Obasanjo, A new PDP & New SW-2


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Obasanjo, A New PDP and A new Soutwest after April 2003 - Part 2

Obasanjo's Fundamental Disagreement With AD Resolved in April

continued from http://www.dawodu.com/omoruyi19.htm




Professor Omo Omoruyi, mni


Former Director General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) (Abuja) 1989-93 


       This is the second in the series of essays on “Obasanjo, A New ANPP and A New Southwest after the April 2003”.   Today the essay no. 2 will be devoted to the discussion of candidate Obasanjo’s fundamental disagreement with the AD/Afenifere leaders as the basis of why he decided that they had to be replaced by a new set of Governors in 2003.  It was a well planned program that started since 2000.  This program will form the basis of the essay No. 3.  The AD/Afenifere leaders misjudged his resolve and blundered even as late as January 2003.


       Chief Obasanjo disagreed with the Yoruba leaders represented by the Afenifere and the AD who he thought were over dramatizing what happened to the Yoruba people in the distant and immediate past.   The over dramatization of the problems, he believes, makes the Yoruba leaders in the Afenifere to over simplify the solution in terms of two buzz phrases, “fundamental restructuring” and “genuine federalism”. 

        He disagreed with them on how they out of frustration with the past and fear of the future always were talking of “fundamental restructuring” and “genuine federalism”, which to him were terms associated with confederation that the Ohaneze Ndigbo.   On this Obasanjo is in agreement with the northern leaders for different reasons.   

     Obasanjo wants strong Nigeria because of his commitment to the role of Nigeria in the African setting and in the world.   But the north wants a Nigeria with a strong central government because the leaders of the north want to use a strong federal government with all the resources of Nigeria especially from oil for the interest of the north.   

        He also disagreed with the Yoruba leaders as regards the method they proffered for resolving it, which was through the Sovereign National Conference (SNC).   The reason he gave for his opposition to the idea of SNC might not be cogent when he told the Ibadan crowd that he was the “Sovereign” having been voted for the Nigerian people and that the Nigerian voters would not allow him surrender that sovereignty to anybody. 

      What is basic to the demand for a SNC is in the fact that a Sovereign National Conference idea was only successfully used to resolve the political and economic problems of  a society in one country in Africa, the Republic of Benin.   In other cases the idea failed.   The reason was that it was possible in Benin because of the collapse of the system.   But where the system was in tact or where government in power handled the known political issues like in Togo and Zaire, the sovereignty was never discussed and the government in power determined the outcome of the conference.  

      I was a strong advocate of the idea of a Sovereign National Conference”.   The issues in the annulment of the June 12 were too fundamental then that I canvassed that only a Conference of ethnic nationalities could raise, discuss and resolve them so as to have what Americans call “ a more perfect union”.   The real reasons for the annulment was at the root of the British Design, called Nigeria and that only a Sovereign National Conference of ethnic nationalities could resolve them.   I became convinced that “Nigeria” must be renegotiated after General Sani Abacha took over from the ING in November 1993.   There was a divine intervention and Abacha died and I thought that the pro-democracy forces would commit themselves to one and only solution to the issues in the annulment through a Sovereign National Conference”.  

      A major political miscalculation of the political actors in Nigeria itching for Sovereign National Conference today or since 1999 was their blunder in 1997 after the death of General Abacha.   The pro-democracy forces should not have allowed the successor regime (General Abdulsalami Abubakar) to Abacha regime to preside over a transition program that was not part of the Sovereign National Conference.   Why did the political class quickly settle for an internationally brokered transition program that would be implemented by the same discredited military?   They ought to have known that the structure and the orientation of the armed forces were part of the issues in the annulment.   Having agreed to a program of transition that would culminate in the installation of an elected President and the National Assembly, all claims for a Sovereign National Conference were dead.   That did not mean that the issues in the annulment had been resolved.   It should have been obvious to the political class that the new government whether by Obasanjo or by somebody else would not cede part of its authority to an extra-constitutional body called by whatever name.    This was what the various groups in the political class and some individuals including me for various reasons demanded from Obasanjo since 1999.   Of course Obasanjo and the National Assembly resisted all pressures from the various groups to agree to a National Conference that would be outside their control.   This was why the President and the National Assembly settled for two Committees respectively for the Review of the Constitution.   The two efforts turned out to an exercise in futility. 

      Obasanjo also discovered the reasons why various groups wanted a National Conference were different and sometimes conflicting.   Why the Afenifere wanted it after 1993 was different from why the Ohaneze wanted it later.   Why some Arewa leaders reluctantly agreed to the idea in 2003 was different from the plan advocated by Afenifere and Ohaneze.   President Obasanjo saw some common agreements in the idea from these bodies and he too had started to give the idea some thought before the commencement of the election of 2003.

       It should be noted that all of the three groups agreed to the followings:

1.      That the idea that “sovereignty” could not be ceded to a National Conference.

2.      That the convocation of the body should be by the President.  

3.      That its decisions would have to be taken to the National Assembly for the necessary law.

        A study of the origin of the term “Sovereign” as applicable to the National Conference in Benin showed that the issue was never raised before the setting up of the National Conference, but the conferees decided on it after the commencement of the Conference.   It was the Conferees that took that decision as soon as it commenced its work and faced the President, Kerenkou with it.   He had no choice but to agree to the idea of the Conference being sovereign” because he had no choice.   Where the government had a choice, the matter was resisted and the matter was dropped.    I wish Nigerians would take a look at the comparative studies of the phenomenon and maybe they would modify their views.  

      For a comparative study of National Conferences in Africa see (1) Pearl Robinson, “The National Conference Phenomenon in Francophone Africa” in Comparative Studies in Society and History vol. 36 (1994), pp. 575-610 and (2) John R. Heilbrunn, “The Social Origins of National Conference in Benin and Togo in The Journal of Modern African Studies Vol. 31 No. 2 (1993) pp277-299. 


         Chief Obasanjo from what I knew of him since 1977 when I had opportunity to serve him as a member of the Technical Committee on Revenue Allocation has a strong view about the structure of Nigeria.   He has always been a strong believer in a strong center, a weak state and a robust local government.   He does not feel comfortable with the 36-state system.    

        I was not surprised that he expressed opposition to the idea of a fundamental restructuring of Nigeria that would make the Center less powerful.   He knew that that was the AD program since 1999.   What was not clear to him was whether the AD/Afenifere held to this position because they were afraid of what would happen to the Yoruba race in the country if power were to go back to the north after 2003.   He never got the AD/Afenifere leaders to drop their demands when it became obvious that he would be back after 2003.   This was when he felt that the AD/Afenifere leaders were victim of the past and were becoming irrelevant. Candidate Obasanjo was disappointed that the AD/Afenifere leaders could not appreciate the gains for the Yoruba if the strong force from the southwest were to remain in the Nigerian Political mainstream that would commence in 2003.   This was why he felt that they had to go from the election 2003.

      Obasanjo must have been upset that the AD/Afenifere did not even trust him and did not have faith in his capacity to make the Yoruba a key player in Nigerian politics.  He must have been upset that despite all his private meetings with them and sharing with them what he was doing, they still stuck to their belief that he was a lackey of the north.   They were afraid that the north would never allow the Yoruba to be a major player in the politics of the center despite all he had been doing for the country.    He wanted to prove the leaders of the Afenifere wrong.   Did he not succeed with the recent elections?  


        Chief Obasanjo was of the opinion that there could be a strong center that could be made to have a visible and formidable Yoruba presence in it i.e. the incorporation of the Yoruba into what I call the Nigerian Political Mainstream as a major player.    This was his goal when he rejected the AD/Afenifere plan of fundamental restructuring that would make the southwest a pseudo Odua Republic existing side by side the center.  The April 2003 election produced that end, hence the plan to fundamentally restructure Nigeria would be an issue that would be discussed.  

       Even though he appreciated the basis of the agitation for more powers and money for the states, he did not like the term, “restructuring”.   He thought that the Yoruba leaders of the Afenifere were over-reacting to the experience of the distant and immediate past.   Chief Obasanjo thought that  the issues in the annulment of the June 12 under General Babangida and in the denial of the right to human dignity of the Yoruba leaders (Abiola, Obasanjo, Diya and others) under General Abacha could be resolved through him over time and not through the Sovereign National Conference.  

          He wanted the Yoruba leaders to trust him that he would find justice for them.   When the leaders of the Afenifere could not be persuaded, he used the late Chief Bola Ige as the Attorney General to make the case that the issue of SNC was no longer feasible within the Constitution.   This seems to be the position of the alternative Yoruba leadership that Chief Bola Ige created for him.   The alternative Yoruba leadership was made up of the Yoruba Council of Elders, the Yoruba Traditional Rulers and the Yoruba businessmen.   This mixed group was committed to the survival of Chief Obasanjo as President and to his election for the second term.   This group believed the Yoruba nation would find justice under the regime of Obasanjo.   This group strongly believed in the principle of the Nigerian Political Mainstream and in the principle of Yoruba finding a place in it.    

       But it would appear that the Yoruba leaders in the Afenifere and the AD Governors did not believe him.   They did not believe that he could find justice for the Yoruba people as long as the PDP was dominated by the north.   Who is right today?  


      Chief Obasanjo did not disagree with the Yoruba leaders in Afenifere as to what would be the main ingredients of restructuring even though he hated the term.   He knew that one of the ingredients would be the return of more power to the regions or states as the case maybe.   He knew that the Yoruba leaders were recalling a situation that enabled the Yoruba to move ahead of other Nigerians in the past.   This is one issue that Obasanjo’s second term would have to deal with. 

      There is merit in returning some powers now in the hands of the Federal Government to the States.   How this would be done short of SNC is one issue that would be the preoccupation of Chief Obasanjo.   There is definitely the need for a “national dialogue” on many contentious issues in the land such as the exclusion of the former  military Heads of State from the intrinsically democratic institution like the Council of State. 

      One is under the impression that Obasanjo is not opposed to the idea of a national dialogue to address some of the political and constitutional issues that he too identified since 1999.   What these issues are would be an issue that would be engaging his attention and the attention of others after 2003.      


       One would recall that one of the issues in that “Sermon on Olumo Rock”, the sermon he preached at the Baptist Church when he was released from Abacha’s Gulag was the attitude of the armed forces.   I was not surprised that one of the actions he took within one month on assumption of office was the appointment of the Minister of Defense, Lt. Gene. TY Danjuma, the former Chief of Army Staff who was committed like the President to the fundamental restructuring of the armed forces.   It was he who presided over the total demobilization of all officers who ever held political appointment since 1966.   This did not go down well in the north as most of the officers demobilized were from the north.   This understandable anyway since they were in politics since 1966, the number from the north would reflect their political dominance.   It should be noted that these retired military officers found their way into the Buhari campaign organization during the 2003 election because Buhari criticized the President when the retirement was announced.

      Without making noise about it, he had undertaken more fundamental restructuring than what many people might care to acknowledge.   He thought that the AD/Afenifere leaders should have credited him with the step he took to deal with the source of annulment and the denial of the right to human dignity.   One would recall what he did to make the armed forces an accountable military since 1999.  

       He did not like the way the AD Governors threw the issues of ‘restructuring’ and ‘genuine federalism’ at his face anytime he was on official visit to the southwest.   He did not like why they saw the SNC as the only means for reducing the present power of the center.   To him the April election would be a solution to the modality for resolving these issues.  


        Chief Obasanjo is not opposed to the idea of reducing the power of the center.  He favors an arrangement that would strengthen the states and be able to deliver services to their people cheaply and efficiently short of  through a Conference induced arrangement that would undermine the present power of the Federal Government over the States and the resources of Nigeria.   Obasanjo’s second term would enable him marry the two points of view.  

        I once heard of Chief Obasanjo’s followers in the southwest lecturing me on the vision of Obasanjo.   According to his followers, Baba (Obasanjo) is telling us that if the north (Hausa) running this country since 1960 could enjoy the wealth and power of Nigeria since 1960, the southwest (Yoruba) should be prepared to enjoy it instead of shying away through the agitation for  restructuring.   There is even a new twist to the criticism of restructuring as meaning the ‘Yoruba race is afraid to chop where the Hausa had been chopping since 1960’! 

          My further interaction with Obasanjo’s followers impressed me with another aspect of his vision.  Obasanjo wants the Yoruba to approach the Nigerian politics from optimism and not from pessimism.   Obasanjo believes that the AD leaders’ preoccupation with restructuring is based on fear from the way the Yoruba leaders were treated in the past.    He does not want his people to be a prisoner of the past and bounded by fear.  

       Obasanjo believes that the AD leaders were also too preoccupied with the unknown when it would be impossible for a Yoruba persons loved by his people could be the President of Nigeria.    He is of the opinion that if the Yoruba is part of the ‘Nigerian Political Mainstream’, no one would deny them their rightful place even if a Yoruba person is not the President.     Consequently an eight years of Obasanjo would make the Yourba people an indispensable part of the ‘Nigerian Political Mainstream’.     It should be obvious to Nigerians in the north and in the south that no one can be President of Nigeria in 2007 and after with out the active participation of the Yoruba in the process before during and after.   This is what Obasanjo shall have done for the Yoruba race as they call it, which the Odua organization would not have achieve short of restructuring a euphemism for secession. 


       Obasanjo realized that the major factor in his emergence in 1999 in the view of those who invited him was that he was not liked by his people.    Unfortunately and incidentally the way the Yoruba leaders treated him in the series of elections in 1998/99 just confirmed the views of those who invited him.   Obasanjo is a human being; that he did not like the idea that the Yoruba leaders’ dislike for him was a factor in the decision of the north to go for him and not for any other Nigeria.  This fact haunts him throughout the first term; he was determined to change it for good if he was to run and win the endorsement of the PDP in 2003.   He was determined to win the election for the second term with the southwest in his column.   He was determined that never again would the north see him as a political orphan   What, when and how was he going to do to change it was an issue that no one in Yoruba leadership knew.    This will be the subject of the next essay, no.3.



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