One of the reasons used to justify the candidacy of General Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1999 presidential election, in spite of the fact that he was another military man or ex-military man, was that he is from the South Western part of Nigeria, which felt aggrieved over the annulment of the June 12,1993 election won by late Moshood Abiola.
Those that sponsored his candidacy and those that worked for it, including General Ibrahim Babangida and the government of the United States, did so with the assumption that, once in power, the former military man, who himself had tasted incarceration, courtesy of the General Abacha regime was going to bring some kind of stability to the Nigerian polity
It was calculated that the Obasanjo administration was going to calm the anxiety of the Yoruba people in the South West, retain his loyalty with the Hausas in the North, accommodate the Igbos in the East and usher in a semblance of peace in the country.
The fact that the man had also handed over to a civilian government in the first successful transition of it’s kind in 1979, gave many Nigerians and friends of Nigeria some kind of hope that perhaps he would be able to set the nation on a course of reconstruction, after years of military misrule, especially by the Babangida-Abacha regimes.
Alani Akinrinade, also a retired military general, however, sounded a note of warning. During an interview with him in his woodmore, Maryland home in the United States, (published in THISDAY Newspaper), Akinrinade said the prison experience had not brought a genuine change in Obasanjo. The man was not going to achieve much. He was not the messiah as believed by those that sponsored him into power.
Events in Nigeria, over the last three years can attest to the truth or otherwise of the observation by Akinrinade. A quick review of some critical issues in this period may throw more light on the question of whether Obasanjo should be contesting for re-election to the same office he has occupied both as a military and a civilian.
First, peace and stability, which were calculated to be the major by-product of sponsoring Obasanjo seem to have eluded the country in the last three years. The violence that has characterized this period has not been limited to the usual public violence of armed robbery and such that continued, but other forms of violence, including violence by militia groups, ethnic violence and religious violence also became the issues that placed Nigeria and Obasanjo on the international media frontpages.
Apart from these, there have been increased cases of direct violence in the Niger Delta region. The President is on record as having ordered the military occupation of Odi, an oil producing community in the Niger Delta. The cases of structural violence, which the people of the region have been resisting, is yet to be fully addressed by the Niger Delta Development Corporation created by Obasanjo.
There is of course the issue of sharia. Nobody can deny that Nigeria has become more stratified today than ever before because of the introduction of the Islamic sharia law. Now President Obasanjo and his people may argue, perhaps with some merits, that the introduction of sharia was a political move by elements in the North of Nigeria to thwart his administration. The issue, however, is the way the sharia matter and the violence it has so far spurred has been handled show that the calculation that an Obasanjo government was going to bring unity and peace to Nigeria was a faulty one.
Any wonder that not many foreign investors have come to the county in spite of the president’s many foreign trips, supposedly to woo investors. Any wonder that the United States had to warn its citizens about the hazards of visiting Nigeria?
Secondly, the Obasanjo administration put the fight against corruption as one of its key programs. Yet it remains one of the most corrupt government Nigeria has ever had. The corruption mess that successively rocked the Presidency and the scandalous display of bribe money in the Nigerian National Assembly are attestations to the lip service paid to the fight against corruption by president Obasanjo.
Nigerians can still recall that it is this same administration that granted presidential pardon to the first speaker of the Nigerian House of Assembly after the man had been publicly disgraced out of office for forging certificates of education. That is a sampling of how Obasanjo fought corruption.
Another example of how the Obasanjo administration fought corruption is the way money allegedly exchanged hands over the attempt to impeach him for gross misconduct. The stench that still trails the PDP primaries in which he was chosen as the party’s flag bearer for the April election is another. Any wonder that Transparency International still retain Nigeria on its annual list of most corrupt nations? Abacha must be turning in his grave now.
There is also the issue of poverty and decay of basic infrastructure. A recent World Bank report says poverty is on the increase in Nigeria. Yet another of Obasanjo´s program was the Poverty Alleviation Program (PAP). The University teachers that have once again left the classrooms over poor salaries and condition of service cannot be said to have experienced an increase in their poverty level. As for ordinary Nigerians, poverty has become etched on their faces many, who rushed to acquire GSM cellular phones cannot even buy calling units in the piece anymore.
The recent seizure of the passport of author and activist Odia Ofeimun at the Lagos airport for allegedly declaring at a seminar abroad that the Obasanjo administration was corrupt is perhaps the latest method that will be adopted by an administration that is desperate to cling to power. Democracy activists in Nigeria are now beginning to have vivid memories of the way thing were when late General Abacha was trying to transmute into a civilian president.
It becomes interesting therefore that the major challenger to Obasanjo’s re-election bid is another former military General, Ibrahim Buhari. Many Nigerian journalists will definitely remember Buhari for the obnoxious “Decree 4” which was used by his government to muzzle the press and jail journalists.
That Buhari will be less brutal than he was the last time he ruled Nigeria is doubtful. That he will be less corrupt than the incumbent president is also doubtful. The series of unanswered questions over the missing 2.8billion scandal of old and the similarly unresolved question about financial accountability in the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) which he headed a few years back, are attestations.
That General Buhari has chosen Chuba Okadigbo as running mate also raises serious questions. The Chuba Okadigbo that many Nigerians remember is a man, a senator and leader of the Nigerian senate who left office in disgrace after having been publicly declared guilty of corrupt practices by Kuta Anti-corruption panel in 2000.
That Same Chuba Okadigbo is now the man chosen as being-fit to be the vice president of Nigeria, if he and Buhari successfully outplay the Obasanjo-Atiku faction, in whatever will be called the presidential election in April 2003, speaks volume of the kind of government the Buhari-Okadigbo will be for the country.
As for violence, perhaps Nigerians should just keep their fingers crossed. Buhari has reportedly told his Arewa brothers that his government will ensure that sharia gets the kind of recognition “it deserves” when he comes into power. Very good! The question is, how far will these recognition go and at what cost will it come? How will the people in the Southwest react and more importantly, what will be the reaction of our Biafran brothers in the Southeast? Remember that many of them may not be behind Okadigbo.
As political events continue to unfold in the 2003 version of Nigeria’s “army arrangements”, the possibilities are becoming more worrisome. Nigerians are burdened with a current president that has the hubris of an erroneous claim to being a messiah, even if it is against the will of the gods. We are also saddled with the dilemma of what may not be a better alternative. What will deliver Nigeria from the power of the generals who want to be president again?