Ihenacho’s Home Truths

The contour of this battle seems to tell exactly who is up in this war without end between the president and the speaker. The fact that Obasanjo has resorted to a street fighting tends to show that he is not up in this battle.
Monday, September 23, 2002

David Asonye Ihenacho



he political war of attrition between President Obasanjo and his nemesis in the Legislature, House Speaker Umar Ghali Na'abba, has continued unabated. In fact the end does not seem to be anywhere near in sight. Rather the battle has continued to escalate by day to the extent that while Na'abba appears to grow stronger every minute the president seems to be growing strangely weaker by seconds. It has almost become a self-evident truth that Obasanjo has not found any harder nut to crack in his second crack at Nigeria's top job than the Ghali Na'abba factor in the House of Representative. Na'abba has exemplified a political survival skill that has almost become legendary in Nigeria's Fourth Republic. But that is not for want of trying on the part of the president of Nigeria. In fact Obasanjo has been throwing everything available to him into the fight to liquidate the formidable Na'abba factor in the House of Representative. But everything has so far proved embarrassingly impotent. The young Na'abba has kept going like an energizer battery. It should be a very promising press inquiry to find out what makes this greenhorn politician from Kano State tick. What lies behind his resilience and strength? Why is he this fearless? And why has his political capital continued to grow while that of the president has embarked on a freefall? Could the investigative teams of ThisDay, The Guardian and Vanguard please help us who are far away understand the powers behind this emerging political juggernaut called Umar Ghali Na'abba?

According to numerous press allegations that were hardly ever denied, earlier in his administration, the president had made the defeat of the gathering Na'abba legislative clout his prime mission. After his string of victories destroying the feeble opposition to his wishes in the upper of the Nigerian legislature, the president set his sight towards repeating the same feat in the House of Representatives. Buoyed by his accomplishments in the senate, the president figured that he would have an easy play against the political greenhorn called Umar Ghali Na'abba. But he was wrong. Na'abba became more than a handful for him to handle. And since then, it has been war without end between the president and the House speaker.

President Obasanjo appeared to have been blindsided with the emergence of Na'abba as House Speaker especially in the wake of the confusion that had trailed the fall of the fake Toronto graduate Salisu Buhari whom the president had apparently supported. In the ensuing confusion of the unraveling certificate racketeering in the legislative house, Na'abba sneaked in through the backdoor with the Obasanjo political machine completely caught flatfooted. The late bid by this machine to cultivate the young speaker was repulsed, as Na'abba appeared to stand neutral as if trying to figure out the direction of the wind of his future political career. Since he successfully repelled the powerful machinery of Obasanjo, Na'abba has been growing in strength every day. In fact at the end of his tenure he will most likely be declared the most powerful House Speaker Nigeria has ever had. He seems to have mastered the art of walking on the troubled waters of Nigerian politics.

But the president would not be the guy to give up that easily in a cause he considers very important to the success of his messianic career as Nigeria's comeback president. Even after numerous failures to get the better part of the young speaker, the president refused to believe that the battle to win over Na'abba or politically destroy him was nearing over. He kept up with all sort s of tricks he thought would get the job done. He started to deploy all types of weapons in his arsenal without minding their constitutionality or even morality. First he employed the weapons that had achieved successive results for him in the senate. According to reports, he promptly sent out sacks of millions of Ghana-must-go to procure the demise of Na'abba and his clout through spurious allegations and impeachments. But the mission to destroy Na'abba with bags of money politically remained unaccomplished. Rather according to undenied press reports the president's millions of Naira that had been dispatched to facilitate the impeachment of Na'abba were returned to the House floor as evidence of the powerful presidential bribery scheme. But nobody could muster the courage to trace the bribery millions to their source. In the end the president got away with the allegation of bribery and was emboldened to try it in other areas of need.

Ironically while these claims of a massive bribery by the Obasanjo presidency were flying all over the place, the anti-corruption committee, the so-called independent corrupt and allied offences commission permanently closed its eyes lest it would act against the interest of its founder and sponsor, the president of Nigeria. For the anti-corruption commissioners, any allegations of bribery by the presidency would not fall into their jurisdiction to investigate lest the corruption-fighting president of Nigeria be besmirched and politically impacted negatively. For the commission its much-advertised independence was on paper only as it made the interest of the president its own interest. All the allegations of bribery and contract tampering on the part of the president, his ministers and his agents that were widely reported in the press remained no-go areas for the anti-corruption commission. As perhaps would have been expected the president could not give up his desire to defeat Na'abba politically. According to undenied press reports, he employed his usual mechanism of bribing the Reps over and over again. Yet he was not lucky as Na'abba grew in power and popularity. Whatever the president tried on the young speaker, he came back empty-handed. The Na'abba factor remained the only stumbling block towards the president's free and unfettered rein in Nigeria's fourth republic politics.

But as earlier indicated the president had had his way all the way in the senate. There, according to press reports, the weapon of bribery was working like a nuclear bomb. Whatever he aimed it at he destroyed. The Nigerian senators were being nuked every now and then with millions of Naira to either axe their leaders or to do the president's bidding even to the extent of secretively changing the phrases of an already passed law to satisfy the whims and caprices of Mr. President. Obasanjo was always smiling his way to the bank with the performance of his political capital in the senate. According to press reports, Obasanjo used the power of Ghana-must-go to buy Evan Enwerem the Senate presidency. He employed the same power to procure the demise of the senate leadership interloper called Chuba Okadigbo. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the late bloomer called the Nigerian senate had to suspend a few of its members because the senate had what it described as incontrovertible evidence that the accused senators had received a substantial bribery up to the tune of one million Naira each to sabotage the decisions of the senate. And while they were being suspended the irrepressible Senator Arthur Nzeribe shouted that since the senators were all living in a glass house with regard to taking bribes from the presidency then they had no right to scapegoat the few that had done so only recently. As revealing as those incidents were, the so-called anti-corruption commission could not even wink an eye of disbelief at the level of bribery and corruption in the government of Nigeria under the headship of Obasanjo.

Now let us fast-forward to the present. The nation had been engulfed over the last month or so with the threat of impeachment against the president. The House of Representatives has been leading the charge in the drive to remove the president from office through the process of impeachment. This move has cost Obasanjo dearly both at home and internationally. The once imperial presidency of Obasanjo has become so diminished that the president seems far more preoccupied these days with plotting his own survival than roving around the world in search of the elusive foreign investments. Because of the uncertainty created by the impeachment drive, the president seems far less engaged with his usual pastime of lobbing hand grenades into the legislative chambers to destroy the political careers of others.

On the other hand, the overly emboldened Na'abba has not shied away from claiming that he is the lynchpin behind the effort to either impeach Obasanjo and remove him from office or incapacitate him politically. Na'abba never made any bones that he was behind the two-week ultimatum for the president to resign from office or face impeachment proceedings launched over a month ago by a handful of legislators. He oversaw the seventeen-point impeachable constitutional breaches leveled against President Obasanjo. Na'abba has been all over the place celebrating the fact that he is the one now getting the better part of the president. He prowls around the political jungle of Nigeria like the lion king. And his efforts received a major boost when the once tepid senate president, Pius Anyim, who had been a strong Obasanjo political ally turned around and decided to cooperate with him in seeing to the end of the impeachment process. That kind of boosted the image of the house speaker to the high heavens. The coming on board of the senate in the impeachment efforts made Na'abba look like a genius. Gradually Na'abba has emerged as the most important politician in the fourth republic Nigeria. He is the one guy who has succeeded in giving this president the fight of his life. He availed the president the usual heat of a presidential democracy.

If people like Samuel Obande are alleging that Na'abba committed fraud with the finances of the lower house, the proper channel to ensure a probe of the situation is to secure a majority vote to force the house to institute its own internal investigation or invite an external body to review the finances in question.

On his part the president has grown increasingly frustrated that none of his trusted weapons has gotten him any results against the speaker. Rather than gain some grounds the president has continued to lose grounds and be continuously put on the defensive by the enormously powerful speaker. It has been a nightmare for Obasanjo that he has not been able to replicate his successes in the Senate at the House. He is not a man known to give up easily in anything especially this second attempt at Nigeria's presidency, which is proving to be a matter of life and death for him. And since Na'abba shocked him with both the resignation ultimatum and the launching of an impeachment inquiry, the president has revealed another aspect of him as a fighter that uses every available object as weapon. In an effort to regain the upper hand in his struggle against an enemy whom he started off underrating but who has proved more resilient and shrewd than any other one he had met previously in his fourth republic debacles, the president seems to have jettisoned fighting like an army general who likes to strategize. In fact the whole meaning of the term "general" like the etymology of the word "strategy," which used to be a military term any way, is to provide a broad strategy/plan for a battle. A general is supposed to be the master at strategizing for a battle. He is supposed to be the one seeing the larger spectrum of things. But the more than once beating and more than twice shy Obasanjo has thrown military strategizing to the wind and has resorted to street fighting like an untrained militia.

The president has resorted to street fighting in which every stick and peddled is launched as a missile against his enemy. For instance, immediately the Reps detonated their nuclear bombshell of impeachment demanding that the president resign in two weeks or face impeachment, the president, without the benefit of a general's strategizing, scampered for weapons to launch an immediate counter-attack. Immediately he began launching some verbal salvos against the legislative house members. He described the legislators as boys whose actions must be ignored as a childish joke. But that did not do him any good as the impeachment train buzzed along its tracks unchallenged. The president reached for another improvised missile. He accused them of bribery. He claimed that they were after his political life for not paving the way for them to collect more bribes and kickbacks. As plausible as the accusation had sounded, it did not work either for the embattled president. Once again the president searched for another weapon to launch. He ordered the auditing of the legislature's accounts. But the impeachment-hungry house remained unfazed and even added his audit move as one of his constitutional infringements.

To show how desperate he had become, the president accused the legislators of planning a military coup against Nigeria's nascent democracy. That appeared even more laughable. Nobody could believe that the four hundred sixty nine legislators could be planning a military coup in which only them would ultimately lose. In fact the more the president indulged in an uncoordinated fight back, the more pitiable and ridiculous he looked. But the new General Obasanjo, the street fighter, is not done yet. He wouldn't give a hoot that he was a general that was fighting an uncoordinated battle. Rather the president sent out his bags of Ghana-must-go to infiltrate the two chambers of the House. Moneybag-weighed-down legislators arrived in the floors of the two chambers of the legislature like wise men from the east bidding for the lawmakers who could join their counter-impeachment move. Not only did they not have much luck ,some of them ran completely out of luck and were caught and embarrassed. The senate caught their supposed saboteurs and dealt with them accordingly through embarrassing suspension and reprimand. But the House had more of those people to deal with. According to reports their number ranged about thirty-five who had begun their counter-offense against impeachment by paying solidarity visit with the embattled president. But ultimately they did not have the number to launch a full-blown counter impeachment to remove the arrowheads of Obasanjo's impeachment being the leadership of the lower house led by the irrepressible Na'abba who had become the House gladiator in chief. That weapon also failed to click. Obasanjo remained hung out to dry by the headhunting impeachment legislators.

However, the embattled president would not give up. Rather he started pulling all the stubs at his disposal in a two-pronged effort to save his political life as well as to launch his own counter-offensive against the likes of Na'abba and his house colleagues. According to press reports, members of the dreaded State Security Service emerged from nowhere and started trailing Na'abba and his colleagues in search of incriminating issues. Na'abba gave an alarm, which was largely ignored that a few people were after his personal life. As if that that would not be enough, members of the so-called anti-corruption commission who had all the while maintained the studied silence of a robbery accomplice swung into action in the pretext of having been legitimately invited to look into the corrupt financial dealings of the house speaker by some Obasanjo loyalists in the house led by Samuel Obande. And in an attempt to shield himself against distraction and reprisals in seeing through to the end his efforts to have the president impeached, Na'abba went to court seeking the voiding of the legal basis of the anti-corruption commission.

The contour of this battle seems to tell exactly who is up in this war without end between the president and the speaker. The fact that Obasanjo has resorted to a street fighting tends to show that he is not up in this battle. He is losing. And the fact that Na'abba is being hunted down by these government agencies does not mean that he is losing the battle. In fact the contrary seems the case. The speaker of the House of Representatives is winning the war of wits against the president of Nigeria. He has shown himself to be far more crafty and sophisticated than the president of Nigeria. And this is not a mean feat. The fact that the speaker has continued to thrive despite the overwhelming force that has been after him in the last three years shows the stuff that he is made. He is a smart politician. He could not have survived this long and acquired all this power and influence if he had not been playing smart politics.

But there seems to be a far larger implication to the way Obasanjo has chosen to prosecute his battle against Na'abba. Since embarking on his street fight, the president and his men seem to have committed even bigger constitutional crimes. Besides the false alarm that the reps were planning a military coup there seems to be a major constitutional offense bordering on a flagrant abuse of a presidential power involved in the use of federal law enforcement in going after political opponents. If it can be remotely proved that the president of Nigeria is detailing the powerful SSS to go after his political opponents, then he has abused his power as president and misused and mismanaged an important department of the Federal Government. If this allegation can be shown to have any shred of truth to it, then the president is no better than Sani Abacha and Babangida.

The crime of using federal law enforcement against political opponents is hydra headed by its very nature. It is at the root of all anti-democratic crimes. It was one of the accusations that sealed the resignation of Richard Nixon as president of the United States of America in the early 70's. If the president of Nigeria is proved to have committed such crimes, he should be made to face the fate of Richard Nixon. In fact should any of the impeachment advocates be harassed by the policy or the members of the security services, the president must be charged as being personally responsible. This president had once abused his power in this regard without any consequences. He dispatched the police to harass the then senate president Chuba Okadigbo in his official residence and he got away with it. Nigerians must know there is nothing in a democracy that gives a president the power to use federal powers for his own political advantage. It is a major crime against democracy. Even though the president is the commander in chief of the forces, the police do not serve at the grace of the president. They are there to enforce the law not the wish of the president. Nigerians show wise up and shout when their rights are being trampled upon.

Also the president and his surrogates are abusing the power of the presidency by detailing the anti-corruption commission to go after the speaker of the house and his impeachment colleagues. This is absolutely shameful. Now is the most inauspicious time to go after the speaker on issues of ethics. Even if the speaker has a clear case to answer in this regard, to go after him under the present cloud of presidential impeachment that the speaker himself is leading smells to the depth of hell. There is no way anybody will not see brazen politics of vendetta written all over this move. The president is obviously using the issue of rampart corruption as a weapon again his enemies. And that move in itself is a serious act of corruption. To redirect the instrument of fighting corruption to fight political battles is in itself an egregious act of corruption. By this act the so-called anti-corruption commission has completely lost its legitimacy and credibility. It has become a tool of the presidency to hound political opponents. Umar Na'abba seems absolutely right in going to court to seek the voiding of the legislation that established the commission. The commission is no use. It has been totally compromised by the Obasanjo presidency and has no more right to exist. Its independence is lost. One thing the Obasanjo presidency seems to be achieving quite effectively is to make sure that all the institutions that are prefixed with the word independent enjoy their independence only in name. INEC was the former victim. And now the anti-corruption has lost its independence as well.

In fact the anti-corruption commission seems to have completely discredited itself by embarking on arbitrarily selective investigations. There have been numerous accusations against the presidency on bribery and corruption. It will be interesting to find out how many of them the corruption commission has reviewed. People have been crying about the rampart incidents of corruption all across Nigeria. Transparency International has consistently grouped Nigeria as the first or second most corrupt country in the world. The American and European governments describe our country as the home base of heinous financial crimes of the world. The anti-corruption commission has been over these reports and allegation and has chosen to do nothing. It has been paying a deaf ear to all the allegations of bribery and corruption in Nigeria. Ironically it chooses to come alive only now the presidency of its mentor is threatened. But how can anybody not see the commission as an arm of the Obasanjo re-election campaign? The fact is the Obasanjo anti-corruption commission, which used to be a paper-tiger has only recently shown itself for what it is, namely, a political campaign outfit of the president of Nigeria.

Moreover to employ a commission directly under the executive to investigate the dealings of the legislature seems to me to make nonsense of the concept of the separation of powers. The president's executive power does not serve as a watchdog against the wrong dealings of the legislature. Ideally speaking the president does not have the right to investigate the finances of the House. It is only the House that can invite the necessary agencies to investigate it or its members through a majority vote. For the president to come all the way from the executive arm to peer into the dealings of the house seems to me a criminal overreach in our democracy. This is why respect for the budgetary system is critical for the working of our democracy. If the legislative money is budgeted, all the executive should do is release their money to them and let them do as they wish. That is how the system is set to work. Once the budget is signed into law the money must be made available to the House. If the House misuses its money and come for a revised appropriation that could give them more money, the president can refuse signing such into law and they will not get any penny unless they override his veto in which case the matter becomes law and they get every penny the new budget grants them. President Obasanjo must try to learn how a democratic system works. That will help reduce friction in his administration. Once the legislative money is budgeted and the president signs his name to make the budget the law of the land, his prying eyes must cease to go to ascertain how the money is spent. That is a legislative job. The legislature is an autonomous arm of the government. It does not serve at the grace of the president. The president's "prudent" financial management does not reach there. He should practice all his prudence during the drawing up of the budget. Once he cannot get all that he wants during the preparation of the budget, he should forget all about it and regard it as a lost cause.

If people like Samuel Obande are alleging that Na'abba committed fraud with the finances of the lower house, the proper channel to ensure a probe of the situation is to secure a majority vote to force the house to institute its own internal investigation or invite an external body to review the finances in question. To run and invite an arm of the executive like the anti-corruption commission is to make a mockery of the presidential democracy. Even if the anti-corruption commission had been properly and constitutionally set up to have jurisdiction over the three arms of government, the proper way to invite it into the affairs of the legislature seems through majority vote and not through recourse to the executive arm. The complaint of a handful of legislators cannot substitute for a majority that gets things moving in the legislature.

Finally, while it may be true that both Obasanjo and his nemesis Na'abba have still some reserved energy to continue forever their war without end, they should know that Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora have become war weary. We are completely tired of the type of warfare raging between Obasanjo and Na'abba. We need a ceasefire. Kofi Annan should consider sending a United Nations Peace Keeping Force to separate Obasanjo and Na'abba. Let the energy being wasted in the fruitless personality war between these two battering rams be redirected to action against the scandalous poverty in Nigeria. We need action not war against the obscene infrastructure disrepair in Nigeria. We need action on our express Nigerian deathtraps called high ways. Let these men launch their wars on our epileptic powerful supply. Our school system from nursery to the university perhaps ranks ahead only that of Afghanistan in the world. Nigeria has become the laughing stock of the world as demonstrated in the different reports that have been published lately about events in the world beginning from the UNDP poverty report to Transparency International Reports and EU's Financial Crimes Reports. Nigeria obviously needs a leader, which she does not have at the moment. Let the energy being wasted on wars between these two titans be redirected in ensuring some future for our young Nigerians who are not being equipped to compete in the future because of the atrocious education we are offering them. Both Obasanjo and Na'abba have numerous areas of need to channel their energies rather than waste them in a frivolous political war without end!