FEATURE ARTICLE

Dr. Chinua AkukweMonday, January 3, 2005
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cakukwe@att.net
Washington, DC, USA

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OBASANJO, AUDU OGBEH SAGA: A DEFINING MOMENT IN NIGERIA'S DEMOCRACY


he amazing trading of accusations between two of the foremost political leaders in Nigeria: President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has, in my view, become a defining moment in Nigeria's march to real democracy. Since 1999, Nigeria's democratic experiment has decidedly moved toward a pseudo one-party state where PDP rules supreme and other parties become better known for their squabbles on the pages of newspapers. For all practical purposes, Nigerian opposition parties lack the financial, organizational and intellectual resources needed to mount and sustain a credible watchdog role in Nigeria. Consequently, an open disagreement between the President and the Chairman of his party is for all intents and purposes, a mega political rumble in the land.

Audu Ogbeh's letter to the president presented a synopsis of the state of the nation in Nigeria, well known to any individual who is not a political jobber, a glorified court jester or the proverbial Emperor without clothes. President Obasanjo's reply to Chief Ogbeh, dripping with undisguised sarcasm and unbridled contempt, provided an invaluable window into the inner workings of the ruling political party. The president's reply also dropped a bombshell: a confession regarding the electoral shenanigan of 2003. That APGA won the 2003 gubernatorial election in Anambra State is no news. What is newsworthy and historic is that the President confirmed in writing what everyone had suspected.

However, unlike most commentators who opine that Anambra State is the real story behind the disagreement between Obasanjo and Ogbeh, I believe that the exchange of harsh public letters between the two PDP leaders is all about 2007. It is no secret that Audu Ogbeh and Atiku Abubakar, the Vice President, are birds of the same feather, at least for now. It is also no secret that Olusegun Obasanjo is building a strong political platform within the PDP for yet undisclosed reasons. It is public knowledge that Ibrahim Babangida, the erstwhile military president, is now a formidable presence in PDP. The tripod of battle tested, strategically inclined and decisively operational political operations are at each others jugular in PDP. The prize within striking distance is the PDP national convention slated for the end of 2005.


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The Chairman of PDP in January 2006 will be the beautiful bride of Nigeria's politics for many reasons. First, the president will be entering the slippery period of lame duck, and even in patronage driven politics of Nigeria, political jobbers will hedge their bets regarding relevance in the next dispensation. Two, unlike 2003, where an incumbent was running for re-election, at least on paper, no incumbent will be running for the presidency of Nigeria in 2007. All contestants for the post will be locked in a bitter contest. Third, a powerful PDP Chairman in 2006 will be in position to influence the outcome of presidential primaries since most of the powerful state governors who are eyeing senatorial seats will be involved in or managing the fallout of nasty and expensive senatorial primaries. A few of the governors, despite public posturing to the contrary, will be engaged in the high wire politics of becoming a running mate to the eventual PDP nominee. It is no secret that Audu Ogbeh, with his rising profile, may not be acceptable to the Obasanjo and Babangida tendencies in PDP.

Thus the crafty PDP Chairman may have dealt his ace: prepare a post PDP Chairman Parachute by echoing what many Nigerians feel about their government irrespective of whether Obasanjo and his advisers work round the clock to implement governance and economic reforms. Audu Ogbeh as a long time political operative may also have kicked off a subtle campaign for the presidency of Nigeria. Unlike 2003, when Western powers largely stayed away from Nigeria's election, the 2007 election and its outcome will be watched keenly in many Western capitals. As a former penniless Communications Minister, a former lecturer in foreign languages, farmer, former Chairman of PDP, and a prominent member of the Middle Belt Zone of Nigeria, Audu Ogbeh is a viable presidential candidate if PDP zones the presidency to the North. This move, however, will put him at cross hairs with the Atiku Abubakar political machine, the PDM. However, if Obasanjo does not support Atiku's presidential ambitions, Audu Ogbeh could become a natural choice for the Atiku Abubakar group, especially if the Obasanjo group within PDP succeeds in their determined attempt to remove Ogbeh as PDP Chairman before the expiration of his tenure in 2005.

The face-off between Obasanjo and Audu Ogbeh has changed Nigeria's politics, forever. It is now a matter of Nigeria government public record that electoral malfeasance took place in 2003 as noted in the President's reply to Chief Ogbeh. A bold party Chairman challenged his resolute and uncompromising party leader who is also the President of Nigeria, to do more to end anarchy in one of the party's controlled states and to end the unfriendly disposition of most Nigerians to the Federal government. State governors, collectively the most powerful block in PDP, flexed their muscles and preserved Audu Ogbeh's chairmanship, at least for now.

No matter the public show of solidarity and camaraderie, PDP may not survive in its present format post 2005. In particular, PDP governors may move to cement their influence by sponsoring candidates for the PDP convention in 2005. If PDP governors do not have their way or feel manipulated, the largest opposition party, ANPP, if it keeps itself together, may reap enormous benefits.

For all practical purposes, the current high stakes political poker game between President Obasanjo and Vice President Abubakar will be unmasked at the PDP 2005 convention. Obasanjo's support for new key officers of PDP will show his hand. Will Obasanjo support Atiku or Babangida or a candidate from the South East? Will Obasanjo work with Babangida to deny Atiku a presidential succession and possibly open the way for a Trojan candidate? Will Obasanjo encourage a third-term bid? Will Obasanjo stay studiously neutral? This is highly unlikely since all presidents have a special interest in their potential successor. PDP will likely face a scenario where one or two of the dominant three groups in the party will pull out and join the opposition, bringing with them formidable financial muscle and intimate knowledge of the "science" of winning elections in Nigeria, even against incumbent governments.

As for the gladiators of the debacle in Anambra State, Chris Ngige and Chris Uba, it is time to do the honorable thing and hand over the electoral mandate to the presumed winner, Peter Obi. Chris Ngige and Chris Uba should jointly work with the electoral tribunal to mercifully bring to an end, the sordid Anambra saga. At the very least, INEC should organize new gubernatorial elections in Anambra State.

However, let no one believe that the face off between Olusegun Obasanjo and Audu Ogbeh is all about Chris Ngige and Chris Uba. They simply represent a convenient platform for a bigger, looming battle in 2007: the presidency of Nigeria, one of the most powerful political jobs in the world. Obasanjo and Ogbeh have launched a titanic battle for the presidential candidacy of PDP and presumably, the exalted seat of power in Nigeria, Aso Rock.

Dr. Chinua Akukwe is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC and is a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH) now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC.