Since Premium Times broke the story of General Obasanjo’s letter to President Jonathan, a debate has been raging on his intentions. Is it a letter written out of love for Nigeria, which is suffering life-threatening challenges? Or is it a letter written out of spite for a President he made who is now acting as another Obasanjo – that is acting in an authoritarian, manipulative, reckless, corrupt show of brinkmanship that could destroy Nigeria’s democracy.
Yesterday, another letter was published addressed to General Obasanjo from Audu Ogbe who was then Chairman of the PDP and felt constrained to caution the man his party gave to Nigeria as President (Trust, 15/12/2013). His words of caution were written out of love for democracy and his erstwhile party, the PDP.
Audu Ogbe queried why thugs were allowed to rampage Awka, the Anambra state capital, burning down radio and television stations, the assembly quarters, the residence of the state chief judge and the governor’s lodge while the police watch silently and action less. All these things were shown live on television and the Presidency did nothing because the actions were carried out on the instructions of what he calls “the mafia” in Aso rock, which was headed by President Obasanjo himself. Ogbe explained in his letter that he was writing the President because “the buck stops on your table”.
In his interview in the same paper, Ogbe said the “mafia” sent assassins to kill him for challenging their ridiculous attempt to destroy democracy by brazenly kidnapping Governor Ngige and swearing in his deputy.
Clearly, our political system today is over heated because there are on-going processes to repeat what Obasanjo had done previously. We may be half way down the line of seeing the police stop the majority of the members of the Rivers State House of Assembly entering their Chambers while they facilitate five members impeaching Governor Amaechi.
What Adams Oshiomole once called “jankara justice” is becoming prominent as a judge brazenly dismisses the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to takeover the functions of a State House of Assembly in crisis. People doubt Obasanjo’s sincerity because it is widely known that he has the copyright of the unfolding script that is being played.
I believe while we respectfully accept that Obasanjo while in power was reckless and manipulative, that does not mean we should disregard his warning when someone else behaves like him. It was the great nationalist leader, Mokwugo Okoye who told us that “to be silent in the face of so many evils crying for action is to give consent to their continued existence.”
About the best letter that I have read about love for Nigeria is Mokwugo Okoye’s “Letter to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe: A Dissent Remembered”. In the book-length letter, he gives a detailed account of the vision and the struggles of the Zikist Movement for a Nigeria where power would be used to improve the welfare of the people. He lamented however that Zik, who was not a member of the Zikist Movement and his friends, took the power others had struggled for and used it for their self-aggrandisement and primitive accumulation of capital. That indeed is the Nigeria story, told as betrayal and repeated over and over as tragedy and farce.
We must commend Obasanjo therefore for speaking out even if his own history is not edifying. The issues he raised are frightening and present an imperative on Nigerians to ask serious questions. One of the real tests of democracy is the acceptance by those in power that others who criticise them and are indeed trying to take over their exalted positions are legitimate players in the system.
We can illustrate this by drawing attention to the words of wisdom articulated by the same Olusegun Obasanjo in his 1993 book “Hope for Africa”. In his analysis of institutional patterns in post-colonial Africa he points out that: “In most Africa languages, the word opposition has the same meaning and connotation as the word enemy. Can we possibly conceive of a loyal enemy? Yet, the institutionalisation of opposition was one of the pillars upon which the structures and processes that were bequeathed to us were supposed to rest.”
In that excellent book, Obasanjo traces many of the challenges to democracy in Africa to the reluctance of political leaders to share power, strive to build consensus and show respect to those who challenge them. He therefore challenged African leaders to renounce their commitment to the over-centralisation of power and try to build legitimacy by promoting the principle that the – “the people’s participation must find expression in the political process”.
Obasanjo castigates the present crop of African leadership who tend to lose their bearing almost immediately they come into power: “The new crop of leadership that is emerging must avoid the pitfalls and undoing of their predecessors. I say this because recently, someone observed that while it took the former president ten years to begin to lose his bearings, his successor took less than six months to lose his own.” Clearly in this country, there is a sharp decline in the quality of leadership and each leadership, as he says, loses their bearing much faster than the previous one, mainly because of the declining belief in nationalism and public service.
Obasanjo strongly recommends democracy and good governance as the basis for our socio-economic development. The essential elements he identifies are as follows:
1) Periodic elections in which the electorate review the performance of their leaders and renew or terminate the mandate they had given them.
2) A real democracy is one in which people have choices between competing alternatives.
3) A viable democracy is one which is fostered and strengthened by effective and independent non-governmental organisations; the civil society.
4) An independent judiciary that imposes sanctions on unconstitutional transgressions of social and political norms and regulations and also puts premium on protecting the rights and liberties citizens against overzealous and highhanded officialdom is necessary.
5) A free, independent, and responsible press is a critical element. (Obasanjo, 1993:132-3).
Having articulated these essential elements, Obasanjo warns that: “An irresponsible, arrogant or careless leadership breeds disenchantment, antipathy and disenfranchisement in the followership”. Obasanjo then finally recommends very strongly that: “A democratic government protects the different and most times, conflicting interests of the various segments of society. Democracy must strive to include most, if not exactly all segments of society in the run of things. Consensus or compromise must always be sought. A society that is run otherwise risks antipathy from within it.” Reading Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan carefully, these are the principles he was drawing his attention too.
Of course Olusegun Obasanjo is the strongest believer in the saying of do what I say not what I do. Ironically, the crisis of the Fourth Nigerian Republic has been rooted in the total refusal of the same President Obasanjo, in power between 1999 and 2007, to take these principles on board in the process of governance. He tried very hard to change the constitution so that he could continue to rule after his two terms allowed.
In the process, huge bribes were offered to legislators to induce them to accept the change. Security operatives hounded leaders of the opposition and “jankara” justice was in full use. At the end, General Obasanjo did not get his wish of ruling Nigeria forever.
Maybe, and this is pure speculation, Obasanjo in retirement had time to read his excellent 1993 book and thereby got the inspiration to write “so long a letter” expressing his love for Nigeria. As I always say, we the people of Nigeria are very committed to deepening democracy but too many of our leaders are committed to subverting our democratic aspirations. The struggle continues.
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