By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The imminent inauguration of General Muhammadu Buhari as president this Friday provokes reminisces of another man who came to office in the same mould – Olusegun Obasanjo.
In his first days in office as a military dictator in 1984, Gen. Buhari severally claimed that his administration was an offshoot of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime. That was until an infuriated Obasanjo came out to denounce any relationship between him and the new regime.
In his second coming as Nigerian leader, Buhari, now a more matured man is not expected to walk in the image of another man as every indication is that he intends to answer his own name. But the similarities between the political adventures of Obasanjo and Buhari are real.
General Obasanjo became military head of state of Nigeria in February 1976 following the assassination of the then head of state, Gen. Murtala Muhammed during a failed coup attempt. Obasanjo was in office as military dictator until October 1979 when he stepped handed over power to President Shehu Shagari at the beginning of the Second Republic.
Remarkably, Shagari’s government was ousted in a military coup initiated by some officers who beckoned on Buhari, then the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army to lead the government. Buhari after twenty months, however, did not have the privilege of exiting on his accord as he was forced out in an internal coup initiated by some officers within his junta.
However, the inconsistency in their entry and exit out of power does not remove from the fact that the two men sit positioned as potentially the only two men to have successfully governed this country twice – ironically both as military dictators and as democrats. Obasanjo’s re-emergence as civilian president in 1999 was upon the broad support of the country’s political class, and especially retired military officers.
It is almost in the same way that Buhari is again being relocated to the peak of power as a civilian upon the broad support of the civilian political class on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Just like Obasanjo who after his release from prison dismissed reports linking him to the 1999 presidential election and famously asking reporters, “how many presidents will you make of me”, Buhari, after three attempts at the presidency between 2003 and 2011, was also known to have also renounced further efforts at a comeback.
However, both men were to succumb subsequently to entreaties from political associates when they were seemingly projected as the Messiah needed to move the country forward at difficult periods respectively in 1998 and 2015. However, given the experience of President Obasanjo in office between 1999 and 2007 when he in the view of some, acted with impunity, fears that Buhari may act in a similar manner has exercised some within the ranks of the political class, and particularly, in the APC.
Would Buhari follow Obasanjo’s alleged steps in impunity?
That both men are strongly opinionated on issues of corruption is not in any doubt and both men are known to have a strong repulsion of corruption. Obasanjo’s efforts in fighting corruption were highlighted by his remarkable efforts in enacting new legislation to combat vice. The first effort was the enactment of the Independent Corrupt Practises and other related offences Commission Act, which was one of the first legislative proposals introduced by his administration to the National Assembly in 1999.
Another landmark effort by his administration was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act, which was enacted to strengthen the corruption battle even outside the public sector. However, as a civilian president, reports of Obasanjo disregarding acts of corruption affecting his political allies was well reported. His indulgence of his political allies was especially highlighted by the allegedly skewed efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC towards politically exposed persons.
The EFCC it is alleged, acted decisively in the N54 million bribe for budget scam involving the Senate Committee on Education on the supposition that Senator Adolphus Wabara was planning to run for the presidential election in 2007 at a time the Third Term script was allegedly being scripted. The decisiveness in the case of the N54 million education budget scam was, however, lacking in the widely reported N50 million third term bribe collected by senators and members of the House of Representatives who were enrolled into the third term plot.
Would Buhari be selective in his prosecution of corruption? Close aides and most associates disagree. Indeed, a high ranking official of the APC in a chat with some reporters acknowledged the trepidation among party officials as he said that Buhari was looking for the first person in his cabinet to go to jail for corruption.
The seeming difference in the way the two men may fight corruption was signposted by the revelation that Buhari would publicly declare his assets and require his aides to do the same. In making his assets public, the incoming president would have put public scrutiny and transparency to a high level that would inevitably only put those who are above board to show a willingness to serve in his administration.
Assertions that Buhari would not protect his associates involved in corruption is a fact many associates are now admitting. The ongoing struggle by some party chieftains to position their favourite godsons in key positions in the National Assembly some allege, is one way they also hope to check Buhari from moving against them should he consider taking his anti-corruption battle to within the top hierarchy of his party.
But the question as to whether Buhari would act with impunity in imposing his will on the political class as some allege that Obasanjo did in his years between 1999 and 2007 is another matter. Obasanjo was widely acknowledged to have foisted his will in the election of the leadership of the National Assembly during his time, a development that led to much instability in the two chambers of the National Assembly in that period.
Buhari has, however, promised not to follow that path saying that he has learnt from the lessons of the instability that shadowed the National Assembly during the Obasanjo period. Given his inclination towards law and order, Buhari is expected to bring a sense of discipline in the conduct of government business in a way that is expected to inspire emulation among aides and bring fear and dread to those who have until now indulged in trampling on the will of the people.