Before The Onset Of OBJ's Lame-duck Presidency


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Before The Onset Of Obasanjo's Lame-Duck Presidency



Ropo Sekoni



culled from GUARDIAN, May 15, 2005


Cynics would argue that President Olusegun Obasanjo started his two-term presidency in a lame-duck manner. Such cynics would base their conclusion on Obasanjo's accomplishments in his first term. They would say that apart from his deregulation of telecommunication, Obasanjo was unable to make progress in the energy sector. Second, he was virtually helpless in the face of efforts by some northern states to compromise the time-honoured secularity of the Nigerian state through the abrupt introduction of Sharia jurisprudence in about 12 northern states.
Third, he was unable to prevent several interethnic tensions that led to the killing of thousands of Nigerians on account of their religious affiliation. The foregoing notwithstanding, Obasanjo's lame-duck presidency is yet to come; it will arrive in 2006, given the recent public assurance of Nigerians by Obasanjo that he is not interested in asking for any extension or extra time of six, four, or two years beyond 2007. From all appearances, Obasanjo is fast approaching the lame-duck phase of his presidency, and this is the time for observers of his administration to remind him of areas that require immediate attention before he starts to descend into the eclipse of his presidency.


One outstanding project that Obasanjo must face is the Identity Card scheme. Shortly before the end of his first term and before the 2003 election, Obasanjo put a lot of energy into the Identity Card scheme. It was even rumoured by members of his team at that time that he was interested in using the National Identity Card as a backup document for registration to voters. Members of Arewa group cried foul about any effort to use the Identity Card as a requirement for voting. General Buhari said that the level of education or literacy in northern Nigeria would create enormous difficulties for his people and thus disenfranchise them unintentionally. The noise about using the Identity Card scheme as a means of creating a fairly verifiable record of Nigerians over 18 years of age suddenly died down once Obasanjo was made the flag bearer of PDP for the 2003 presidential election.


Two years after the election, the presidency and the media are manifestly silent about the ID card scheme, apart from occasional references to the corruption charges against late Sunday Afolabi, the Minister of Internal Affairs in charge of the ID card scheme in the days before the 2003 Presidential election. For obasanjo not to be misunderstood or misconstrued on the Identity card scheme, he should spend the remaining period before the onset of the lame-duck phase of his regime to complete the ID card scheme. Every Nigerian over 18 years should obtain and carry an ID card that is not prone to counterfeiting before Obasanjo becomes a lame-duck president.


The ID card should be used for all purposes of identifying its bearer for business and civic purposes. It should be used as identification for obtaining legal national, state, and local government documents. It should be used as voter's registration card and for obtaining ballot papers during elections at all levels. Otherwise, Obasanjo would strengthen his opponent's view of the noise and activities regarding the ID card in 2003 as a bargaining chip with states that were opposed to the use of ID cards as one way of drawing a line between real human beings and ghost human beings in Nigerian politics in general and census issues in particular. Obasanjo cannot afford to leave a legacy of failure in a project he introduced as a military dictator in 1979 and had eight years of presidential power to carry out between 1999 and 2007.


Another project that Obasanjo must bring to fruition before he becomes a lame-duck ruler is the census. All over the world, census is organised to find out the number of citizens and immigrants in each country and to collect relevant data on people in a country for purposes of economic and social planning. Knowing how many Muslims or Christians, Fulanis, Ijaws, Igbos, Yorubas, etc, in Nigeria is not a volatile political issue and should not be presented as such; it is an economic information that is capable of attracting investment from within and outside Nigeria.


For instance, a company that wants to manufacture rosary or print copies of the Quoran would need to know the potential market for such goods in Nigeria. Almost on the eve of the conduct of the Nigerian census, different parts of the country are threatening to boycott the enumeration process for reasons of inclusion or exclusion of questions on ethnic or religious affiliation on the census form. The boycott of the census by any section of Nigeria for one hour is enough to call the integrity of the census into question and throw Nigeria back to the bad old days of political negotiation over what numbers to use to describe Nigeria's population.


Obasanjo should not give any impression that he is ready to collude with any section of Nigeria that may be afraid of the truth of the numerical strength of each ethnic or religious group in Nigeria. We have used false figures or politically negotiated numbers to determine the population of Nigeria for over 40 years, and we all know where this behaviour has landed the country in terms of political and economic planning and accomplishment. The presidency should not politicise the census unduly by giving the impression that there are Nigerians that are afraid of knowing how many Igbo or Ijaw people reside in each region of Nigeria. Knowing the number of people from each ethnic group in Nigeria is not any different from knowing the number of Ghanaians, Togolese, Ivorians, etc., in ECOWAS for purposes of rational social and economic planning.


If we want to convince our creditors about debt forgiveness, we must, in addition to fighting bureaucratic corruption aggressively, be ready to convince the Paris Club of nations about the number of people that share the money made from petroleum. Although our able Minister of Finance used Nigeria's population as a way of establishing Nigeria as a very poor nation, there is no doubt that she too would have been fumbling for answers if she had been pinned down by creditors to provide verifiable sources for the number of people who share Nigeria's resources from petroleum.


Hoping that the President's National Political Reforms Conference will be over before Obasanjo becomes a lame duck, it is necessary for the president to use the remaining days in his productive presidency to settle the issue of getting a constitution that is approved by a referendum. All indications from Arewa and northern senators are to the effect that whatever recommendations emanate from the conference in Abuja may not lead to radical constitutional amendments. Hoping to pass new constitutional provisions through the existing legislatures may be futile, and thus increase the number of failures to be put in Obasanjo's bag at the end of his eight-year tenure as civilian president. The best option is to package the suggestions from the National conference for a national referendum, well ahead of the advent of the lame-duck period.


If Obasanjo wants to be known as Nigeria's infrastructure President, he would need to make sure that the deregulation of the energy sector leads to the availability of energy for industrial and domestic use in the country before he leaves in 2007, not just promises about the number of mega watts on the way. This means that he must get all the local and foreign investors who have shown interest in participating in Nigeria's energy sector on board and in the trenches before the middle of 2006.


Obasanjo may go down as a president that flouts the rule of law unless he releases the statutory allocations to local governments in Lagos State. As Professor Segun Gbadegesin said recently in "Mocking the Rule of Law", respect for the rule of law and court orders is a sine qua non of democratic culture. The final interpreter of the laws of a democratic country is the court, more so the Supreme Court of the land. No president that is dismissive of the judgment of the Supreme Court on any issue usually goes down well in history. All that Obasanjo is going to have after 2007 is the judgment of history; he needs to use the remaining part of his rule to do the right thing, especially with respect to respecting the views of the court, as this is the only way to expect the average Nigerian to be law-abiding.


One last project for Obasanjo to conclude before his presidency becomes largely ceremonial is to put to rest the charges in the United States that Nigeria is a country with al-Queda presence. Newspapers and television programmes in the United States have in recent days put a lot of attention on the influence of al-Queda in Nigeria. This kind of publicity is not conducive to growth and development of democracy in Nigeria.
Most people who live in Nigeria or visit Nigeria often would say that most Nigerians are not interested in the kind of religious fanaticism that produces and nurtures al-Queda; on the contrary, most people in Nigeria are interested in a secular society that nurtures political, religious, and economic democracy and pluralism. Nobody is in a better position to provide the needed data for the United States about the truth or falsity of the presence of al-Queda in Nigeria. This is one thing that Obasanjo must do before he becomes a lame duck, and before thousands of Nigerians in North America are viewed as products of al-Queda mentality. Should there by any truth to the claim about al-Queda presence in Nigeria, Obasanjo should use his reputation as someone who believes fanatically in the unity of Nigeria to convince all sections of Nigeria that any form of jihadism is capable of ruining Nigeria's unity or accelerating Nigeria's disintegration.


Gani Fawehinmi just described Obasanjo as Nigeria's omniscient president. Without doubt, Obasanjo's rhetoric and lifestyle since he came back to power subsequent to his imprisonment by General Abacha suggests that he takes himself more seriously than any leader in history about his intellectual prowess.
Consequently, he should have no problem envisaging that political historians are getting ready to write their chronicles of Obasanjo's 8 years in Aso Rock. Before professional chroniclers put their words in print, Obasanjo is still in a position to right many of the wrongs that existed in Nigeria before his coming to power, so that historians of his regime can see him as part of the solution, rather than as part of the problem of Nigeria.


Prof. Sekoni teaches English and Mass Communication at Lincoln University in the United States




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