(Snippett: In the 45-year history of Nigeria, the North has ruled the country for 36 years out of that 45. Those 36 years have been years of all kinds of turmoil in the country, of incredible wastage of the country's resources, specifically the billions of oil revenue generated by the country's oil sector, of one northern military man taking over from another northern military man. In any sane society, the leaders of the north rather than clamoring for a return of the presidency back to the north as President Obasanjo's last four-year term comes to an end in 2007, should say to themselves - listen we made a mess of the country for 36 years. Nigeria stagnated for 36 years, we didn't create any infrastructure and those infrastructure that were in existence were allowed to rut. In effect, we wasted the billions of dollars generated in another part of the country - the South-South - which is bearing the brunt of our mismanagement. We need to give up our quest for the presidency in 2007. When it comes to third-terms any way, the north should do the math: Tafawa Balewa 6 years, Yakubu Gowon 9 years, Shehu Shagari 4 years, Ibrahim Babangida 8 years, Sani Abacha 5 years, plus short years and period of Muhammadu Buhari and Murtala Mohammed - 36 years for the north, 9 years for the south. Come on now, doesn't the south deserve at least a modicum of balance in this equation?).
In the last few weeks, a lot has been going on in Nigeria to warrant keen observers of the country to either roll their eyes or proclaim, what's new or what did you expect anyway. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, with the population approaching almost 135 million people. The country gained its independence from Britain in 1960, and since then it has been ruled mostly by military despots for 29 years out of the 45 years of its independent existence. In the last six years, Nigeria has been experimenting with a civilian democratic governance under a former military leader, President Olusegun Obasanjo. Since winning a second four-year term, Obasanjo has made the fight against corruption a priority of his administration; whether he is winning the fight is purely a different matter though there are few indications to argue for pro or con as to how successful he has been at it.
Nigeria has recently been riveted by the escape of a governor of one of the states in Nigeria, from London, Britain, who was under surveillance by the British Metropolitan Police. The governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, had been charged in Britain with money laundering on September 15, but after 67 days in London, escaped disguised as a woman and returned to Nigeria, where he promptly resumed his office as Governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State of Nigeria. "As he drove into town, the streets were lined with crowds of people waving white handkerchiefs and jubilating," said reports that emanated from the State. The British had alleged that they caught Chief Alamieyeseigha with £1.2 million. With his escape, Alamieyeseigha stands to forfeit not only this amount but as well as the £10 million in assets he had pledged as collateral for his bail.
Of course, this is not the first time that a Nigerian governor has escaped from Britain, after also being charged with money laundering. Governor Joshua Dariye from the Plateau State of Nigeria, was originally quizzed by police for money laundering allegations involving another £1 million. He returned to Nigeria and resumed his gubernatorial duties as well. The Nigerian constitution guarantees immunity to governors while in office. With Governor Alamieyeseigha's return, the Obasanjo government's hands are tied as they cannot prosecute him, as he enjoys immunity.
Then, there is the case of the country's former police chief Tafa Balogun, who was arrested and charged with stealing more than $300 million. Last week, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of corruption. He was sentenced to only six months in prison and asked to pay $30,000 fine.
You would have thought that with all these, that President Obasanjo has a full load on his plate. But the more explosive issue of whether Obasanjo is to run for a third-term has gripped the nation. Constitutionally, Obasanjo is restricted to two four-year terms. This issue first caught Nigerians by surprise when Obasanjo spoke at Transparency International in Berlin, in which he hinted that some unknown individuals in Nigeria were pressuring him to run for a third-term. Since then, the movement towards allowing him to run for a third-term has been gathering momentum, with a cacophony of the usual sycophantic Nigerians leading the way, especially members of the Igbo national group in Nigeria.
The shameless and despicable role being played by the Igbo in being in the forefront of championing this cause has become a unique role for them; they don't seem to believe there is any serving president who should not perpetually continue in office, whether it was Babangida, Abacha, and now President Obasanjo. The Igbo seem to have lost all manners of self dignity since the end of the Biafran-Nigerian war, becoming the most sycophantic group in the history of Nigeria.
Certainly, President Obasanjo hasn't done anything to encourage this third-term movement, except keep quiet. He needs to come out forcefully and douse the fire. He hasn't anything to gain by running for a third-term; in fact, he has a lot to loose in the sense of the legacy he may want to leave. Obasanjo understands the role he has come to embody in the international arena, first as a leader of the Africa group, having been re-elected to the chairmanship of the African Union, a feat only he has achieved. He is one of the architects of the new Africa, and the constitutive charter of the Union, which not only encourages good governance, but abhors and frowns on those leaders who twist the arms of their legislators or people to amend constitutions to allow them run for more terms than their constitutions would allow, in the mode of Compaore of Burkina Faso and Museveni of Uganda. Obasanjo should do everything to distance himself from such renegade leaders, who believe without them their countries would go to the dogs or that Africa would no longer be Africa, though their countries as well as Africa were in existence before they were born and Africa would be in existence after they have gone. The Idi Amins, the Sergeant Does, the Mobutu Sese Sekos, the Emperor Bokassas, the Sani Abachas, all have gone down this ignoble road of history, but guess what, their respective countries are still functioning, which should give some food for thought for people like Museveni of Uganda.
A legacy which is always constantly mentioned as unique to Obasanjo is that of having been the first military man in the history of Nigeria, to have handed power peacefully to a democratically-elected civilian government in 1979. General Abdulsalami Abubakar paved the way for a transition from military to a democratically elected government - that of Obasanjo in 1999 - and the legacy President Obasanjo should want to be known in the world should be that of the President who engineered the first-ever peaceful transition from a civilian administration to another democractically elected civilian administration.
Mind you, the sycophants who are clamoring for an Obasanjo third-term presidency are not totally without merit in seeking for the third-term. We are always afraid of the unknown, but a country should not be paralysed into making a wrong decision because of fear. Just imagine how Americans felt after the assassination of President John Kennedy. Just imagine the fear expressed by the North in Nigeria about not leading the country, that's being the Head of State/President of Nigeria. Yet, America continued to function after Kennedy, and Nigeria has not gone to the dogs or disappeared because the north doesn't have an individual as President of the country. While Nigeria hasn't progressed much from being the ideal country we would all like for her to be, there is no doubt that there are areas which Obasanjo's actions have been quite impactful. Of course, Nigeria still has a long way to go, so is the United States, the Soviet Union, China, India and even the European countries. We have to learn to take the baby steps at a time.
So, what is this enigma that is President Olusegun Obasanjo that's keeping everybody on their toes, guessing as to what he really wants to do despite all those clamoring for him to run for a third-term? To my knowledge, Obasanjo hasn't come out to say, yes, I am running for a third term. Now, if we were to take into consideration the 45-year history of Nigeria, we can understand President Obasanjo's reticence in leaving everybody as to his actions.
In the 45-year history of Nigeria, the North has ruled the country for 36 years out of that 45. Those 36 years have been years of all kinds of turmoil in the country, of incredible wastage of the country's resources, specifically the billions of oil revenue generated by the country's oil sector, of one northern military man taking over from another northern military man. In any sane society, the leaders of the north rather than clamoring for a return of the presidency back to the north as President Obasanjo's last four-year term comes to an end in 2007, should say to themselves - listen we made a mess of the country for 36 years. Nigeria stagnated for 36 years, we didn't create any infrastructure and those infrastructure that were in existence were allowed to rut. In effect, we wasted the billions of dollars generated in another part of the country - the South-South - which is bearing the brunt of our mismanagement. We need to give up our quest for the presidency in 2007. When it comes to third-terms any way, the north should do the math: Tafawa Balewa 6 years, Yakubu Gowon 9 years, Shehu Shagari 4 years, Ibrahim Babangida 8 years, Sani Abacha 5 years, plus short years and period of Muhammadu Buhari and Murtala Mohammed - 36 years for the north, 9 years for the south. Come on now, doesn't the south deserve at least a modicum of balance in this equation?
The only parts of the country which have not ruled Nigeria are the South East and South South. I might be opening a 'Pandora's box' here, as the saying goes, but I have to say what is on my mind. The Igbo of the South-East should not overly be enthusiastic about the presidency come 2007. It is not that we don't deserve the presidency, but the Igbo need to do a thorough soul-searching of themselves - why they are no longer the Igbo that other Nigerians used to fear, why there is utter confusion in the Igbo modus operandi. The Igbo lost the war, yes, but there has never been a time the Igbo have sat down to reflect on what brought about the war, why they lost the war, what has happened in the 35 years since the end of the war, and the future for the Igbo in today's Nigerian body politic. We seem to be a totally confused people without an effective leader. Mind you, I am a great admirer of and have the greatest and deepest respect for General Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, to me he's a hero of the Igbo. He led the Igbo at the most difficult time of their need. At age 72, though, General Ojukwu is not the leader the Igbo need at the present time to move the Igbo forward, that's in terms of whether they secure the presidency or not. But we must continue to accord him the greatest respect as an icon and as a symbol of what the Igbo is all about. He needs to continue to be the kingmaker. Of course, the legend of Zik can never be surpassed.
The Igbo clamored for the creation of states - today, they have five states. Yet, in the years since the creation of these states, the South East remains as barren as it has been since the death of Dr. Michael Okpara - marginalized by its own dubious leaders. The much vaunted ingenuity of the Igbo is nowhere to be found in the states of the South East. During the Biafran-Nigerian war, the Igbo knew how to build the weapons they needed to fight Nigeria, they knew how to produce the food they needed after being embargoed; the Igbo knew pride which they seem to have forgotten, shouting marginalization every time, rather than looking in the mirror and seeing who is marginalizing them.
Yes, we need to curb our 2007 presidential ambitions as a matter of our magnanimity; it is not because we lost the war or that we are not qualified or don't deserve it, but out of the fact that we need to put our house in order, and because right now even if an Igbo were to become president of Nigeria, and because of our insecurity, the first thing he/she would do is forget that he is Igbo. He would, as the Igbo is wont to do, become more patriotic, more nationalistic and most anti-Igbo cause, which would make that president a nobody to the Igbo. Of course, no no area of the country is ever ready to produce a president; the north has never been ready, the west was not ready, yet these two areas have produced Nigeria's presidents. However, what I am saying here is that if we started now putting our house in order, by the year 2015, we should be more than ready to say to Nigeria with confidence devoid of insecurity, yes, see what we have done with the five states, we need to translate the same miracle of budgeoning economy, of having stopped the Igbo from being the nomads of Nigeria and translate that to the rest of the country. At that time, the Igbo can say to the rest of Nigeria, it is up to you whether you want us to have an Igbo as President of Nigeria, but if not, we are ready to continue to do what we are doing for ourselves.
I therefore have no doubt that the Obasanjo enigma can be seen from his need to have an equitable society. I am sure today that President Olusegun Obasanjo would do a somersault if the three main groups in Nigeria - the Hausa-Fulanis, the Igbo, and the Yorubas, were to come to him and say: Mr. President, we thank you for the great job you have done for our country. We also want an equitable society. We want the group that has never ruled Nigeria - the South-South - to produce the next President of Nigeria. This group has not only suffered incredible hardship but has been victimized and denied enjoying the resources of their land. We need to correct that, it is only equitable, Mr. President we the three megolomaniac groups want to step back and let the South South produce the next President of Nigeria in 2007. That is the kind of civilian to civilian democratically elected government Obasanjo would be happy to leave as a legacy.
The North should as a matter of enlightenment forget the presidency come 2007; the South East should also do the same - afterall the South-South is more or less part of the South East and the Igbo need to demonstrate to their eastern brothers and sisters their commitment to equitable justice. Obasanjo wants an equitable Nigeria. The South-South cannot continue to provide more than 90% of Nigeria's revnue and be denied the rulership of the country, as represented by the presidency. Those who are clamoring for Obasanjo's third-term should forget it; they need to know that he is not a fool, and wants to leave his legacy intact.
So the enigma that is President Olusegun Obasanjo is an equitable Nigeria - a third-term does not figure in the equation.
Chika Onyeani is the author of the book, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success," No.1 Bestselling Business Book in the whole of Africa, as well as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the award-winning African Sun Times. Onyeani is a Fellow of the New York Times Institute of Journalists, and his new book, a novel - "The Broederbond Conspiracy," will come out before March, 2006. He is the host of the popular radio program, "StraightTalk with Chika Onyeani on the AllAfricaRadio." Onyeani is a sort after speaker, and is constantly interviewed by radio stations, including recently Voice of America (11-29-05), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation - 12-4-04), Jim Blassingame's National Radio Show (12-6-05).