As the May 29 terminus draws closer at a dizzying speed, it is surely the season Kwame Nkrumah’s immortal words should haunt President Olusegun Obasanjo: seek ye first political kingdom and other things shall be added. The late Ghanaian patriarch had uttered those words in the 50s to Africa then chaffing under the yoke of colonialism, stressing the need to intensify its push for freedom.
By default, Nkrumah’s sagely counsel could also be said to hold true for statesmen of post-colonial Africa often in a hurry to found new economic castle on nothing but political quicksand. Sadly, to such generation of leaders, wisdom only seems to come when it’s no longer useful. Obasanjo, it does appear, is the latest casualty of this affliction.
Try as he does to give a contrary impression, Obasanjo obviously betrayed the symptoms Tuesday with the founding of a new club introduced as “economic drivers and bridge-builders” of the nation. Of course, the list could as well be described as a roll-call of Aso Rock’s favourite industry captains and business tycoons. They could also be addressed today as those prospered by the Obasanjo economic re-engineering. They include the new owners of public assets sold under the privatization exercise or concessionaires of erstwhile public territories, eyed with seething anger and deep bitterness by those who haven’t been so favoured.
To Obasanjo, they’re the “successor generation” expected to sustain the development in various sectors of the economy. But beyond the banters and bear hugs inside Aso Rock chamber that day, only the naïve could have missed the undercurrent: official anxiety over what becomes of the nugget of economic reforms post-Obasanjo. What happens if, for instance, PDP fails the April polls and Obasanjo still has to leave in May? In fact, left to aspiring successors like Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the “reforms will be reformed”, if only to halt further advance of the Obasanjo’s gravy train.
This seems the real dilemma Obasanjo is perhaps shy to admit today and which many appear unable to understand. Attempting a psycho-analysis in his most recent take on the state of the nation (widely published last month), Dangiwa Umar, for instance, saw a manifestation of the Samson complex in what a few other perceive as Obasanjo’s obsession to either hang on to power beyond the appointed 2007 terminus or brazenly dictate who succeeds him, not minding the offence such might pose to public sensibilities. He could not understand why a president in the twilight of his tenure would, according to him, be intent on acquiring more enemies than friends.
To Umar, a few possibilities could explain such absurdity. One is fear of the swelling pack of disgruntled mobsters from business and politics communities waiting outside the palace gate, itching to avenge injuries inflicted by Obasanjo’s many acts of commission and omission of the last eight years. Umar, ordinarily a keen power insider himself, then ended his inquisition with a recommendation that it may not be out of place now for the nation to take the initiative by approaching the rampaging bull in the China shop with an offer of an appetizing exit in form of life immunity, however grave might be the infractions of the past eight years.
Engaging as Umar sounded, it will, however, be most unfair on Obasanjo to take that submission in totality. It amounts to contending that there aren’t a few causes the nation would still thank Obasanjo for. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Like him or hate him, Obasanjo cannot be denied credits for the positive advance in some aspects of our national life occasioned by the economic reforms agenda. What, however, remains his tragic flaw is the myopia earlier in the day in envisioning an economic Utopia without a corollary re-ordering of the political space. Of course, that has been the advocacy of the progressive community as the only means of commencing Nigeria’s march to true nationhood.
But, as history always demonstrates, institutional mechanism, not individuals, would have been the best guarantee against Obasanjo’s seeming apprehension of tomorrow. The brigade of “economic drivers and bridge-builders” ought to be seen, therefore, as the expression of a growing sense of insecurity.
Indeed, it all boils down to the still unanswered National Question. That also was the theme of the article I wrote last week entitled “Dishonest in Census: What’s the upper limit?” By the way, in the said piece, I made a factual error by stating that Jigawa was created in 1995. The actual year is 1991. On a jovial note, maybe I should blame it on “memory lapse” (apology Mr. President).
I must thank readers who either called or sent SMS to draw my attention to the error.
Notwithstanding my goof on date, the re-assuring thing is that virtually all the readers shared my view that the federal structure as presently constituted is unsustainable. Hence, the need to restructure in such a way that gives primacy to justice and equity. Really, the dispute currently raging across the divides over the 2006 census figures is not so much for love of statistical accuracy. Rather, it’s only because it’s the dominant factor in deciding who gets what share of the oil money. That is what breeds the culture of indolence.
Having said that, it needs be stated that “restructuring” already assumes deeper meaning in power discussion in Nigeria because it now codifies the progressive movement against that tradition. It, therefore, came as a surprise last week when Obasanjo reportedly pooh-poohed a pledge by Muhammadu Buhari to “restructure” the nation if voted president in the April polls as part of the conditions he met before securing the confidence of Afenifere, the political establishment in South-west. Suggesting that it was not “do-able”, some newspapers actually quoted the president as saying such utterance only proves that Buhari (flag-bearer of All Nigerian Peoples Party) still suffers the hang-over of a military dictator.
Well, one is at a loss here. Is the president merely playing politics by bad-mouthing whatever proposal is made by a rival? Or is he merely wishing to counsel that, from his own personal experience, the process is far too cumbersome to even contemplate? To suggest that such change is impossible at all would amount to a self-contradiction ab initio.
In case Mr. President had forgotten, the National Dialogue of 2005 was, in itself, a modest attempt at re-structuring the country. For months, the delegates engaged in heated debate in Abuja, talking back and forth. They reached a stalemate when discussion reached resource control. Notwithstanding, a report was still submitted. It was supposed to provide a basis for the “restructuring” of the country in form of an amendment proposal to be ratified by the National Assembly.
Well, mindful of what later emerged as the Third Term Agenda (TTA), opinions are certainly divided now on whether the idea of National Dialogue wasn’t inspired more by opportunism than patriotism in the first place. Of course, chief among the arguments canvassed by the TTA promoters then was that more time was needed to nurse the seedlings of the economic reforms until they began to yield tangible fruits.
But this writer remains one of those who sincerely believe that, by design or default, there were still a number of proposals contained in the constitution amendment bill which, had the poisonous tenure elongation clause not been added, would have partly helped resolve the monstrosity that our federalism remains. Perhaps the most critical of the challenges before Nigeria today is that of power relations of which fiscal federalism is the touch-stone.
This is precisely where history will be harsh on Obasanjo. Indeed, while the president could be credited as having altered the nation’s economic landscape substantially in the last seven years, little or nothing has been done to reform the unitarism willfully masqueraded as federalism since 1966. On the contrary, we only continue to witness what seems a consolidation of the unitarist Leviathan in Abuja, aided and abetted by an incoherent constitution. The unfolding obscenity includes the spate of political terrorism unleashed by Abuja in some states by instigating the impeachment of “errant” governors or the far weightier acts of political sacrilege whereby pronouncements by the Supreme Court are treated with levity by the presidency.
Surely, Nkrumah’s words are echoing back.
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