In Nigeria, Yar’Adua Reigns, Obasanjo Rules

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

At various formal and informal discussion points across the country, and on listserv and discussion boards on the cyberspace, Nigerians are not hiding their deep pain and frustration that the obnoxious Third Term Project which they unanimously and disdainfully rejected not too long ago has been so smoothly and successfully imposed on them with such brazenness and flourish that seem to dare anyone who is not comfortable with the set-up to find himself the shortest route to hell.

The demoralising situation as we have it today is simple: Umaru Musa Yar’Adua reigns in Aso Rock; Olusegun Obasanjo rules Nigeria from Ota.

It is a classic case of post-colonial Indirect Rule. The “Emperor and Conqueror of Modern Nigeria” is still perfectly in-charge and has no intention of leaving any one in doubt about that. He has merely delegated Umoru, one of his very loyal “boys” to stand in for him at Abuja to implement his orders with maximum accuracy. So, while this “accredited Servant-leader” treads softly within the hallowed ambience of Aso Rock Villa with the title of “President” timidly attached to his flowing agbada, full Presidential powers reside at some cozy corner of a multi-billion naira farm in Ota, Ogun State .

What makes the matter even more revolting is what clearly looks like the utter helplessness of President Yar’Adua, a 56-year-old former academic and two-term governor, with enormous powers of State at his disposal, before such a repugnant affront from someone who now sees himself as some kind of “Senior President”, as somebody pointed out last Friday. This is very sad.

Now, even though Yar’Adua became president through what has been widely described as the worst election in human history, the only hint of consolation in that horrible, broad-day electoral robbery was the hope that by May 29, 2007, Nigerians would be rid of the flamboyant incompetence, and pugnacious person of Aremu Obasanjo, the man whose entire energy in the past eight years appeared to have been solely channelled into the accumulation of so much unearned resources to build himself the wealthiest dynasty this side of the sea, while the country he was supposed to be ruling decayed beyond what anyone would have imagined was possible. Nigerians just wanted a breath of fresh air, an entirely new face, but unfortunately, they have been short-changed once again. The man they had become sick and tired of, and thought had gone for good, is still very much around.

It is not only Yar’Adua that appears so helpless. For the past one week, I have read several columns on this matter, and all I have seen are passionate appeals to former President Obasanjo to, please, leave Yar’Adua alone to rule Nigeria the way he deems fit. Now, this makes no sense at all. Should we be begging an ex-president, obsessed with a grand illusion of boundless powers he no longer possesses, to leave the man with the real, statutory authority and powers alone to function? No, wait a minute! This would have been most laughable if it was not such a serious and pathetic matter, with far-reaching consequences to the survival of our nation.

As the nation’s opinion moulders weep and beg Obasanjo to, please, take his retirement in good faith and quickly dump himself in the unedifying company of failed leaders where he ought to feel very comfortable, and allow Yar’Adua free hand to conduct the affairs of the nation, what none of them appears to be asking is whether Yar’Adua himself is even desirous and eager to be rid of the overbearing influence of Obasanjo? Is he really ready to take charge? Are we sure that the “Servant-leader” is not even too grateful that Obasanjo’s meddlesome and looming shadow are providing perfect alibi for what is gradually appearing as his stark visionlessness? I would certainly want to know those great ideas of Yar’Adua’s which Obasanjo’s meddlesomeness is preventing him from unfolding! The truth, as we know it, is that Yar’Adua never wanted to be president, and so, he never sat down to draw up anything that vaguely looks like a blueprint for the country’s redemption. When he was conscripted by Obasanjo and imposed on both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Nigerians at a time elections were merely a couple of weeks away, he was too preoccupied with the thought of winning elections to have any time to concentrate and think about how he would rule Nigeria. And so when he eventually became President through the “Iwu-ruwuru” elections that took place last April, one of the first statements he made was that he had no plans of becoming a “Jack-of-all-trade” President. A nice statement though, except that it left a bold hint that the man who uttered it was already feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of Nigeria ’s problems.

Quite early, Yar’Adua began to make a singsong of the “Energy Challenge”, how he was going to confront it headlong, overcome it, and give Nigerians an uninterrupted power supply. This, if you would remember, formed the high point of virtually all his usually terse, uninspiring campaign speeches. It is more than forty days now since he became President, and the impression of him out there is that of a pitiably confused leader groping his way through an impenetrably dark alleyway. I am yet to encounter anyone with the slightest hint of how he plans to confront the ever-worsening “Energy Challenge.”

All he did the other day, to the consternation of many Nigerians, was to summon the same gaggle of failed “experts” in the Ministry of Power, the same people that ensured that Nigeria remained submerged in pitch darkness throughout the eight dark years of Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, and ordered them to either come up with a blueprint on how to solve the nation’s energy crises immediately, or he would declare a State of Emergency in the power sector? So, with all the talk about tackling the “energy challenge” headlong, the Servant-leader had no clear idea what to do? So, all these while, his hope had been on the same dead woods that could not achieve anything for a whole eight years? What a shame! I am sure, that it is equally becoming clearer to him that the Niger Delta problem which he promised to solve in a couple of months is much more complex than he had imagined.

No doubt, Obasanjo is clearly enjoying the show, filling a gaping power vacuum that clearly exists. When he said that the reason for his “reforms” in the “PiiiiDiiiiPiiii” was to change it from a Movement to a Party, where discipline would reign, so that his successor would not encounter the massive indiscipline he suffered, it was clear he was merely erecting an out-of-office power base for himself. He handpicked his comrade-in-arms and loyalist, Brigadier-General David Mark, and made him Senate President and installed a certain Patricia Etteh as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Next, he shoved aside Tony Anenih and installed himself as the PDP Board of Trustees (BOT) Chairman, and equally formed and became Chairman of what he calls PDP Legislative Agenda Committee whose business, we’re told, would be to vet the bills to be presented by PDP Senators and House Members. Already he is the “Life Leader” of the PDP.

In the light of the amended PDP constitution, the Party (read Obasanjo) is supreme, and even higher than both the president and the governors, and can dictate to them. And to underline this fact, Obasanjo recently summoned a meeting of the governors in Ota. That those wishing to be ministers had to lobby at Ota instead of Abuja is no more a secret; ditto for the fact that the list of the ministerial nominees were delayed until it was approved by Ota.

So, it is true that Obasanjo still rules Nigeria , but he is doing so, because Yar’Adua thinks he should. Or put another way, it suits Yar’Adua to still have Obasanjo in charge, while he enjoys the perks of office without the responsibilities that go with them. And at the end of the day, when another four years of devastating failure must have been successfully enacted, Yar’Adua can conveniently come up with the theory that he was not allowed to implement his ‘superior ideas’. So, please, no one should insult our intelligence any more with the old wives tales about how helpless he is before an overbearing ex-president! Because he knows full well that if he truly wants to halt the entire charade, he can. Even this morning!

What, for instance, stops Yar’Adua from threatening to resign and giving as reason his unwillingness to have history credit him with the disastrous outcome of another man’s decisions? It would be interesting to see how Obasanjo would respond to this challenge. Either way, both Obasanjo and the PDP are losers. At least, Yar’Adua would be able to redeem his name if he is forced to make good his threat. After all, he never wanted to be president.

Again, he could dust up the PTDF file and set up an Independent Commission of Enquiry to look into its management and, in fact, the whole Oil Ministry since 1999, and follow it up with a pledge that anybody implicated, “no matter how highly placed” would face the full weight of the law! The heavens would not fall.

Nor should he fear impeachment by the Obasanjo foot soldiers in the National Assembly, because the mere thought of its implication to the contentious issue of power shift would effectively kill the thought in the legislatures. Even if they now impeach him and his deputy, both Obasanjo and the PDP are still at loss. So, that option would remain unattractive to them.

So, please, spare me all these tales about Obasanjo’s overbearing influence on Yar’Adua, as if both the Inspector General of Police or Chief of Army Staff reside and take orders from Ota. Truth is: Yar’Adua is not yet ready to take over power. He should be sincere enough to tell himself that. When he is ready, we will know. He is still content with merely reigning in Aso Rock, while ‘Senior President’ Obasanjo rules Nigeria from Ota. That’s probably what he wanted from the beginning. What a sad situation.

Thursday, July 13, 2007

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