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The Obasanjo/Babangida compromise

By Obi Nwakanma

On Wednesday, this past week, Mr. Edwin Clark, the prominent leader of the Ijaw ethnic group in Nigeria and close confidante of President Goodluck Jonathan took a steady look at matters affecting the nation as the guest speaker at the 2nd “ State of the Federation Lecture” of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in Abuja.

Among the issues he raised was the question of loyalty – ministerial loyalty to the president of federation – a situation which Mr. Clark found both disturbing and critical. Of course it ought to be a source of worry, and a situation dangerous to the health of this federation if the ministers of government are subversive and disloyal to the president. Their sworn oath of allegiance is to the president and the constitution of the Republic.

If indeed, as Mr. Clark alleges, certain ministers of government prove themselves disloyal to the aims and aspirations of the government under the current president, they put to risk the mandate of the presidency, and its capacity to effectively deliver services to the Nigerian people.

Such a situation leads naturally to national disenchantment, and potential grounds to mass revolt. The executive council under the leadership of the president is conceived to be a team. Government is in that sense like a team sport. The team makes the best use of individual talents and skills but in a cognate and organic way.

The president is the captain of the team, and his leadership is vital in sustaining team morale. Any slip by an individual member of the team leads to disaster. So, Edwin Clark is right in alerting Nigerians to the potential situation of dissonance in the presidential team under the leadership of President Jonathan.

At this critical stage of its development, Nigeria needs a first class team; a coherent team; but it also needs bold leadership to inspire the team. It must take the effective leadership of President Jonathan to evaluate his team of ministers and spot those who are disloyal and subversive.

The constitution gives him the powerful leeway of choosing his own team. Indeed in a presidential system, unlike in a parliamentary democracy which offers a range of freedoms and autonomy to the ministers of government who are equally parliamentarians, the ministers serve at the pleasure of the executive president.

Former Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo

There is no collective responsibility. All achievements and all failures belong to the president. It is thus up to the president to retain the services of those ministers whom Mr. Clark, though unable or unwilling to name, are disloyal to the administration. It is a feckless complaint as far as one is concerned.

It is basically up to President Jonathan to keep or dispense with the services of (dis)loyal ministers. Beyond that, at any rate, is what Mr. Clark conceives to be “disloyalty.” Is it that some of these ministers do not agree with the president’s in-council decisions? Is it that they are the ones bold enough to argue with the president on policy differences?

Disagreement at an ethical level does not constitute “disloyalty.” Yet indeed, one knows exactly what Edwin Clark is driving at. He is basically pointing to the presence of “moles” in the administration of President Ebele Jonathan, possibly ministers loyal and working for other interests outside of this government, whose aim is to make Jonathan look weak, incapable, listless and without direction.

There is intrigue at play, claims Mr. Clark, by those interests who wish to force Nigeria on the path of hysteria by making the nation “ungovernable” under Jonathan, whom they have dubbed, “a drunken fisherman and a weakling unfit to govern.”

Edwin Clark did not pull punches. He specifically mentions two former military Heads of State from the Northern parts of this federation: Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. “Let them publicly condemn Boko Haram if they are sincere” Edwin Clark declared to these men. Clark has raised the first public challenge to two people critical to the development of Nigeria’s national security challenges.

Clark’s challenge is critical because it comes at the very backdrops of the recent “Ramadan letter” written jointly by Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr. Ibrahim Babangida, two Generals of the Nigerian Army and former Heads of state of Nigeria.

President Obasanjo and General Babangida jointly reaffirmed the belief in the continued existence of Nigeria and the need to close grounds in their letter. I should of course say that as letters of compromise go, the Obasanjo/Babangida letter to Nigerians is a declaration of hoary intent but carries no moral force.

Why? We must go back to the issues raised by Edwin Clark, himself, not exactly an innocent bystander in the serial ruin of Nigeria since January 1966. But as Edwin Clark declares, Boko Haram and sundry matters did not begin with Goodluck Jonathan (although it is now up to him to deal with it. That’s why he is president). Insecurity did not begin with him.

The level of corruption under the Babangida and Obasanjo administrations, which indeed are the roots of Nigeria’s national moral and security crisis, is without compare. It might simply, finally be that Boko Haram is the beginning of the revolt of ordinary people, who have seen the utter desiccation and looting of Nigeria by the military and civilian oligarchy we call the Nigerian elite.

Under Obasanjo’s second administration alone, we have had such “high profile” cases of alleged looting of the public treasury that includes Jigawa’s Saminu Turaki, Ayo Fayose of Ekiti, Enugu’s Chimaroke Nnamani, Abia’s Orji Uzo Kalu, and others including Adamu Abdullahi, James Ibori, Jolly Nyame, Babalola Aborishade, Femi Fani-Kayode, Boni Haruna, Joshua Dariye, Attahiru Baffarawa, and many others, whose activities have enervated the Nigerian state but the cases against them have been stymied at the tribunals. But these are a tip of the iceberg.

General Obasanjo and his own personal interests have yet to be fully and effectively investigated, neither have Nigerians forgotten or have been given full accounting of the years of piracy under the Babangida-Abacha duet or relay of infamy under which Nigeria lost every modicum of national purpose and integrity.

It feels therefore like a mockery of Nigerians when the two Generals – very central to the Nigerian situation today – write a “Ramadan letter” talking pumpkins to Nigerians. Poverty and corruption is the legacy of their service to Nigeria. Poverty leads to destitution and destitution leads to disillusion, and national disillusion is the greatest security threat to Nigeria today.

True, some may be mining the core of that disillusion to create the situation of rapid discontent and ungovernability – a  true challenge to the nation – but to deal with this question, Nigeria needs a different compromise; different and bolder than contained in the Ramadan letters of two complicit Generals.

Something which Edwin Clark said in his lecture on the state of the federation is quite apt in that regard: President Jonathan should as a matter of urgency compel the National Assembly to convoke the National Conference as a way of discussing all the issues threatening Nigeria today. This is the historical imperative.


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