Posted by By Paul Odili - Vanguard (Lagos) on
YET again, history is about to repeat itself in several ways in Nigeria. For the second time in his life, Obasanjo is going to leave office diminished, a former head of state, who would be remembered more for the negatives than for any good he might have done.
YET again, history is about to repeat itself in several ways in Nigeria. For the second time in his life, Obasanjo is going to leave office diminished, a former head of state, who would be remembered more for the negatives than for any good he might have done. In 1979, when he left office, Obasanjo's public rating was low. He was seen as incompetent, a lackey and mere figure head of the political North. With his departure, his legacy in office was reduced to one item- handing over power to President Shehu Shagari, whose non- performance as a leader, in a way rubbed off further on Obasanjo's image.
After 20 years of working to promote and refurbish his image, Obasanjo became an international statesman: travelling round the world attending summits, having his views sought, culminating in his being nominated as a member of Commonwealth Eminent Persons group, to examine ways of bringing an end to Apartheid rule in South Africa. He wrote books, some of which where purely self-adulatory, and he also set up his own intellectual think tank, Africa's leadership forum. He had a busy time as well making high profile interventions in the domestic political arena, 'harassing' every regime that came after him.
By 1999, when he returned to power, though not liked by his Southwest people, he had enough friends outside the zone to make it possible for him to win this office, and so he became president again. Today, Obasanjo has by his own failings and poor judgement blown away the good will he might have had. He has become the issue in Nigeria. The country is divided. By last Thursday the Senate has literally shut down the third term proposal, by 43 to 46 votes. The trend in the House was moving depressingly against those who want Obasanjo to have another crack at the presidency next year. In any event, if the Senate buries it, in the manner the comments of members show, it is irrelevant what happens in the House.
From reports, the President is frantic to revive his diminishing fortunes. His meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly asking them to save the situation is a plea of a desperate man, who is staring at his defeat, loss of prestige and disgrace, and thrashing around hoping that something happens to save him, even if it means asking the leadership of the National Assembly to commit an illegality on his behalf. For an anti-corruption crusader, this is an irony and a cynical destruction of what might have been an enduring legacy. The President's direct intervention is the final act of admission of his desire to have his tenure elongated. And this is one of his biggest mistakes. He has entangled his presidency in a highly controversial and unpopular agenda. By taking personal charge, a defeat translates into a direct loss of authority and prestige. His pressure tactics has forced the Senate President, Ken Nnamani to cry out 'I do not have a magic wand to change the sit uation'. This is a second mistake. If Obsanjo were an astute strategist, he would have known there is very little the National Assembly leadership can do now. Before undertaking his third term project, he should have been sure of his numbers. His late former deputy, Shehu Yar'Adua, is reputed for his scrupulous interest in numbers. In briefings and analysis with associates, Yar'Adua had a sharp ear for numbers. For instance, his PF took over SDP with an inferior number. Yar'Adua success was built on having superior numbers. Tony Anenih must know this, did he not advise Obasanjo?
Ironically, the President's frustration and increasing isolation by allies mirrors the time of General Ibrahim Babangida, after the 1993 June 12 election debacle. Faced with strong public opposition, General Babangida tried all sorts of tricks to no avail. Now the President has waltzed into a cul-de-sac, he wants to get out and save face by winning what has now become perhaps the most important bill of his tenure in office. His case is made worse by the desertion by former very powerful and influential allies - Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Theophilus Danjuma, Atiku Abubakar, etc, who have left him to twist in the wind. How he can pull third term alone will be nothing more than a miracle. On his return from Indonesia, he will definitely resume his 'lobbying' of National Assembly. It is here that Nigerians should watch out keenly, because as a General encircled by enemies and prospect of defeat very high, he is capable of using every weapon or turn anything into a weapon to achieve his aims. The classic end justifying the means tactics.
As a civil war hero, the President has enough hubris or fool hardiness to soldier on and try to reverse his losses. He could use money, which is already being used as reports show. He could use EFCC or ICPC to initiate investigation and arrest some anti-third term legislators and keep them in the cooler until voting are over. He could instigate crisis in the House, and get the security agencies to move in and disperse the gathering and while they are doing this, break a few heads and limbs to make sure the number of those opposed to tenure extension is reduced.
In real politics, what works is what is used. If violence and arm twisting can yield third term, why not? After the results have been secured, then those left standing can worry about how to proceed from there. Interestingly, while the President is sweating it out, his deputy, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is enjoying a healthy smirk, declaring the agenda dead. Is it? The next few days will show whether there would be a life presidency or not. And indeed, whether Nigeria will remain a united nation. The stake is very high indeed.