THERE WAS AN UNDERSTANDING
There was a One-Term Pact:President Obasanjo should tell Nigerians the truth
Prof. Omo Omoruyi
(Omo Omoruyi is a professor of political science, as well as a politician)
It is an acknowledged fact that in politics especially based on election promises have to be made and kept. There was one between the retired and serving military officers from the north and General Obasanjo on succession after the death of General Sani Abacha, the darling of the north in June 1998. General Obasanjo in many occasions confirmed this indirectly that his friends from the armed forces approached him.
Recently this was confirmed by General TY Danjuma, the current Minister of Defense and the former Chief of Army Staff 1975-79 under the administration of General Obasanjo. I am referring to the interview General TY Danjuma granted the press and published on December 24, 2001 by the Saturday Guardian. He likened what 'we' (meaning the clique) did in 1998 after the death of General Abacha to what 'we' did in February 1976 after the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed. It is sad that General Danjuma likened what the military faced in 1998 to what the military faced in 1976. Why I say it is sad is because he equated General Murtala with General Abacha. Did he mean to draw this analogy?
This pact was also alluded to by the former Chief of Army Staff, General Ishaya Bamaiye at the Oputa Commission on Human Rights Violations. What General Danjuma said and what General Bamaiye said at the Oputa Commission is only different in details from what Chief Okogwu said recently. This kind of discussion in the military circle is usually for the ears of those who are supposed to know and NOT for the record of established organs of the military.
This is circle, which General Danjuma referred to as the 'we'. I have not seen where anyone in Nigeria had raised questions about who are the 'we'? In 1976, the mission of the 'we' was to get someone who would arrange for the emergence of a northern President and not to stay for a period longer than specified in the pact. We saw how that same 'we' started to work from the answer to the question in the series of election, which was finally concluded with the swearing in of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979. Is that the nature of the arrangement commenced after the death of General Abacha in June 1998?
President Obasanjo should tell Nigerians what he promises the northern leaders, military and politicians when he was approached to be the President before he joined the political party in 1998. The pact does not have to be in a document or in an oral form. The nature of the operation of the clique does not allow for a record keeping. I am speaking from experience.
There was some understanding between the military, retired and serving from the north before the military 'military-jacked' one of the political parties; there was some understanding before the military 'military-jacked' the transition program; there was some understanding before the military 'military jacked' the electoral process between 1998 and 1999. Various northern leaders have been talking about the process initiated by the retired military officers to get them to accept General Obasanjo.
A friend and a political associate from Edo State and a distinguished Professor of Education was sharing a seat with me in the lounge in Chicago on our way to Detroit to meet our revered leader, Chief Anthony Enahoro. This was in November 1999, after the visit of the President to Harvard when he made the 'Sharia is unconstitutional statement', which later he had reason to swallow.
In the course of our discussion, my friend was very concerned about the Sharia issue and he was concerned about according to him 'the unfair way the north was dealing with the President. I quickly interrupted him that the northern leaders from our history are astute politicians with a vision who would not be acting without some justifiable reason. Before he got me wrong, I added 'they must have a reason for behaving the way they were'. I added, 'the President's inability to handle the matter must be seen within the context of the pact he entered into with the north. My friend thought I was a northern lover and probably against President Obasanjo. Not to be so caricatured as such and not to be misunderstood, I then shared with him an interview I granted to African Abroad, a New York publication on a variety of issues. I called his attention to a subject in the interview: 'What did General Obasanjo promise them', meaning the northern leaders when he was approached with the offer to be the President in their image? 'I thought they are asking him to make do with the terms of the agreement' be reached with them, I asserted. 'I thought if this was what they were demanding, we should not blame them' I told my friend. I then asked my friend if he knew the terms of the pact and whether he was keeping with the terms of the pact. I tried to recall with him many instances when the northern leaders would go after your head if you betrayed their trust. I was glad he asked whether President Obasanjo was keeping to the Pact? I was not in a position to know what the terms of the pact were and how much the President had delivered and how much was to be delivered.
A PACT EXISTS BETWEEN PRESIDENT OBASANJO AND THE NORTH
I am happy this fellow Edo Professor has reason to joke with the expression when ever he calls me on telephone, 'What did President Obasanjo promise the North'? He knows more about the issue than myself today from his recent visits to Nigeria and talking to many people and observing the political game played by the north, the southeast, the southwest and the south-south. I do not need to impress on him again that there is an issue of trust between the President and the northern leaders. Unfortunately the southeast and the south-south that threw their support behind him did it out of the abundance of their goodwill and signed a blank check with the President.
In concrete term, the leaders of the southeast, who originally were distressed after the defeat of their favorite son, Dr. Alex Ekwueme threw their support behind General Obasanjo 'on faith'. The political leaders of the south-south did not even negotiate with candidate Obasanjo on the question of 'ownership of oil'. They went along with him on the vague promise that he would address the many years of neglect of the oil producing areas. They did not sign a pact with candidate Obasanjo. That is why they cannot accuse President Obasanjo of a breach of the pact he entered into with the political leaders of these two zones at anytime. President Obasanjo did not enter into any written pact known to all with the leaders of the Ndi Igbo and the southern minorities to which they could hold him accountable. But the northern leaders can. Smart chaps!
Is it not obvious that President Obasanjo has been trying to vary the terms of the pact since he became the President? I dwelt on this issue before as the reason for the cry over marginalization from the Arewa Consultative Forum. I also argued that this was the reason why the Arewa Consultative Forum as the political platform of the north embraced the Sharia issue. The politicization of Sharia should be seen as an attempt to make President Obasanjo keep to the terms of the pact. Are they succeeding?
CRITICAL ASPECT OF THE PACT
The critical aspect of the pact is that President Obasanjo would only have a one term in the first instance with a proviso that a second term was possible, if and only if he does not abuse the trust of the north. The verdict came in September 2000. The former President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari delivered the verdict in September 2000. He spoke for the six former Heads of State, 'dead' and 'alive'; Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Muhamadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar on the Hausa Service of the BBC that President Obasanjo 'abused the trust of the north'.
PUNISHMENT FOR BREACH OF TRUST
The concept of betrayal of trust in politics is a serious charge. As the Scripture says, the wages of sin is death, so too in politics the wages of betrayal is dumping! This was why these northern leaders rejected President Obasanjo's invitation to join him at the 40th Independence Anniversary celebration on October 1, 2000.
An important issue, which came to light recently was the assertion by President Shagari that it is the turn of the Ndi Igbo come 2003. Was Alhaji Shagari conveying the feeling of the northern leaders when he recently at Umuahia asserted that left with him 'it is the turn of the Ndi Igbo come 2003'? This is the subject of discussion in Nigeria. This is likely to dominate all actions of the President in the next two years. His new Cabinet pick was seen as the 2003 team!
CONNECTION BETWEEN SHAGARI AND OKOGWU
The recent outburst of Chief Sunny Okogwu that the pact President Obasanjo entered into with the military only said that President Obasanjo would be there for only one term and that the pact even said that the office would shift to the south east in 2003. Is there any connection between what Alhaji Shagari said at Umuahia and what Chief Okogwu was reported to have said or it was just another coincidence? One should leave this to pundits. The place to commence this would have been an appointment of an Ndi Igbo as the Minister of Defense or the Minster of State for the Army. Who ever runs the Defense would determine who would be the President of Nigeria.
Was there actually a pact about one term? There was. There is no question about that. It did not include who would take over from the current President after one term. This is usually a factor of the inter-play of political forces within the clique. This is yet to play itself out.
My knowledge of the north taught me that the northern political leaders would not entrust their future into anybody's hand without some strings attached. This issue was raised in March before the President was sworn in and I called attention to it but the Nigerian media drowned it either because they did not believe it or because the President's handlers fed the media different background briefs.
GO BACK TO POST EXPRESS OF MARCH 2, 1999.
I wish to refer to a newspaper account credited to one Senator-elect, Alhaji Ibrahim Kura Mohammed of Kano State in the POST EXPRESS of March 2, 1999 that 'General Obasanjo promised to serve for only one term'. And he added the blackmail to the bombshell, in my view, 'that he would honor his pledge as he did it in 1976'.
The assertion begs some pertinent questions, which I now want to raise.
a. Did the country know the condition under which the north agreed to support General Obasanjo?
b. Did the country know that his candidature was based on the fact that he would only be there for one term?
c. Did the country know that the basis of choosing Alhaji Atiku was that the baton would swing to the north on or before the term is ended?
d. Was this why the running mate had to be from the General Shehu Yar'Adua machine and not from the old guards of the Northern Elders Forum or the Turaki Committee or from the Progressives?
e. Was 'rotation' built into the bargain? How much of this was well known to all concerned?
GO BACK TO 1982
For those who have no sense of history, I can see the beginning of another rehash of the MKO Abiola's challenge to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1982. It will be recalled that Chief Abiola thought that "zoning" had a built-in "rotation". Chief Abiola genuinely thought that he understood the terms of the original contract within the founding fathers of NPN to mean that "zoning" had a built-in "rotation" or "baton change" after one term of President Shagari. We all knew how the event ended. What does the Constitution yet in the making say? Does it say one term for a President? Does this apply to other offices? The danger in the whole enterprise was that we were all blind-folded and went into this game with out a Constitution.
I called on President Obasanjo to make a categorical statement on this matter and he refused; would it not be in the nation's interest that he should let the country know? Nigerians would want to know from the President his response to the following questions.
a. Under what conditions was he approached by General Ibrahim Babangida to become the President in 1998?
b. What was he arranging this deal with General Obasanjo with the approval of the 'military in politics'?
c. Under what conditions did Lt. General TY Danjuma throw his support behind him to the extent that the esteemed General boasted that he would leave the country, if General Obasanjo did not become the President?
d. Under what conditions did he agree to become the presidential candidate on the platform of the PDP?
e. Under what conditions did the northern money men including Alhaji Dangote and Sheik Isyaku Rabiu who are not known to be politicians bank roll the election few weeks and days to the election?
f. Under what conditions did he decide to pick Alhaji Atiku as his running mate?
g. Did these above include an agreement to one term?
h. Was rotation part of the pact?
i. Was power-shift one of the terms?
j. Whose turn would it be after his one term?
k. How was this pact to be monitored and implemented?
I raised these questions in March 1999 and I was called all sorts of names. We are facing them today and I wonder if Nigerians would be patriotic enough to ask the President these questions today.
The above questions are critical today as one would want to know whom the Senator-elect was speaking for in March 1999. Was it the north as the northern politicians or the north as the military?
NORTH AND MILITARY: SIAMESE TWINS IN POLITICS
When Alhaji Shehu Shagari talked of the north and when Sunny Okogwu speaks of the military, one should understand that both were speaking of the same thing or were referring to two sides of the north. The 'north in politics' has two sides; the 'north as civilian politicians' and the 'north as the military politicians'. In politics, it is better to refer to the 'geo-ethno-military-clique' when we are dealing with the phenomenon of 'military in politics' in Nigeria.
All military officers know that there exists a clique in the armed forces that is politically attuned to watch the interest of a particular and primary constituency, the north and Nigeria as secondary and so long as the national interest and the northern interest are not in conflict.
ANSWER TO DANJUMA'S 'WE'
The 'we' in the expression of General Danjuma means the geo-ethno-military-clique. This clique derives first and foremost from the north and the infantry section of the Army. The clique excludes the southern officers, the Navy and the Air Force. This is the history of the military in politics in Nigeria and we should not kid ourselves about who could adequately enter into a pact with the political class and a presidential candidate for that matter during the period of the transition.
GENERAL UGBO IS RIGHT AND WRONG
This brings me to the statement credited to the Defense Headquarters on the matter. When the Chief Defense Spokesman, Brigadier-General Godwin Ugbo denied that there was a pact between the President and the military on one term issue, he was right if he was referring to official Armed Forces as he knew it. He was wrong if he was referring to what Nigerians know very well, the 'military wing' of the geo-ethno-military-clique in politics.
There is no doubt that General Ugbo is a distinguished professional military officer from an area traditionally excluded from the clique. General Ugbo, with the greatest respect my brother, it is not a derogation of your professional competence, if one says that you are not in a position to know what Chief Sunny Okogwu was referring to. And if you know you are not in a position to say so.
It is part of the unwritten rules in coup making that the military intervention in politics in Nigeria had never been a matter for the official armed forces. It had never been discussed at the official organ of the military government such as the Supreme Military Council or the Armed Forces Ruling Council or the Provisional Ruling Council or in any Service organizations.
General Ugbo, professionally and officially what you said about the armed forces in the Saturday Guardian of February 10, 2001 was correct. But Chief Okogwu was also correct when referring to the military. Chief Okogwu was not referring to the 'official armed forces' but to the armed forces as the 'military in politics'.
GENERAL UGBO, ADDRESS THE REVELATION AT OPUTA
One would have expected General Ugbo to address the revelations at the Oputa Commission on how General Obasanjo was made the President before the announcement of the transition program after the death of General Abacha and when the winner of the June 12 was still alive. I am referring to the assertion of General Ishaya Bamaiye that the decision to make General Obasanjo was a matter that did not flow from established organ of the armed forces. Was that not true? Was it not true that a discussion along this line ensued among the Generals on how to deal with Chief Abiola if he continued to maintain his commitment to his mandate? Was it not true that General Abdulsalami Abubakar the Head of State told General Bamaiye that 'a decision had been taken' by the same 'we' that a retired General who was still in prison was to be the President after the death of General Abacha? Was it not true that General Banaiye was approached by two distinguished members of the 'we' retired Generals, who told him to play ball.
NORTHERN LEADERSHIP IS BOTH MILITARY AND CIVILIAN
Are Nigerians surprised that at critical moments Alhaji Shagari speaks for the north and another stage General Buhari speaks for the north. We saw both acting in September 2000 in defense of Sharia and the amputation of the cattle thief in Zamfara. Some Nigerians were shocked that General Buhari had to lead a delegation to the Governor House at Ibadan to protest the harassment of the Fulani cattle rearers in the southwest. Unfortunately there is a dichotomy between the retired military officers and the civilian political class in the south. I will discuss this issue at another forum.
When Chief Okogwu made his statement I was surprised to also read many denials by politicians in the other parties and in the official Nigerian army. No one alluded to the March 1999 statement of the Kano politician. The above issues have become critical in the context of that press statement of Senator-elect of Kano, Alhaji Ibrahim Kura Mohammed. Who was he speaking for? What did General Obasanjo do in 1979? We knew that he handed over to a northerner and went back to his hometown and allowed the country to be driven to the dark ages. Yes, he did it in 1979 and the northern leaders want him to do it again after one term. As if this was not a downright blackmail, the northern leaders have added another twist to the issue that it would be the turn of the southeast come 2003. President Obasanjo should address the following questions.
a. Did he actually enter into an undertaking that he would only be there for one term?
b. Did he agree that at the end of this term, the baton would go to the north?
c. Did he agree on a successor outside what the Constitution would normally require should the President (a) die in office, or (b) resign or (c) be impeached?
d. What did the 'new owners' (the retired military officers) or the 'official' leaders (Board of Trustees and the National Executive Committee) of the PDP have in mind when they asked General Obasanjo to run as the Presidential candidate on the platform of the PDP?
e. Are the two sides now in disagreement as to how to deal with the matter?
f. What about the Nigerian people, who are itching for a Visionary Leadership?
g. Did these people know that the Nigerian people actually did not vote for the PDP with all the anti-democratic past of most of them?
h. Did they know that Nigerians were sold to the idea that General Obasanjo would be a bridge between the past, the present and the future?
i. Did they know that Nigerians were looking for a Visionary Leader for and NOT the PDP?
j. Did they know that Nigerians now have basis to weigh whether President Obasanjo after two years met the aspirations of Nigerians and are now in a position to reassess him as such come 2003?
The Nigerian voters, it should be further emphasized did not believe one day that the PDP would be able to salvage the country. And the Nigerian people do not believe that the job of salvaging this country can be done in four years. General Obasanjo is not a miracle maker who would be able to even understand the enormity of the problems and be able to turn it around within one term.
FROM MY 'PARTISAN' NOTE BOOK
Whatever the response the President-elect may give to these questions, the politics of succession should have been left to the interplay of political forces. As the protem National Secretary of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), I was privy to two arrangements in the past along the floated line of General Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku. One involved Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the other involved Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim. The two proposals to Dr. Azikiwe were by a group of northern leaders acting with some Ndi Igbo leaders who were itching for how to reenter the political mainstream after the civil war.
Implicit in both proposals was that Dr. Azikiwe should run with any of these two persons and agree to 'resign' from office after two years and be succeeded by his 'Vice President' Shehu Shagari or 'Vice President' Waziri Ibrahim. To many Nigerians of today, this was an attractive offer; but not for the revered nationalist, who knew the people he was dealing very well. Dr. Azikiwe declined the two offers even though they looked attractive and would have made him realize his ambition of "ruling the country for one day", a situation which he told Nigerians in December 1978 as the reason for coming back into partisan politics. Those who knew the Owelle of Onitsha well would appreciate how he loved life; he was scared stiff of the prospect of imminent death in the hands of the promoters of the plan through foul means. Do you blame the old man?
In reviewing the options before him with us at a strategic meeting at Onitsha in December 1978, Dr. Azikiwe declined the arrangement for five reasons.
a. Dr. Azikiwe was scared that the plan could hasten his demise.
b. He suspected that his 'resignation' under the plan could be accelerated through foul means.
c. He did not trust those who came to him with the plan in the Igbo land and he did not like some Igbo leaders in the NPN who were privy to the program.
d. He was not comfortable with some of the leaders from the southwest with whom he would be working in those parties.
e. He recalled the humiliation he suffered in the hands of the northern leaders in 1960-65.
f. As a democrat, Dr. Azikiwe was worried that the Nigerian people would reject the plan, if they get to know that it was an arranged plan.
This is Nigerian history for the General in particular and for Nigerians in general. As a good friend of mine in the Club 19 Dr. Obi Wali of blessed memory put it when we left the Owelle at Onitsha, 'arrangee' plan would not work. I was convinced that what would work in 1992 was a plan, which was a product of the inter-play of democratic political forces. This was why and how we were able to deliver a power shift in June 1993, which was aborted by the
geo-ethno-military clique. General Obasanjo should learn from history if he wants to make history!
I had tried to advise the incoming President in March 1999 that since the Federal Military Government did not consider it appropriate to have a Constitution before embarking on the series of elections, the President-elect had one option open to him on assumption of office. He ought to have jettisoned a decreed Constitution, which did not flow from the 'will of the people' of Nigeria. But this is the Constitution the President is embracing today. That is the law, which the President is using to intimidate the oil producing states and their governors that they could not even raise the issue oil for discussion as part of the lingering political issues in the country.
I had argued in March 1999 that the President-elect should as soon as he is sworn in convene the National Assembly to constitute itself into a Constituent Assembly and undertake a constitutional revision. Ideally, a Sovereign National Conference would have been the proper body to handle the lingering political issues in the country leading to the production of a people's Constitution. It was my view then and it is my view today that the new people's Constitution would take care of all the issues including the tenure of the President and other offices.