Obasanjo And Presidential Conduct


By Law Mefor

The number one task of leadership is bringing sides together and this is what is clearly lacking in the nation’s leadership process. The nation faces the ruination of a rapacious elite,  which appears determined to return to power at all costs. To such power-mongers posing as messiahs and champions of the masses, the President and the office of the President should be pulled down if that is what it would take.

Otherwise, why are such men treating the office with utter contempt? The office of the President of a country is sacrosanct. Not just because it is the highest in the land and carrying the awesome powers of life and death. It is held in highest esteem, regardless of who is the occupier for the reason that it is symbolic and represents the entire nation state.

Obviously, the office has the capacity to defend itself, as the occupier is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and  the police, and has at his disposal, all imaginable carrot and sticks (the coercive instruments of the state) that can be found in the land. Many leaders have handled the powers of the President differently. Many feeling much less secure rely on the coercive instruments of the state to silence dissenting voices; many more use the carrots. Only very few Presidents have been able to ignore these alluring powers and remained democratic and reasoning with the citizens, as President Goodluck Jonathan is doing.

Insecure Presidents who relied on force and arrogant exhibition of power dot history. Looking at Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy or Josef Stalin of Russia may be a bit of extreme examples. There are lesser mortals like  Emperor Jean Bedel Bokasa who laid the foundation for Central Africa Republic’s ruination and insurgency ravaging that country; Bokasa once nicknamed ‘the butcher of Africa’ was not even a soldier; yet another gory example is Idi Amin Dada of Uganda who died in exile for the horrors he perpetrated in his country.

Contrarily, we have the likes Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa  of Nigeria and some others who were gentle and kind with power, seeking to lift their countrymen and women into their best selves.

Erstwhile presidents have led the way in the preservation of the sanctity of the office of the President because they know it translates to preservation of the nation itself. In Nigeria, there are excellent examples of former Presidents/Heads of State who understand that the best place to advise the President is in closed Presidential chambers, not in open letters on the pages of newspapers or under klieg lights of the television. President Shehu Shagari is perhaps number one on this roll call and has never spoken ill of the President of Nigeria openly. General Yakubu Gowon is yet another example, who only days ago was gently nudging the President to consider turning away from the US to find help elsewhere to fight the insurgency ravaging the land.

Abdulsalami Abubakar has also been circumspect and has never castigated the office or person of the President of Nigeria. The same thing can be said about General Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida’s disposition is perhaps most instructive. He has been partisan in the last one decade, seeking to return as President of Nigeria twice. Even in the heat of campaigns, where contestants run loose with their tongues and freely take swipes at opponents, Babangida never went beyond policies and never described any government as a failure as Obasanjo has constantly done,  against the government that has even done better than his.

Babangida, when asked recently whether he was satisfied with the handling of insurgency/Boko Haram by the Jonathan government, said it was not only he that was satisfied with the handling of insurgency but also the entire National Security Council of which Obasanjo is a vocal member. One is then taken aback when Obasanjo would say that President Jonathan wasted 3  whole years to start on fight against Boko Haram. One also wonders what the National Security Council gathers for; at the expense of the Nigerian masses if it would not advise the President it was time to start full-scale war against insurgency. Since this august body had done this and noted the constraints the President is going through, including sabotage in high places perhaps even among senior citizens who carry on as if above the law, it is uncharitable for  a former President to heckle the incumbent  on that note.

A foremost African writer, who himself was a signpost of moral rectitude, Chinua Achebe, wrote in his famous book, Things Fall Apart;  “those whose palm kennels were cracked by the benevolent spirit should never forget to be humble.” If there is one Nigerian dead or alive, who this statement addresses the most, it is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Beyond rhetoric, the former President has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s power equation and the only Nigerian, who divine providence has thrust to the nation’s apex leadership twice, both in military and civil rule. Yet on both occasions he only managed to maintain the status quo and even resisted all attempts to restructure the country into a workable federation.

Obasanjo had recently accused Jonathan of destroying democracy. Yet history boldly credits Obasanjo with desecrating democracy. He started imposition of candidate and denied people popularly chosen by their people from contesting elections. Supreme Court came to the rescue  of Chibuike Amaechi but the likes of Araraume of Imo State weren’t that lucky. Several organizations and individuals had at one point or the other accused former President Olusegun Obasanjo of violating the Code of Conduct for Public Officers as contained in the constitution of Nigeria, and asked the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to prosecute him. Of cause there is abundant evidence of this, which hardly needs any further rehash here.

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In other climes and even in Nigeria, this conduct hardly obtains from a former President. In the US, for example, former Presidents, even from opposing Political Parties, are eager to help the incumbent and usually meet with the incumbent President to offer advice. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in their treatise, Secrets of the Presidents Club, revealed it was partly how the US attained its great stability and progress. One can also see through the revelations that every President of the US passes on some piece of advice to those men who follow. Ike Eisenhower was said to have  showed John Fredrick Kennedy how to make a quick getaway by helicopter. Lindon B. Johnson told Richard Nixon where he kept the secret tape recorders. Jerry Ford told Jimmy Carter to get around Washington and meet people. And Nixon told Ronald Reagan who to put in – and keep out – of his Cabinet.

It was even said  Reagan taught Clinton how to salute. Reagan was said to have noted that he had seen Clinton salute during the campaign and found his military method a little wanting. If Clinton was going to employ the gestures used by the military, Reagan urged, Clinton needed to be firmer, stronger, more commanding. Reagan was 81 years old to Clinton’s 46, nearly comparable to the age difference between Obasanjo and Jonathan.

These examples may appear trivial. But alas! It is a remarkable show of solidarity, which makes an incumbent President more sure-footed and relaxed. It is indeed good to  know that none of the ex is busy plotting his down fall. This is indeed the opposite of what Obasanjo offers the President he wants the world to believe is his protégé. If a sitting President has such a Predecessor, he hardly needs any more enemies.

So, one can see that in other climes, across party, across generations, despite political differences, former Presidents would eagerly help the incumbent and, in the US, occasionally, all former Presidents meet at 716 Jackson Place, which is around the neighborhood  of the White House and Lafayette Park in Washington.

Since it became clear that President Jonathan would take a second shot at the Presidency, as allowed him by the Constitution, Obasanjo has been livid with rage and been around disparaging the President at every given opportunity. Earlier in the year at Jigawa State, Obasanjo openly showing his desire to impose Governor Sule Lamido as Jonathan’s successor had said that President Jonathan was not performing. His words: “you can help somebody get  a job but you cannot help him to do that the job”.

Soon after, Obasanjo followed with an open letter where he listed what he considered the sins of President Jonathan. The letter soon fizzled out for suffering credibility. Too many odds were against it, including President Jonathan’s determination not to dignify the incredulous missive with a response as well as the counter written by Obasanjo’s daughter and the allegation of his son concerning his (Obasanjo’s) incestuous liaison with his son’s wife.

Recently, Obasanjo who rated the Jonathan presidency as a failure is therefore pretending to an unearned credibility. If Jonathan’s administration is a failure, then, Obasanjo that Nigeria owes the Jonathan administration is colossal failure.  Yes Obasanjo was a brutal ruler who matched on everything on his path. Odi, Zaki Biam and some others bear terrible scars of this wanton brutality of a President, who should show compassion to the citizens under his watch and care. This is what some Nigerians want President Jonathan to also become and count it against him as weakness for his refusal to become a despot.

It is clear that discounting brutality, trampling on democracy, civil liberties, due process, rule of law and everything noble, President Jonathan has outperformed Obasanjo  in virtually every sector. The sycophants who have no regard for truth or for the corporate existence of Nigeria, have been running riot, angling to follow where the pendulum may swing. Such pitiable people who are taken in by Obasanjo’s melodrama are mere members of AGIP – any government in power – who have not quite found their bearing in the Jonathan’s Government.

These power merchants are uncomfortable because President Jonathan is insisting on competence and integrity, and not yielding to pressure to be changing cabinet every other month like Obasanjo was doing to share the favour. Jonathan wants stability instead and the MDGs have all been the better for it.  Nigerians must respond by speaking loudly and courageously for themselves and for the nation against Obasanjo and his fellow oligarchs who believe it is their birthright to decide who governs Nigeria. Posterity will not forgive the citizens who could speak up now but take refuge in complicit silence.

•Mefor, Forensic Psychologist and Journalist, is National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM), Abuja; tel.: +2348037872893; email: [email protected]

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