua and then Major General Theophilus Danjuma that stabilised the Obasanjo government.

So ridiculous and notorious was Obasanjo’s fear that he became the object as well as subject of ribald jokes by comedians and clowns. In particular, a mockery was made of the usual broadcast to the nation, which was often interjected by pleas of “don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me”.

Cartoonists also had a field day cataloguing his demeanor projected by a comical pouch, tribal marks and choice of language by then General Obasanjo, considered no better than that of the okorofo soldier in the barracks.

The late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo, further mobilised a critical segment of the society dedicated at rubbishing and exposing the duplicity in the public’s perception of the man. Though Obasanjo tried several times to reverse Fela’s avowed determination to rubbish him, public’s regard for the ex-General, especially in the South West geo-political zone, remained largely negative.

So bad was the picture painted that at some time, the then military Head of State was rumoured to have resigned out of fear. But the rumour mill also claimed that the intervention of Yar’Adua and Danjuma made him to reverse the resignation.

It is not clear whether Obasanjo heard some of the allegations, which in some cases bordered on the ludicrous while in office. However, his ears must have become full soon after quitting, especially the claim that he bowed out of office at the instance of Yar’Adua and Danjuma, both of whom were said to have pointedly told him to do so on the grounds that they could not guarantee Obasanjo’s safety after October 1, 1983.

Paradoxically, it is the same fear that is said to dog the President’s conduct in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, where he has been undoubtedly held captive by his emotions as well as 10-percenters out to profit from his failings. In seeking a third term, Obasanjo is believed by close watchers of his activities as being out to prove that he was not a coward after all.

This explains why in spite of overwhelming rejection of the agenda, he is forging on, damning whatever risks that may have been lined up to stop the third term bid. That he does not brook opposition of any kind is believed to be in tandem with the thinking of Mr. President.


The Transcorp Trap

Perhaps when he set out to set up the Transcorp Mafia, Obasanjo had good intentions. But the discriminatory policy has turned out to be a booby trap from which the President is trying hard to escape. And it is no longer secret that a new crop of nouveau riche Nigerians have been created.

While the jamboree is on in the Transcorp cartel, the reverse is the case among those not grouped to benefit from the discriminatory policy. It is such that only these special breeds of Nigerians see anything good in the economic reforms embarked on by the administration since its inception in 1999. Other sectors groan in avoidable ruin or abhorrent stagnation.

In ordinary times, the amendment of sections of the Constitution should be an ongoing project and located within the political train with hordes of constitutional lawyers in attendance.

However, in our own terrain, it appears that politics and economy in the matter of the constitutional amendments are so intertwined as to have become inseparable.  Only last week, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma had cause to reassure certain parts of the private sector, quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, that it is institutions and not mere mortals who can determine the course of future events. 

Timely too, far certain members of “Corporate Nigeria” have boxed themselves into an emotional corner over the issue of the continuation of existing government economic reform policies, after the present Administration takes its bow.  Senator Udoma, like many others, is a firm supporter of the government’s economic reforms.  So, wherein lies the contradiction?

In the first place, there is nothing original about the so-called “economic reforms programme”.  It is clearly a continuation of the economic policies brought into being with the devaluation of the Naira in 1986 by the Babangida administration.  All the ingredients remain the same – floating of the Naira, privatisation of public enterprises, limiting the role of the state and so forth.  The central tenor and tenancy is still pretty much the same, so why is “Corporate Nigeria” paramount about a change of baton?

Furthermore, the injury is still very much out on the economic reforms within the business community, particularly in the manufacturing and real sector; excruciating pain is being felt at the infrastructural deficit in terms of power, roads, absence of a standard rail gauge and so forth.  There is really no unanimity of applause for the reforms.  While some rent-takers and the men in government have been favoured, others, particularly in manufacturing, have been devastated with factory closures, lack of competitiveness vis-à-vis imported goods, and massive lay-offs.

The reason for this appalling situation lies in the interweaving of business and politics in the last seven years.  The platform, which maneouvred to secure Obasanjo’s nomination by the PDP and his subsequent electoral victory in 1999 is located within an indigenous military/commercial alliance with apologies to the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills. 

Having organised the financial muscle and logistics support to ensure victory, the coalition of retired military personnel and businessmen seem to have been adequately compensated.  They have become great beneficiaries of the privatisation programme of this administration.

Indeed, there is a school of thought, which feels that government companies have been sold off at a steep discount often to those who do not appear to have the technical skills to manage them.  In addition, all manner of sweeteners have been thrown in to keep the boys happy.  Key amongst these has been the issuance of import duty waivers with what appears sometimes to be reckless abandon.  Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late Afro beat king, characterised Obasanjo’s first coming as “Paddy-Paddy government” a cronyism by another name, the trend is even greater today.

In addition, under the guise of creating national champions, - that is, business organisations, which purportedly will be able to take on the multi-national corporations in the national interest, the Obasanjo government has handed out monopolies and created oligarchies amongst a select, favoured and chosen few.  It is hardly surprising that Nigeria today is going through a bizarre paradox– a country carrying out a privatisation programme without first of all constructing strong pro-competition and Anti-Trust Laws and Regulatory agencies.  The effect of these is better imagined, but the beneficiaries can hardly be blamed for being apprehensive about the good times of some of the highest returns in history coming to an end.  This class of people is better treated as “rent takers” rather than entrepreneurs engaged in real, sustained production.

If the apprehensive Corporate Nigeria really wants to preserve the “gains” of the economic reform programme, it should ask the government to put into place those institutions, which will ensure its longevity.  There should be a strict belief in the rule of law and the sanctity of the courts, their orders and their judgments.  The government should expend its political capital not on the skull drudgery of self-serving constitutional amendments, but on getting the early passage of bills, such as the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Freedom of Information Bill; the Bill on Public Procurement (Due Process); the bill on Infrastructure development and finance, to mention a few.  These are legislations that will give solid institutional backbone to the economic reforms and make them survive the present government.

In the end, Corporate Nigeria will have to decide on what it really wants — market-based reform on cronyism and special privileges.  There is a clear and persistent danger in allowing the public to view market reforms as being associated with an increasingly unpopular and loathed government.  If this should happen, it would open an ideological dimension to Nigerian politics, which could be very damaging to the interests of corporate Nigeria.  For their own sake, Corporate Nigeria should take a firm stand on the path of democracy, the sanctity of term limits and the rule of law.  Any other position is fraught with grave dangers.


The EFCC Specter

It is no longer in doubt that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was set up by the Presidency as a veritable tool to witch hunt opponents of the administration. If there were any pretence as to the basis for setting up the agency, its activities have since betrayed it.

The EFCC is not only brazen about the task of cowing opponents of the administration but equally determined to dent or rubbish the records of key politicians likely to have a go at the Presidency or run for the governorship ticket in their respective states.

As it is, you are likely to be ignored by the EFCC and its ancillary agencies until you indicate interest in the 2007 presidential race or the governorship seat in your state. Once you do so and you are not in the good books of the powers that be, a visit by operatives of the EFCC is likely to follow. The pressure would only be relaxed if you disown your ambition to serve.

Interestingly, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) legally empowered to probe public officials have been made prostrate by the same administration that set it up in the first place. The reason for this is not far-fetched.

Successive chairmen of the ICPC as a rule have refused to do the bidding of the President, preferring to stick to the rules setting up the ICPC. But because the EFCC is disposed to being used, it has become a tool in the hands of the President.

Curiously, neither the President nor Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC chairman, know to what use the commission would be put at the expiration of this administration. That fear has unwittingly seen them in an alliance that would guarantee unlimited tenure for Obasanjo.

Besides, the talk is out there of a likely revenge mission by key political figures in the North once the President’s tenure terminates on May 29, 2007. Indeed, there is hardly any forum convened by the influential Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) where such sentiments are not expressed.

To that extent, it is not surprising that the crimes commission is revved to deal with opponents of the government, given that their existence and survival depends on the continued stay of the number one citizen in office.

Interestingly, the EFCC operates more like the Gestapo than an investigative agency, having a set of rules that not only make it bigger than the Nigeria Police Force, but also functions more like a torture and confessional altar. Once you are able to appease the goons in the commission, most likely by pledging loyalty to the President and his rabid desire to perpetuate the administration indefinitely, the inevitable is that you are left off the hook without charge.

Failure to “fall in line” would mean an indefinite stay in the gulag of the EFCC, blackmail by the use of the media and outright denial to government patronage. With your ambition aborted and image rubbished, including the risk of going to jail, whatever integrity may have been left would also have been completely eroded.


A Dubious Legacy

Recently sacked Works Minister Adeseye Ogunlewe succinctly put the argument for an extension of Obasanjo’s tenure by harping on the need to preserve the gains of the administration. According to him, the over N300 billion roads under construction would be halted as soon as a new government is in place.

In which case, the  former minister believes that the gains of the administration would be eroded once Obasanjo does not succeed himself. But Ogunlewe failed to explain why it has proved difficult to mentor successors to Mr President after seven years of the government in power.

Unfortunately, the former senator was blinded to the many holes in his argument, some of which is the failure of his principal to replicate his kind, as is the case in the corporate world and other civilised societies. Neither did he realise that he was inadvertently calling for a life presidency beyond the anticipated 12 years, which the proposed constitution amendment seeks to foist on Nigerians.

Indeed, proponents of regime continuity have based their argument on the need to preserve Obasanjo’s legacies, which sadly are largely ephemeral and at best vague and dubious. They are unable to rationalise the campaign for tenure extension based on acceptable objective criteria and wide acceptance by majority of the people.

On the contrary, they harp on economic reforms that are roundly flawed and have been condemned even by economists in multilateral finance agencies, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). But using the trio of Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, CBN Governor Charles Soludo and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the government has tried to pull wool on the eyes of Nigerians in the guise of economic reforms.

However, economists have faulted the option of writing-off Nigeria’s external debt by paying $18 billion out of the $36 billion owed by the country, more so because the payment was done in two tranches, leaving the nation prostrate financially.

Similarly, holes have been picked in government’s failure to stabilise power despite pumping over N260 billion into the sector, in addition to the continued epileptic functioning of the refineries. Given the critical role of power and the refineries to the survival of the nation, it is a wonder to critics that government is still talking about legacies.


Obasanjo Vs Obasanjo

With the amendments proposed by the Joint Constitution Review Committee (JCRC) of the National Assembly led by Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu, there is no doubt that the ultimate winner is Obasanjo.

Three areas were of principal interest to the Mantu committee. They are that of the president and governors, derivation formula and removal of criminal immunity. Much as it seems that Obasanjo and the 36 governors are bound by a common fate, the reality is that the President remains the only and ultimate beneficiary.

With the coercive forces loyal and dependent on the President, it does not matter that he would no longer enjoy immunity. All that is required is for Obasanjo to deny the police, the judiciary and other security agencies the required fund and they would begin to dance to his tune.

Undoubtedly, the President has only himself to beat, or so it seems. The thinking in the Aso Rock Villa is that the project has already succeeded and that for once Obasanjo would have the opportunity to be free from the toga of crass opportunism, cowardice and other associated weaknesses. This is in addition to the fact that his indefinite stay in office has become fait accompli.



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