My friend Paul Adujie has tried to assure me that President Obasanjo is not interested in a third-term. Paul speaks like a man who knows what Obasanjo can and cannot do; he speaks like a man who knows what commentators like me don’t know but ought to know. And Paul knows a lot about Nigerian decisionmakers. But the more he tried to assuage my trepidation and misgiving the more I doubt him; the more he tried to fine-tune his analysis of Nigeria’s political situation, the more my senses comes alive to caution me. And why not; after all, it is Obasanjo we are talking about. Olusegun Obasanjo!
I don’t know whether President Obasanjo is a gambler. And even if he were, is he a petty gambler or a high-roller, the kind of man that could have had a permanent residence at the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand or the Wynn Las Vegas? May be he is. And here is why: Obasanjo looked across the African landscape and saw despots like Obiang Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), and Omar Bongo (Gabon) and several others and thought, “Gee…why not me?” He placed a bet!
He looked at the Nigerian political scene and wondered: “who else is there to do a better job…without me Nigeria will collapse…Without me there will be no Nigeria…” To reinforce his arrogance, paid praise-singers, hanger-on, and sycophants have been stroking his ego, encouraging him to do the unthinkable, to dare the gods and tempt fate. As if that wasn’t enough, thirty state governors have signed on to his third-term ambition. He smiled, chucked, laughed aloud and then thumbs his chest. Again, he placed a bet!
For a while he was concerned about the military. Well, in the last six years, he trimmed their wings to the bare. He retired a few, and fired some. Does he have the backing of the scaled-down military? It’s hard to tell. But it is clear that he has been engaged in survival strategies, which are common tactics in Middle East politics. One plays this game in order to remain in power, or allow others to remain in power at your behest and make them do what they otherwise wouldn’t do without force or the threat of force. The player cannot and must not be coy about using force or other forms of inducements to attain the desired objectives; otherwise, one would be at the mercy of his or her adversaries.
Survival strategy or strategy of survival is also the quintessential power-game in the rat-race world of Nigerian politics. And it happens to be the game Obasanjo perfected. For survival strategy to succeed, according to Daniel Brumberg, the player must be able to do two things: (1) Be able to pacify as many groups as possible without taking measure that would undermine the basic interests of any one group; and (2) Be able to play one group against another so as to put a check against any group that have temerity to violate the “rule of the game.” You have the “stick” and you have the “carrot,” in addition to possessing the “hammer.” Obasanjo is a master of the game. And so, he places a bet!
Now, he has two chips left. He surveyed the Nigerian electorate and basically said to himself: “Babangida and Abacha pulled wool over their eyes…they did it, why can’t I?” The Nigerian electorate can be fatalistic. They can be easy-going. And in recent years they’ve allowed religion and ethnicity to cloud their judgment. They are not as politically conscious and sophisticated as they should be. The Nigerian elite knows this — more so Obasanjo. And so he places another bet!
And now his last chip! He consulted with his pastors and priests. He consulted the Babalawo and the Imam and the amulet maker. They gave him a nod, after which he places his last bet! If Obasanjo thinks he is cornier than the fox and then act on his ambition, he will find out how much he is truly hated by Nigerians. He is incompetent, wasteful and forgetful of history. Let him go ahead and act on his dreams — history and posterity would be waiting for him. He will loose it all! In heaven or in hell, there will be joy and celebration at his loss.
But why does Obasanjo want a third-term? What more does he want? Does he need eight more years to bring our infrastructures up to date? Does he need eight more years to set right our health and educational system? Does he need eight more years to bring corruption under check? Does he need eight more years to strengthen our democratic institutions? This is a man with utter contempt for our institutions that even the Chief Justice of the federation has chastised the, “Federal Government for its utter disregard for court orders…choosing whatever court orders it wanted to obey and ignoring those that were antithetical to its interest.”
If the constitution is amended to meet the prayers of Obasanjo, what stops the next president from abridging or violating the constitution? If he won’t obey the constitution, what stops others from disobeying our Judges and other constituted authorities? If he abridges the Nigerian constitution, what stops other African countries — that look up to Nigeria for guidance — from vandalizing theirs? The implication of Obasanjo’s wishes runs far and wide. Come to think of it: who in the world is Obasanjo to want to truncate the wishes of the people?
Why is he afraid to leave office, anyway? That his political enemies will come for him? That he will find himself in jail again? That he will aimlessly roam the Nigerian wilderness the way he did beginning in 1980? That he will be irrelevant again?
The problem with Obasanjo is actually Obasanjo himself. With Ibrahim Babangida, you knew he would or could change his mind at any moment; you knew he had no scruples; you knew he was a man bent on polluting the air and distorting the system. You knew he was chameleonic. He toyed with the nation and with people’s mind. He himself knew he was not to be trusted and never asked anyone to trust him. With Sani Abacha, well, there were no two-ways about him. He was honest with himself and with the country and his opponents. He was a “straight-shooter” and never had public pretensions. He was whom he claimed to be; and till the end…he was evil, a depraved human being.
President Olusegun Obasanjo is a different breed. It is very hard to trust or to like him. He claims to be this when he is actually that; he acts as though he would do A when in actuality he meant to do C; he claims to be a democrat when he is actually a tyrant; he speaks about
law and order even when breaking the law or allowing his cronies to break the law; and he is very selective in who he brings to justice. He says he is not interested in a third-term, but he has been acting and allowing people and groups to beat the third-term-drums for him. In fact, he is acting like a man who is interested in perpetuating himself in power. Left to Obasanjo and the Parliament, the constitution would be rigged to allow perpetual reign.
Pick any five sector of the economy — health, education, agriculture, road and infrastructural development, water supply, etc, etc — what has he done? What are his achievements? The man is a fraud and so are his government and his political party, the PDP. Someone should calculate how much he and his office have spent junketing the globe. It will be proven that the amount is more than enough to restore IGBOBI, LUTH, UI and several other teaching hospitals. The man is beyond incompetent!
Under Obasanjo Chris Uba became a minigod and almost brought Anambra State and the governor down. Under Obasanjo, Adedibu sacked a legally constituted government in Oyo State. Under Obasanjo, Dariye urinated on the police. Under Obasanjo the incidence of oil bunkering by foreigners went up substantially thereby depriving the nation of some revenue. Under Obasanjo the Niger Delta entanglements almost got out of hand. This president has caused us too much grief, and so he must leave come 2007. If he leaves before his constitutionally allotted time…we’ll be glad, too. We’ll toast his departure.