President Olusegun Obasanjo last week warned Nigerian political parties against “Muslim-Muslim” presidential election slates.
“It will be insensitive to the point of absurdity for any leader, or any political party to be toying with Muslim-muslim or Christian-Christian ticket at this juncture,” the 141-word statement said, detonating such bombs as spectre, fear, proselytization and danger.
Read the statement again, so you can assess the depth of its philosophical and political hollowness. To begin with, it posed as being of general application, but it was clearly aimed at the APC, where such a ticket appeared to be feasible. The PDP had already adopted President Goodluck Jonathan, a man whose overwhelming weakness as leader has nothing to do with religion, nor is he redeemed by religion.
In every election in the past 15 years, I might have accepted Obasanjo’s advocacy. But these years have demonstrated that religion becomes an issue only where it is used by politicians to exploit Nigerians.
Nigeria is where it is, in the pits, principally because of misfits in power who have proved to be unwilling or incapable of true patriotism and service.
I have provided evaluations of the Obasanjo Years elsewhere, some of which are available online, including ‘Between Obasanjo And The Financial Times.’ It is enough to say that of all Nigerians since 1914 who have had a chance to engender a leap forward, nobody is guiltier of sabotage than he.
Obasanjo’s own daughter, in her famous open letter to him in December 2013 said as much, but let me retell this tale from the vantage point of another close observer.
In Can Obasanjo Save Nigeria, (March 4, 1999), two months before Obasanjo took presidential power, The Economist cheered him: “As military ruler in 1979, he nobly handed over to an elected civilian government. That government borrowed, stole and squandered until it was overthrown by the soldiers again four years later. Then the army, once seen as the only institution capable of running the country, turned instead to looting, and destroyed it. Nigeria's descent into chaos accelerated.”
Outlining the challenge before Obasanjo, The Economist lamented that Nigeria's public and private institutions were being eaten away by corruption. “Roads, hospitals and schools disintegrate as funds for maintenance are pocketed. Daily power cuts in the cities force factories to close. Drug smuggling, money laundering and all sorts of frauds have made Nigeria synonymous with international crime.”
If Obasanjo really wanted change, it continued, he needed to summon the courage to challenge some of the ex-military men who had bankrolled his campaign.
“Chances are, the first demands on Mr Obasanjo will come from campaign backers, who will now want to recoup their outlay through government contracts and concessions. Some of Nigeria's richest men, many of them former generals, hope that because they backed their former comrade-in arms, they will now be spared any probe into their fortunes. But Mr Obasanjo has promised an investigation into corruption.”
All those hopes lasted well short of one year. In “Obasanjo on his own” [April 6, 2000], the magazine expressed alarm that Obasanjo was already failing.
“He wants to end corruption, ease poverty, improve education and revitalize the stagnant economy. But he has yet to show that he knows how to set about achieving all this,” it wrote, adding that Obasanjo did not know what he was talking about.
“…It is far from clear that Mr. Obasanjo has the answers to today’s complex economic problems. Although he speaks of the need for the private sector to be the motor of the economy, he has done little, so far, to show that he knows what this means…He could, some think, do better if he were more of a figurehead, leaving the running of the country to those who understand more about modern economics and modern government.”
Obasanjo did appear to be re-energized at the start of his second term in 2003. He initiated a bold economic reform programme, and set up “anti-corruption” agencies.
But they all proved to be loud on bluster and limp in achievement. Economic reform was abandoned within months, and even when his Joint Task Force on corruption recommended at least 15 very corrupt governors for prosecution in 2006, he suppressed its report.
Unable to find, borrow or steal support for his tenure-extension ambition, Obasanjo inflicted on Nigeria the debilitating combo of Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan.
That virus has proved to be malignant and malicious, and without an antidote. Jonathan served out Yar’Adua’s term after he died. He then ran for one term in 2011, vowing he would not run for another. But of course he is.
Jonathan’s “arrival” in 2011 was similar to Obasanjo’s in 1999. In “A man and a morass,” on May 26, The Economist observed that many people were anticipating a turnaround in Nigeria’s fortunes.
“If anything [the hope] has grown louder as reform plans take shape and the rascal ways of the political class are unmistakably identified as the main reason for the lack of prosperity. The economy may be growing by 7% a year, but this feeds mainly the greedy mouths closest to government troughs.”
Nigeria was reformable, it projected, but only in the hands of the right leader.
“To change the system, Mr. Jonathan would have to break with his backers. For instance, a mafia that embezzles vast fuel subsidies is said to be a big contributor to his campaign…”
Would Jonathan be man enough to do that? The Economist compared him to Chester Arthur, the 21st American president, but doubted Jonathan’s credibility, even questioning his Ph.D. “…Mr. Jonathan the first in his family of canoe-makers to earn a PhD (though some doubt he wrote it).”
In 1881, Arthur chose manhood. “[He] deserted the machine that made him and put it out of business,” The Economist declared. “He created the modern American civil service and throttled patronage politics.”
In 2011, Jonathan chose a “don’t-give-a-damn” self-interest. But what we must understand is that he is an Obasanjo creation, the purpose of which was to extend The Obasanjo Objective: PDP in power for 100 years to protect the malfeasance.
I reiterate: anyone who thinks Obasanjo has in any way been distanced from Jonathan or the PDP is guilty of a tactical misunderstanding. And anyone who thinks this “alarm” about a Muslim-Muslim ticket is not designed in pursuit of that objective makes that error worse.
The tragedy of Nigeria’s mismanagement is not an issue of religion. Obasanjo magnifies this spectre because he is deathly scared of how such a workable scenario in the APC might open up the PDP Pandora’s Box. It is not religion that makes people hungry or insecure; indeed Boko Haram is proof of how religion can make people hungry, even cannibalistic.
The challenge before Nigeria today is the same as it was yesterday: to find a leader who puts Nigeria first. Nobody who has had no compunction imposing a Misfit/Misfit or a Military/Military menace on Nigeria is qualified to answer this question.
Statesmen and real leaders look for the best and most qualified to appoint to office, or to encourage for public office. They think in terms of unity, and never divide the people or suppress their best talents. They do not use emotion, ethnicity, gender or religion to mystify or manipulate.
- [email protected]
- Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense