FEATURE ARTICLE


Saturday, June 15, 2002

Chike E. Okafor
[email protected]
USA


Nigerian Leadership vacuum:
Reasons why Olusegun Obasanjo must go


e start this journey in persuasive writing on the reasons why Olusegun Obasanjo, the current Nigerian president should not be re-elected to serve a second term as a Nigerian president. Olusegun Obasanjo may be a great father, grandfather, uncle, army commander (depending on whose perception), brother, or even a person, but as a leader of a nation of about one hundred and twenty million people, he is a colossal failure.

In this essay, we would attempt to be very objective, free from personal prejudices. We would start by alluding to the fact that Olusegun Obasanjo made history by becoming the first Nigerian military dictator to willingly relinquish control of the government in 1979 when he conducted an election that ushered in a democratically elected civilian government. Again, with all the tripping of dictatorial garbage, he made history the second time when he became the first Nigerian military dictator to be elected by the people as a civilian president in May 1999.

Accordingly, Obasanjo seems to be at the right place at the right time. His first foray at the epic of Nigerian leadership was by accident. He ascended into power following the assassination of Murtala Mohammed in mid 1970s and ruled Nigeria with iron fist for three years. During those years as a military dictator, civil rights were violated; there were uneven distribution of federal money among the states. There were mass public executions especially those implicated in both real and phantom coup d' etat, especially among some ethnic groups that formed the core of mid level army officers. Furthermore, there was a land reform program that enabled few opulent Nigerians; Obasanjo included acquiring mass land from the less privileged. In short, Obasanjo followed the modus operadi of successive Nigerian military dictators, before and after him.

The Second Coming of Olusegun Obasanjo occurred on May 29, 1999, when he was sworn in as a Nigerian civilian president ending prolonged cancerous reign of terror by the undisciplined, authoritative and totalitarian military dictatorships. As it was mentioned before, Obasanjo happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was a time when the mood of the nation grew distasteful and disgusted of the military leadership given the extremism of Sani Abacha's diabolic rule. The country and the world demanded a change even at the point of punishing the nation through economic sanctions that inflicted more pain on ordinary citizenry than on those that perpetuated evil located at the top of economic pyramid. At the time of the election, Obasanjo did not demonstrate to the people or explain to them why he should be elected Nigerian president. So, the questions we pose are - should Obasanjo be elevated again in the form of a third coming? What is so unique about his first term that would garner support for a second term? These are the questions that this essay would attempt to answer.

Before we proceed, dues should be given where one is deserved. Obasanjo's major achievement during the Second Coming was the reduction of the bloated and undisciplined Nigerian military personnel. It was argued that if such reduction would be accomplished, given the power welded by the Nigerian military establishment, that only an ex army officer would see it through. Although, the process by which such reductions were made could be termed "inhumane", one may argue that "sack" to use the military terms creates more problems than solve an existing one. This issue deserves thorough analysis in another writing. On the other hand, Obasanjo did more for the ex-military officers by bringing them into the mainstream of the Nigerian political establishment. The second Obasanjo coming saw more ex-military people occupy positions of authority that was of historical proportion in a civilian led government.

So, why should Nigerians deny a third coming of Olusegun Obasanjo? The reasons are simple: Obasanjo is not a nation builder. Obasanjo is from the old Nigerian school that practiced divide and rule where ethnic groups are pitted against one another. Obasanjo cared less about the gigantic problem that faced the nation when he assumed office from the military government. His whistle blow trips from one corner of the world to another showed ignorance and contempt for the people that looked up to a civilian government for redemption and economic emancipation. His over ninety trips around the globe in less than four years in the office was described by Rev. Father Ojakaminor as "Ajala-style President who spends more time abroad than he spends with his people at home."

Obasanjo's religious policy is a disgrace and his notion of separation of religion and constitution is wanting. According to the Washington Post editorial of August 25, 2000, "… bitter religious conflict between those who profess Islam and those who adhere to Christianity has cost thousands of people their lives." His comment during a BBC interview regarding islamization of Nigeria from the north was very unfortunate. We may remind Obasanjo that the current attempt to impose Islamic law in the north may be a stepping stone to eventual islamization of the whole country just as the jihad movement of the nineteen century came down from north Africa and quickly overran the north and some part of the west.

Other major factors that count against Obasanjo's quest to become a "Nigerian national monarch' in the form of a civilian president are.

The Odi factor and the killing of unarmed civilians

Killing Nigerian civilians, whether by a military dictator or a military dictator in a civilian cloth has become the only option to settle political disputes by President Obasanjo. Whether or not, the people of Odi's action in the killing of federal troops is justifiable or not, to wipe out an entire community by the Nigerian army which acted on direction of Obasanjo's government was unjustifiable. Furthermore, "his inability to control army lawlessness and halt gross human right violation by the army against civilians, especially ethnic minorities is a disappointment." (New York Times, February 25, 2002.) This kind of action was reminiscent of the practices during the eighteen-century that saw tribal warfare which pitch one group against the other in a repetitive senseless slaughter.

One would assume that those at the corridor of Nigerian leadership that studied the intricate working of government are supposed to know and respect the simple phenomenon which stipulate that the government at the center should act as a protector of constitution, human rights and an agent of balance and mediation among competing often-verbose and vociferous distinctive entities that make up the nation. The apologies that followed the Odi massacre, which was offered months after it occurred, makes such move suspicious, thus one wonders the sincerity and aim at its healing process. Was the apology an attempt to woo back the people that lost loved ones that may not have participated in the crime that brought the wrath of the government or was it an attempt to gain political footage for election purposes? The people of Odi deserve to sue the federal government for monetary compensation for the loss of lives, as such; the Nigerian constitution must be amended to allow the citizens to seek redress in the court of law. Perhaps, that may serve as a deterrent to future federal government disrespect, incursion into civil rights and abuse of power.

The same faith suffered by the Odi people also occurred in Benue state where some ex-military people serving under Olusegun Obasanjo influenced the government massacre of another ethnic group during an inter ethnic fighting. The Obasanjo's policy of aiding and abetting of ethnic cleansing boarders on violation of Geneva Convention on Human Rights and may qualify for The Huge trial like those brought against former Serbian strong man, Slobodan Milosevic. In light of this government abuse, it therefore, becomes unlikely, especially, if the norms of political convention prevails, that those affected by this ugly policy would support or endorse a second term for Obasanjo.

The Igbo factor

Obasanjo's career in government has shown disdain to the people of Igbo ethnic group from the southeast Nigeria. He does not hide his dislike of the Igbos. His policies and pronouncements have pitted the Igbos against their neighbors from the Delta region by twisting and redefining the events surrounding the Nigerian civil war in which he was not a neutral participant. Obasanjo happens to be one of the few Nigerians basking in the backdrop of the Nigerian civil war as if it was fought yesterday. He is one of those who view the Igbos suspiciously and has relentlessly pursued policies that are hateful and baleful to the Igbos. The Vanguard of May 30, 2002 wrote, "not only does Obasanjo disgrace Igbo sons out of office, he smears them." Perhaps, the president should be informed that the Nigerian civil war ended some thirty years ago in what was supposed to be a "no victor no vanquish" theme and that he should flush the hang over from his system.

Unfortunately for the Igbos, the war has taken a new dimension instead of abating, thanks to the like of Obasanjo. One of the most transparent viciousness and dislike of the Igbos by Obasanjo was exhibited a few years back when the Igbo opinion leaders questioned the anomalies and workings of the current Nigerian configuration and political structure. Obasanjo was outraged by such comments from the southeast of Nigeria, and his use of harsh and strong words to condemn such discussions - such as traitors and unpatriotic raised the bar. Again, at the Atlanta meeting of Nigerians in the Diaspora, Obasanjo once again showed his true self when the issue of Igbo predicament in the Nigerian society was brought up. Yet, when comments about the future of Nigeria are aired by the west that called for conference to address imbalance among the ethnic nationalities, which made up Nigeria, Obasanjo becomes mute or at best tolerant.

There is also the issue of trust, which is lacking in Obasanjo. It was reported in the ThisDay News online on April 16, 2002 where Chuba Okadigbo disclosed that there was an agreement with Obasanjo to serve one term only in the spirit of rotation. The top echelon of the founding members of the PDP reached the agreement so that power could shift to another region within the rotational six zones of the federation. By declaring his candidacy for a second term, Obasanjo has broken the spirit of the accord, which served him well and enabled him to defeat Alex Ekwueme during their rivalry for nomination to carry run as a nominee for president under the PDP in 1999.

What Obasanjo failed to reconcile and comprehend was that the Igbo vote was instrumental in providing the electoral numbers, which enabled him to become the president. He has, therefore, bitten the hand that helped feed him and thus does not deserve Igbo votes in his bid for re-election. That does not mean that some miscreant Igbos, the self-anointed Igbo leaders, the Judas's would not campaign or vote for him contrary to the wishes of their constituencies.

The religion and political factor

Religion and politic, we were told in the political science classrooms is like water and oil, they do not mix. The world has witnessed the destruction and horrible effect on people and nations where religion is juxtaposed along side with politics. It happened in the old czchekoslovakia, Northern Ireland, to name but a few. Nigeria stood to learn a lesson from these countries given the composition of the country with diverse ethnic group and religion. Why, therefore is the government of Olusegun Obasanjo's self denial of the effect of islamization or attempt thereof resulting from some Northern Nigerian state governments bereft of ideas necessary to cure their gigantic economic woes. At the height of sharia epidemic, the president opined his disapproval of the spread of such practice but, like most cowards, stood by while some hooligans went on rampage executing jungle justice by killing Christians and looting their properties.

The president bulked on the face of challenge from those who would stop at nothing to see the country disintegrate or be divided along religious lines. Nigeria was a fun country were diverse ethnic groups lived in peace, party together, their children attended the same schools where they were thought the values and virtues imbedded in the richness of our culture which transcended over generations from our forefathers. It was a place where gender does not play a role in determination of where our children should obtain their education, sit in a bus, attend sporting events at the stadium, or be prosecuted differently for similar offence. In today's Nigeria, Obasanjo is guilty of encouraging disintegration of Nigeria, the same charge leveled against the residents of southeast, as he stood by, within the last three years, presided over a government that witnessed the evaporation of the oneness of Nigerian society.

What then is in stock for Nigeria if the nation, which suffered brutal three years of war that saw millions of its citizen, perished would not accommodate one another and move on to the next level? What makes this president think that he deserves rewards through re-election for a second term when record of his present term does not meet the minimum threshold expected of a government? One has to show remorse and repentance for past transgressions in order to be forgiven and Obasanjo has not done so adequately.

Obasanjo as a dictator with authoritarian personality other than a democrat

Nigeria is at the nation-sate building process and as such what the country badly needed is a charismatic leader to bring the diverse and rivalrous ethnic groups together. Instead, the country found herself governed by a self centered aspiring monarch whose idea of leadership is to run around the globe while the country disintegrates and burns into ashes. Obasanjo's style of commanding rather than conciliatory or compromising has not helped to unify the country of one hundred thirteen million people with as many as four hundred fifty ethnic groups so observed The Washington Post on August 28, 2000 report.

We have a president who does not have any plans for building a sustainable democracy rather, we have a president whose idea of progress is to build white elephant projects in which billions of dollars would be carelessly spent, and who cannot be trusted to manage the wealth of a nation, especially at a time when the economy is fragile. The Washington Post on August 25, 2001 reported that the annual per capita income of Nigeria stands at $300 while Obasanjo is building $330 million soccer stadium and proposing to buy a personal jet for himself. The Washington Post of March 21, 2000 wrote two years ago that Obasanjo's policies has allowed a nation of 120 million slip back to the edge of economic collapse. White elephant projects only enable his corrupt friends unlimited access to Nigerian treasury in order to loot the country blind. In fact, obasanjo's record both as a military dictator and an elected civilian leader bails this notion out.

As a military dictator, Obasanjo was the host of the worst and last wasteful festival ever undertaking in the African continent. He lavishly wasted billions of dollars in the name of FESTAC where money spent is yet to be accounted for. The infrastructures built for the event deteriorated immediately following the festival. Like an old habit, Obasanjo is now building a colossal sports village near Abuja at a time when majority of the people languish in poverty, some cannot even afford a basic necessity of life.

Obasanjo suffers from the same acute spend and spend without documentation infection afflicting developing nations where prioritization of national needs is absent. Obasanjo has the opportunity to understand the wants of the nation and what needed to be done, but instead, has employed laid back option, or should we say: missing in action at a time of urgent need for redirection following the disastrous and turmoil military rule.

The caring factor

Those who followed former William Jefferson Clinton's presidency in the USA often heard him proclaim: " I feel your pain." It was a term used at time of empathy, a symbol of putting oneself in the shoes of the suffering masses. It is re-assuring to know that a leader sympathizes with the people, especially during the time of need or grief. This core value in leadership is lacking in Obasanjo. We recall that last year during the incineration at Lagos State ammunition depot, that Olusegun Obasanjo made two critical errors.

First, he told the grieving citizens to "shut up" when they were pleading for federal assistance. According to news accounts, he informed the crowd that he was doing the Lagos citizens affected by the incineration, the grieving families that lost their love ones and millions of their earthly acquisitions a favor by diverting a prior scheduled trip to Kaduna in order to see the damage caused by his programs and that of those after him who were blinded to the fact that weapons of mass destruction is a ticking bomb, ready to incinerate, therefore should not be stored close to residential areas.

Second, it was reported that he refused to walk past the perimeter of the disaster area and when news reporters urged him to do so, he became combative and declared, paraphrase, that if he was their father, whether they would push him into harm's way to die. This was the worst crass behavior and comment of the twenty-first century coming out of a leader's mouth. If he were my father, at his age and president of Nigeria, I would personally urge him to do the right thing by touring the area to see first hand what transpired and how the federal government disaster relief would be administered. In fact, at his age, he has surpassed the average life expectancy of both Nigerian males and females, according to all available statistics. Furthermore, it is only in Nigeria that a trained military person is afraid to die and it goes to show the true value of the military politicians that we call Nigerian army. This lack of care, once again add more meat to the contention that Obasanjo must not be allowed another term as the president of Nigeria.

Moving beyond personality and getting down to business

Nigerians are very gregarious, trusting, naive and ready to jump when unworthy indigenes flout their money on their faces while asking for political support. One can concur that Nigeria is at a crossroad where it must decide whether to tow the old road of destructiveness or a new road in which a democrat and perhaps, a technocrat should be hired via election to put the shattered Nigerian house in order. It is no longer an option to sit on the fence and watches a nation full of talents languish like Haiti, one of the most impoverished nations on earth. Obasanjo had all the opportunities to right past wrongs and what did he do - fly around the world on a weekly basis, antagonize each ethnic group, fails to champion the supremacy of the "imperfect" 1999 Nigerian Constitution over overwhelming assault by selfish and selfless parasitic sharia monger politicians from the Fulanis, not our Hausa brothers from the north.

What Nigeria needs today is someone from outside the obfuscated, convoluted and perhaps, polluted government of Nigeria, someone who is not afraid to do popular deeds that would benefit the most regardless of whose toes that is being stepped on; someone who would rise above ethnic politics, someone who has the charisma of JFK, Nkuruma, and the dexterity of Mandela and other great leaders who lead their nations at a time of crises of identify and unification.

At this juncture, Obasanjo should be sent back to Otta farm where his connections from his run around the world could be valuable and help his farming profession and hopefully translate into efficient and vibrant food production so that Nigeria might stop food importation and become self-sufficient. He has failed in government twice and that is enough. Nigeria is not a nation of failures; there are millions of capable hands that can chauffeur the country to a safe ground. It is about time that new talents are injected into the leadership of the nation. Those past generations that stymied Nigerian progress must relinquish their control and recognize that they cannot keep the vast number of Nigerians on the ground or on hold for much longer.

The Nigerian political history is very transparent when it comes to re-electing a sitting government. They never fail and that is the sad truth. It does not matter how badly they performed while in the office, or how much dislike and distasteful that the majority of the population found their stewardship. It does not matter how many votes that were cast against the ruling party, what matters the most is that they control the electioneering apparatus. They rig them to their satisfaction. In fact, they rig themselves into a landslide and nobody can do a thing about it. Of course, there is a court of law where one could seek redress, once again; the courts serve as political tool to the ruling party, which indulge in political pork barrel in cementing their crooked ways.

Unless nature proves otherwise a la Sani Abacha, we may see a third coming of Obasanjo and his wasteful expenditures, dormant/lethargic governance, belligerency and corruption at the highest level.

In conclusion, we presented multiple reasons to support the contention that Obasanjo must go. These are:

  1. The endemic corruption that is striving and still embedded in all fabrics of Nigeria.
  2. The Odi massacre that wiped out an entire village in Bayelsa State,
  3. The Tiv slaughter in Benue State that was allegedly ordered from Abuja;
  4. The sharia debacle that present two distinctive judicial system in one country, Nigeria and the killing of Christians especially from the south who are still waiting for justice to be served.
  5. The ammunition depot explosion that left thousands of people dead and the crass behavior of Obasanjo towards those affected;
  6. The Police mutiny…
  7. The assassination of Bola Ige, the former Attorney General and subsequently bogged down of investigation;
  8. The tampering and doctoring of the electoral bill;
  9. The constant global throttling of the president, more than ninety travels in less than four years in the office and
  10. The Abacha-style charade that was displayed at Otta farm.