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Profile of a statesman (2)

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By Bob Anikwe
Continued from last week
IT took 13 years before the army produced its first statesman. The man, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, successfully ended military adventurism into Nigerian politics (for a while) in 1979 when he handed over power to a civilian regime. He thereafter retired to a farm at Ota, but what a farm it turned out to be!

A grateful nation and an awed international community replaced Zik’s Onuiyi Haven with Obasanjo Farms as the political Mecca of Nigeria. After the Abiola debacle, occasioned by arbitrary exercise of power, Nigeria saw in him a stabilizer, who could lead us once again on our journey to the promised land.

But did he lead us? The jury is still out on this one. What is sure is that he achieved an unflattering exit from power, with his image as a national and international statesman seriously dented.

Ironically, even before he left power, it was interesting to watch the President who once derided the Owelle title quickly grab a local chieftaincy title and meddled in the affairs of the Owu palace, even as he attended to affairs of state. OBJ is no longer a darling of the international community and, outside the PDP, has become a spent force in Nigeria.

OBJ’s second coming would not have been possible if Nigeria’s first graduate ruler, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was allowed to consolidate his power in the Interim National Government that a departing IBB hurriedly contrived.

Shonekan inherited a deeply fractured and bleeding nation, settled down to flush the political mess he inherited, only to meet an implacable opposition mounted by activists fighting to reclaim the mandate that was denied millionaire businessman, the late Moshood Abiola.

The pro-democracy group was determined to throw away the dirty IBB bathwater with the new born Yoruba ruler. Shonekan would have none of it; he threw in the towel, and thereafter retired to his business. Today, Shonekan is sought after by Nigerian presidents looking for sensible advice.

The army’s second statesman inherited the odiferous stable left behind by Gen. Sani Abacha, the late maximum ruler. General Abdulsalami Abubakar shunned the temptation that ruined the reputations of his uniformed predecessors: Gowon, Buhari and IBB.

His predecessors went against public opinion and reneged either on their promises or the popular expectation that they would deliver democracy within a deadline date. Gen. Abubakar, on the other hand, promised and organised reasonably credible elections, handed over power, and like Obasanjo, also retired to a farm. Unlike Obasanjo, he did not make his farm famous, and his personal house, which I am told is also grand and sits atop the same stretch of hill, is not as famous as that of his brother general who stepped aside.

But no matter: A grateful nation and an appreciative international community applauded General Abubakar who is now widely consulted and used on democratic and international peace keeping assignments worldwide. Who would not love this type of “retirement”?

To his credit, the less-famous Minna General has kept a low profile, shooting up his integrity quotient, has avoided local chieftaincy squabbles, and thus far refrained from engaging in political games. I daresay his work for the nation has not ended.

There are lessons that can be drawn from the lives and times of these statesmen.

In Nigeria, it has become clear that, by accident or design, power will not devolve to those who pursue it with single-minded commitment, their earthly resources, or indeed a robust ethnic support base. Power has always been conferred on those who do not seek it, but who at the same time are widely acknowledged for their integrity and impartial concern for the common good.

In addition, those who assume office with these basic “qualifications” find it easy to retain power as long as they maintain these character traits for which they were elected.

This may not have served us well in the past, but it nevertheless exposes a common reality that every Nigerian who has been conferred with power must take into account.

It is clear that there is no substitute for hard work. To illustrate with a manager’s example: When a worker is promoted to a position of responsibility and members of his family begin to focus on how long he would stay on in that position(rather than what to do for the company within the job contract period), the manager may find it difficult to do the things that will mark him out as a man of integrity, and to focus on things that will promote the common good.

The final lesson is that Nigerian presidents who reign, reign and go away, peacefully, buy their tickets to statesmanship, a jet setting retirement, and a chance to come back to power again another day.

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