Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the ‘Problem’ and ‘Solution’ of Nigeria Political crises (A modest Contribution to the Recent Cabal Question in Nigeria Politics)
Salisu O. Usman
Persistent turbulent period of any nation devoid of immediate remedies requires deep reflection on the genesis and real causes of the problems which could be historical and or contemporary. Some scholars and social critics alike had variously attempted to blame the Nigeria political woe on the misrule of the colonialists who departed decades ago. This is not fair. We need a pragmatic and critical approach which requires deep reflection on the functioning of the post-colonial institutions of the state and the elite that operates them. There is no doubt that Nigeria Constitution is not terribly defective per se, rather the major challenges rest with the operational defects. In Nigeria, there are leaders and rulers with different styles who are either part of the ‘problem’ or ‘solution’ or mixture of both to the political progress or stagnation of the country.
One of such leaders in Nigeria is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. God gave Obasanjo to Nigerians to either make them forget or understand their heterogeneous complexity. We cannot but agree with one of the Nigerian foremost scholars, Professor Ayoade, who described Nigeria federal arrangement as a mixture of love and hate which is centred on unity in her diversity. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired General in the Nigeria Army, former Military Head of State (1976-79) and two terms Civilian President (1999-2007) has helped to unite the country at a most critical period. Equally, some of his actions and in-actions while in and outside the government which will be shown later also, sowed the seed of numerous political crises in the country till today.
Obasanjo as a veteran of the Nigeria Civil War (1967-1970)
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the foremost Nigeria Civil war veterans that fought and accepted the surrendered Biafran troop for the unity of the Country. Indeed, this was one of his privileged national achievements that eventually opened doors in his military and political careers. In addition, the assassination of late military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed by the Dimka led aborted coup, created leadership vacum that resulted in the pressures on then General Obasanjo who ‘reluctantly’ accepted to succeed Murtala as Military Head of state at such a trying and critical moment in the political evolution of Nigeria.
To prove ‘his not too ambitious’ quality then, Obasanjo faithfully implemented the transition programme of the Murtala/Obasanjo administration and successfully handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Hausa/Fulani Muslim of northern extraction. Shagari became the first elected executive President of Nigeria under a newly introduced America styled Presidential system of Government with Bicameral legislatures. After this rare and bold initiative, Obasanjo returned to his Otta farm, the venture he was accused by the late Afro-beat musician, Fela Anikolapo Kuti and other social critics of ‘corruptly’ funding with the Nigeria oil wealth while in the office.
It was from the Otta farm ‘Baba’ as he is fondly called, operates from as a private citizen, but of a statesman status, during which he contested and lost election for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations. In 1995, ‘Baba’ tested the might of his statesmanship by attempting to criticise the military administration of the late Nigeria dictator, General Sanni Abacha’ s attempt to transmute himself into a civilian President. Consequently, he was charged and convicted of plotting to overthrow Abacha led military junta. He received a death sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment due to persistent outcry from the international community.
Before his incarceration, the south- west elite thought Obasanjo would equally throw his statesman weight behind the struggle for the de-annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential election which was adjudged by the public opinion as the fairest and transparent election ever in Nigeria. The election was won by late chief M. K. O. Abiola and this could have naturally changed the power equation in Nigeria. However, Obasanjo was of the view that Abiola was not the kind President Nigeria needed at that time, even though they both hail from the same state (Ogun). It was in the midst of the heat generated by the June 12 saga during which Nigeria state was dwindling towards anarchy that the divine intervention saw the demise of the two principal dramatis personae in the crises from the scene (Abacha and Abiola) to give peace another chance to rein in the country.
The major and immediate challenge before General Abdusalam Abubakar who filled the leadership vacuity created by Abacha’s death was to unite the various ethno-regional conflicting groups. The first step he took was to release the political prisoners, including Chief Obasanjo and Chief Abiola (though Abiola later died) and to put in place a credible and realistic transition programme to hand over power to civilian administration in 1999. The Abdulsalam transition programme whose shortest record surpass that of Obasanjo took off with the re-constitution of the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and registration of three (3) major political parties; Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP),which later added ‘N’ to change its nomenclature to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obviously, the three (3) parties cannot be distinguished from right or left in terms of ideology and membership. The G-8 which grew to G-34 and later metamorphosed into one of the three political parties, PDP was one of the prominent associations of eminent Nigerians that confronted and challenged Late General Abacha not to transmute to himself.
The northern oligarchy, as a result of the political misnomer created by General Babangida over his action to annull the June 12 mandate which was described as northern agenda not to relinquish political power to their southern counterpart, put the northern elite in moral dilemma not to produce Presidential candidate for the 1998 election, if the much desired peace must return to the country. The dynamics of the power shift palaver before the northern elite therefore, was to identify a presidential material from among the south-west elite were, the agitation was very rife, who could ceremonially fill the Yoruba space while functioning for the northern oligarchy. It was based on this calculation that Obasanjo fit in because of his previous records during the civil war, his ‘reluctance’ to step into Murtala shoe and the historic hand over to civilian administration of northern extraction in 1979. Promptly, Presidential pardon was granted to Obasanjo who was released from prison during the peace processes and baptised into the PDP to pave way for him to contest the 1998 Presidential election which he won. Though, he lost all the six (6) south-west states including his state (Ogun) and Local Government to Chief Olu Falae who was the candidate of AD/APP alliance during the election.
The ‘sin’ of Obasanjo against the June 12 mandate apart, the major reasons why his kinsmen rejected him during the election is not unconnected with the northern scheming for a stooge which produced him as the PDP flag bearer but also the fear of also becoming the agent of the western countries to implement their detrimental neo-colonial policies in Nigeria if elected. Eventually, Obasanjo proved his kinsmen and those that made him President wrong- as it turned out, Obasanjo proved he was not a northern stooge. However, he could not distance himself from the western neo-colonial agenda, particularly his policies and direct handling of the Nigeria oil sectors which brought more hardship to the Nigerian masses. It was in the bid to clean up this ‘rejection’ stigma and to prove his acceptance by his people that Obasanjo schemed and lured the south-west Governors then (Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo), Lam Adeshina (Oyo), Olusegun Osoba (Ogun), Adebayo Adeniyi (Ekiti), Bola Tinubu (Lagos) and Akande (Osun)) into playing ethnic card to return him to office in the 2003 Presidential election against General Buhari of ANPP while promising to support them to retain their seats as well.
Consequently, Obasanjo did not only betray the gentlemen agreement but like hurricane, swept almost all the Governors out of office with the exception of Bola Tinubu of Lagos state. The only prominent Yoruba leader who attempted to prevent Obasanjo from capturing the south-west for PDP, was his former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation, late chief Bola Ige, who after concluded arrangement to resign from the Government to rebuild AD for the 2003 election was unfortunately assassinated before the election by yet to be apprehended assassins. The amazing dimension which the 2003 election took was the manner; Chief Iyiola Omisore who was a murder suspect in connection with the assassination of Chief Bola Ige contested and ‘won’ senatorial election under the platform of PDP from remand.
Chief Obasanjo as Civilian President (1999-2003)
Immediately Obasanjo was sworn-in on 27 May, 1999 as civilian President, he started tour of the world particularly the western countries (making him to be the most travelled President in Nigeria after Shagari) to restore confidence in the potential investors and woo back those that ran away with their investment. The efforts yielded positive and negative investments for the country. The chief among the positive investment through Obasanjo was the GSM revolution in Nigeria which was hitherto like an impossible task. On the negative side, of course, was the establishment of the British-America Tobacco at Ibadan and Zaria almost at the same period most of the European countries were legislating to phase out tobacco production and consumption in their countries due to the obvious and ever increasing health hazards tobacco posed to their citizens. What an Irony of development!
As part of measures to restore confidence in the prospective investors, Obasanjo vigorously pursued anti-corruption crusade through his newly established anti-corruption outfit; Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). However, some commentators argued that, in as much as his anti-corruption efforts to some extent achieved the intended objectives, the political motive, as will be shown later, cannot be over emphasized. Obasanjo equally embarked on reform, part of which was the consistent increase of the official pump price of fuel (about eleven (11) consecutive time) to N70 during his eight years rule (1999-2007) before President Yar’adua reversed the price to N65 as a result of pressures from the organised labour unions and to also get acceptance from the masses due to the legitimacy crisis his mandate was facing then. It was reported that apart from the vehement opposition by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under Comrade Adams Oshiomole over the incessant and arbitrary increase of the price of fuel which his administration was known for, the historic police mutiny ever in Nigeria over condition of services was equally recorded under Obasanjo administration.
Obasanjo Presidency – 2003-2007
Preparation for the 2003 Presidential election could be described as the dwindling period in the political sojourn of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He deployed his military experiences and successfully dislodged the military to the barracks to face their constitutional and professional responsibilities of protecting the territorial integrity of the country and compulsorily retiring the ‘militicians’ within the military circles and also provide incentives for those that returned to the barrack and jack up the pension of the pensioners. The major challenges Obasanjo faced at this period was how to conduct the 2003 Presidential election to return him to the office, which of course will begin by getting the PDP ticket as his prospect within the party was very gloom. Most of the PDP Governors and other stakeholders within the party, due to numerous unpopular policies of Obasanjo, decided to pull together to persuade and assured Vice-President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who was very popular and influential within the party then of their support to contest against his Boss. Reportedly, Obasanjo discovered this and opted to plead with his Vice to allow him for another term after which he would support him for the 2007 mandate.
It was based on this gentlemen agreement that Obasanjo flew the PDP flag, contested against General Muhammed Buhari and won in the 2003 election that was legally contested due to allegation of electoral fraud against PDP. However, the legal tussle mean nothing to Obasanjo rather, his calculation was how to hijack the PDP machineries from the founding fathers who gave him sleepless night during the primaries as well as the Atiku factor. Consequently, the process of building a ‘cabal’ under Obasanjo able leadership within the PDP which later degenerated into the emasculation of other political parties was responsible for the numerous intra and inter political party crises in our march to build a credible democratic institution.
In his desperate bid to hijack the control of PDP, Obasanjo staged numerous ‘party-coups’ to dislodge the founding fathers of the Party, like Chief Alex Ekwueme, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Chief Solomon Lar among others. The first in series of Obasanjo dislodgement agenda was the controversial manner Chief Solomon Lar who was the pioneer Chairman of PDP was removed and replaced with Barnabas Gemade. After using Gemade to test the murky objective, he tactically replaced him with Chief Audu Ogbe in the same manner, Solomon Lar was removed. Again, attempted effort of Chief Ogbe to advice his political benefactor equally led to his replacement with Senator Ahmodu Ali who incidentally, is not new to Obasanjo styled politics. Recall that, Ali was Obasanjo Federal Commissioner during his reign as Military Head of state when they both connived and increased the price of meal tickets of universities students in the 1970s (like his incessant increase of the price of fuel) which resulted in the famous “Ali must go’’ crises in Nigeria. Consequently, it was this Obasanjo intra party induced crises to dislodge his political enemies as well as the thump charges of corruption against his Vice, Atiku Abubakar which resulted in numerous but victorious legal tussle in favour of Atiku that fuelled the electoral crises in the Nigeria political system. The Obasanjo versus Atiku saga in Nigeria then was similar to that of Mbeki versus Zuma of South Africa. The only difference was the existence of party supremacy in South Africa while that of Nigeria was Obasanjo supremacy. In fact, PDP till today is Obasanjo while Obasanjo is PDP.
However, Baba chose to ignore the phases in the political life of elite. It could be rise and fall (vice- versa), rise and rise, and fall and fall. In Obasanjo ascendency to national life, he ‘reluctantly’ became military Head of state to fill the leadership vacuum created by the assassination of Murtala and was searched and ‘prevailed’ upon to rule Nigeria (1999-2003) to douse the June 12 tension. Contrastingly, it was reported that, Obasanjo pleaded before he clinched the 2003 PDP Presidential ticket and, in 2007 he did not only attempt to change Nigeria Constitution to give himself third term mandate that failed but also succeeded in changing the Constitution of his party, PDP to suit his purpose and eventually became the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (the most powerful national organ of the party) by dislodging Chief Tony Aneni who occupied the position then.
The emergence of Obasanjo Cabal and the post 2007 politics in Nigeria
The major challenges confronting the post 2007 Presidential election and politics in Nigeria was the aftermath and consequences of the failed third term agenda of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The 2007 election which was described by Nigerians and International observers and admitted by President Yar’adua himself as the ‘most’ fraudulent was the direct product of Obasanjo do or die electoral packages for Nigeria electorates.
The failure of the third term project which helped to reverse the already packaged monarchical political terrain by Obasanjo, saw the emergence of numerous potential presidential materials from all the parties with the majority of them coming from the PDP. Predictably, since PDP is in Baba’s pocket, it is no task for him to determine who clinched the Party presidential ticket. In fact, those who attempted to protest for the party primary were silenced by Baba’s EFCC. It was against this background that the EFCC under Ribadu and their fight against corruption was described as not only cosmetic but selective and a political tool of Baba to command followers and wipe errand politician to fold. This accusation can be supported by the manner Baba coaxed, State Governors, Central Bank Governor, Ministers, GMD of NNPC, other Heads of Government organisations and government contractors to donating handsomely to Presidential library project. Today, Presidential Library has come to stay in the almost similar manner that Otta farm was allegedly acquired.
Baba with Ribadu-EFCC in hand, hand picked the former two terms Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua who is also the younger brother of his former chief of staff, late Alhaji Shehu Yar’adua as the PDP Presidential flag bearer in the 2007 election. Yar’adua while serving as Governor of Katsina state was a known kidney patient with a complicated case. With the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the former Governor of Bayelsa state and one of Obasanjo political sons as the running mate of Yar’adua, the Obasanjo cabal was formed for the 2007 Presidential election and beyond. Had the will of the electorates being allowed to prevail considering the collapse and the subsequent rumour of the death of Yar’adua during one of the PDP Presidential campaign which compelled Baba to dispel the rumour at the Ekiti PDP Presidential rally by demonstrating live speaker phone call to Yar’adua on his hospital bed at Germany with his usual caricature of ‘’Umoru are you dead?’’ syndrome, the political situation could have been different from what it is today.
Analyst of Political evolution in Nigeria argued that, though issues of health, life and death belong to God, the marriage of Yar’adua/Goodluck by Obasanjo on the political scene was like a time bomb which has just started exploding. Therefore, those who do not know or are looking for the solution to the current political quagmire should search towards Baba who conducted the marriage. Apart from creating the problems to punish Nigerians for rejecting his third term advances, the situation could rather be described as a manifestation of the cracking walls of his cabal.
Interestingly, when Professor Dora Akunyili earlier talked of cabal, she was misunderstood by those who did not know how and the platform she emerged as the Minister of Information under Yar’adua. If not, it is unpardonable political taboo and offences where Presidential system is practiced in the world (particularly under Obasanjo of Nigeria) for a guest who was invited for a dinner to turn the dinner table on the host simply because the host became indisposed in between the meal. Yes, there is Obasanjo cabal which has now been factionalised into Pro-Yar’adua (anti-Jonathan) and Pro-Jonathan (anti-Yar’adua) of which Dora Akunyili is the spokesperson for pro-Jonathan camp, simply because of her misunderstanding of Baba’s body language due to his recent ‘’path of honour and morality’’ remark after returning from Saudi Arabia where Yar’adua was receiving treatment. However, Dora should try and visit Chief Bode George at prison to seek for his urgent advice before it is too late since El- Rufai and Ribadu are not on the Nigeria soil.
In fact, Akunyili could be described as yet- to -mature politician but too ambitious who utter before calculation. There is a big difference between a successful technocrat and a successful politician. It is only those that were exceptionally blessed by God that can succeed in both. Professor Dora Akunyili, no matter the measurement of her acclaimed success during her reign as the Director-General of NAFDAC, a supposedly non partisan agency which she dreadfully operated like Ribadu’s EFCC, was somehow accused of political infidelity during her Ministerial ambition vestibule. Pictorially, since Television does not lie per se, Akunyili with her professional pedigree has no moral justification to be on the campaign train at virtually most of the PDP rallies and functions particularly in the eastern states which were mostly televised live. Recall that late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu a very influential PDP stalwart and father of Amala politics in Ibadan, had shortly before his death, accused Akunyili of politically and selectively witch-haunting the drug and medicine dealer in Ibadan because of his refusal to concede to her ministerial lobby through him to Obasanjo. Promptly, Akunyili with her usual holier- than -thou exhibition did not only deny the allegation but chose to call Baba Adedibu names.
Today, with Akunyili as Minister of Information (a different Ministry she did not know how she emerged against her target Ministry of Health) and as well as her emergence on the ‘’Dr.’’ OBJ platform who was allegedly reputed as ‘immunisation injection specialist’ for Minister patient (female?) who want the special immune vaccination as source of energy for work, Dora’s sudden political energy might have been sourced from there? Dora ought to know that the historic political resolution of doctrine of necessity against the unambiguous constitutional provisions by the National Assembly that gave mandate of Acting President and Commander in Chief to the ever lucky but equally experienced Dr. Goodluck Jonathan which is still generating legal murmuring was for the unity of the country. Why then should Dora choose to over heat the polity with her cabal and no cabal un-ministerial utterances? We expect other stake holders in the Nigeria project to have sincerely joined the northern caucus of the National Assembly to condemn Akunyili’s utterances that may consequently turn the table of doctrine of necessity decision on all Nigerians if legal tussle ensue.
Obviously, there is no doubt that most Nigerians want Dr. Goodluck to continue and complete his Boss laudable programme and achievements even beyond 2011. This is because the type of leadership Nigerians want is not ‘’our turn’’ syndrome but somebody who can perform. In fairness to President Yar’adua, before his complicated ill health degenerated, he was able to deploy his humility and experience to manage the Niger Delta conflict to pave way for peaceful development at the area which will forever single him out for commendation among his pairs. Apart from creating the Ministry of Niger Delta which was part of his electoral promises, the amnesty programme granted to the ex-militants is like a ‘magic touch’ to the Niger Delta conflict.
The previous efforts, particularly that of Obasanjo was centred on two prominent and defective approaches; Incremental and Traditional Honey harvest approaches. The Incremental approach is a situational increase of the existing packages due to mounting pressures which the Niger Delta elite interprets to mean ‘’the more we agitate the more we get’’. The second approach which is Traditional Honey harvest approach is synonymous with crush them practice with military action against any obstacle to the oil of blood then. Do you remember Odi massacre? Traditionally, honey harvest procedure in Africa and elsewhere in the world which is not without sting is by attacking the Bees with flames in order to access the honey. Contrastingly, amnesty deal of Yar’adua/Goodluck administration could be described as a rather modern approach to ‘’honey’’ extraction without necessarily killing the ‘Bees.’ In addition, do we need to ask Nigerians to reflect on whether the oil Yar’adua/Goodluck administration manage without fuel price increase different from that Obasanjo punish the masses with the incessant increase of the price about eleven (11) consecutive hardship time?
President Obama of America in one of his speeches to the Americans remarked that, he will give to Americans what they need and not necessarily what they want. However, in the case of Nigeria, their leaders chose to give them what the leaders want and not necessarily what Nigerians need. Too bad! Nigerians need transparent election devoid of political hooligan and assassins, conducted through Babangida’s styled option A4. If need be Babangida’s two party system where there is no founder but joiners, should be reviewed in view of the current trend of PDP versus other parties. Finally, Nigerians need leaders that have fear of God in the true sense of FEAR OF GOD. May God bless Obasanjo so that he can move Nigeria forward! Our confidence in him for better Nigeria is still not out of place. God bless Nigeria.
Salisu O. Usman
Is with the Department of Political Science
Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria