Olusegun Obasanjo, who first ruled Nigeria as a military dictator between 1976 and 1979, and then came back to rule as a civilian from 1999 to 2007, apparently had designs on remaining in power until death do him part from Nigeria, despite each of his very unpopular reigns being characterised by rank incompetence, mismanagement and corruption.
Many Nigerians are well aware of his shenanigans and brazen corruption in using the public treasury to attempt to bribe legislators to support a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Obasanjo a third term in office after he had served the maximum two terms in 2007.
However, his then Vice President Abubakar Atiku has revealed that three terms wouldn’t have sated Obasanjo’s greed, The then President wanted to stay on for life. Atiku said in a magazine interview: “My offence was that I disagreed with him on the amendment of the constitution to remove tenure/term limits or what was popularly called the ‘third term agenda’.
“In fact, he sent the then Attorney-General and Professor Jerry Gana to my office to bring the draft amendments to the constitution. After going through (them), I found out that tenure limits had been removed. In other words, he could be President for life”.
Obasanjo’s subsequent actions demonstrated that he decided that if he couldn’t stay on in power, he would ensure he ruled by proxy. Some commentators termed his tenure as a “Babacracy” (his supporters called him “Baba” – a term of endearment for an elderly man). Obasanjo, carried on like who ruled Nigeria was for him to decide alone. He handpicked his successor (Umaru Yar’Adu) and his successor’s deputy (Goodluck Jonathan). Obasanjo used the machinery of state to ensure that both seriously flawed candidates – puppets that he thought he could control – won, firstly, the ruling party’s primaries and then the (s)election that he called a “do or die” affair.
Poet Niyi Osundare wrote in 2007: ‘President Obasanjo, you had the greatest opportunity in the world to shape the destiny of Nigeria and put her foot on the road to the future. But you turned the noble act of political competition into a “do-or-die” battle. And true to your words, the country is dying from our doing’.
As Nigeria was “dying”, Yar’Adua died in office in 2010 and VP Jonathan took over. Obasanjo carried on trying to govern Nigeria by “remote control” until Jonathan stopped taking orders from him. Obasanjo reacted in typical fashion by flirting with the opposition before abandoning his own party.
Jonathan was swept out of office in last year’s (s)election won by Muhammadu Buhari. Obasanjo in August this year described this as: “Three or four of us from different parts of the country got together and said to ourselves, what do we do? We asked, ‘what is the problem with us and why are we not growing?’ We got talking and knew we needed to do something. What do we need to deal with for this Nigeria of ours to become what God has created it to be? A land flowing with milk and honey, that is the intention of God for creating Nigeria.”
Three or four of them decided Nigeria’s fate by backing Buhari, and despite the attempt by Obasanjo to sugarcoat this as something done for the good of the country, it was clear that those powerbrokers were acting purely in greedy self-interest. As Fela Kuti pointed out in “Army Arrangement”: “Obasanjo na wayo [crooked behaviour] him dey all the time”.
Ever since Buhari came to power, Obasanjo has continued with his control freakery and “wayo”. A president whose eight-year rein was one whole mess of corruption and misrule has never been shy in pontificating about how to fix Nigeria’s problems.
Current President Buhari, who Obasanjo helped get into power, is already proving to be as disastrous for Nigeria as those before him, including Obasanjo. Buhari has also started recently ike Jonathan, to ignore Obasanjo’s unsolicited advice. And, predictably, murmurings of discontent have started coming out of Obasanjo’s mouth.
Buhari clearly does not have solutions for Nigeria’s problems, but there is one problem he could easily deal with and which he seems equipped enough to confront. That problem is Obasanjo. The ex-president has a long history of corruption stretching decades, from his acquisition of his farm in Ota from government property, to admitting in court that he bought Beachland Estates in Lagos using a front, to the large scale looting that turned him into a billionaire from 1999 to 2007.
Buhari could, in one fell swoop, remove the Obasanjo factor from Nigerian politics and also demonstrate that there are no sacred cows in the alleged fight against corruption, by dusting off the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission files on Obasanjo. Rather than the life presidency Obasanjo planned, spending the rest of his life in jail would do Nigeria a world of good.