By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Erstwhile, military Head of State, General Sanni Abacha died on June 8, 1998 just before winning the unanimous endorsement of the five registered political parties of that era. His death led to a resetting of the shape and structure of the Nigerian political landscape. But what if he had lived?
PResident Sani Abacha was in amiable mood as he grinned mischievously to his long time friend and play partner, Dr. Jeremiah Oseni on the tarmac of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja that afternoon. Air Force One, carrying President Barrack Obama of the United States had just touched down at the airport and President Abacha was making a rare outing to receive the world’s most powerful leader.
“We got them didn’t I tell you? All we needed to do was to insulate ourselves and all this democracy nonsense will die out,” the Nigerian president said to Oseni, his long time associate. “Ranka dede you are correct, now the President of the world’s leading democracy has come to meet with the President of Africa’s biggest democracy,” Oseni said.
“Yes, your claim that the world will come to meet us on your terms has paid off,” Dr. Oseni who like Abacha had risen through the ranks of the Nigerian Army to the position of a General told the president.
Following his disengagement from the military at the official age of 60, Oseni had seen it expedient to replace his military appellation of General with a civilian title. At least four universities including the University of Lagos had honoured him with doctorate degrees for his service to the fatherland. A former Minister of the Federal Capital, Dr. Oseni emerged as the President of the Senate and had kept the chamber in quiet submission to the dictates of President Abacha.
As the pair conversed and waited for President Obama to deplane, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, the western educated Alhaji Teslim Polarin kept a distance alongside the Foreign Minister, Chief James Ebori and a horde of bureaucrats who kept a quiet conversation with the Chief Security Officer to the President, Brig-Gen. Hamisu Al Mustapha.
Polarin who had originally designed himself for the Nigerian senate was nominated for the position of Prime Minister by the Yoruba politician, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu who had emerged against all odds to become the leader of the Yoruba political caucus in the country. Polarin was nominated following the exit from office of the first Prime Minister under Abacha, Chief Jim Nwaobodo who had served two consecutive terms between 1998 and 2008.
Far back in the reception line were chairmen of the five political parties; parties that had been once described as the five fingers of a leprous hand. Three of the five parties had over time shrunk leaving the dominant two, the United Nigerian Centre Party, UNCP and the Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM to struggle for space.
Chief Barabbas Demade, national chairman of the Grassroots Democratic Party and Alhaji Isa Lawal national chairman of the United Nigeria Centre Party, UNCP were as usual engaged in their unending game of superiority to take front position in the receiving party. After the five parties in 1998 adopted the then General Abacha, the two foremost national parties had continued to take turns in succeeding presidential election to present Abacha in the elections.
The world had been aghast at the folly of the Nigerian political class in 1998 when all five political parties adopted Abacha in the presidential elections. Following that, ahead of the 2003 elections it was agreed that for democratic decorum that the UNCP should present Abacha while the GDM should not present a candidate. In 2003 it was the turn of the GDM to present Abacha.
The other three national political parties, however, presented presidential candidates who in the 2003 and 2008 presidential elections all lost their deposits that were reportedly offset by the administration.
Inside the plane as he prepared to step down from Air Force One, President Obama was still trying to reconcile himself with the reality of engaging the Nigerian ruler who had been the scorn of two of his immediate predecessors.
President Bill Clinton it was reported had employed all manner of intrigues including employing the use of two Indian born female operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA to undermine the Nigerian president.
President Obama smiled quietly as he remembered the secret briefing he had been given of how a diplomatic incident between the two countries broke out after one of the Indian girls died after eating an apple laced with cyanide that she was supposed to have fed Abacha with.
In the exhilarating exhaustion that followed a romp and rollick with Abacha one of the more adventurous ladies had eaten the poisonous apple that Abacha had secretly swapped with another apple of his own which he had eaten.
The diplomatic fuss that followed saw the surviving girl detained in Abuja for two years and was only released following quiet moves by President George Bush who succeeded Clinton to downplay the opposition of the West to Abacha’s transmutation as civilian president.
But it required more than that for President Obama to visit Nigeria. One of the conditions that had been negotiated with Nigeria’s foreign minister, Chief Ebori was that the respected Nigerian former military head of state and African statesman, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo would be allowed to meet with Obama during the visit.
Indeed, prior to the visit, a senior United States diplomat had visited Obasanjo in his residence in Otta to prepare him for the visit. The one time Nigerian leader, the diplomat reported in his dispatch to Washington was in good health but lived in miserable conditions.
His one time profitable farm had been run aground during the time of his incarceration between 1995 and 1999. Obasanjo was released in 1999 as part of Abacha’s efforts in wooing the world after his strange democratic expression in 1998.
Even though free, Obasanjo ‘s life was one of hand to mouth dependent on his military pension and periodic inflows from his children abroad including his US based daughter, Iyabo who is a successful veterinary doctor in the United States.
As Obama deplaned he was escorted by a number of senior officials of the US administration, but the surprise for their Nigerian hosts was the presence in the entourage of a former Nigerian senator and activist in the National Democratic Collation, NADECO, Senator Sola Sinubu.
Sinubu’s visit to Nigeria it had been agreed between Nigerian diplomats and US administration officials was purely apolitical, Sinubu was visiting to see his aged mother and matriarch of Lagos traders. As Obama neared him, Abacha could not but again mutter to Oseni near him, yes we got democracy in my own terms.