By Ochereome Nnanna
If you ask me, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo is arguably the most prominent Nigerian ever born. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe should have occupied that position, but compared to Obasanjo’s footprints on Nigeria’s history, those of Zik pale. There is very little of Azikiwe’s legacies still visible, but Obasanjo’s remain the ruling force.
Zik led Nigeria to independence but was relegated to a ceremonial president. In other countries, the torchbearers assumed power at independence. But that of Nigeria was different because the nation was aborted on its Amalgamation Day, January 1, 1914. Two absolutely unrelated sections – the Southern and Northern Protectorates – were forcibly merged in a manner of mixing water and oil. You know they don’t mix. One was a heavy burden, the other the beast of burden. It remains like that till date.
Like Zik, Obasanjo was a prominent figure in another kind of fight for Nigeria – the Civil War. But unlike Zik, Obasanjo has ruled Nigeria two times: as a military Head of State (42 months) and elected president (96 months, total of 138 months). Only Muhammadu Buhari (20 months plus 96 months in May 2023, a total of 116 months) comes fairly close. Beyond the number of years that Obasanjo held sway over the nation’s affairs, he “authored” the constitutional template that has been used to govern Nigeria for the past 42 years and counting.
The 1979 Presidential Constitution, though hammered out by a Rotimi Williams’ Constitution Drafting Committee, CDC, and Udo Udoma’s Constituent Assembly, CA, was substantially packaged in the background by the late Major General Shehu Yar’Adua’s Kaduna Mafia and rubber-stamped by the Obasanjo regime.
All the so-called constitutional conferences (General Ibrahim Babangida,1989; General Sani Abacha, 1996 and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, 1999) which produced constitutions and the Obasanjo 2006 and Goodluck Jonathan 2014 conferences which failed to produce constitutions, were mere cosmetic amendments of Obasanjo’s 1999 Presidential Constitution.
Let us bear in mind that even after Udo Udoma handed over the Draft Constitution in 1979, the Supreme Military Council led by Obasanjo but with Yar’Adua as the political muscle behind the throne, repackaged the document to accommodate the interests of the military and the wider political forces they were fronting. Under Obasanjo, all efforts were geared towards returning power to the North and keeping it there.
Nigeria had two major stab wounds that would leave it bleeding profusely towards death. The first, as pointed out before, was that British colonial masters forced two unequal, unwilling, unrelated and mutually antagonistic sections – North and South – to cohabit in a manner as to ensure that the North would exercise permanent control of the South. Nigeria’s “independence” was basically a transfer of British colonial power to the North for the exploitation and sharing of Southern resources.
Many armchair critics have often blamed Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu for leading the January 1996 coup and General Odumegwu Ojukwu for his secessionist attempt. I daresay that, with the unjust and oppressive power that Britain left with the North, it was only a matter of time before coups and wars would erupt.
The emergence of oil boom in the defunct Eastern and Mid-Western Regions would have prompted reckless impunity by the powerful North, perhaps in cahoots with the West, to hijack the oil, even if it meant replacing its civilian political leadership with a military one.
The East and Mid-West would certainly not have been allowed to leverage on the prevailing resource control to ride the oil boom and leave the rest of the country behind. The struggle over the oil alone would have been enough reasons for internal crises in the former Eastern Region and the national stage at large.
But if the colonialists had allowed the North and South to go their separate ways in 1914 or 1958, there should have been no civil war, and the North would certainly not be a poor country. Its agricultural and mineral endowments would have been better managed for its prosperity as we saw before the civil war. The British amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria impoverished the country and sowed the seeds of endless crises.
Obasanjo’s 1979 Presidential Constitution, which foisted a centralised or “command” federalism completed the bad work that the colonialists had started. It entrenched Northern domination and exploitation of Southern resources. It eventually led to the current undisguised false claims by certain Fulani groups and intellectuals under Buhari that their ethnic group “owns” Nigeria, which they are futilely asserting with force of arms and with state condonation.
Those who are looking for the reason why Nigeria, despite its obvious endowments, is now on the verge of collapse (as everybody now admits) should look no further than the handiworks of the two main founding figures of Nigeria: Britain and Obasanjo, the Caliphate’s willing pawn.
At a personal level, I am an admirer of our Baba, Obasanjo. He is a leader unlike any other we have seen in Nigeria and Africa. He is courageous and uncommonly blessed. He is an embodiment of the good, the bad and the ugly; a living legend. I greet him on his 85th birthday and wish him well.
But if we must tell the truth, he is a willing and unrepentant tool in the hands of those who are the vectors of Nigeria’s problems. He gave us a system which even wars, coups and elections could not change to bring out Nigeria’s greatness.
But because the system cannot be changed through peaceful or even violent means, it has decomposed from inside after over 40 years of ferment. It is perched and tottering on the precipice. It is only a matter of time before the inevitable comes.
Only a new beginning can save this country. No “good” leader can rescue Nigeria with Obasanjo’s constitution.