OBASANJO: TRAGEDY OF A WOULD-BE STATESMAN
By Chika Onyeani
African Sun Times - www.africansuntimes.com
Edition: May 19-25, 2006
Snippet "But it is sad that President Olusegun Obasanjo brought this tragedy upon himself, opening himself to the assessment of history as to how he squandered a magnanimity to exude statesmanship and be accorded an recognition as an international statesman in exchange for an unbridled ambition which, in the end and in this case, has dealt him a severe blow. To this author, the tragedy of Shakespeare's MacBeth is the tragedy of President Obasanjo. Of course, no one is wishing the same ending, but had he avoided the sycophants, which in the case of MacBeth were the three witches, we would today be looking at a man we would have been very proud to place on a rung just a little below Nelson Mandela. But having tried to circumvent the new charter of the African Union, for which he served as Chair for two years, could we honestly believe that what President Obasanjo orchestrated in the last eight months was the exercise of an democrat? Only historians would answer that question is due time."
The majority of Africans in the Diaspora are today breathing a big sigh of relief, after witnessing Nigerians step back from the precipice of an impending doom, to an applause of the whole world in saying no to dictatorship in the guise of democracy. Yesterday, members of Nigeria's upper house, the Senate, voted 49 to 47 to kill a constitutional amendment which would have allowed the President, in this case, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to extend his term of office for another four years, as against the present constitution which limits the office holder to only two terms or eight years of a four-year term. The debate leading to the vote was quite acrimonious, and the intimidation and threat of violence both for those who supported the term extension and those opposed to it were rather fever-pitched.
In any way you view the situation, President Obasanjo is the great loser, whether the vote had passed or as it is now, in its defeat, having singularly destroyed a statesmanlike aura of an credible defender and practitioner of democratic ideals. There are those who would argue that the process itself, of allowing the debate in any form it took, is itself a mark of the democrat that Obasanjo is. However, it is the perceived attempt at undermining this process which has international observers of the President angry and confused as to his credibility in democratic pretentions.
It has to be acknowledged though that President Obasanjo never once publicly made known his intentions of running for another four years in office. But the adage has always been that actions speak louder than words, and his actions spoke quite loud and there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of Nigerians that he was certainly encouraging those who wanted what has now been dubbed "third term elongation." Even in his speech today to the National Executive Committee of his party, the PDP, Obasanjo never made any attempt at denying his interest in running for another four years. "Throughout the period," he could only say, "I resisted the invitation to be drawn on either side and I maintained studied silence. I was maligned, insulted and wrongly accused but I remained where I am and what I am and I remained focused." Most observers believe that if he weren't interested, he would have joined the ranks of Mbeki of South Africa, Mpaka of Tanzania, Konare of Mali and current Chair of the African Union Commission, in coming out forcefully from the onset of these high octane machinations to rebut any interest in extending his rule for another four years, and discourage those who made themselves his surrogates in advocating for his stay.
Of course, President Obasanjo cannot disavow that he was instrumental in bringing this crisis on the people of Nigeria. On October 30, 2003, during what was billed as a major policy initiative in combating corruption in Nigeria, Transparency International had invited the President to be its keynote speaker on the subject: "Corruption in Nigeria - '"A Journey from Pond of Corruption to an Island of Integrity.'" Out of the blue, Obasanjo told his audience that some elements in Nigeria were encouraging him seriously to consider running for a third term or four more years in office. It was like a thunderbolt of news to Nigerians, who had up till that point never heard any discussions from any quarters about the President being encouraged to run for a third term. It was like a spigot had been opened for the sycophantic sharks to smell blood and attack, especially in enumerating the accomplishments of their candidate, and in essence why he is the best thing that happened to Nigeria.
And these people had a lot to sing about. During his first four years in office, Obasanjo seemed to have picked the children of political cronies to serve in his cabinet as rewards for their support. But when he was voted back into office in 2003, he did an abrupt turn: he selected technocrats, individuals with impeccable credentials, to serve in key positions in his cabinet, the most notable being Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank high official to serve as Minister of Finance, as well as Mr. Nuhu Ribadu to serve as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, more or less an anti-corruption czar. Obasanjo gave these technocats considerable latitude to run their respective departments and achieve perceptible results.
One of the greatest achievements of the Obasanjo administration, which his supporters shout with delight as acknowledged by the international community, is the debt forgiveness of $18 billion of the country's debt, but which his critics contend at a heavy cost to the country for parting away with $12 billion in immediate repayments to the Paris Club that no other country has emulated. Also the supporters point to Nigeria's external reserves which hit an all-time high of $28.9 billion as at 15th December, 2005, but which was expected to rise to $35 billion due to increased crude oil prices, and this even after having already paid $6 billion of the $12 billion Nigeria had agreed to pay back to the Paris Club. Also, this year, Transparency International, the organization that catalogs how corrupt individual countries are, upgraded Nigeria's standing on its index of the most corrupt countries from being a perennial No.2 to Bangladesh's No.1, to that of No.6. (Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa, followed by Tunisia, South Africa and Namibia, in that order. Countries that took higher positions than Nigeria include No.1 Chad and Bangladesh, followed by Turkmenistan, Myanmar and Haiti). These supporters also see the increased number of foreigners in the country as a stabilizing influence of the administration.
On the war on corruption, even Transparency International has commended the Obasanjo administration's efforts, especially with the swash-buckling Nuhu Ribadu going after miscreants no matter how high they are in society, though opponents have accused the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crime Commission) of being selective in who they go after. Of course, one of the most bizarre case being that of the former Governor of Bayelsa State, one of the richest oil producing states in the country. The governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, had been charged in Britain with money laundering, arrested by the Police in London and placed under house arrest. After 67 days, under the full view of the Police, he escaped disguised as a woman and returned to Nigeria, where he promptly resumed his office as Governor. He was later impeached by the Bayelsa House of Assembly and his case is before the courts. There is also that of Governor Joshua Dariye from the Plateau State of Nigeria who the London police accused of money laundering, but again returned to Nigeria.
But no corruption case has so far reached the level of that Mr. Tafa Balogun, former Inspector-General of Police, the highest ranking officer of the Nigerian Police Force, who allegedly stole more than $300 million. Obasanjo fired him, and he was arrested, jailed and served only six months and asked to restitute $30,000.
Nothing, his supporters say, more than recommends him as an democrat when in 1979, as a military dictator of Nigeria, he decided to become the first military man to hand over power peacefully to a democratically elected civilian government. After leaving office, Obasanjo proceeded to establish himself as an international statesman, becoming one of the founders of the African Leadership Council. In fact, at one time, he was rumored to be in running for the Secretary-Generalship of the United Nations. But then, a very atrocious dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, had taken over the government, and promptly manufactured a coup attempt against his government, implicating Obasanjo and promptly jailing him on his return to the country. Most Nigerians believe that had fate not taken Abacha away, he would have executed Obasanjo.
There are these last issues that many of Obasanjo's former admirers and current critics view with an incredible amount of sadness as to how, given his relationship with Abacha, he could have the disingenuousness of following in Abacha's footsteps. Before God saved Nigerians from his iron-clad hand of totalitarian dictatorship, Abacha, after five years in office, had also attempted to perpetuate himself in office by intimidating all the six government appointed political parties to select him as their consensus candidate to run as an civilian president. The sad and funny part of what went on during the debate proceeding the Senate's vote yesterday, is that the same sycophants who were singing Abacha's praises of being the best thing that happened to Nigeria, and how Nigeria could break up without Abacha, were the same individuals who also championed this attempt to extend Obasanjo's term in office.
Without enumerating what his critics see as Obasanjo's misrule, they point to the glaring poverty in the country, and the horrible condition that most Nigeians now live. What most worries Nigerians is not the lawlessness of the government, especially in obeying court orders, but the glaring non-maintenance of law and order by the police who are seen as extremely corrupt. People are robbed and shot, some times in broad daylight. There have been many high profile killings and the perpetrators are yet to be brought to justice.
No area is anger more expressed than in the energy sector. Here is a country which is the fifth largest oil producing country in the world, yet most cities in Nigeria lack electricity. All the promises of increased electricity supply in the country are yet to materialise after seven years in office. The list could go on and on of what Obasanjo has not accomplished, and wouldn't be able to accomplish even if he were to stay for another 20 years. Hence, they believe there is hardly anything to recommend extending his rule for another four years.
There is no denying the fact that there is no country without problems, but it is sad that President Olusegun Obasanjo brought this tragedy upon himself, opening himself to the assessment of history as to how he squandered a magnanimity to exude statesmanship and be accorded an recognition as an international statesman in exchange for an unbridled ambition which, in the end and in this case, has dealt him a severe blow. To this author, the tragedy of Shakespeare's MacBeth is the tragedy of President Obasanjo. Of course, no one is wishing the same ending, but had he avoided the sycophants, which in the case of MacBeth were the three witches, we would today be looking at a man we would have been very proud to place on a rung just a little below Nelson Mandela. But having tried to circumvent the new charter of the African Union, for which he served as Chair for two years, could we honestly believe that what President Obasanjo orchestrated in the last eight months was the exercise of an democrat? Only historians would answer that question is due time.
Chika Onyeani is the author of the internationally acclaimed best selling and controversial book, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success." His blockbuster novel, "The Broederbond Conspiracy," is due out in June, 2006. Onyeani is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the award-winning African Sun Times newspaper, as well as a Fellow of the New York Times Institute of Journalists. Hear Onyeani interviewed where he tells more than 10,000 other authors worldwide how to be a bestselling author on: http://www.wbjbradio.com/viewshow.php?id=50&aid