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The OBJ factor

By Donu Kogbara
I HAVE never fully understood why so many Nigerian politicians insist on bitterly informing anyone who will listen to their tedious tales of woe that they were forced to comply when Obasanjo (aka OBJ), our former President, “foisted” Yar’Adua on the PDP and the nation.
I attended the PDP Convention in December 2006 as a media observer; and Nasir El-Rufai, the then FCT Minister, was one of the few delegates I encountered who was enthusiastically extolling Yar’Adua’s virtues. Almost everyone else I spoke to – and I spoke to several delegates that day – complained about the fact that OBJ had made it clear to all and sundry that he wanted Yar’Adua to be selected as the presidential candidate.

Some of these disgruntled delegates were upset because they would rather have voted for other PDP stalwarts like Dr Peter Odili, the then Governor of Rivers State. Others pointed out that Yar’Adua had been going through serious health problems for many years and would not be strong enough, physically, to cope with the rigours of campaigning or ruling.

Then there were the delegates who told me on that fateful day in Eagle Square that they simply didn’t know the famously reclusive Yar’Adua and weren’t sure that he could be trusted. And let’s not forget those who said that a man who hadn’t travelled widely and had only ever run a small, unsophisticated state like Katsina did not have enough exposure or experience to run a big show like Nigeria and handle its foreign partners adeptly.

One would have thought that all of the above detractors had valid reasons for flatly refusing to obey OBJ’s instructions. But guess what? They all fell into line like dutiful little sheep and did what they were told. And I was absolutely mystified by their cowardice.

OBJ can be intimidating and unreasonable. But he is also capable of bending when he is confronted with superior arguments or outright rebellions. He is not a psychopath. And I think it is fair to say that he would not have killed off his entire flock if they had defied him! So why on earth were hundreds of grown men and women so totally scared of him?

It is also worth noting that many of those PDP delegates who caved in like packs of cards were major VIPs and power-brokers in their own right. OBJ’s regime would certainly have ground to a halt without their collective support. And there is safety in numbers.

So why didn’t they gang up on OBJ and tell him that Yar’Adua was not their idea of a suitable candidate? Can one individual fight a crowd? What could OBJ have done if every PDP delegate who had an axe to grind had put his foot down and cried “foul!”?

Nigerian democracy is in its infancy and is profoundly flawed, but it is just-about muscular enough to protect gutsy and united citizen groups who challenge bullying leaders.

I found the timidity of the Northern PDP delegates particularly hard to fathom.

You make plenty-plenty noise about it being your turn (yet again!) to occupy the highest office in the land. You selfishly ignore the fact that the poor old South-South has never had a President, even though it has produced most of Nigeria’s wealth since Independence and has suffered deeply from oil production downsides like pollution and gas flaring.

You persuade OBJ to hand the baton over to your area. And then you risk everything you have lobbied so vociferously for by agreeing to endorse a candidate who, a) you barely know, b) is so frail that it will be a miracle if he survives one four-year term, never mind two and c) seems decent and comes from a good home but is not your most best statesman.

Let those who stood to lose the most from this bad decision blame themselves, not OBJ! If he had a wicked hidden agenda, as so many of his critics have claimed, they played into his hands. And more fool them for allowing an “outsider” to undermine their zonal interests.

Ironically, El-Rufai eventually changed his stance and started to vilify Yar’Adua…while those who were originally opposed to Yar’Adua suddenly decided that he was a messiah.

Life can be so very interesting and so very riddled with human complexities!

Anyway, here we are in 2010, reaping the toxic seeds that were sown in 2006. Fortunately, Dr Goodluck Jonathan is riding to the rescue in his uniquely calm and mature way.

One of the accusations that anti-progress propagandists are using as a means of sullying Dr Jonathan’s reputation is that he is close to OBJ. And I don’t have a clue whether this allegation is true or false. But I don’t regard closeness to OBJ as a huge problem.

OBJ has made many mistakes. But he did some positive stuff when he was in charge; and his formidable strength of character can be constructive. Whether you like it or not, he is a whole heap more impressive than many of the weaklings who couldn’t stand up to him when it mattered and are now abusing him anyhow because he is no longer their Oga.

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