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24.04.2007 Africa

Obasanjo’s Bruised Ego

GeneraL Daniel Olusegun Obasanjo first came to Nigerian political limelight in 1976 when he succeeded General Murtala Muhammed after the latter's assassination.

In 1979, General Obasanjo did what was unthinkable at the time on the continent when he handed over to a democratically-elected civilian administration, led by President Shehu Shagari.

For that feat alone, General Obasanjo remained a political icon, not only in Nigeria but on the continent where he was seen generally as one of the rare African leaders who had not been eaten up by selfishness nor soaked in power-drunkenness.

General Obasanjo made his second coming in 1999 when his People's Democratic Party (PDP) won the general election to herald Nigeria's return to democratic rule.

His arrival was welcomed by many, after what was regarded as one of Nigeria's darkest moments in 1993 when the general election which should have brought Chief Moshood Abiola, a business tycoon, into power was annulled by the Babangida administration.

General Sani Abacha, who filled the gap until 1998, was regarded as one of the most brutal dictators ever to parade the corridors of power on the continent. So ruthless was the man that he was nicknamed The Butcher of Kaduna.

In 1998, nature intervened when General Abacha died suddenly, paving the way for another experiment at constitutional rule which had eluded Nigeria, just like many other countries on the continent.

General Obasanjo returned to power with a promise to make far-reaching democratic reforms in a country which, for the most part, had operated under military dictatorships. Many did not doubt Obasanjo's declaration because of his earlier credentials as a committed democrat.

He was also seen as the best compromise candidate at the time, judging from his previous experience as a military ruler with a clean record and his association with several civil society institutions.

It did not take long for General Obasanjo to form a club of a new breed of leaders on the continent who offer hope for a people reeling under the yoke of poverty, ignorance, disease and total marginalisation.

Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Abdulazziz Bouteflika of Algeria and the newly-elected Obasanjo represented a new African leadership which did not only see Africa's revival under a new democratic dispensation but was also determined not to sacrifice Africa's development on the altar of selfish and narrow political interests.

Together, the three launched the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) which aims at fostering and developing an open government and ending wars in return for aid, foreign investment and the lifting of trade barriers to Africa's exports.

Other converts, including Presidents J.A. Kufuor and Abdoulaye Wade of Ghana and Senegal, respectively, were to join the club.

It must be admitted that the first Obasanjo years followed the desired pattern. He played prominent roles in peace efforts in Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The human weakness associated with many politicians in Africa started gaining prominence when General Obasanjo started overtures to amend the Nigerian Constitution to allow him a third term, contrary to what is stipulated in the national constitution.

Nigerians who have borne the brunt of dictatorships of various hues and colours were in no mood for another — not even a democratic one. They, therefore, resisted the sycophants who were spearheading Obasanjo's third term campaign.

Thick in events was Vice-President Abubakar Attiku, who mounted a strong protest against Obasanjo's manoeuvres. After all, the arrangement was that after Obasanjo, he, Attiku, who comes from the Muslim north, would have his fair taste of Aso Rock, the seat of the presidency in Abuja.

In May 2006, the Nigerian Senate rejected any amendment to the constitution, thus bringing to a close Obasanjo's third term dreams.

So desperate was Obasanjo that he did everything the constitution and the laws could allow him, to nip Attiku's presidential ambitions in the bud.

At every turn, he found that the constitution and the laws were not under his armpit. Attiku, who should have been his party's, the PDP's, automatic choice for the presidential elections, was swerved and replaced by Umar Yar'dua.

Attiku took a fast decision by joining a coalition of opposition forces — the Action Congress — as their presidential candidate. Obasanjo thought he had found a loophole to dismantle his bitterest foe when he said by declaring for another party, Attiku had lost his position as Vice-President. That attempt also failed.

The next stage was to smear Attiku with corruption charges which effectively ruled him out of the race. On Monday, April 16, 2007, Obasanjo was dealt the final blow when the Nigerian Supreme Court declared Attiku eligible to contest the presidency.

Why should one person place his interest so much above that of the whole nation? Nigeria has always been a melting pot of ethnic, political and religious conflicts.

Since Obasanjo came to power, more than 200,000 people are believed to have died through several conflicts. Why should Obasanjo be ready to lose his enviable position as one of Africa's leading statesmen for interests which could plunge his country into civil war?

Many African political analysts believe that the African Union (AU), which replaced the less functional Organisation of African Unity (OAU), has also shied away from clear cases of arbitrariness, such as the one exhibited by Obasanjo, which could bring trouble to a whole region. Where is the peer review mechanism espoused under the NEPAD concept?

Obasanjo is a heavily bruised person. He is like a wounded lion lying in its lair licking its wounds. He could have saved his country the agony of electoral turmoil if he had buried his selfish interest and respected his country's constitution.

Obasanjo was hailed as someone who has brought peace and democracy to his country. As he prepares to leave office, one question he must try to answer is whether he has achieved his aim of making far-reaching democratic reforms in his country which will set it on a path of development and progress.

We in Ghana should be happy that our last president, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, did not behave like Obasanjo. Perhaps, who knows, our story would have been a different one.

African leaders must learn to leave the stage when the applause is loudest.

Article by Kofi Akordor

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