Obasanjo of Nigeria should be removed from power, argues Okey Ndibe, a U.S.-based academic, the author of the novel, Arrows of Rain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian , Nigeria.
No president that I know in history ever made as eloquent and impregnable a case for his own
impeachment and removal from office as Mr. Obasanjo in his letter of December 12. Obasanjo's letter, written in response to a terse and timely censure delivered by Mr. Audu Ogbeh, exposed a president who lacks the moral character as well as constitutional sensibility to remain as leader of Africa's most populous nation.
First, a recap. On December 6, Mr. Ogbeh, chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party, sent the president a carefully worded and, in my view, historic letter. Ogbeh, one of the handful of ministers in Shehu Shagari's cabinet credited with stellar performance and personal integrity, took a lugubrious measure of the calamitous turn of events in the nation. Actuated by recent dark developments in Anambra state, his cautionary letter was urgent in tone, moral in accent, and unsparing in its indictment of the president and the collosus that styles itself
"Africa's biggest political party."
Audu Ogbeh's intrepid letter drew the president's attention to the wanton destruction of public property in the beleaguered state. In a letter that scholars of the misshapen phenomenon called the Obasanjo presidency will find invaluable, Mr. Ogbeh expressed dismay at the fact that police officers had provided encouragement and cover--and even logistical support--to the wreckers.
So profoundly grave was the subject matter of Mr. Ogbeh's letter that we must quote him at length. "About a month ago," began the letter, "the nation woke up to the shocking news of a devastating attack on Anambra State resulting in the burning down of radio and television stations, hotels, vehicles, assembly quarters, the residence of the state Chief
Judge and finally, Government House, Awka. Dynamite was even applied in the exercise and all or nearly most of these in the full glare of our own police force as shown on NTA for the world to see. The operation lasted three days.
"That week, in all churches and mosques, we, our party, and you as Head of Government and Leader of this Nation came under the most scathing and blithering attacks. We were singly and severally accused of connivance in action and so forth. Public anger reached its peak."
Mr. Ogbeh noted that public disenchantment with the president and his party grew with evidence that "things are nowhere near getting better." Pointing to the bomb explosion that rocked the residence of the Anambra state governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, Ogbeh told the president that "public discourse [has] been dominated by the most heinous and hateful of expletives against
our party and your person and government. It would appear that the perpetrators of these acts are determined to stop at nothing since there has not been any visible sign of reproach from law enforcement agencies. I am now convinced that the rumours and speculations making the rounds that they are determined to kill Dr. Chris Ngige may not be unfounded."
Before reading Mr. Ogbeh's letter, I had concluded that Governor Ngige's assassination was only a matter of time (and I was thinking days, not weeks or months). It may well be that, in making a public issue of an assassination that was well in progress, Mr. Ogbeh has saved the embattled governor's life. In suggesting the plausibility of a plot to murder the governor, Mr. Ogbeh may have robbed the perpetrators' sponsors of their usual ruse of "unknown assailants."
Nor is the chairman of the PDP a fool or a man fascinated by martyrdom. By leaking his letter to the press, he has also ensured that he too would not easily be eliminated in a dastardly scheme the government would characterise as an attack by "armed robbers." In coded yet plain language, the chairman of the PDP has exposed his party's seamy and monstrous
underbelly as a dealer in violence and death.
Sounding very much like an insider who knows the trigger behind much of the violence in Anambra state and elsewhere, Mr. Ogbeh concluded his letter by imploring the president "to act now and bring any, and all criminal, even treasonable, activity to a halt. You and you alone, have the means. Do not hesitate. We do not have too much time to waste." These words are
bound to reverberate long after Mr. Obasanjo's unhinged presidency comes to its ignominous close.
A president possessed of a judicious imagination might have chosen to be chastened by Mr. Ogbeh's hard truths. But Mr. Obasanjo views himself not just as a president of a nation but, indeed, as something of a god-incarnate. He holds himself infallible, incapable
of any manner of error. Whenever a prominent critic's voice registers on the barometer of national attention, however well-meaning the critic, this president rushes to the public stage. He not only essays to banish the contrarian voice, he insists on two things: his "right" to be right especially when he is tragically wrong, and his "right" to be the lone
evaluator of his own presidency.
Who can forget his coarse dismissal of Professor Sam Aluko? Or the petulant style of his public
correspondence with Wole Soyinka. Or the trademark uncouthness he displayed in Atlanta, Georgia, by telling a Nigerian to "go to hell." Or the form of vitriol he showcased when he branded a pastor in Plateau state as "a complete idiot." Or his inelegant contretemps when Chinua Achebe rejected his tainted gift masked as a national honour. At this rate, he has
guaranteed that historians will remember him, unkindly, as a self-inflated president versed in the bolekaja art of "yabis," a man the late political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, might have described as arrogant in his puniness.
At once rustic in its language and replete with illogical twists, the president's response to Ogbeh's letter may be the one letter he regrets ever writing. This presidential letter purveys information that is deeply damaging to the president as a man and public figure, and eminently injurious to what Nigerian politicians like to call "our nascent democracy." The National Assembly should carefully read the president's letter, and then begin the process for his
It is clear that Obasanjo's purpose was to gain public exculpation of his complicity (some would say authorship) of the catastrophe in Anambra state. In that, the president failed woefully. His letter revealed a man caught in the familiar trap of the iniquitous. Mr. Obasanjo's pathology lies in his belief that his pronouncements, however implausible and lacking in credit, would be automatically accepted as truthful. He must tragically underrate Nigerians'
intelligence. Next week, I propose to do a dissection
of dissembling and cant in the president's letter.
For now, I wish to draw attention to an article in the letter that amounts to grounds for impeachment. At his inauguration, Mr. Obasanjo swore to uphold and defend
the nation's constitution. As far as Nigeria's fundamental body of laws is concerned, Mr. Obasanjo is the constitutionally designated first custodian and defender. Yet, the president's letter confessed that he abdicated his onerous mandate in the face of an alleged egregious assault on the constitution. Writing about a meeting he held with Governor Ngige and Mr. Chris Uba, the president's friend and self-styled godfather of Anambra state, Mr. Obasanjo wrote: "...I
got the real shock of my life when Chris Uba looked Ngige straight in the face and said, 'You know you did not win the election' and Ngige answered 'Yes, I know
I did not win.' Chris Uba went further to say to
Ngige, 'You don't know in detail how it was done.'"
Here, said the president, were two men telling him that they had conspired to break the laws. Nor was it just any law that these two men allegedly confessed to breaching; it was, according to the president, an admission to the illegal acquisition of political
power, an event of the utmost political and constitutional impact, tantamount to a coup d'etat.
So, what does the president do? Here are some options that should have suggested themselves to any enlightened citizen. One, call the police to arrest these two despicable criminals. Two, execute the arrest yourself; after all, a citizen is empowered to apprehend law breakers and hand them over for prosecution. Three, proceed to court to swear an affidavit, lending legal weight to your claim by attesting to its truth. Four, do all of the above and, in addition, address the nation on the horror you felt at such grave violation of electoral law.
Now back to the question of the course taken by the president. I invite Mr. Obasanjo to speak in the words of his public response to Mr. Ogbeh. "I was horrified and told both of them to leave my residence." A president who believes that banishing criminals from his official residence constitutes punishment does not understand the first thing about his place as custodian of the nation's laws. Nor, apparently, does he apprehend his moral burden, as first citizen, to
husband the values of the nation. Richard Nixon was hounded by the U.S. Congress and prosecutors, and ultimately rusticated, for far less grave crimes. Mr. Obasanjo has disgraced his office and dishonoured his nation. He should resign now, or be shown the door.