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Obasanjo vs National Assembly: Ali Baba and the 40 thieves

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
ADDRESSING a conference of the (rather innocuous, pardon my ignorance) Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies in Lagos, last week, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, for the umpteenth time, let loose a cat amongst the pigeons of Nigerian political society.

He was quoted as saying that “integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make?” But the old despot was not done; he also fired some volleys at the Third arm of government, the judiciary too: “We believe that the judiciary is the last to be affected by corruption.

Now, the judiciary has been riddled by corruption, which has affected other sectors of the country. And if the judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for the nation? Justice is now for the highest bidder. That is what we have now”.

A provocative speech

Boy, was that speech made deliberately to stir the hornet’s nest? And it surely did, because so much was embedded in Obasanjo’s deliberately provocative speech. In the first place, was it not curious, that he took his “anti-robbery”, and “anti-corruption” ‘insight’ only to two of the three arms of government, conveniently refusing to ‘see no evil; hear no evil or talk no evil’ about the Nigerian Executive, which by common consent, has metamorphosed into the World HQ of corruption and sleaze? Why did Obasanjo not make allusions to the monumental corruption that has seen the disappearance of trillions of Naira in recent months, under the Executive’s watch; from  the fuel subsidy scam to the pension funds scandal and just as he was literally making the speech, the Malabu funds sleaze? Was Obasanjo taking a pot shot at his old adversaries in the Legislature and the Judiciary?

He was being deliberately provocative as well as licking old political wounds in public. Take the statement about the judiciary further; Obasanjo added that: “for election (please read RIGGING!), we now have democracy of the judiciary, substituted for democracy of the people (the PEOPLE?

That is coming from Obasanjo’s mouth? Hear! Hear!!). Yet, we do not see anything wrong with that. All these things started happening in this country without anyone sanctioning it. We took those things for granted and big things started to happen and we are now lamenting…” So the outlines are clearer and the pain is real for our old soldier. Obasanjo has a grouse against the judiciary which bulldozed the house of deceit that he constructed in the Southwest. In a most brazen electoral heist, Obasanjo’s PDP used the old dictator’s incumbency in the West. So from zero, Obasanjo stole into a robe of a hero; the man that couldn’t even win the polling booth in front of his house in 1999, suddenly became the lord of the Southwest manor. It looked too good to be true!Obasanjo did not only now have a constituency in Abeokuta, he controlled the volatile, politically sophisticated Southwest.

A good soldier reinforces the homestead; and from there launches outwards.Obasanjo took that military dictum too literally; goaded by the likes of the ex-convict, Olabode George, that he was the “founder of modern Nigeria (the height of power-drunk stupor!)”, Obasanjo decided the next conquest was a Third Term Agenda, which would have seen him in Aso Villa for another twelve years! Delusions do not come any more frightening than that.

But as they say, the rest is history. Despite the huge bribes, even a normally complicit and thoroughly compromised National Assembly was forced by the national consensus against Third Term to dismiss the Quixotic tilting, by the old despot. But the man was not done with Nigeria. In a fit of vengeful fury at being denied Third Term, Obasanjo inflicted upon Nigeria, a terminally sick Umaru Yar’Adua and paired him with Goodluck Jonathan. It was head, he won; tail, Nigeria lost! We are still reeling from that deliberate act of vengefulness. But if Obasanjo thought he had things his way forever, he had not reckoned with the judiciary; the stolen goods, in the form of the electoral heist of the Southwest, was taken, one after the other, from him.

So from control of the Southwest, bar one, Obasanjo became the emperor without a political robe, dancing in the public square, and revealing a grotesque political nakedness. As the Yoruba say: “iletiafiitomo, iriniowo (a house built with sputum collapses under a mere dew)”! “Humpty-Dumpty sat on the wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses.And all the king’s men. Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again”!

Desperate kick of a dying horse

A few months out of power, the myth surrounding the old despot began to unravel; he went into a tailspin, back to the beginning, where he started from: Obasanjo has no home base; despite an eight year-presidency, patronage or the control of the cohesive apparatus of state.

Not even the much-vaunted ability as an old bully ensured that he ended as a politician able, at least, to boast of control of his constituency. Yes, Obasanjo came out of prison a near-broken, near-bankrupt man, as Chief E.K Clarke stressed a few days ago; and after eight years in power, became arguably, one of the richest ex-presidents in Africa.  It must be very painful for him, to have lost so much political relevance.

He could not even hold on to the redoubt he carefully carved out for himself, as the LIFE chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees. When reality dawned, the old despot, with tail between his legs, ran, using the surprise of a sudden resignation as cover!

What Obasanjo did last week, was actually the desperate kick of a dying horse. It was an embittered old dictator, confronting political mortality; he had to make a last stand against institutions which contributed in his political de-mystification.

But it is important to remember  that the man calling others armed robbers and rogues, ran one of the most corrupt regimes in recent Nigerian history. The Obasanjo years in power were akin to an elaborate criminal enterprise; national assets were systematically sold to cronies, and the man even openly got shares in some of these choice national assets.

The use of bribery became central to the process of governance and members of the National Assembly were regularly induced with money to do Executive biddings. He got off with a lot of things but lost what he wanted most; the Third Term Agenda!

That was why he had to make a final dig at his National Assembly adversaries.It was the old tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves; however, here we certainly have more than forty members of the criminal enterprise. Ali Baba is calling the other thieves by their names: “thieves”! But Ali Baba is the head of the criminal enterprise!

A week in Borno

I SPENT most of last week in Maiduguri, Borno state, participating in a retreat for political office holders. I have not returned to Maiduguri for a few years, and had that initial eerie feeling on arrival. It is obvious that the Boko Haram insurgency and the counter-insurgency effort are having a negative effect on socio-economic life. The hours of business have become severely strained and because there is a curfew from seven in the evening, by six, everybody begins to rush in the directions of home. Soldiers are tense and edgy; and not knowing who might be Boko Haram, they behave aggressively.

I heard tales of killings by soldiers, especially of young people rounded up, after attacks by Boko Haram. Many people confessed that they feared the soldiers much more than they do Boko Haram. And as we made for the airport on Friday morning, a military vehicle driving behind us, overtook and pull us aside; a soldier came out and angrily asked why our driver did not pull out of the way for their vehicle.

Our man apologis ed and the soldier and his comrades went back into the road, with every vehicle scampering for the soldiers; it was almost like an army of occupation really, and their indiscretion has turned them to something close to recruit sergeants for the insurgency.

But I also saw soldiers manning checkpoints with decorum and utmost professionalism and I thought that it must be difficult not to be able to gauge who the friend was from foe.

My visit was an opportunity to see from close range the effort being made by the Borno government to deliver governance in the very difficult setting of an insurgency.

The governor attended every  session of the retreat; he made contributions to lively debates and members of the political elite were just as responsive to the issues generated during the week-long retreat. But one got the impression that the situation gets to them as individuals. Yet, they maintain a very admirable stoicism in the face of it all. I left Borno more convinced, that the platform that the governor enunciated from onset remains the best way out: peace; reconciliation and development.

I saw the ambitious efforts being planned to harness underground water resources for agricultural development; heard of designs for poverty alleviation projects and empowerment programmes for women and the youth of Borno; there are efforts to accelerate the use of IT in the process of governance; they critically assessed low educational standards and how to move things forward, etc.

But not much can be achieved if Borno and Northern Nigeria don’t achieve peace and reconciliation as platforms to implement the ambitious plans discussed last week. It remains curious that President Goodluck Jonathan has not visited Borno and Yobe since the beginning of the insurgency; it is as if these people do not matter. We know that elements within the Jonathan entourage feel it is good, that killings are taking place in the North.

Reno Omokri, a presidential assistant, once described Northerners as ‘parasites’. But the President should visit Borno as an act of solidarity with its people and in furtherance of cooperation with the state government to end the insurgency.

President Jonathan once stated that dormant irrigation projects in the North would be revamped as part of job creation schemes to eradicate the radicalisation of the youth. Borno should be the heart of such a plan. I am sure he will find a willing partner in the government and the people.





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