Can Waku stop Obasanjo?

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Emmanuel Yawe
The little village called Waku in Guma Local Government Area of Benue state has never witnessed a gathering of political heavy weights as it did on 3rd July 2009. There was former Senate President Adolphous Wabara, the former governor of Benue state, Dr George Akume and his deputy Ogiri Ajene, General Chris Abutu Garba former military Governor of Bauchi state, Governor Gabriel Suswam and his deputy Stephen Lawani. Others were Senator Jack Tilley Gyado, Senator Joseph Akaagerger, Senator Fred Orti, Speaker Benue House of Assembly, Hon Terseer Tsumba as well as members of the House of Representatives.

This unusual crowd came to this village to witness what was advertised as “Calling off the sabbatical” by Senator Joseph Kennedy Nyikwagh Waku. This veteran politician shot into national limelight in the early days of this republic when he was reported to have told TELL Magazine in 2000 that the country would be better off if the military sacked the just inaugurated government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Understandably, there was public outrage against such a statement. Having just come out of grueling 16 years of military dictatorship, the nation was in no mood to accommodate the views of a Nigerian calling for a return to that style of governance. It did not help matters that Waku who allegedly made such comment was in office via a democratic process. The senate moved swiftly by suspending him from office apart from setting up a committee to investigate the controversial interview. There was also a spirited attempt to recall him from the senate.

Senator Waku maintained all through these events that he never made such an anti-democratic statement during the interview. In the end he was proved right; the magazine could not substantiate its claim that he made such a statement and Waku was recalled to the Senate.

But Obasanjo whose rapid rise in the military was punctuated by several narrow escape from death and who had just been elevated from prison where a death sentence was dangling over his head to the Presidency was in no mood to forgive, let alone forget. Waku himself did not relent. His criticism of Obasanjos policies became more vehement and trenchant in the first four years of Obasanjo. At the next general election in 2003 therefore, Obasanjo made sure that the carpet was swept off Waku's feet and he did not come back to Senate.

Events leading to the 2003 elections left Waku in the cold. According to him, there was no internal democracy in the party because Obasanjo did not allow it. Then the general elections of that year were so massively rigged that it became an embarrassment to the image of Nigeria. Traumatized by this chain of anti-democratic tendencies, Waku announced after the 2003 ballot that he was taking a sabbatical.

It was a maverick move. It is common to hear about sabbatical in the universities. But 'political sabbatical'? No one has ever heard of it in Nigeria. And even though he claimed to be on sabbatical, his diarrhea of the mouth never stopped. His interviews grabbed newspaper headlines in Nigeria more than those in active politics.

The event of 3rd July 2009 was thus as unusual as the chain of events that gave cause to it. It was assumed in certain quarters that Waku who was a foundation member of PDP and got elected to the Senate on that ticket was going to decamp from one party to another.

“I did not decamp”, he told the gathering of national notables and local potentates. “I was on sabbatical and I have called off my sabbatical. I have resumed, sticking to my principles of ensuring that internal democracy exists within the party,” he said.

Other speakers at the meeting particularly Senator George Akume who was the chairman extolled Waku's virtues, saying that he was known for telling the truth without minding the consequences. He said when Obasanjo did not want to leave the presidency after his two tenures expired, Waku was one of those who braved the odds and chased him out of power. Speaker after speaker at the occasion hailed Waku's courage and leadership qualities.

But the most curious moment of the day was a melodious song by an unknown local singer who entertained the audience with a song which proclaimed that Waku had used his years of sabbatical to contribute ensuring the emergence of Barrack Obama as the President of the United States of America!

If he really achieved that feat in the United States, will Waku be able to stop former president Obasanjo from grabbing power from President Yar'adua? This question is pertinent because exactly one week before the event, Waku had issued a statement on behalf of a group - “Committee for good governance in Nigeria”- telling Obasanjo to leave Yar'adua alone or face humiliation in the hands of his Committee. Are we to witness yet another fight of the Titans between Waku and Obasanjo? Time will tell.

Yawe, a veteran journalist and ex-Editor with Triumph Newspapers Kano, writes from Abuja

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