Obasanjo’s tale by moonlight

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Jan. 24, 2010 

President Umaru Yar’Adua had challenged whoever doubted his physical abilities to a game of squash. It was in the thick of his campaign for the 2007 presidential election. Many Nigerians had expressed anxiety over his health. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo gave him his full backing. He dismissed every talk about Yar’Adua’s ill-health, threatened every opposition to the man’s candidacy and ultimately foisted him on Nigerians.

 Today, Obasanjo is singing a different tune, if you like, playing silly games with Nigerians. In a widely reported speech at the 7th Annual Daily Trust Dialogue last Thursday, the former President reportedly urged Yar’Adua to resign on health grounds. He sermonised, “If you take up an appointment, a job, elective, appointed, whatever it is, and then your health starts to fail, and you will not be able to deliver, to satisfy yourself and satisfy the people you are going to serve, then there is a path of honour and a path of morality; and if you don’t know that, then you don’t know anything.”

 According to him, he chose Yar’Adua because the man has intellectual capacity, high personal integrity and sufficient broadmindedness. He knew that Yar’Adua had gone abroad to treat kidney ailment when he was the Governor of Katsina State. But he claimed that doctors had given him a clean bill of health before the presidential election. Typical of Nigerians, he invoked God to punish him if he had picked Yar’Adua to spite Nigeria, which he claims to love so much.

 Obasanjo would always remind whoever cares to listen that that love manifested during the Nigerian Civil War. Then, he fought tirelessly to keep the nation one. Besides, when Buka Dimka assassinated the former Head of State, Murtala Mohammed, in a failed coup attempt, the mantle to rescue Nigeria’s leadership vacuum then fell on him again. In 1979, he became the first military Head of State to hand over power peacefully to civilians.

 His second journey to power in 1999 was also messianic. The gap-toothed General from Niger State, Ibrahim Babangida, had annulled what many Nigerians considered the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history – the June 12, 1993 election. And in order to pacify the Yoruba race who felt short-changed by the treatment meted out to Moshood Abiola, who presumably won the election, some northern power brokers allegedly brought Obasanjo out from prison and anointed him the President of Nigeria. His ascension to power somehow doused the tension in the land and ushered in another democratic dispensation.   

 But now, all these are neither here nor there. For even admitting that he selected Yar’Adua to be our President, Obasanjo deserves our sympathy. What made him think that the over 28 presidential aspirants under the Peoples Democratic Party were not as qualified as Yar’Adua? Is it for him or the majority of Nigerians to pick our president? Was it former President George Bush that picked Barack Obama to be the President of the United States of America?

 What manner of democracy encourages the rule of godfathers against the rule of the majority? The same Obasanjo, when he was the President, encouraged and supported people like the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the so-called strongman of Ibadan politics, to lord it over the people of Oyo State.

 In Anambra State, he tacitly supported somebody like Chris Uba in his battle with the erstwhile Governor of the state, Chris Ngige. At some points, there were attempts to kidnap and deal with Ngige, but he shut his eyes to that. There were insinuations in some quarters also that Obasanjo picked a sick man to be our President in order to punish Nigerians for opposing his third term ambition.

 The refrain of the ruling party during the campaigns was “continuity”. But when Yar’Adua became president, he discarded some of the policies of his predecessor. This did not go down well with Obasanjo. Ever since, his relationship with the President has not been as cordial as it used to be.

 So, his call on the President to resign, though noble, is anchored on selfish interests. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP. But he did not bother about the fact that his statement was antithetical to the wishes and stand of his party. Already, the PDP has dissociated itself from the statement, saying his views do not represent the position of the party.

 In a way, what Obasanjo said was an admission of irregularities that marred the 2007 elections. Hence, it has become absolutely necessary for Nigerians to do everything possible to prevent a recurrence. On February 6, 2010, Anambra people will go to the polls to elect whoever will be their next governor. The candidates of the various political parties are campaigning seriously at the moment. It will be a tragedy if at the end of the election, somebody who is not the popular choice of the people emerges via rigging.

 A certain media report yesterday indicated that Yar’Adua might be coming back next week. Some members of his kitchen cabinet have reportedly concluded arrangements to bring him back to defuse tension that gripped the country since he travelled to Saudi Arabia 61 days ago. We have heard that before. I’m only hoping that it is true this time around.

 By the time he comes back, he will realise that he needs even more energy to tackle the rot that has built up in his absence. The Jos crisis is one. Fuel scarcity is another. And now the Obasanjo challenge.

 The major way the President could win the heart of Nigerians and shame his detractors is to implement the electoral reforms he promised without let or hindrance. Muhammed Uwais-led electoral reform panel has shown us the way. He only needs to adopt its recommendations to move the country forward.

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