Nigeria’s democracy and the Obasanjo Paradox by Tochukwu Ezukanma
Entrapped by an evil cabal, enmeshed in nepotism and blinded by ethnic chauvinism, Mohammadu Buhari, is a bad president. However, despite Buhari’s bungled presidency, Nigeria remains a democracy. As such, the supreme judges of the Nigerian president are the Nigerian voters; they reserve an incontestable right to give their verdict on him. It is therefore wrong for any megalomaniac baba, in his warped sense of messianic obligation, to think that he can usurp this right from the Nigerian voters. Over the years, Olusegun Obasanjo demonstrated a penchant for badgering democratically elected presidents with his open letters. His open letter to the then President Jonathan was a farrago of aspersions, innuendos and falsehoods. His recent open letter to President Buhari, though devoid of obvious confections and embroideries, was still disturbing. It enumerated the president’s weaknesses and strengths, and disconcertingly, it advised him not to seek re-election. It was an advice that assailed the president’s constitutional right (like every other Nigerian) to vote and be voted for.
There is nothing prepossessing about Olusegun Obasanjo. Neither his visage nor physiognomy strikes you as benign, inviting or appealing. Not only that he lacks suave, style and finesse, he is actually rough-hewn, and sometimes, cuts the image of a bucolic, clumsy droll. Despite the impressive number of books he has penned and his recently acquired doctorate degree, nothing about him conveys erudition, brilliance or intelligent. Those that soldiered with him in the battlefields of the Nigerian civil war described him as a coward, an unimaginative military strategist and an inept military commander. But, despite his obvious limitations and inadequacies, he became the most successful Nigerian politician ever. And that is the Obasanjo Paradox. In his book, The Tragedy of Victory, Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama wrote extensively on Obasanjo’s appalling performance as the commander of the 3rd Marine Commando Division. The first encounter of the 3rd Marine Commandos, under Obasanjo’s command, with the Biafran Army was at Ohoba. Due to his ineptitude as a commander and military strategist, the battle of Ohoba was disastrous for the Marine Commandos: 1,000 of them were killed by Biafran soldiers in a one hour battle. He hardly ventured to the frontline. On one occasion that he did, once the firing started, he ran away from the battlefield. Unable to rally his men and lead them into combat, the 3rd Marine Commandos dawdled for about six months between Port Harcourt and Owerri.
It was after a subordinate officer, Alani Akinrinade, lost his patience, and put in effect an earlier military plan that he had worked out with Alabi-Isama, that the 3rd Marine Commando made progress that resulted in the capitulation of Biafra within one month. Paradoxically, Obasanjo became the most celebrated of all the Nigerian Divisional Commanders that fought to keep Nigeria one. He gained world renown and a historical niche because it was to him that the rump Biafran government surrendered to. When Dimka and his men struck and killed the then Head of State, Muritala Mohammed, other senior army officers rallied to counter the coup, but Obasanjo went into hiding. He hid at the house of Chief S. B. Bakare. Following the failure of Dimka’s coup, Theophilus Danjuma, trying to avoid Aguiyi-Ironsi’s mistake, refused to be the new head of state. Ironsi’s mistake was that he rode to power on the coattail of a coup by an Igbo-dominated group of majors that killed some northern civilian and military leaders. He benefited so immensely from a coup that he supposedly foiled. Therefore, it spurred the suspicion, especially, among Northerners, that he was originally a party to the coup.
Like Theophilus Danjuma, many of the participants in the Dimka coup were Christians from northern ethnic minorities. To become the new head of state after quelling a coup by mostly Christian northern ethnic minorities that killed a Hausa/Fulani head of state may have stirred suspicion of his complicity in the coup. Consequently, the spineless derelict that broke ranks and went into hiding became the new head of state. As Head of State, he was not totally in control; he was unsettled and afraid for his life. Therefore, he punctiliously kept to the earlier timetable for a handover of power to an elected civilian government. To the international community, he scored another big one: he became the first African military dictator to willingly relinquish power to a democratically elected government. He has since be revered and feted globally as a champion of democracy. It was the political fallouts of the June 12 crisis that propelled Obasanjo to the presidency in 1999. For years, the Yoruba-dominated National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) unremittingly fought for the realization of the June 12 mandate, and the president-elect, Mohood Abiola, died fighting for his mandate. Paradoxically, the harvest of their collective labor and sacrifice was handed to Obasanjo on a platter of gold. To assuage Yoruba restiveness, the northern powerbrokers made him president. He remained president for the next 8 years, longer than any other Nigerian civilian president/prime minister.
Undoubtedly, fate had been unusually generous to Obasanjo; it repeatedly catapulted him to unmerited heights. Evidently, these consistent levitation to unearned prominence got into his head. It made him megalomaniac. No wonder, he thought he could breach of the Nigerian constitution and snooker Nigerians into electing him president for a third term. The rejection of his third term presidential bid hurt his pride and left him with a chip on the shoulder. His restless, desperate, intrusive attempt to impose his will on Nigerians through proxies and hectoring open letters to presidents are primitive expressions of his bitterness from that rejection. It is these unyielding and crude vent of his embedded bitterness that has made him the loudest, and the most obnoxious and obtrusive of all former Nigerian presidents.
The people are the ultimate repository of power. It is therefore their constitutional prerogative to decide who presides over them come 2019. Despite Buhari’s failed leadership, Nigerians may still choose to re-elect him. Nigerian voters reserve the right to, deliberately or inadvertently, make the wrong choices, and then, learn from their mistakes. After all, it is through democratic experience and its inherent lessons that Nigerian democracy will evolve, and then, flower and flourish.
• Tochukwu Ezukanma wrote from Lagos