At the heart of the antics of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the aspirations to inherit the mantle to his office in 2007 by his deputy, Mr. Atiku Abubakar is sheer prostitution of naked power, which has absolutely nothing to do with proselytization of political doctrines or ideals, which are beneficiary to the governed. Mark this: neither man shall be victorious and their political party will be annihilated. All of what is happening in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is parallel to the mischief characterised by the British Conservative Party in the United Kingdom immediately after the departure of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the post world war renowned Prime Minister.
In parsing the earlier characterisation of the rift, the flexing of power in dismissing the staff of his deputy, the president may have succeeded in making an obvious point that he is in charge at the presidency. At the same time, he seems to confirm what is attributed to Earnest Benn, the British Publisher and Economist: Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. Yes. It can be adduced that Mr. Obasanjo is presently concerned to impact the lives of the governed after the failure of his first term of office. Perhaps, understandably, he does not want to be distracted from his puny reforms, which he is so tenacious about. Unfortunately, for the president, his reforms are not subsequent to any economic gains. Instead of concentrating on short-term policies that deliver immediate relevance to the electorate, wasteful elephantine projects such as I.D Cards and COJA together with a privatisation programme that he is unclear about occupied his time. One day, he decides to sell of a national asset. The next day, his policy of sale is jettisoned. The Mints is an example; and that does not account for the stop and start policies in the Aviation Industry and the debacles in the telecommunication sector.
It can be said that an immediate economic gain is the increase of salaries of civil servants, which forced State Governments to match the increases and of course spelt inflation for the economy. Therefore, salary increases did not so much provide the expected political dividends. Anyway, barely three years into the increase, the administration of the same man has suddenly woken up to the obvious fact that the Civil Service is overstaffed. When he appointed a 47 man Cabinet in his first term – what type of civil service did he perceive before running for office? Is the streamlining of the Civil Service another stop and start policy of a knee jerk type or a sustained policy?
What merit is there in severing the appointments of the staff of his deputy and going on television to confirm that he did so? Gravely for the president, the perception is that he is out to hinder the chances of his deputy becoming the next president. Whether such assertion is false or not, he has provided the credence and dignified the rumours by his admission, which is a grave error for any politician; and it further buttresses the point that this president is not politically savvy. He remains an authoritarian in a democratic environment. Quite like a misfit, really. That, politicians do not admit being the source of a misfortune is what led Mr. Tony Blair, to set up the Hutton Inquiry, to ward off blame that his government was responsible for the suicide of a civil servant. Also, when Mr. Martin Sixsmith, Ms. Jo Moore and Mr. Stephen Byers of the British Transport Department became embroiled in burying Railtrack bad news on the Friday that the death of Princess Margaret was announced, the Cabinet Minister had to deny that he severed the appointment of Mr. Sixsmith. It was not because the government could not afford the severance pay, a politician like Mr. Byers knew different what our own president seems to be ignorant of.
Instead of his blatant reaction, Mr. Obasanjo needs to learn that in such situations, a Claire Short Option is preferable. The president may never have heard of Ms. Claire Short. He can be forgiven for that, as there is nothing special about her. She symbolises a theory of allowing a broad church in cabinet responsibilities. When Mr. Blair became the Prime Minister, he was well aware of the diarrhoeic utterances of his colleague. So, he appointed her as the Secretary of State, International Development Office – an appointment that involved a lot of international travelling. Effectively, she was seldom at home to undermine her boss. It worked until she became confused about the purpose of the last Iraqi War.
Anyhow, apart from the Claire Short Option, it is telling that the Media Advisers of the president since 1999 have ranged from what in The New Republic (December 1990), Andrew Sullivan described as loquacious bores (Gay Life, Gay Death) to combatants, who believe this president is at war with his constituents. Simply, his Media men have ranged from garrulous magpies to inept advisers. As the president has admitted much to dismissing Dr. Adeolu Akande, Malam Garba Shehu and Prof Sam Oyovbaire without expatiating on the reason for their dismissal, he leaves room for conjectures – one of which is that the men appointed to serve his deputy were effectively doing their master’s bidding to the disadvantage of his Media own apparatchik. It is somewhat a commendation to be fired for being effective at a job, when the president seems to be having a bad press and his own media advisers have so far failed to turn the tide in his favour. Let this president not hang a good material, when he can use the same for his own benefit.
Now, to the consequences for the ruling party and again, another parallel in British politics suffices. During the premiership of Mr. John Major, the right-wingers of the party, who pretentiously were more Thatcherite than Mrs. Thatcher attracted more attention to themselves and their aspirations to lead the party. As a result, the message of the policies of the Major government was lost on the governed. The Major years are perceived as the worst period of governance in modern history. That may well be an exaggeration for other reasons. Aside from that experience, the Conservative party from 1997 to the election of Mr. Michael Howard became rudderless under Messrs William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith. In relating the above to the present tussle between Messrs Obasanjo and Abubakar, the ruling party as predicted by Chief Audu Ogbeh will not only fail to capture power, it will be fractious and various camps will allege to Messrs. Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar. As can be expected, the dissension would not be about policies or ideals; it would be about largess, lucre and sheer power brokerage. The only loser in the process will be no one but the present president. As 2007 approaches, he would be deemed to be considered irrelevant to a process that he cannot finance and for which he cannot dispense benefits after its outcome. As we are nearer the next general elections, the revenge of the Atiku Camp would be to showcase the failures of this administration as personal to Mr. Obasanjo. The project was started a while ago and it is persuasive. Ask anyone in the country or out of it, the current president is deemed to be inadequately equipped for his office. Regardless of his international connections, he is considered as clueless to solve the present economic and security malaise in the country.
As the nomination for the PDP ticket may be between Messrs Babangida and Abubakar, it is inconceivable that Mr. Babangida would stop his “dogs” as pleaded in “IBB’s Christmas present” penned by Mr. Sonala Olumhense in the Guardian Newspaper (28th December 2003). Why should this vice president remain inactive and allow Mr. Babangida a dry run? Regardless of the appeals of the president to both sides, it should be understood that the former Head of State is an unreliable adherent to promises and truth for him is expedient. Whether, he denies interest in the 2007 elections or not, he must not believed until the president elect has been duly sworn. I maintain that unless our leaders are dependable and can be trusted, development in our nation will remain a mirage. In light of the experiences of the Babangida administration, well meaning Nigerians, for whom national interest is beyond self aggrandisement must prevail by all possible means to ensure that the man does not attain the presidency of this nation, ever again! This does not imply that the field be made open for Mr. Abubakar and neither is this, an attempt to support his aspirations.
In closing, this president may seek to be succeeded by his own choice of candidate. There is nothing wrong with that, for as long as his choice is not imposed on the electorate in a dubious manner as his governors in the SouthWest. If perchance Mr. Abubakar becomes the next president, it would be interesting to see what Mr. Obasanjo would make of the triumvirate he admitted severing their appointments, when they are made ministers. If I am able to predict the outcome of all the actions of the president -in the succession to the next presidency. He may find himself to be blamed for a situation that could be handled more adroitly. As for now, he should remain well above the antics of who is to succeed him. After all, he is blamed enough for the current situation in the country. Why attract condemnation for installing a successor, who is unlikely to be anything but another Obasanjo Mark Two?
The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.