- Category: Personality
- Published on Thursday, 20 January 2011 07:00
- Written by Emmanuel Oladesu - The Nation
- Hits: 3313
The outcome of the governorship and senatorial primaries in Ogun State in which the preferred candidates of former President Olusegun Obasanjo lost their deposits has confirmed that power is transient and no condition is permanent.
For eight years, his word was law and the entire country his fortress. As President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, he cowed the governors to submission. The former President, it was believed, trampled on the opposition and converted the polity to a personal fiefdom.
His influence robbed off on the electoral commission at that critical period. They believed that he could dispatch the anti-graft agency to harass perceived foes. Those who attempted to defy his orders instantly met their waterloo. Their political careers were either shattered or they ended up in exile.
Today, the powers of former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been whittled down by circumstances and time. Outside the most powerful office in the land, he is like a shadow of his combative and power-loaded self. Unlike when he dictated the tune at Aso Rock, the seat of the federal government, Obasanjo, the Ota farmer, who has finally relocated to his Abeokuta country home, is not insulated from the political blows he had dealt his political foes in the past.
Gen. Obasanjo, civil war hero, fourth Military Head of State, Balogun of Owu and Ekerin of Egba, third civilian Head of government, and Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees (BOT), failed in his bid to ensure a return ticket to the senate for his daughter, Iyabo, who lost the nomination to Lola Edewor, daughter of the late winner of the 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Mrs Edewor, a former House of Representatives member, vowed last week to protect the ticket, saying that she would resist any attempt to annul the shadow election.
Obasanjo mustered efforts to assert his personality the usual way, but without success. Politically worn out, the retired General had no option than to travel to the party’s headquarters in Abuja to protest, what he called, irregularities that marred the primaries in Ogun State. While in the saddle few years back, he closed his eyes to such protests. Ironically, the man who was generally believed to have fuelled electoral irregularities in the past has now become a complainant and victim of the same tragic experience his do or die utterances unleashed on the polity.
His fate underscores the dictum that no condition is permanent and power, in the final analysis, is transient.
No Nigeria has been so favoured by destiny to play a prominent role in the life of Nigeria at critical moments. His strategic intervention ended the civil war when he commanded the Third Marine Commando. In post-war period, the military grumbled about their exclusion from Gowon’s cabinet. To assuage their feelings, Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo were appointed as Federal Commissioners for Communication and Works and Housing respectively. When Col. Joe Garba, the Commander of Brigade of Guards, successfully sacked his boss, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, and Muhammed became the Head of State, Obasanjo stepped into the number two position as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. He was said to have told the Supreme Military Council (SMC) that his job should not be limited to allocation of quarters to officers. He shared power moderately with Gen. Mohammed.
But the mantle of leadership fell on him following the assassination of the Head of State. He remained faithful to the transition programme. Of course, many SMC members insisted that the military should hand over as a matter of honour. Many Nigerians were not comfortable with his remarks that the best presidential material may not win the 1979 election. Then, the best candidate was the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Obasanjo’s prediction came true when Alhaji Shehu Shagari won by 12 1/3 at the Supreme Court.
In retirement, Obasanjo became a social critic and world statesman. Since he handed over voluntarily, he became a moral voice in Africa, where sit-tight military rulers constituted political nuisance.
At home, he took on the inept Shagari Administration. When it fell, the Buhari/Idiagbon Regime came to torment the country. Obasanjo wiped it into line, reminding the administration of its appropriate mission. When Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) became unbearable, he took the administration to the cleaners. Apart from frowning at the continued detention of Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon by the regime, he berated the government for window dressing. At the launch of Garba’s Diplomatic Soldiering, Obasanjo cried out that "adjustment must have human face, human heart and milk of human kindness".
IBB’s transition programme was a decoy. This did not go down well with his former boss, Obasanjo. He chided the cunning general for deceiving Nigerians, who, as he appropriately noted, were thirsty for democracy. When the annulment of the historic 1993 presidential election won by Abiola boxed the military into a tight corner, Babangida proposed a transition government. Obasanjo, who had reportedly said Abiola was not the messiah, welcomed the idea as a way out of the crisis. He said it was regrettable, but understandable.
If Abiola had assumed the reins, the tragedy that befell the General would have been averted. Sonekan’s interim contraception was shoved aside by his successor, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, who roped him into a phantom coup and jailed him. He escaped being hanged or killed in a most controversial manner, thanks to the late rights activist, Beko Ransome-Kuti, who alerted the whole world by posting the information in the internet.
From prison to power
From prison, he made it to Aso Rock. When he emerged as the PDP presidential candidate, nobody doubted his experience, nationalistic feelings, passion for unity of Nigeria. and detribalised nature. What were in doubt were the adequacy of his democratic credentials and adjustment from the notion of military centralism to democratic decentralization.
Many people expected him, at least, to bring the fundamental national questions to the front burner. As the frontline Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, recalled, "Obasanjo did not attempt to solve any of them. True federalism, state police and constitutional review, and Sovereign National Conference do not mean anything to him".
When he assessed the administration, frontline human right crusader, the late Gani Fawehinmi, described it as a tragedy and national burden.
But Obasanjo had good plans for the economy. His reforms agenda were beautiful on paper. He also assembled great minds into his cabinet. But these robust plans floundered at the implementation stage.
Obasnjo also played more politics, more often than not. Without a political base, his confidence shook. He had parted ways with friends who started the journey with him.
In the post-Bola Ige era, he turned to the politically bereaved and fatherless progressive Southwest, cajoled the Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors with an inexplicable accord. On the eve of the 2003 elections, he mocked them all, saying that they should "pack and go". On poll day, there was an unprecedented earthquake which swept through the poll-confident region. Before the governors, who prided themselves as associates of Awolowo, could wake up from their slumber, there territory was gone. On the morrow, their conservative rivals had gained political control.
Then, the former President returned home to play local traditional politics. Princes of Owu Kingdom were fighting for the throne. Like other prominent indigenes of the ancient town, Obasanjo had an aspirant in mind. When he was not selected at first ballot, he was said to have dazed the princes and kingmakers when he tore the result sheet. His candidate, who is eminently qualified for the throne, later triumphed over other contestants.
Enter the third term saga. It threw the country into turmoil and confusion. Obasnjo’s international profile instantly nosedived. It took all men of reason and goodwill a great deal of efforts to frustrate the big project.
Then, the dogs of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were let loose against perceived foes. His deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who had running battles with him, was initially excluded from the process. It took the intervention of the judiciary before he was allowed to contest the 2007 elections.
Obasanjo was combative throughout the electioneering period. He had used the power to slam a state of emergency on Plateau and Ekiti states, where the general mood was against its invocation.
Obasanjo braved all odds to have his way on all counts. While presidential aspirants sprang up, itching to succeed him, he went for a reluctant aspirant who did not vie for the highest office. Opinions were divided. Many thought that the former President did not want corrupt elements to succeed him. Other felt that he was trying to cover up his political misdeeds.
In Ondo State, he openly threatened Olusegun Mimiko, saying that he had soiled his ministerial seat and should visit the EFCC cell.
The election conducted by Prof. Maurice Iwu, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), under the direct supervision of the former President, was an eyesore. It was characterised by brigandage, massive electoral fraud, and deliberate result falsification. Winners became losers and losers were asked to proceed to the court to prove their victory. In Ogun, Osun, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, it was rigging galore. People remembered the threat of "do or die" by Obasanjo. Three years after, the court overtook the electoral armed robbers. The stolen mandates were recovered and returned to their rightful owners. This further dented the image of the power-loaded General.
On the eve of his terminal day in office, reality dawned on the former President that, though the Presidency may be permanent seat, it could only be occupied temporarily.
Sensing that he was about to be left in the cold, Obasanjo, in a controversial manner, displaced Chief Tony Anenih as the Chairman of PDP-BOT. Even at that, he could not wield the influence of a party leader.
No respite at home
When he relocated home from his Ota Farm, he had a proper time for local politics. Ogun PDP was divided and Obasanjo, to survive, had to back a faction. The court ruled that the Joju Fadairo’s faction, which has the backing of Governor Gbenga Daniel, was the authentic. Soremi’s exco, was fake. When both camps insisted on conducting parallel primaries, Nwodo-led National Executive Committee upheld the emergence of Gboyega Isiaka as governorship candidate and Edwor as senatorial flag bearer. Obasanjo’s candidates, Gen. Idowu Olurin and Iyabo, lost out. Life outside the Aso Rock Villa contrasts sharply with life in Hill Top Mansion, Abeokuta.
In spite of this reversal of political fortune, Obasanjo still remains an African statesman who is revered abroad. The only puzzle is that, while he is the proper person to resolve the crisis in Cote’divore, he could not settle the protracted crisis rocking the PDP in Egbaland.