The thoughts that assailed some of us when the news hit home that Mr. Obasanjo’s Man Friday had finally got his patron’s constitutional committee to recommend a third term for the incumbent president and governors were many. Apart from this recommendation, there were two others namely the rotational presidency and an increase in revenue formulae for places like the Niger-Delta. The last two hardly interested me because they are equivalent to the sort of carroty bribe you offer a donkey, while you flogged its behind hard to gee it on and on and on. Also, it was not a surprise to all else that Mr. Mantu is head of that body: his political radar readily points us to the Abacha era of self-succession and how he did a wonderful job in attempting to foist on us a dragon of international opprobrium.
If you analyse the facts on ground and seek to understand why the incumbent desperately needs another shot at messing us all up once more like his predecessors and harbingers, it is my guess that it would be a lot easier to out-manouvre and outmaradona him. . Here is a man who ‘successfully’ handed over the reins of power to the democratically elected presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979 (though it has been insinuated that this was because he was still very shaking like a leaf at the violent end that beset his mentor-Murtala Muhammad). Before he came back again as civilian president, there had been a ‘disastrous deterioration of the Nigerian economy and corruption, arrogance and ineptitude’ took over. For instance, during Shagari’s dispensation, oil revenues declined from $24billion in 1980 to $10billion in 1983; external debt tripled to something around $15billion and our GDP declined to an estimated 4.4 percent in 1983. Prices of ‘essential’ commodities quadrupled. Another way to understand all of this grammar is to do this simple calculation: Buhari fined The Guardian N50,000 for publishing a list of ambassadorial postings even before he announced the posting. At that time N50,000 in American currency was equivalent to $65,000. Now, do a little arithmetic and convert that same amount in US funds to our money and you would realize that things actually took a plunge.
The initial goodwill Mr. Obasanjo garnered when he handed over power to civilians placed him in a vantage position to aspire to the Secretary-Generalship of the UN, using the ventriloquism of his ‘Africa Forum’. But it was his Franco-linguistic shortcomings and Wole Soyinka’s diatribes and verbal fusillades that messed things up for him. In the late 80s and early 90s Obasanjo served as a member of the Commonwealth ‘Eminent Persons Group’, that pressed for an end to the Apartheid regime in South Africa. A lot of these activities placed him on a platform as a representative of our individual and collective conscience and this must be why he spoke out against the repressive Abacha government and bagged a death sentence in the bargain.
For me, I think that there are a lot of reasons why Mr. Obasanjo wants to continue in office, bearing in mind his antecedents. First, he appears no longer interested in the business of life and living it. Second, he assumes (from a wrong premise of course) that he alone has the manifest destiny of Nigeria at heart or that he alone possesses the magic wand with which to wish our troubles away. Third, the worthy has as advisers, those who would lose their jobs after 2007 and the only way to retain same would be to set up a propaganda machine of life presidency for their principal. Fourth, I would be the last to believe that the man wants to continue because he just loves to live dangerously-the man is not a fool. Fifth, he may have realized that he gambled with his first tenure as president with very unlikely statesmen and this cast a pall on his administration. Sixth, he may be aware that there abound, certain political mercenaries whose intention may be to sell Nigeria for two million dollars and pocket the change.
Whatever excuses there are in his bag of tricks to attempt a shifting of the goal post in his favour are no different from the fearsome ride a dictator takes on the back of a ferocious tiger. Let us let Mr. Obasanjo know that we know that he may have the interest of the nation at heart . We also want to let him know that Nigerians recognize the need for him to scuttle the presidential ambitions of those who are hardly presidential in their approach to capturing Aso Rock. And truly, would it indeed not be very surprising and most unlikely that an incumbent of Mr. Obasanjo’s status, on the verge of relinquishing power already does not have a candidate of his own?
However, the point must be made that Mr. Obasanjo has, in various capacities served his country for most of his life in what many would agree, in a creditable manner. He was there during the civil war. He was there when the nation was rudderless when Murtala was assassinated. He was there to hand over power to Shagari. He was there campaigning against Apartheid in South Africa. He was there when Abacha terrorized us. He was also there to start the democratic race in 1999. He has been there till now and if my ethical calculation is correct, all of these should qualify him as a great man who merely wants to diminish and rubbish himself by his life-presidency ambition. Robert Dalleck, in ‘What makes a great president?, espoused the qualities that have made certain American presidents leave their footsteps in the sands of time. According to him, great presidents are visionaries; they are pragmatic people who possess a lot of personal charm. Most of them earn and keep public trust which helps them shore up some consensus in their domestic and international policies. Others were just great because on their own, they were already great people. Some were just lucky.
This seems to me to be Dalleck’s summary of part of Shakespeare’s lyrical fugue, Twelfth Night-that some are born great, others achieve greatness and some have it thrust on them. To a large extent, Mr. Obasanjo seems to be a product of all three. But if it is his ambition to foist on us his somewhat unpolished modicum of leadership for another life time, this would be the beginning of the unmaking of a somewhat great man.