2011: Life under a Weakened Presidency

by Bayo Olupohunda

To say the current Presidency is embattled will be a glaring understatement. Isn’t the tell tale signs of a beleaguered Presidency evident in this breakneck and frenzied race to the 2011 elections? Never in the history of this democracy have an entire Presidency been this rattled than in the present dispensation where a combination of factors under the buzz word of “zoning” is making the Presidency walk on a tightrope of political minefields and uncertainties going into an election year. One can imagine the present scenario under the former President Obasanjo Presidency? What happened to the imperial Presidency of the Obasanjo years? Who dare confront the incumbent going into election year? Former President Obasanjo ran an imperial Presidency with no apologies. If the president sneezed every political player at the time caught cold. Not even the current Governors’ Forum who now dictate political course of action and wields so much influence dare look the emperor in the face. Where are all the combative Presidential spokespersons of yester years?

Those combative Presidential spokes person and the entire President’s Men under Obasanjo Presidency made life unbearable for his adversaries and those who eyed his seat going to the Presidential elections of 2003 and 2007? May be the present Presidency need such Presidential spokespersons and men to heat things up a little for those making life uncomfortable for this incumbent President? May be the present dispensation needs such President’s men to make life difficult for those currently jostling for the number one seat, (zoning or no zoning) and making the incumbent have a sleepless night? The Presidency is too quiet going into an election year. But this is the Jonathan’s age. Is it also the continuation of the Late President Yardua’s quiet Presidency where the rule of laws rules? Other wise how can one explain the current situation where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and political actors outside the Presidency have suddenly found political voices going into an election year? But this is a complete deviation from the Obasanjo years where the former President was the all-in- all in PDP.

Between 2003 and 2007, former President Obasanjo was the Alpha and Omega in the country and in his party. He rode roughshod over friends and enemies alike. He was the numerous uno. He has the last word over all issues of state. He even controls the National Assemblies. Countless Senate Presidents and House Speakers were removed through the clandestine engineering of powerful President Men who deployed every weapon in their arsenal to crush opposition of the imperial President. Many did not live to tell tale. The list is endless. The late Chuba Okadigbo, Evans Enwerem Anyim Pius Anyim and Umar Ghali Naaba were all victims of President Obasanjo’s powerful presidency. This is also not to forget countless of PDP chairmen who bit the dust on the account of Baba’s imperial powers. The former President brooked no opposition especially when it came to choosing a successor in the 2007 elections. Those who could not stand the imperial President were harangued out of the PDP. Some were expelled while some joined other parties out of frustration and in the bid to realize their presidential ambitions. Just as there were several ways to kill a cat, the Presidency at that time devised various means to make those recalcitrant party members stay in line. Various weapons were deployed to whip people in line. Is not ironical that the governors who now call the shots under the Governors’ Forum platform had no voice when the swashbuckling Baba” was in power? Most of these governors who now flaunt their influence went underground for the fear of Obasanjo’s Presidency was the beginning of wisdom. The fear of Baba (Father) as the former President was famously referred to instilled fear in the minds of governors and Presidential candidates who dropped their Presidential ambitions like hot potatoes at the glare of Baba’s fierce and fiery temper. They of course knew the repercussions of confronting the Almighty Presidency. They knew that their theft files would be dusted up and evidence of how they fleece their states will be used to checkmate their ambitions to confront the then President. That was at the peak of the Third Term Agenda when the fear of EFCC was the beginning of wisdom.

Even former President Babangida who has suddenly found his voice in this dispensation had to drop his Presidential ambition when the heat was turned on him. Have we suddenly forgotten that the former Vice President Abubakar Atiku even had to flee the PDP because Baba was too hot for him to handle? Have we forgotten how the likes of former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu made hurried flights from the PDP when President Obasanjo haunted all the influential governors against his ambition out of the PDP? The echoes of Baba’s influence are still being felt today. It is the reason why old party members who left out of fear and frustration are coming back to the PDP family. It is because of Baba that the current reconciliation is now being brokered in the party.

But alas all have fallen apart in this dispensation. Some have attributed the current scenario to the triumph of democratic principles and tenets, a complete departure from the lawlessness of pre-Yardua years but could it be a sign of a weakened Presidency where forces outside of the Presidency now called the shots? Is it a widening of the political space? But how the same political forces still call the shots? Has the EFCC suddenly become a toothless bulldog? What happened to the overbearing influence the President wields even over serious matters like zoning? Was President Obasanjo’s Third Term Agenda, an attempt to subvert the constitution, not stronger than the current call for zoning? Did he not weather the storm to the last minute? That was the stuff the presidency under Obasanjo was made of? But now what do we hear? An incumbent wants to drop his presidential ambition because of the trivial matter of zoning? Will that have mattered under Obasanjo Presidency? Baba would have trampled over all his adversaries who dare to confront him. But as I have said above, it is the Jonathan’s age.

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