Obasanjo’s Post-Power Syndrome

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Mike Akpan

THE mere thought of being out of political power can be traumatic and nightmarish for bad leaders in government or power-drunk politicians to imagine. This feeling is more pronounced among dictators in third world countries most especially in Africa. What they do to remain in power for as long as they wish is to subvert their country’s constitution in order to prolong their stay in office and maim any opposition to that plan. This was exactly what former President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to do between 2005 and 2006 with the aborted constitutional amendment which would have provided for three terms of four years for a president and governors. By that amendment, Obasanjo would have been the major beneficiary.

Even though he had repeatedly distanced himself from the third term campaign before and after the fifth Senate aborted his dream, but his post- power plans thereafter betrayed his denials. As soon as his Plan A failed, Obasanjo quickly switched over to his Plan B which was to manipulate the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to tailor-make its constitution to suit his political  ambition of becoming the life leader of a political party he was never a co-founder. For this reason, Article 12(77) of the party’s constitution was amended to suit him. Consequently, no other person could be elected chairman of the PDP board of trustees (BoT) as long as he was alive and continued to be a member of the party.

Moreover, Article 12(80) was also amended to lift the BoT above the national executive committee, NEC, of the party. Among the new powers conferred on the tailor-made BoT were that, in addition to being the advisory council on policies and programmes of government at the state and national levels, it would be its duty to harmonise, co-ordinate, review and advise on party policies. It was also the responsibility of the BoT to mediate in the disputes between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government at the federal and state levels. The BoT was also mandated to advise the NEC of the party on all matters. Above all, the BoT had the power to undertake all other functions as might be referred to it by the NEC or the national convention.

Tactically, Obasanjo had succeeded in reducing the powers of the NEC of the PDP and making it subservient to the BoT which he would chair. By that arrangement, he was in a position to regulate the activities of elected chief executives on the platform of the party at the federal and state levels. Obasanjo was also to oversee the activities of the two chambers of the National Assembly by virtue of his chairmanship of the PDP legislative agenda committee. In that position, he was to determine what Bills were to be treated by the National Assembly and any Bill that failed to meet his approval would die naturally.

To ensure that he had full grip of the two chambers of the National Assembly, he arm-twisted PDP legislators to ensure that only those who supported his failed third-term bid emerged as principal officers. This strategy worked for him when Senator David Mark emerged as the Senate President while Patricia Olubunmi  Etteh, became the Speaker of the House of Representatives  in the Sixth National Assembly. However, he could not use his position as BoT chairman to stop the impeachment of Etteh on corruption charges leveled against her and her subsequent replacement with Dimeji Bankole. However, by virtue of the amended Article 12(80) of the PDP constitution, the BoT, and, invariably, Obasanjo, became the conscience of the party. This was a big mistake on the part of the PDP because Obasanjo was a lawless and corrupt president and therefore a wrong person to be the party’s role model and conscience.

He displayed this lack of conscience in the way he assumed the chairmanship of the BoT. As a source bluntly put it: “It was, indeed, a palace coup because it did not follow due process.” Ordinarily, the position would have been vacant until November 2007, when Tony Anenih, who was the acting chairman, would have handed over to him but Obasanjo had no patience to wait for that long. He had to force his way to take over the position before time. Apart from taking over the BoT, Obasanjo also ensured that he had full control of the party machinery by replacing Audu Ogbe, who he forcibly removed in a military-like operation, as national chairman of the PDP, with Ahmadu Ali, his trusted ally, before he left office in 2007. With him as president, and Ali, as PDP national chairman, the former president hatched another plan which was to arrange for a successor who he could remotely control even though he would be out of office. The choice fell on Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the ailing two-term governor of Katsina State. Obasanjo and  Ali were able to out scheme the other 27 PDP presidential aspirants with his carrot and stick to step down for Yar’Adua, who he knew would not be an effective president owing to his poor health. He was also instrumental to the choice of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, then governor of Bayelsa State, as his vice-presidential running mate. With the ticket safely in the kitty of the duo, Obasanjo cut all corners to ensure their victory in the April 2007 presidential election whose process Yar’Adua, its major beneficiary, candidly admitted was flawed.

It did not take long for Obasanjo to realise that Yar’Adua would like to be independent-minded even though he had manipulated the electoral system to foist him on Nigerians. The man eventually turned out to be an unguided missile beyond his control. The first shock he had was Yar’Adua’s decision to reverse some of the measures he had hurriedly put in place in the twilight of his administration. One of such measures was the revocation of the sale of the Kaduna refinery to Blue Star Consortium, owned by Aliko Dangote, president of Dangote Group, following massive public protest against it. The other decision was the cancellation of Value Added Tax, VAT, increase from five percent to 10 percent. That was not all. Yar’Adua also ordered the re-opening of Ibeto Cement Company Bagging Plant in Port Harcourt, which Obasanjo mindlessly shut down in 2005 following his government’s policy inconsistency on cement importation. Perhaps, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Yar’Adua’s blunt refusal to interfere in the speakership selection process in the House of Representatives, which threw up Bankole as its new helmsman. Obasanjo never wanted Bankole to be the speaker because of the fear that his South-West political base would be threatened by a man who had suddenly become the number four citizen of the country and who he would not be able control. So, he wanted both Yar’Adua and the PDP to help him stop that from happening. They refused to oblige him.

An enraged Obasanjo tucked his tail between his legs bidding for his time. And because he was privy to security information on Yar’Adua’s state of health, he knew it was a matter of time for the administration to pass into a new hand. When that time came, he was the first among the very few Nigerians who called on President Yar’Adua to hand over power to Jonathan after visiting him in a Saudi Arabian hospital. He later played a key role in the emergence of Jonathan, first as acting and later as the substantive president. As usual, he expected to be the unseen hand in the Jonathan administration. Initially, he had his way when Jonathan gave him the privilege of nominating people from the South-West geopolitical zone for appointment into some key positions in his government. He abused that privilege by sidelining people who were not in his camp but contributed to the South-West success of Jonathan in the 2011 presidential election. Instead, he recommended only his people to such key positions, claiming that only technocrats were needed for such appointments. The grab-all proclivity of the former president has left the power brokers in the zone completely marginalised. President Jonathan is not comfortable with this development which could deny him political support in the 2015 presidential election should he decide to re-contest. For this reason, he has decided to bye-pass Obasanjo in order to deal directly with the power brokers in matters of political patronages. This was bad music in the ears of Obasanjo, who first reacted by quitting his BoT position in protest. Now, he has woken up to the fact that President Jonathan is not a man he thought he could control. That is why he has started a campaign of attacks on the president’s administration for alleged inefficiency in tackling the Boko Haram security challenges. The purpose of the blackmail is to impugn his integrity and ensure that Jonathan is denied the PDP presidential ticket in the 2015 election. As part of this strategy, he wants to take over the PDP machinery and put his people in control of the BoT, the NEC and the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party. It is alleged in political circles that his hands are not far from the face-off between Bamanga Tukur, national chairman of the PDP and the elected governors of the party, who are insisting that he must go so that they can replace him with someone who will not be working for Jonathan’s 2015 presidential ticket.

From all indications, Obasanjo  is a power maniac with an insatiable urge to control whoever he has put in power. He wants power for the sake of power. He exhibited this propensity in the South-West in 2011. The struggle for power in the zone between him, Bankole and Governor Gbenga Daniel for spheres of influence led to the disastrous performance of the PDP in the governorship and legislative elections in the entire zone. Consequently, the South-West is paying dearly for Obasanjo’s lust for power. As long as he has not purged himself of this disease, there will be no peace in the PDP. To save this country from power maniacs like him, Nigerian universities have a big task in their hands. They should rise to the occasion by introducing courses on post-power syndrome management for people like him. Harvard University in the United States of America, USA, is already doing this for past leaders. Those who attend such courses are taught how to come to terms with the reality that they are no more in power and what should be their pre-occupation after leaving office. Obasanjo needs such a course.

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