As Obasanjo disdains the nation

by Laolu Akande
DEC 27, 2005-12-27

Nothing should worry truly patriotic Nigerians more than an attempt to becloud their reasoning. This is especially so when such camouflaging is being done in a brazenly dim-witted manner. I am talking about an urgent national matter: the thickening third term hullabaloo.

Last week I did a report titled US won't support third term say officials, in The Guardian and 2007: US set To Push Obasanjo To Respect Term Limit in and

That story highlights the increasing international discontent with the speculated third term ambition of President Olusegun Obasanjo. I reported that the US government and some other international groups and figures have basically said no to Obasanjo staying beyond 2007 whatever the case may be.

One of the main nuances of that report is the fact that many of the names of the international figures who have been asked to stop Obasanjo and have agreed to do so are people Obasanjo knows personally. Some of them are his very good friends.

I have seen him for instance in New York lather in the companion of some of them and his body language and speeches in their presence indicate how proud Obasanjo feels that these people are seen with him. He enjoys it.

So no one was in doubt that the report will elicit a response. It's like Obasanjo was touched were it mattered. Here is a report saying his international friends will back away from his third term ambition, if indeed one develops.

The background to that is this: it would seem no one is Nigeria is capable of speaking to Obasanjo anymore. The man, I am told, thinks he is the best thing that has happened to the country, he thinks he is god-sent and the closest thing to a messiah sent to deliver Nigeria.

True, Obasanjo's resume is huge and significant-he fell from grace to grass, then from fry-pan to fire, then rose again to grace and then to power. Many had expected that this roller-coaster of a life history would have meant that Obasanjo would be eternally humble. But in reality, since it is Obasanjo's life, he alone can in all truth tell us how it feels.

But for good measure, Obasanjo must think indeed that he is the best thing that happened to Nigeria. I am told he bubbles in the feat that he accomplished what Awo, Zik, or Sardauna could not attain and he may even be attempting now to project himself as Nigeria's foremost statesman.

None of those is illegitimate personal pursuit. What is unconscionable is his desperate silence and avoidance of a clear statement on the third term fuss. Obasanjo would seem to be enjoying it all. At the malignant expense of country. This is particularly so because Obasanjo is the one many in the international community expects to be actively championing term limits for African leaders in view of his campaign about a new African leadership.

What he did instead was to have Femi Fani-Kayode do the dirty job. Fani-Kayode the next day after my report of December 22 issued a statement saying "We in our country, and certainly our president, does not need lessons in democracy, or in constitutional rule, or indeed in interpreting constitutional rule from anybody, least of all people from outside our shores."

Femi Fani-Kayode forgot that President Obasanjo himself had played an active role in September at the United Nations where world leaders agreed on the principle of the "right to protect" peoples of the world from human rights violations and dangers of bad governance. What I am saying indeed is that the Fani-man should find another argument to back his master's desperation rather than saying our international friends and colleagues has no say. Are we not ourselves as a nation, through the same Obasanjo, dealing with other situations outside from Ivory Coast to Sudan, to mention just a few?

No, Fani-man, if Obasanjo needs democracy lesson, he will get it, irrespective of what you think or want. At times one wonders where Obasanjo will rest his image if he proceeds to pursue this third term ambition-because for a fact, it would fail and the shame would be his. Not to worry about people like Fani-the way he has been carrying on he has nothing to be ashamed.

So, few days after the story was published, President Obasanjo proceeded to his Monthly Radio interview "the President Explains." But when asked the question whether he intends to try for a third term in 2007 elections, Obasanjo simply refused to explain. And instead went on a wild goose chase from which whoever the moderator of the chat failed to draw him back.

That kind of side-stepping is worries those who really want to see Nigeria progress evenly. There are many people who are giving Obasanjo's administration the benefit of the doubt. And that includes me, I am happy to say. But this kind of "agunla" (Yoruba word for disdain, Obasanjo speaks Yoruba) will do more harm to any effort to support Obasanjo and his team. We cannot be celebrating the success of reform on the one hand and on the other hand government is stalling on a major question of the day. Like Ruben Abati asked last week, where are the presidential aspirants? The truth is that many who are interested can't keenly contest when there is a deliberate game to befuddle the entire nation on where the incumbent actually stands in the matter.

We've even been told now that 30 governors have signed up to amend the constitution, some of them to avoid being tried for corruption, others to preserve themselves in power. Whatever the case is, the fate of Nigeria or the interest of the citizens comes in a distant third, if at all.

And as if to add insult upon injury, the "strong man of Ibadan politics and self styled political contractor" Chief Lamidi Adedibu is reported to have said all Yoruba should back President Olusegun Obasanjo's third term bid. What?

This is the same Adedibu who was Abacha's man-Friday. This is the same Adedibu who is currently waging an extra-constitutional battle with Oyo State Governor Ladoja. Adedibu had thugs, backed with State police, go and scour the office of the Governor last week. And now we hear him saying we should back Obasanjo for a third term! So is Obasanjo responsible for making the police line up behind Adedibu's thugs as they ransacked the governor's office? Is this a quid pro quo deal between Obasanjo and Adedibu?

So you can see how terrible it is for Obasanjo to allow the national confusion on 2007 to persist. What kind of a person will choose to dither when the nation is being bruised and the very essence of democratic rule-carrying the people along is being thrown to the dogs?

My worry is that whatever reform Obasanjo may have started is going to be endangered by his political conduct and attitude. It would not matter anymore what Obasanjo has done-whatever-if he cannot come out and assure us all that he will not run in 2007 come what may, if he cannot tell us now that he will respect term limits. Anything short of a categorical denial would damage the system and make mincemeat of any confidence building needed for reforms and sustainable development in Nigeria and beyond.

It is time for Obasanjo to do like the US civil war general that was approached to run for president as a Republican. But William Tecumseh Sherman would not have anything to do with the idea. A very candid person, he left no one in doubt and his statement of refusal has become the best way that a politician can express unreadiness to run and a determination to stick by such a decision not to run here in the US.

General Sherman said, "if drafted I will not run, if nominated, I will not accept, if elected I will not serve."

Can Obasanjo tell Nigerians the same thing today?

After all it was Obasanjo himself that told some Nigerians in Germany that some people were mounting pressures on him to run again?

Mr. President, we are asking again, if the constitution is amended would you contest elections again for president?

If your friends draft you, as you said they have been mounting pressure on you, will you run?

If nominated would you accept and if elected would you serve?

Nigeria waits.