Third Term Debate: Can Mr. Obasanjo recover?

by Banjo Odutola

How much was staked on the tenure elongation campaign of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo as the president of our country, Nigeria, will one day become what the man himself may come to accept as a “moral burden”. The central plank of this treatise is neither about “morality” nor the concomitant “burden” which are Mr. Obasanjo’s prolixness. Even though his presidency confirms Duc de la Rochefoucauld, the French moralist in Maximes: L’hypocrisie est un homage que le vice rend a la vertu – roughly translated: Hypocrisy is a tribute which vice pays to virtue. The contents herein are not about the president’s proclivity which avers wrongfulness in others but not himself. This article is only an attempt to account for what may lay ahead in regretting how this president has confirmed the footnote of his public service.

When Mr. Alison Ayida of the “super-permanent secretary” fame opined on 1st April 1990 in an interesting article, titled:”An open confidential memo to General Obasanjo (Guardian Newspaper)” is considered as enunciated by Is’haq Modibbo Kawu in “Nigeria: An Unfulfilling Finale for Hostage Politics (Daily Trust, 20th April 2006))”- the reader is reminded of financial investigations authorised by General Murtala Mohammed (deceased), the former Head of State, into “the list of shares and assets acquired particularly under the Indigenisation exercise”. Mr. Obasanjo’s name as reported featured “prominently as shareholder in several companies”:clearly, an anathema to the ethos of that regime. Mr. Ayida opined that it was the intervention of others that saved Mr. Obasanjo. The white paper on the Adeosun Indigenisation Panel could have meant that “there were no-go areas on some of the panel’s recommendations as it was stated ‘where a Nigerian had acquired the bulk of the shares in any enterprise outside Schedule I; the shares should be ‘confiscated’ and forfeited to the Federal Government and the names of the ‘money-bags’ published’.According to Mr. Ayida, it appeared Mr. Obasanjo “had not studied Volume III of the report where names of such shareholders were listed”. The “super permanent secretary” further stated: “When I drew your attention to the pages where your name (Obasanjo’s name) appeared, you readily agreed that the panel’s recommendation should be rejected. And you then directed that I should take another week to redraft the white paper. When eventually the council memorandum was circulated, we agreed that Volume III should not be circulated or published but that you should mention in council that any member interested in the particulars of those who “cornered” the indigenisation shares should see the SFMG. Several members contacted me for the list but no member saw the list of names! The permanent secretary and I received a ‘big thank you’ from you at the end of the exercise.” If this is an antecedent of our corruption waging president – why does anyone still doubt the reason behind the failure of his so called corruption crusade? Does Mr. Obasanjo’s rejection of the Ports Authority report of Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, any surprising?

However, one inter-related lesson can be drawn from the above. Why sixteen years afterwards, were we as a people divided on Mr. Obasanjo’s capacity for unconscionable bravura, as pertains to the third term campaign? Is the above account not depictive of behaviour of sleight of hand, in government? A Leopard hardly changes its spots. Perhaps, if the president had taken cognizance of Mr. Femi Aribisala’s exposition: “I certainly know of no value that I can describe as being widely accepted without contradiction in Nigeria…Values such as excellence, merit, equality and justice… continue to be questioned…while in other societies they are regarded as articles of faith…. Until we reach a consensus about national values to which we can appeal or refer without fear of contradiction, we will not be able to establish solid institutions and mechanisms to protect and promote our national interests (African Concord, 31 May 1988)” – Let this president note his choice to govern our nation was to assist in the elimination of contradictions in society. His ill-fated “Third Term” is no exemplar.

On probability – Mr. Obasanjo may remain to many, what Frederick Douglass in “My Bondage, My Freedom” describes “a great appetite” – a desideratum. That is, seemingly, at any cost, this president ought to retain his office. Professor Sam Aluko persuasively elucidated differently in “Obasanjo in the mould of Abacha (Newswatch Magazine 9th May 2006) in less words than Jared Diamond in “Collapse – How societies choose to fail or survive”. With the Professor’s wordsthe future is now mortgaged with disregard to the peoples’ economic interest. Only time will tell.Aside from the judgement of history on economic reforms – the broadcast on “moral burden”; contradiction in handling of a “civilian coup” in Oyo State; high-handedness in Balyesa State; and a few other examples, further makes the president’s charge of others personally applicable. Somewhat, and no matter how much the man attempts to re-write the history of his “second-coming” public service – the enterprise has damaged and exposed the short comings of his earlier rulership and person. The president makes clearer that Nigeria requires a leader capable of a consensus of national values, which demonstrably must not be one rule for the presidency; and another, for the rest of us. Perhaps, a leader who can abide by standards he wishes others are judged is the one now required. From the antecedents of this president – history can only be changed at the recovery of acreage of newsprints depicting him, less graciously. Curiously; and by his actions – there is common thread in public commentaries for a successor to lead the nation from what Jared Diamond, again, considers a controversy which involves resistance to the idea that past peoples did things that contributed to their own decline. By stealth, Mr. Obasanjo’s weaknesses seem to be the defining rejection in what others now clamour for “the president, we need.”

With defeat of partly amending the Constitution for his benefit – would Mr. President now accept he does not have control of his political party?country? By extension – he is a proverbial lame duck and wounded president. He may deny this proposition by certain actions. Pity, his actions can only be tantamount to the King dancing naked in the village square. If this was not the case – how can the President defend his choice of Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Without regard for the acerbic of Mr. Fani-Kayode; his vituperations against elderly citizens; or his ill-mannered gestures – the president sets a bad precedent in rewarding ignominy. Mark this – the next man to occupy Mr. Fani-Kayode’s office will extend the boundary of insouciance and public mannerlessness in the hope that the next president elevates such an adviser to a ministerial position. Is this the type public service that Mr. Obasanjo offers Nigeria? On this issue, it is not whether the president recovers the respectability and sanctimony of his office. My humble submission is that unacceptable and substandard behaviour must not be a ticket to higher office in our country. With the Nigerian Press and the body of the Senate – the choice and service of Mr. Fani-Kayode must be resisted. Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode must be rejected for minister

ial position!

In an attempt to reconcile his political party – this president continues to bare all, in his village square dance. How else can it be explained when he sent forth, a majority of those fingered as reasons of discomfiture in his political party? What type of reconciliation can there be – when the president should take the proverbial bull by its horn; and make a public display of cordiality with the vice-president? Somewhat, as fraught as the situation has become, Mr. Obasanjo must seize the moment to display statesmanship – not the one so far displayed, which lacks depth. In all of the events unfolding around him – there is an opportunity to show maturity.

To state Mr. Obasanjo’s reputation is unassailable – Mr. Greg Mbadiwe, the former Nigeria Ambassador to Congo may have stretched his imagination that failure to grant Mr. Obasanjo an extension of tenure will result in anarchy (Daily Independent 13th May 2006). The son of the former well known sesquipedalian could have qualified his views better, as his contention seemed more of rotational presidency rather than life presidency for Mr. Obasanjo. In so much as it can be argued – the defeat of the president is not the gain of his adversaries. It is for this reason that the vice president may not end as the beneficiary of Mr. Obasanjo’s loss. This issue brings to mind the loss of office of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister whose downfall was orchestrated by his powerful Defence Secretary of State – then Mr. Michael Heseltine. The rein of power was not inherited by the Heseltine camp. Unexpectedly, Mr. John Major inherited the mantle. Another parallel can be drawn from our country’s annals during the first republic and the annulment of 12th June 1993 elections. It can safely be predicted that the fallout between the president and Mr. Atiku shall end up producing an unexpected and a person not worthy of that office in 2007. Nigeria will be worse for it. Our politic is immature. The basis of victory in electioneering is dependent, not on ideals but who visits most violence on opponents. The currency of our politics is naked bestiality. There is a possibility the next president may seek to avenge Mr. Obasanjo – as he had done on others who set out with him on this political journey. Nigeria needs leaders at the helm of her affairs leaders whose task is not a dedication to avenge others. It is enough for us to learn from the present mistakes, whilst we seek to develop our country.

In all of the above – I am persuaded that this president means well for the nation. Pity, his narcissisms becloud many of his good intentions. In fact, I am confident, albeit, his views are mostly rigid, dogged and parochial: he is determined that the affairs of the nation are controlled by others who are not driven by the accoutrements and the monarchial powers bestowed by the 1999 Constitution. This perhaps, begs the question whether he can adopt an attitude foreign to him, in the last few months of governance. As Herculean such an expectation may be – let him start by obeying court orders; beat the path of justice and fairness in his political party; and, restrain from indiscriminate exercise of power for the sake of it. It is not in doing what is suggested here that a tarnished presidency and name will be restored. Mr. Obasanjo will soon realize what I concluded in my article: Afolabi – My Condolences, Mr. Obasanjo.”

If it bears repeating – was it not Enoch Powell, the United Kingdom Unionist politician who once said all political careers end in failure? Let me end as I started with the reflection of Mr. Alison Ayida. If Mr. Obasanjo rides back on a white horse to his village, after Aso Rock – would it, this time round – be a triumphant return? I think not, as the Gazetteers stand. This president’s success will be measured in responses to his utterances after his presidency. Wait, until his comments such as he uttered when Mr. Ibrahim Babangida was the Head of State, start. Mr. Obasanjo will be treated in the same manner as his agent, Mr. Fani-Kayode treated others; and responses from citizens of our country will in no doubt, be worse than the disrespect he experienced to his person during the debate of the “third term” infamy. This is the new order of public service introduced by the president. When this prediction comes true – it will be barometric of Mr. Obasanjo’s service.

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