But although much of Colonel Umar’s time since his departure from the armed forces has been spent in the company of ostriches, he has not shown any signs of mimicking their innate disposition of digging their heads in the sand. Indeed, in stark contrast to this ostrich predilection, in one rather memorable incident involving the previous Obasanjo regime; he raised his head so far above the parapet, launching as he did so, a coruscating attack of social commentary on the perceived underperformance of that regime. And in doing so, he succeeded perhaps over and beyond his expectations, in provoking the ire of that regime, exposing in the process, its lack of tolerance for public criticism.
The Obasanjo regime’s response was of a nature, and to an extent, that was well beyond, the ambit of Colonel Umar’s original criticisms. But what was most revealing about their reaction – or more properly put – their overreaction, was the rather unveiled and unequivocal threat issued to Colonel Umar. In which, he was put on notice that, neither he, nor his associates, would ever again regain power in Nigeria. So against the background of this threat, the suggestions of his possible candidacy in 2011, represents an even more interesting and intriguing prospect and proposition. Indeed, it may well be the very suggestion of such a candidacy that has given rise to recent efforts at rapprochement and realignment between the two estranged former principal actors of the last regime.
In fairness to Colonel Umar, much of what he had to say about the Obasanjo regime’s performance was valid. But it did seem somewhat duplicitous coming from someone who was an integral part of the Babangida regime. It could easily be argued with a degree of success, that what he highlighted as the failings of the Obasanjo regime, were perhaps equally true of the Babangida regime.
And yet, he is not on public record, as far as one is aware, of launching similar public criticism at the level of drift and corruption that beset Nigeria during those years. Apart from of course, one publicised and principled intervention, in which he was successful in dissuading General Babangida from following through on his plans to relocate critical aspects of the armed forces to Minna and Kano respectively. However, he has let it be known, that in times past, he authored a series of position papers on matters pertaining to the good governance of Nigeria for the benefit and follow-up action of General Babangida. Perhaps the time has come for him to release copies of such papers for the benefit of the generality of the Nigerian public.
Should he decide upon a run for high office, then he will discover much to his delight, that the time spent with his ostriches has been time well spent. For certain parallels exist between them and our political class. Like ostriches, many of our political class have long necks. And just like ostriches they appear not to be endowed with much functional sense. They also share the ostrich’s propensity for digging its heads in the sand; but in their case in the nation’s public coffers. Also in common with ostriches, much of our political class lacks the ability to ascend in flight; their thinking being largely earthbound and pedestrian. But, unlike ostriches, however, our political class lacks their powers of acceleration and speed. So, rather unwittingly, he may just turn out to be one of the better prepared candidates to run for presidential office.
But if his assumed candidacy, which does appear attractive on paper, is to develop wings and soar on the strength of the endorsement of the Nigerian people and result in a victorious outcome in 2011. He will need first of all, to resolve certain paradoxes which overhang him. For on the one hand, it is no secret at all, that he enjoys, and has done for many years, a close and special relationship with the nation’s favourite bete noire – General Babangida. Under whose commander-in-chieftaincy of the armed forces, he served as an officer and with exceptional loyalty. To the extent, that on one occasion, he declared fulsomely and with characteristic candour that he was prepared to march blindfolded into battle under General Babangida’s leadership. It was a staggering declaration of loyalty.
This reposal of blind faith in General Babangida’s leadership, which was not to go, unreciprocated. It was to be repaid in the form of the unprecedented and unfettered latitude he enjoyed, under whose terms he was able to air his views on a wide range of issues. And In a manner which was alien to the normal workings of a hierarchical command and control organisation, such as the Nigerian army. It was a rare privilege enjoyed by one of comparatively junior rank at the time.
On the other hand, however, in his public posturings he affects to be, or at least seems to come across, as a man with a social conscience, with deep and sincere concerns about the dreadful plight of the Nigerian masses. This mindset appears to be fundamentally at odds with some of the associations he has kept in the past; associations which were largely responsible for his emergence on the national stage. One does concede, however, that irrespective of the nature his associations – past or present – he has never, at least not to one’s knowledge, been talked of, or about, in terms of corruption, financial impropriety, or the abuse of public office.
The challenge, therefore, before him, if indeed he does decide to run for presidential office in 2011, is to set out his stall of beliefs and plans for the nation. He needs to let Nigerians know whose interests he really represents; that of our numerous powerful privileged political parasitic predators or the swollen ranks of the pauperised pedestrian proletariat who abound in Nigeria. Or at least, he needs to explain how he intends to walk such a tightrope in order to achieve a state of national equipoise. In which competing forces do not run the nation to ruination. He needs to let the nation know the precise direction in which the needle of his political compass is oriented.
For on this issue, he must differentiate himself from his ostriches by demonstrating to Nigerians, that his head is not buried in the sand. And that, he, much unlike his ostriches, is equipped with ‘wings’ of functionality, that are capable of flight and robust enough to support the weight of expectation of Nigeria and elevate her to great heights consistent with her rich natural and human resources.
If his potential candidacy is to gain traction, he will need to be transparent with Nigerians regarding his plans. As Nigerians in their turn will not be blinkered or blindfolded in their assessment of his candidacy or eventual presidency.