Between Obasanjo’s birthday and PDP’s convention

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 9 Mar 2008
It is unfortunate that the printer’s devil decided to play the devil’s claw on former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday, March 5. The Guardian I read that day had a full-page advert congratulating Obasanjo on his birthday. It read: “Happy 60th Birthday. My great political leader and mentor, Baba, as you mark yet another birthday today, one cannot but appreciate God’s mercies, blessing and divine protection on you…” Below the photograph of the former President (who actually clocked 71 that day), was the picture of the Managing Director of Soraya International Limited, Chief Joe Ogbebor, who marked his 60th birthday. There was confusion as to whether the congratulatory message, signed by the Oyo State Governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, was for Baba or for Ogbebor.
Be that as it may, the only other advert Obasanjo got on his birthday in the same newspaper was a half-page advert from a group that calls itself the Obasanjo Collective. In the other major national newspapers, I saw no adverts for Baba Iyabo, except for the ones placed mainly by the Oyo and Osun state governments in an Ibadan based newspaper, Nigerian Tribune. This was in sharp contrast to what happened the same time last year. In THE PUNCH of March 5, 2007, for instance, I counted not less than 20 full-page birthday adverts for the Balogun of Owu.

Some questions have been agitating my mind since that Wednesday. Could it be that many people now hate Obasanjo in this country? Is it that the man’s perceived sins in office are after him? Or could it be that Nigerians are displaying their selfish and hypocritical nature to praise-sing and profess friendship with any man in power but behave otherwise when the person is out of relevance?

Whatever, it is symbolic that the Peoples Democratic Party held its zonal congresses the same week its Board of Trustees Chairman, Obasanjo, clocked 71 years. It is also metaphorical that the confusion that trailed his birthday advert tended to foreshadow the national convention of his party held yesterday in Abuja. The zonal congresses that took place on the eve of his birthday were to elect party leaders at the six geo-political zones in the country. The sign that there is no love lost between the former President and some of his party members showed in the outcome of the congress in the North Central zone. The BOT Chairman reportedly supported Senator Tunde Ogbeha against Alhaji Kawu Baraje for the secretary of the party. Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki, supported Baraje who eventually won the contest. In the chairmanship position, Obasanjo stood solidly behind the former governor of Ebonyi State, Dr Sam Egwu; some governors and party stalwarts backed former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim.

As if to nail the Balogun of Owu and his candidate, his former Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), came out the same week to condemn his administration openly. He was quoted to have asked President Umaru Yar’Adua to unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Obasanjo and all those allegedly involved in the sale of the nation’s major steel companies to a man he called an economic terrorist.

Danjuma’s outbursts only confirmed that Obasanjo courted more enemies than friends both in and out of office. His alleged third term ambition, for instance, brought him on a collision course with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, and some others. When the plot failed, he purportedly engineered an amendment in his party’s constitution that made it possible for him to emerge as the Chairman of the BOT of the party.

Apparently, this was to ensure that he still remains relevant in the scheme of things. But it did not go down well with some party faithful who felt that the man unduly imposed himself on them. Hence, a group called G21 emerged to push for the amendment of the party’s constitution. Thus, yesterday’s convention became a battle between forces loyal to Obasanjo and those against him.

Generally, the impression one gets about the self-styled largest party in Africa is that of a union populated by strange bedfellows – large in confusion and lawlessness but small in developmental programmes. For instance, Chief Ifeanyi Araraume won the gubernatorial primaries of the party in Imo State last year. But the party fronted Chief Charles Ugwu instead as its candidate in that state. It took the intervention of the judiciary for Araraume to regain his mandate. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State suffered the same fate. He won the primaries but the party elders changed him with Celestine Omehia. The Supreme Court restored Amaechi’s mandate even when Omehia had governed the state for some months.

Before Saturday’s convention, three chieftains of the party made moves in the Abuja High Court to stop it. They later withdrew their case. In the South-West, the garrison commander, Lamidi Adedibu, led other stalwarts like Bode George and Governor Alao-Akala to endorse consensus candidates in the zonal congress. In the South-East, Andy Uba and co ensured the emergence of their own consensus candidates. In the South-South, the consensus candidates emerged out of some intrigues by powerful vested interests.

Even the plans to screen candidates ahead of the convention became a contentious issue between the outgoing Chairman, Ahmadu Ali, and the Chairman of Electoral Committee, Adamu Ciroma. They had flexed muscles over who should handle the exercise until Yar’Adua stopped the shame by declaring the field open to all PDP aspirants. As Egwu himself reportedly put it, “We have no internal democracy. We are still far from it. We do not apply the rule of law. For the PDP to lead Nigeria, it has to observe the rule of law.”

The problems in the PDP epitomise the ambition of Nigerian politicians to seize power by all means. This is why rigging and other electoral frauds may continue until we are able to reform the entire political and electoral systems. The new national Chairman of the ruling party emerged on Saturday in the person of Chief Vincent Ogbulafor. I congratulate him and wish him well.

As the leader of the ruling party, all eyes will be on him to see how he tackles the garrison mentality of his party’s politics. This is why he must ensure that he stamps out violence from his party. He must rally round his party faithful to root out desperation of people to acquire political office. It is this desperation, perhaps, that led to the assassination of former PDP chieftains such as Marshal Harry, Aminasoari Dikibo, Funsho Williams and many others. It is that desperation that leads to rigging and manipulation of election results.

The new chairman must also impress it on his people in government that governance is not about personal aggrandisement. It is about service. He must push for a reorientation of Nigeria’s political culture – a culture that sees being in government as an opportunity to become wealthy; a culture of political patronage; and a culture that sees winning elections as a do-or-die affair.


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