Obasanjo's ghastly choice, Yar'Adua's mess
By Levi Obijiofor
IN politics, incompetence is an illness. It comes in various forms. It is marked by indolence, tactlessness, shortness of ideas, indifference, intense excitement by political power, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, clumsy approach to government business, frequent bouts of tiredness, and inability to comprehend or observe simple protocol. Incompetent leaders, such as we have in abundance in Nigeria, love to be surrounded and succeeded by hopeless acolytes.
Since the attainment of political independence in 1960, Nigeria has had the misfortune of being governed by a surplus of incompetent leaders. For the past 49 years, a gang of hopeless political and military leaders have presided over Nigeria's economic, social and political territories. Rather than advance the interests of the country, these clueless leaders have turned into rodents that have chewed to a halt Nigeria's march toward greatness. In October this year, it will be 50 years since Nigeria began to search for the right mix of leaders to transform the nation from a state of helplessness and penury to an economically self-sufficient and progressive country.
During the period of our wasteful search for astute leaders, we have lost the power to dream. In its place, we are haunted in the day and night by mental images of opportunities lost, resources plundered and perceptive individuals who were never given the opportunity to lead. At the ripe age of 50, we still engage in the delusional project of building mansions in the air.
Since independence, Nigerians have been served badly by a bunch of ineffectual leaders and an equally docile population. See what we have got! The last 25 years have been particularly depressing -- from Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha, from Abdulsalami Abubakar to Olusegun Obasanjo, and from Obasanjo to Umaru Yar'Adua. After the tenure of these clueless leaders, there is nothing we can point to as evidence that Nigeria's political and economic fortunes have improved.
A nation consistently governed by silly entertainers or clowns cannot expect to achieve economic development or political recognition and respect at regional, continental and global forums. Rather than capitalise on the achievements of the country's independent fighters, Nigeria has retrogressed awfully because it has been kicked around by just about anyone who manages to climb to power either through the barrel of the gun or through carefully manipulated election processes. For now, let us set aside our dark history and return to the present.
While public outrage continues to grow over Umaru Yar'Adua's prolonged absence from office because of his poor health and his refusal to hand over power to his deputy until he is fit to preside over national affairs, everyone seems to have lost track of how the country got into the present muddle. We are experiencing this national indignity because Olusegun Obasanjo, the vengeful man who ruled for eight years and unsuccessfully plotted to serve a third term, single-handedly picked Yar'Adua to succeed him. Not only did Obasanjo anoint Yar'Adua as his preferred successor, he worked hard to ensure that Yar'Adua emerged victorious in the disputed presidential election.
So, while we express anger over Yar'Adua's stubbornness to hold on to power in his sick bed, while the nation spins from one national disaster to another, we must also extend our indignation to Obasanjo. Why?
Obasanjo knew long before the presidential campaigns of 2006/2007 that Yar'Adua was afflicted with health problems. But he persisted with his flawed choice for various reasons. Obasanjo is a vengeful man. He does not take kindly to men and women who challenge his views. He likes to have his way. He believes his opinions are of superior quality compared to the views of other Nigerians. Once offended, he likes to hit back at his political enemies. Obasanjo has never forgiven those whom he perceived as the champions of the National Assembly's rejection of his evil plot to stay in office for a third term. The moment Obasanjo saw his political dreams crushed on the floors of the National Assembly, he knew he had to get even one way or another.
When Obasanjo announced his preference for Yar'Adua, ahead of the PDP's national convention, he believed he had found a man in whom he would be pleased. Or so it seemed. In his view, Yar'Adua's failing health was not a problem. In fact, Obasanjo advanced the argument that Yar'Adua was ill quite alright but he also claimed that Yar'Adua had been cured by miracle.
On 10 January 2007, at the end of a three-day retreat for PDP political candidates ahead of the national elections in 2007, Obasanjo admitted he was aware of Yar'Adua's medical problems but he asserted (as if he was a medical doctor) that Yar'Adua had been treated of his affliction as far back as 2001. In full view of the audience, Obasanjo popped a glance at Yar'Adua and asked: "Umaru, was your sickness healed? Was it in 2001 or thereabout?" To these questions, Yar'Adua responded affirmatively. You can now see how Obasanjo and Yar'Adua conspired to give the public inaccurate information about Yar'Adua's state of health. Since Yar'Adua's election in 2007, the man has had to be rushed overseas for emergency medical treatment no fewer than three times.
When Obasanjo announced his choice of Yar'Adua as the leading PDP presidential contender, Obasanjo also made sure that he destroyed the league of aspiring presidential candidates in his own party. Ironically, these candidates had more impressive leadership qualities and track record than Yar'Adua. The first and major instrument through which Obasanjo accomplished his plot was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which was led at the time by Nuhu Ribadu, a man celebrated in some quarters as an incorrigible anti-corruption crusader. Time will tell whether that assessment was correct or exaggerated.
Between 2006 and the presidential election of 2007, Obasanjo used the EFCC to intimidate and silence PDP presidential candidates in order to create an easy passageway for Yar'Adua. In Nigeria, the simplest way to discourage aspirants to political office is to manufacture serious allegations of corruption and abuse of office and heap those allegations against the candidates. The EFCC used this strategy to maximum effect. Overnight, the nation watched as the EFCC accused PDP presidential candidates (other than Yar'Adua) of unprecedented corruption. The EFCC also threatened to apprehend and prosecute the candidates. In no time, the candidates began to wilt (as mushroom does) in the heat of uncorroborated corruption allegations.
There is validity in the suggestion that Obasanjo is the bogeyman of Nigerian politics. Whenever Obasanjo's former colleagues and contemporaries in the army and the public service describe the man as evil, cruel and callous, they reveal a disturbing yet accurate aspect of Obasanjo's personal attributes. In a two-part interview published in The Guardian on Sunday of February 17 and 24, 2008, former Defence Minister and former Chief of Army Staff Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma described Obasanjo as "the most toxic leader that Nigeria has produced so far". Danjuma, himself no less a man of questionable attributes, used very strong words in various parts of that interview to portray Obasanjo as the man with two masks.
The essence of this historical narrative is to stress that Obasanjo knew about Yar'Adua's poor health but ignored that knowledge. Today, we are victims of Obasanjo's decision to impose Yar'Adua on the nation. Public anger over the mess created by Yar'Adua's failing health and his headstrong attitude to public request for his temporary resignation must be extended to Obasanjo. The burden imposed on the nation by Yar'Adua's ill health, his absence from duty, his incompetent leadership style, and Nigeria's loss of respect in the international arena are extensions of the liability that Obasanjo's eight years of political misrule has caused to Nigeria.
If Yar'Adua is weak as president, if Nigeria is suffering from a power vacuum created by Yar'Adua's ill health (a situation long foreseen before his presidential election), it must be that Obasanjo knowingly nominated a sick man and ensured his victory in the rigged presidential elections of 2007. This underscores the opening argument that incompetent leaders (such as Obasanjo) prefer to be surrounded and succeeded by less competent assistants or followers (such as Yar'Adua). All these problems suggest that Obasanjo lacks the sense of impartial judgment, the prudence and the qualification to nominate future presidential candidates.