Obasanjo the Omniscient Politician.
One man who has tried to dominate Nigeria's political space whether he was in power or out of power is Olusegun Obasanjo. In the past seven days, Obasanjo has been speaking on just about any topic. First, he joined the team of unashamed People's Democratic Party (PDP) leaders who openly celebrated the release from jail of Olabode George, a man convicted of various crimes by a Lagos High Court. Within the same period, Obasanjo suggested that state governors who performed very well should be posted to other states so they could apply their magical touch to reawaken the backward states.
According to The Guardian of Tuesday, 1 March 2011, Obasanjo's views, which he expressed last weekend at a dinner organised by the Akwa Ibom State government, suggested a modification of the constitution to facilitate the implementation of his pet idea, that is, to enable state governors who performed highly to be deployed to other states where little or no progress had been recorded. In particular, Obasanjo suggested that constitutional changes would be required to allow someone like Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to serve as governor in another state. Obasanjo drew on the practice that prevailed during military dictatorship when state governors were deployed to serve in states other than their states of origin. What Obasanjo failed to mention was that the posting of military governors was not based on their performance in those states.
It is obvious that Obasanjo did not give any serious consideration to the complex mechanisms for the practical implementation of his ideas. In our current situation, it is the people of a state who directly elect their governor. Democracy will be badly served the moment a governor is plucked from his or her state and imposed on the people of another state. This is nothing other than the disenfranchisement of the electorate. It is tyranny of another kind. In such a circumstance, everyone will lose their right to participate in the election of their state governor. Is this the kind of democracy that Obasanjo is advocating for Nigeria? Obasanjo's suggestion fails to recognise the key elements that distinguish a military dictatorship from a democracy. In a democracy, everyone is guaranteed basic rights and freedoms, including the right to vote and to be voted for. Elections serve as a democratic process of selecting political leaders. In a democracy, there are also standard and accepted procedures for making laws.
All these guarantees and procedures will be reversed in a military dictatorship. Military leaders are not elected. They are responsible to no one but themselves. Their power is derived through the barrel of the gun. Military governments are not accountable to anyone and do not aspire to be transparent in the way they do things. Military dictators rule by decrees rather than by civil laws. Human rights and basic freedoms are abused and disregarded by military dictators. On the basis of the deprivations that occur in a military dictatorship, Obasanjo's ideas on inter-state posting of high achieving elected governors must be thrown away. They do not reflect the realities of the 21st century democratic Nigeria. A more complex question is: who determines who qualifies as a high achieving governor? What criteria should be used to make such a decision?
It is remarkable that a man such as Obasanjo who served as a president for eight years should put forward the kind of absurd proposal he made in Uyo last weekend. It seems that Obasanjo, in his capacity as the chair of the board of trustees of the PDP, can't find a way to reward his obedient servant - Governor Godswill Akpabio. Obasanjo should dig deeper in his exploration of the ways and means of gratifying PDP governors. If Akpabio is so good and he still harbours the ambition of serving his country after his two terms, he can do so in another capacity. He can shift his base to the Senate, like his former political colleagues have been doing in other states. There are various ways that a governor who has completed his two terms can still serve the nation. But there is certainly a constitutional cap on how long a governor can serve a state.
Obasanjo has a way of propagating himself and his ideas as pre-eminent and indispensable. But in presenting himself as the paramount knowledge dispenser in Nigeria, Obasanjo often exposes the contradictions that have marked his life as an ordinary citizen, a former soldier, a former military head of state, a former prisoner and a former president. As a former president who abused his powers and the high office he occupied for eight years, Obasanjo should suggest how the nation should deal with former presidents who erred in various ways, including failing to make a difference in the lives of the citizens. Should they be despatched to some kind of reformatory until they have purged themselves of their evil ways?
It is odd that Obasanjo should advise Governor Akpabio to tolerate the opposition in Akwa Ibom. Yet as president, Obasanjo hardly tolerated anyone with alternative views. Those who held views that differed from Obasanjo's were systematically persecuted, isolated and cast as enemies of the nation. In his eagerness to advance the myth about his person, Obasanjo consistently projected himself as a man endowed with specialist knowledge of how to govern the nation. No other views mattered except those of Obasanjo. That was the first sign that Obasanjo, the omniscient, must have been deluded during his presidency.
In recent times, Obasanjo have made public statements that raised serious questions about his motives. At a political rally in Minna, Niger State, on Saturday, 12 February 2011, Obasanjo criticised political leaders whom he said were preaching the sermon of disunity rather than unity. He said: 'I feel a little bit apprehensive because those of us who have enjoyed the greatest benefits in this country; the best that this country can give to us in terms of education, training, appointment and election; should be the ones to tell, educate and inform our less privileged brothers and sisters… But what are we doing? Some of us who have enjoyed all these privileges have now become priests and barons of division either on ethnic, religious, geographical or linguistic basis.'
It's alright for Obasanjo to moralise about the importance of national unity and the need for politicians to tone down their rhetoric about winning the forthcoming general elections. However, if ever there was a privileged man, an elected president who caused division across the country and set off a chain of events that resulted in disorder in some states, that man must be identified as Olusegun Obasanjo. Here are my reasons.
In Anambra State, Obasanjo encouraged and empowered a thug known as Chris Uba, the godfather of PDP politics, to make life difficult for Governor Chris Ngige. Even when Chris Uba confessed to Obasanjo that he (Uba) single-handedly rigged the governorship election that brought Ngige to power, Obasanjo did absolutely nothing except to order Chris Uba out of his presidential villa. That's Obasanjo for you, a man who knows how to sow the seeds of discord across the states.
In Oyo State, Obasanjo openly expressed his support and reverence for Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the man they called the 'Strongman of Ibadan politics', even as it was clear to him that Adedibu adopted illegal means to constitute an obstacle to the elected government of Rashidi Ladoja. In fact, when Obasanjo hosted Adedibu at a community event in 2005, Obasanjo described Adedibu as 'a force to reckon with both in Ibadan and the whole of Oyo State'. Oddly, this kind of comment, coming from a president who swore to defend the peace and unity of the nation, showed exactly that Obasanjo was never really an ambassador of peace. If anything, Obasanjo took pleasure in creating trouble in various states and watched as politicians and thugs fought off one another.
On Tuesday, March 1, 2011, Obasanjo engaged in a misleading revision of the past when he told President Goodluck Jonathan during a campaign rally in Lagos that good history should be repeated while bad history must be expunged. He pointed to how Umaru Musa Yar'Adua campaigned in Lagos in 2007 and won the presidential election. Unfortunately, the 2007 election victory that Obasanjo alluded to as evidence of good history had already been adjudged by the beneficiary - Umaru Yar'Adua - to be flawed.
During his presidency, Obasanjo initiated, through the cooperation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the removal of state governors whom he perceived as opponents of his third term project. Is this the same Obasanjo who should now recommend how the nation should deal with high performing governors or why politicians should commit to national unity rather than national disintegration?
By Levi Obijofor