Why Obasanjo needs a third term

By Okey Ndibe, Professor of Literature, Simon's Rock College of Bard
Great Barrington, MA 01230

It is now no longer a secret that President
Olusegun Obasanjo needs a third term, indeed a
life term, in office. Despite the disingenuous
attempts at obfuscation by aides like Onyema
Ugochukwu and Femi Fani-Kayode, the truth is out,
and it is rather bald. Obasanjo needs a third
term, and he needs it desperately. No sophist,
however gifted, can mask the fact that what is
now termed third term agenda is real. So the
question: Why does the president need to
prolong his stay in office?

You could say that Obasanjo’s personal fortunes
depend on his securing a new lease on Aso Rock.
Anybody with the president’s recent history won’t
commit the incaution of loosening his grasp on
power. Not if he can help it. Obasanjo can tell,
I am sure, that his post-power days will prove
tumultuous. Too much is personally at stake for
the man. And I stress, personally.

A man like him can ill afford being embattled,
especially not after he has lost the power to set
down or rig the rules of engagement. If he leaves
office in May 2007, as stipulated by the
constitution, he’d enter and operate in the
Nigerian society as Citizen Obasanjo. He’d be
divested of much of the trappings and
accoutrements of office, including his awesome
army guards. In a word, he’d come down from the
Olympian heights of gods inhabited by Nigerian
presidents and governors and be compelled,
literally, to rub shoulders with mere mortals.
That’s a forbidding prospect for a former deity
(sorry, president).

As soon as Nigerians discover that a god had
toppled from the spheres and landed in the dust,
trust them to begin to ask questions. And I mean
hard, rude, searing questions. Some would demand
that the ex-president give full accounting of his
stewardship of Nigeria’s
oil sector. They’d want to know how much of the
revenue earned by their nation in a season of
skyrocketing oil prices was duly entered in the
books. They’d sniff and snoop, asking if any
chunk of their oil wealth had taken on wings and
flown away. If
anything suspicious was found, they’d demand answers.
They’d ask the new god to empanel a commission to
investigate where their money went. A man like
Obasanjo won't like to stomach this manner of
insolence. If his advisors and he can pull off a rape
on the constitution, then he won’t ever have to worry.
He will retain his address at Aso Rock until death do
them part, retaining his seat in the pantheon of gods.

Men possessed of commonsense have the prudence
not to question gods. And if godless men like
Wole Soyinka breach protocol and dare to ask
questions of deities,
well, there is already an effective solution, thanks
to the sheer sagacity of the president’s ever-faithful
amanuensis, Femi Fani-Kayode. A few weeks ago, Mr.
Fani-Kayode enunciated the government’s sound policy
of not speaking to Soyinka and other atheists. Firmly
entrenched as godhead, Obasanjo would be guaranteed at
least a four-year deferral on rude questions. Rather
than suffer uncouth critics pointing fingers at him or
putting his name and corruption in the same sentence,
he’d continue to enjoy his monopoly as the one who
issues certificates of damnation and wholesomeness.

From Ibrahim Babangida’s experience, Obasanjo must
have learnt an instructive lesson: that one of
Nigerians’ favourite sports is make any former god
into a ball to be kicked about. For those who may have
forgotten, a quick refresher is in order. Babangida is
that genius who stirred the ship of the Nigerian state
for eight glorious years. His achievements were
surpassing. All objective historians have written that
he all but wiped off poverty from the face of Nigeria,
reshaping a once destitute nation into a land of
legendary affluence.

A man of monumental discipline, he waited until every
Nigerian had had more than enough to eat and drink
before he vaulted himself onto the exclusive club of
billionaires, leaving pretenders, including the late
Zairian potentate Mobutu Sese Seko, in the dust. After
ensuring that all Nigerians had acquired plush homes,
he then built himself a modest 50-room home on the
hills of Minna. After years of putting his enviable
leadership acumen selflessly at the service of
Nigerians, the poor man decided to retire to Minna to
rest. But rather than let him enjoy his well-deserved
retirement, and to compose panegyrics in his honour,
some ungrateful Nigerians began to assail the man.
They asked that he reveal who killed Dele Giwa, the
brilliant magazine editor who, in October, 1986, was
dispatched to the great beyond by a letter bomb that
was said to bear the then president’s address. Some
even had the audacity to question where he kept
billions of dollars that Nigeria had earned when the
first Gulf War in 1991 created a spike in oil prices.

Obasanjo has no wish to be hounded with such
irreverent questions. A third term, or more, is the
surest way of keeping himself inoculated from such
rudeness. Who in his right mind would willfully
subject himself to the vulgar questions of an ignorant
mob? Why should a powerful god put himself in a
position where puny human beings would hurl questions
at him about Bola Ige, A.K. Dikibo, Harry Marshall and
Chuba Okadigbo? Why should a towering ruler lower
himself to face a crowd so impious and ignorant that
it doesn’t recognise that each and every death is
divinely sanctioned? Instead of facing such bleak
prospects, many a ruler would simply re-write the
rules and rule for another four years, or simply onto

The day Obasanjo leaves office, count on some
troublesome "stake holders" from Anambra state
dragging him to court. They may petition the courts to
compel the ex-president to tell all he knows about the
hired hoodlums who in late 2004 rampaged through their
state, accompanied by hailing police officers, to burn
public buildings and cars. Trust many Nigerians to
re-open the issue of why a governor’s abductor was not
tried for treason, but was instead rewarded with an
oil block and elevated to the highest chambers of the
president’s party. Trust the few survivors of the Odi
massacres to ask their own questions. They may want to
know whether it was the ghosts of their slain brethren
that had arisen to give the president ninety-six
percent of votes cast in Bayelsa state in 2003. I’d be
surprised if somebody didn’t dust up the genocide that
occurred in Zaki-Biam under the president’s watch. The
people of Oyo state may be emboldened to question how
police under Obasanjo's control were used to ransack
Agodi and to throw out the duly elected governor. The
president’s kinsmen, especially Owu kingmakers, may
have a thing or two to say about their humiliation at
the hands of a fallen god.

There will be other questions. Why, Sir, many
Nigerians would ask, were several corrupt
governors close to you shielded from exposure and
embarrassment? Where, Sir, did all the billions
voted to "eradicate" poverty go? After
squandering billions of naira on
your technical board, tell us what became of that
presidential promise of "regular, uninterrupted power
supply." How did your championing of Lamidi Adedibu’s
rapacious designs in Oyo advance your vaunted
programme of social, political and economic reforms?
The questions will come fast and furious.

Last week, Nigerians needed their president to
anticipate and prevent the loss of hundreds of
lives to hooligans masquerading as religious
zealots. Sadly, while many innocents were being
slaughtered, the president and his coterie
remained obsessed with effecting an evidently
unpopular coup against the constitution and
people of Nigeria.

The president's handlers appear determined to
stake everything on an odious quest for a third
term (which, if wangled, will be quickly turned
into an indefinite term). Why? The president, I
suggest, is in no hurry to answer the questions
many Nigerians will ask, in parliament as well as
in and out of court. He desperately needs an
indefinite postponement of reckoning, but
Nigerians strike me as equally determined in
their pursuit of reckoning. Obasanjo may angle
all he wants for a life presidency, but his needs
in this regard are at odds with the nation's
larger interests.