Sunday, 25 February 2018

POLITICS

Senator Abdullahi Adamu: Obasanjo’s antics worrisome

Posted On Tuesday, 20 February 2018 01:40 Written by The Nation Newspaper
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The special press statement of former President Olusegun Obasanjo urging President Muhammadu Buhari not to run in 2019 drew more flaks yesterday. At a news conference, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, a former Nasarawa State governor urged Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to pull the brake to avoid a self-inflicted injury and personal tragedy of slipping into irrelevance.

In early February this year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo published an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari titled: The way out: A clarion call for coalition for Nigeria movement. In it, he raised three fundamental issues.

One, he called on the President to forget his re-election ambition -an ambition which he has yet to declare in 2019 because of his failure on many fronts.

Two, he expressed his loss of faith in the capacity of our two biggest parties, APC (All Progressives Congress) and PDP (Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to drive the nation’s development.

Three, he advocated the formation of Coalition for Nigeria, a movement according to him, “that will drive Nigeria up and forward.”

Two weeks or so later, former President Ibrahim Babangida’s media aide, Kassim Afegbua, issued a statement on his behalf in which he claimed that the general too advised the President to bury his ambition for a second term in office because of his alleged failures and because the nation needed a digital and not an analogue leader.

The general promptly denied authorising the statement. Both Afegbua’s statement and Babangida’s are still wrapped in controversy. Afegbua insists his statement remains authentic.

In his own signed statement titled: “My Counsel to the nation”, the former president advised the political parties to play by the rules and the government to be proactive in matters of security challenges.

Perhaps, we should read his denial between the lines. While I am prepared to give Gen. Babangida the benefit of doubt for now, I would like to point out that he and his aide appear to have been encouraged to issue their separate statements by Chief Obasanjo’s letter. It is as if they wanted to take advantage of this to say what they had been itching to say about the president all along. I wish to remind the general that although men have short memories; history has a long memory. We can trace nearly all our present economic and political problems to his transition programme. We cannot forget SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) that sapped the economy, or the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election for which the nation is still paying a stiff price. It is not always advisable to be holier-than-thou.

l have listened to and read the various responses to Obasanjo’s letter. I am encouraged by those responses because they point to our willingness to engage in a national dialogue, be it organised or informal, on matters that affect our country and our collective interests.

I can think of no single Nigerian who does not want our country to make the great leap from a struggling third world nation to a first world nation.

We are all in a hurry for our country to make that leap. Nigerians have never been found wanting in offering informed suggestions on what should be the focus of our political, economic and social development such that we could meld the multiplicity of tongues into a modern nation in which, to borrow from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “we are judged by the contents of the mind and the brain and not by tribes and religions. Nation-building remains a work in progress in all countries. This is often slow and frustrating when the process itself impinges on our individual ambition.”

I believe that it was in this same spirit that Chief Obasanjo issued the letter. It would be uncharitable to ascribe anything other than the purest of patriotic motives to his recent outing. As former military head of state and as a civilian president, Chief Obasanjo is a respected and illustrious son of our soil. He would be morally remiss should he choose to keep quiet when he sees things going wrong in the land.

For a total of eleven and half years in power, he too struggled with the daunting challenges of our national development. He knows the challenges of ruling a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation faced with the crises of under-development.

I would like to believe that he is in a better position than any of us to appreciate the difficulties that anyone in Aso Rock faces today. I believe he, more than the rest of us, should have some sympathy for anyone grappling with the historically depressed economy and the complex dynamics of national development and progress.

I decided to dialogue with the movers and the shakers in our news media this morning/afternoon on the issues raised by the former president. I am not here to defend President Buhari.

He is quite capable of, and in a better position, to defend himself much better than me. I have initiated this press dialogue for two reasons.

The first is to underline my belief in the power of dialogue as a veritable instrument through which we can freely contribute to the resolution of our problems and address our challenges.

Human societies are best served with’ the aggregation of ideas that shape their focus. The late president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, once put this very well when he said it was “better to jaw-jaw than to war-war”.

Two, I too, being a humble political leader in my own right, as a two-term governor of my state, Nasarawa, and as a ranking senator of the Federal Republic, I have as large a stake as anyone else in the progress and the development of our nation at all levels. I, too, cannot keep quiet when I see attempts by anyone or a group of persons to undermine the integrity of the Office of the President, the integrity of our government and the integrity of our political system. I have earlier said it would be unfair not to accept that Chief Obasanjo was motivated by the good of the country. In his letter, he said, “Some may ask what does Obasanjo want again?” He proceeded to answer the question in the third person thus: “Obasanjo has wanted nothing other than the best for Nigeria and Nigerians…”

Was he entirely motivated by that noble sentiment? I find that hard to believe. Motives are not always as honourable or as altruistic as one might be made to believe, particularly when such a man as this is so highly placed that we tend to place him above the shenanigans of petty politics. I found it difficult to completely ignore what appears to me like the dark motives hovering over his action because I see it as a behavioural pattern that began with his 2014 letter to the then President Goodluck Jonathan, titled: “Before it is too late”. It seems to me he believes that that letter alone cost Dr. Jonathan the presidency. So, if he is fatigued by President Buhari, he can resort to the same weapon with probably the same consequences. It is a long shot.

No one can deny him the right to criticise a sitting president but, his method leaves much to be desired. He cannot, therefore, escape the charge of impure motive and that he took this step, not to try and set things right for the sake of the nation but to promote Obasanjo for the sake of Obasanjo.

Being a former president, he has an unimpeded access to the president and can, therefore, seek to influence him in the privacy of the seat of power. Indeed, in the early years of the Buhari administration, Chief Obasanjo was a frequent presence in Aso Rock. I believe he frequented the seat of power in support of the administration. I now wonder why he suddenly decided to turn a friend into an enemy and rubbish everything the President has done so far in a little over two and half years.

In a civilised political culture, it is taboo for former presidents to openly take a sitting president to the cleaners. Our former head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has faithfully kept to this time-honoured culture of a former ruler not washing the dirty linens of a current ruler rather gleefully in the public. So, have former President Shehu Shagari and former head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

The implications for the polity of a former president regaling the public with a litany of the failures of a sitting president is a calculated and unholy effort to destroy him politically.

The question is, if Chief Obasanjo meant well for Buhari, his administration and Nigeria, why did he not choose the option of quietly offering his advice to the president? In taking his case to the rowdy market place of sensationalism, he clearly intended to score cheap political points at the expense of the President. He intended to undermine the Buhari administration, subject him to public ridicule and impugn his moral strength and integrity to lead the nation.

As he must have obviously expected, his statement was intended to heat and is heating up the polity and causing confusion at this critical time when the myriads of our national challenges commend themselves to our statesmen and women for sober reflections rather than indulgence in crass sensationalism. It is a disservice to the country.

No one, not even Buhari’s most rabid supporters, would be unfair to themselves enough to suggest that everything is right with the administration. It is true that the government has not met the expectations of the generality of Nigerians. But, it is not for lack of capacity or the unwillingness on the part of the President to respond to the needs of the people and those of the country. I know that we invested high expectations on the Buhari administration but is it fair and realistic for us to expect the administration to solve all the problems it inherited in less than three years? Human and resources management towards achieving a desired result is not amenable to the waving of a magic wand.

No administration is a total success and none is a total failure. Chief Obasanjo cannot honestly claim that he ran a perfect and totally successful administration because he did not.

Every administration grapples with problems thrown at it by circumstances beyond its control. President Buhari inherited an economy that was unsteady on its feet. He also inherited the security problems such as Boko Haram, armed robberies and kidnappings.

Yes, I agree, that under his watch these problems should grow less, not more. But the solution to problems such as these is a slow and agonising process. He has no powers to simply make them disappear overnight.

The President was fully aware of these problems and challenges when he sought the consent of the electorate in 2015.

He did so in the hope that with the support and the goodwill of all Nigerians, he could tackle them. I know he has not given up on that. I do not think he intends to leave a bleeding, disunited nation and disarticulated socio-economic development at the end of his tenure.

He seems to be overwhelmed by the problems because while problems rain down, solutions to them take time to be effective. I think the President, in the circumstances, deserves support and encouragement rather than antagonism from a constituency that should give him that support and encouragement as he seeks to address these and other problems in his own way.

I do not intend to comment on all of Obasanjo’s letter seriatim, I will deal with three of his allegations, namely: the president’s alleged clannishness, his management of the economy and his anti-corruption war.

Before I do so, let me say at this point that I am worried by the antics of Chief Obasanjo and his penchant for promoting himself as the only competent Nigerian leader. Since he left office on October 1, 1979, to local and international applause Chief Obasanjo has systematically sought to undermine every federal administration after him.

He has today set up himself as the moral conscience of the nation. He believes he has acquired the wisdom of King Solomon and has consequently imposed on himself the right to decide who rules us and how we should be ruled.

Perhaps, part of the reason is that before leaving office in 2007, his party, the PDP, conferred on him the titles of “Maker of modern Nigeria and father of the nation”. Such titles do have a heady way of making a man seeing his head bedecked in the halos of self- righteousness.

There is a process for changing our governments through the instrumentality of elections. Chief Obasanjo, one of the architects of that process and a beneficiary to boot, ought to support that process and let the people decide who they want to rule them. It is not for him to decide for the people or the President.

No one should arrogate to himself eternal verities in the administration of his country. It is his consuming ambition to have his hands on the levers of power under all our presidents. When he loses that grip, he turns against the incumbent in office. He undermined Gen. Babangida’s economic programme – SAP, with his statement that SAP should have a human face and the milk of human kindness. He denigrated Gen. Babangida by advising people to whom the former president says good morning to check their wrist watches to make sure it is morning.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic obliges the president to compose the executive council of the federation in a manner that reflects the federal character. I do not see that the council is dominated by people from Katsina, the President’s home state.

Nor do I see that the major ministries such as finance, power and steel, housing, transport are held by people from that state or his part of the country. All these ministries are held by competent men and women from the southern parts of the country. What does this say about Buhari’s clannishness?

I am aware of criticisms that the President appointed only northerners as heads of his security agencies. There may be some merit in a national spread but a president reserves the right to fill such positions with those who command his implicit trust and confidence. That is neither unconstitutional nor a moral crime.

The management of the economy has always been a frustrating experience but gallant efforts have been made at critical times to reposition the national economy. SAP was one of such efforts intended to structurally reform the base of the economy.

The late Gen. Sani Abacha’s Vision 10-10 and 20-20 was initiated for the same purpose. So was Chief Obasanjo’s own NEEDS. If these efforts had succeeded in the past, President Buhari would have had an easy ride on the management of the economy today. The recession, for instance, was not Buhari’s making; nor can the security challenges be laid at his door.

Poor management of the economy in the recent past birthed the recession. I cannot think of any steps the President has taken with deleterious effects on the economy. And to put a fine point on it, the minister of finance and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) are not from Katsina State.

President Buhari knows only too well that if he does not get the economy right, he would have a tough time trying to get anything else right. He is struggling with that challenge with my personal sympathies.

Chief Obasanjo touts himself as the champion of the anti-corruption war. It is fair to give him some credit for waging the war with the setting up of EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission). It was the right step towards caging the monster that has wrecked immeasurable havoc on the country. But, as laudable as that was, Chief Obasanjo soon turned the commission into an attack dog against his known and suspected political enemies or detractors. He used it to undermine elected governors in Plateau, Oyo, Bayelsa and Anambra states. The lawmakers in those states were induced or forced by the commission at the behest of Chief Obasanjo to remove their governors from office in a manner that insulted our constitutional government.

In each of those cases, a handful of legislators, sitting either in a hotel outside the states or in a private house removed the governors from office. We must thank their Lordships Justice Niki Tobi of blessed memory and Justice James Ogebe for stepping this egregious abuse of legislative powers when they, as chairmen of the appeal court panels sitting in Ibadan over Ladoja’s appeal against his unconstitutional removal from office, quashed his removal and affirmed that the court was the primary custodian of the constitution; not the president. That ended Chief Obasanjo’s apparent reign of presidential terror tactics against the state governors.

Chief Obasanjo said that President Buhari is selective in his anti-corruption war. I agree with him because if the President were not selective, Chief Obasanjo himself would be in the dock today on trial on charges of corruption arising from the corrupt practices in the pursuit of his third term gambit in the National Assembly in 2006.

Today, he denies that he ever nursed such ambition. And being a man much favoured by  God, he has repeatedly said that if he had wanted it and asked the almighty for it, he would have given him  the third term.

He knows as well as I, and other leading members of the PDP, that he badly wanted it and initiated the process of constitutional amendment. He bribed each member of the National Assembly who signed to support the amendment, with the whopping sum of N50 million to make the constitutional amendment scale through.

The fresh, mint money was taken in its original boxes presumably from the vaults of the CBN and distributed among the legislators. The money was not his and it was not appropriated by the National Assembly as required by law. I, therefore, agree that in failing to make the former president account for that money. President Buhari is waging his anti-corruption war selectively.

Nor, should we forget that President Buhari has also not bothered to interrogate Obasanjo’s role in the Haliburton scandal for which some Americans are cooling their heels in jail.

Perhaps, President Buhari might look into the Siemens affairs in which the Obasanjo administration was indicted and for which people were on trial. What became of the trial?

I worked closely with Chief Obasanjo in his eight years in office as president when l was governor of Nasarawa State. I found many things to admire in him. I admire his patriotism and his hard work. But, he systematically sabotaged his legacy by bending the system to his personal service and promotion.

I do not admire his single-minded determination to promote himself as the strongest and the most incorruptible leader Nigeria has ever had. He waged his anti-corruption war in a manner intended to rubbish all our revered institutions such as the court and the National Assembly and leave him as the only Nigerian without palm oil on his hands.

His lack of democratic temperament and his refusal to honour the mother of all our laws, the 1999 Constitution as well as the constitution of the PDP, birthed the culture of impunity in our country.

He had no respect for the rule of law and, therefore disobeyed court orders at will. This once prompted the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Justice Muhammadu Uwais, to say that a government that did not obey the courts was a bad government.

In his eight years in office, Chief Obasanjo did not run a constitutional government, partly because he had no patience with the niceties of democracy and partly because he believed the law should serve him, and not he the law.

At almost every turn, he undermined the various pillars of constitutional government. For instance, contrary to the provisions of the constitution, he imposed a state of emergency on Plateau and Ekiti states.

He had no powers to do so but since he saw himself as both the law and the last strongman standing in our country, he assumed unchallengeable powers. The courts quaked over his constitutional rampage. Our democracy is passing through a wrenching experience of constitutional government today because at the end of his eight years in power, Chief Obasanjo left our democracy in a lurch.

He was like a wrecking ball. In 2007, he alone decided his successor in office contrary to the rules of the game. He imposed governorship candidates of the party too in 2003.

You would recall that the PDP gave Chief Obasanjo its platform for eight years from 1999 to 2003. Yet, when the party began to have problems in 2014, Chief Obasanjo jumped ship and publicly tore his party card into pieces. He owes whatever he is today to the party. I thought a man made by the party should sacrifice his time and effort to save it from imploding. We wonder if ingratitude has a better definition than that. But, with Chief Obasanjo, ingratitude has a different meaning, obviously.

His Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) is a red herring across the path of our constitutional government. He is free to form a political party and pursue his ambition of being the power behind the throne but such a national movement would achieve no discernible purpose in the economic management and the social administration of the country.

I believe that Chief Obasanjo is too high and too big in the estimation of the people to permit himself the continued sickening indulgence in political skullduggery.

I believe that the Nigerian people and the Nigerian state have been most kind to him. Chief Obasanjo has a moral obligation to make the country succeed in solving its myriads of problems.

That, I believe, is one way he can give back to the country that has given him so much. As a friend, I wish to advise the former president to pull back from the dangerous path of rubbishing all presidents that came into office after him. Bringing everyone down is not a patriotic duty. I fear that if he continues along this path, he would, sooner than later over reach himself and begin the inevitable descent into national nuisance and irrelevance. That would be a self-inflicted wound and a personal tragedy.

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