Is Obasanjo really up toNigeria's new challenges and crises?

By Ken Kemnagum Okorie

Special to andUSAfrica The Newspaper

Onecannot be impressed with the Obasanjo administration's handling ofthe Islamic Sharia issue and the other crises that have arisen sincehis second handling of Nigeria's presidency from may 1999. Itcertainly did not need to take so much loss of lives and property,particularly of innocent Ndi-Igbo and other Christians in Kaduna andechoes from which have been heard in Aba, Owerri, Onitsha, Umuahia,Uyo, among other places. For months, this Administration watched,indifferently, as various Northern States, led by Zamfara, flagrantlydefied Nigerias secular constitution and sovereignty. The TuesdayFebruary 29, 2000 announcement by Vice President Abubakar Atiku thatthe erring states will shelve Sharia and revert back to the penalcode does not negate the governments failure to discharge its dutiesto the nation.

Recently, President Olusegun Obasanjo made two statements,which are instructive and significant. The first concerned hisanti-corruption campaign. The later followed the Kaduna riots overSharia. Closely considered, both statements are perhaps even moredisturbing than the subjects about which he spoke. They areremarkable commentary on retired general Obasanjo's performance afternine months in office, raise serious questions about hisunderstanding of his constitutional responsibilities, and, indeedcall to question his fitness and capacity for the leadership textureNigeria must have at its present crossroads. A pattern of passiveindifference has marked the Obasanjo administration's response toother crises since he took office. His record regarding the NigerDelta, Odua People's Congress, Church burning in Ilorin and othersimmering spots is no more encouraging. What explains thissee-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to critical issues of nationalsecurity?

Addressing the nation on the Sharia-driven Kaduna riots (in whichcasualties are in the hundreds) President Obasanjo denounced thecarnage as not only "criminal but highly unpatriotic, particularlynow that the international community is beginning to regain itsconfidence in our nation." He vowed to punish the perpetrators forthe destruction of lives and property in three days of mayhem whicherupted Monday, February 21, 2000 between Moslems and Christians overthe planned introduction of the Islamic Sharia administrative systemin Kaduna state.

As if Nigerians have not had enough empty assurances, thePresident warned that his administration "is irrevocably committed toensuring security and protection of life and property for all" and"will leave no stone unturned, nor will we mind whose goat is goredin [its] determination to protect lives and seek out andpunish the perpetrators of the terrible atrocities." Should thePresident not have realized the necessity for his government topromptly and decisively respond to the crisis in a situation wherethe US State Department continues to issue negative travel advisoryto its citizens desiring to do business with Nigeria. Questions aboutpersisting unrest featured during the historic Summit on Africarecently concluded in Washington, DC. It is simply unrealistic toexpect investors to ignore the consequent volatile environment.

Earlier, during a visit to France, Obasanjo reportedly admonishedNigerians, to report former leaders guilty of corruption to thegovernment with a view to probing them. He specifically challengedthose calling for probe or trial of former military dictator, GeneralIbrahim Babangida, that "If anybody knows where Babangida's money is,let them give us the particulars and see what the government woulddo. So these people are just being malicious. People who are sayingthis, let them give us evidence that this is Babangida's money".

President Obasanjo's comments on Babangida's reportedly ill-gottenwealth came few days after the senators in Abuja passed a "CorruptPractices and other Related Offences Act" otherwise known as theAnti- corruption Bill. Tayo Odunlami of The Tell reminded that thiswas the first legislation the President proposed to the NationalAssembly for debate after he assumed office on May 29, 1999,underscoring his repeated pledge to make the battle againstcorruption, a major focus of his administration. Odunlami noted thaton 20 December 1999 when the bill was debated, Senator SeiduDansadaus (Zamfara State) doubted President Obasanjo's will toimplement his anti-corruption crusade in all ramifications. What doesone make of these statements? What does it tell us about Obasanjo'sability or the lack thereof, to deal with Nigerias serious problems?I recognize that the constitution has limited but confusingprovisions on Sharia at the appellate level. But the incongruency andconflicts from that provision were made more obvious when Zamfarabegan toying with Sharia law. The implications of this move were farreaching even for the very survival of Nigeria. For this reason, onewould have expected the Attorney General and Justice Ministry to giveofficial opinion regarding the constitutionality of Sharia, and, ifthat did not solve the matter, seek a determination by the SupremeCourt. It did not happen. President Obasanjo quietly watched Zamfarablatantly derogate the constitution of the land. And because nothingwas done, Zamfara soon was only a starting point.

On corruption, how did it suddenly become the responsibility ofthe citizens to fish out and inform the government about retiredGenerals monies or, for that matter, Babangida's bank accounts? Isn'tthis among the reasons for our myriad of security organizations? AreSSS and affiliate organizations only there as big brother over thepowerless citizens? For that matter, what genius does it take torecognize that official salary alone could not amass for Babangida orhis fellow corrupt generals the kind of wealth he flaunts inpolitical maneuvers, establishing his private university, buildingmansions in Nigeria, owning estates in the French Rivera andelsewhere, or becoming shipping magnets, super-tycoons, and for thatmatter, big time farmers, and others.

That President Obasanjo should now plead ignorance about Babangidaand his corrupt ways is indeed appalling; it is outright disturbing.Odunlanmi most aptly cites three instances showing Obasanjo amongBabangida's most strident critics during despotic misrule. Theyinclude a 1992 lecture at the Institute of African Studies atUniversity of Ibadan in which Obasanjo described the pervasivecorruption in Babangida's government as sapping the nation's moralfiber; Obasanjo's follow-up November 1992 personal letter, (asBabangida kept changing his date to restore civil rule) condemningBabangida's pastime of "settling" individuals and organizations withhuge public funds to achieve selfish ends. Finally, in a TELLmagazine interview, Obasanjo summarized his opinion of Babangida'sperson and government as one of fraud, dishonesty and egocentrism,referring to the dictator as having "so great a capacity for mischiefand evil?"

Against these facts, which Obasanjo are we supposed to believe?The reformed, self-styled born-again who so knew Babangida so well,or the fellow retired dictator for whom amnesia may now bepolitically expedient? Is he naïve or simply lacks the will orcourage to do what is necessary to extricate Nigeria from the grip ofthe military? Is it possible that the crafty Babangida may havesomething on him (Obasanjo) for the latter is unwilling to riskreprisal? Or is there some conspiracy by which the generals keepusing Nigerians for private agenda?

Nigerias real challenge is how long it can remain strapped in aloop of corrupt, deceptive leadership? Clearly the mentality of aclique of military elite that regards the country as its war bootycould not suddenly disappear. Indeed one may wonder how much of thisaccounted for Obasanjo's selection and Northern support for hiscandidacy in the last election. Until Nigeria takes a cue fromCyprus, Greece and Argentina and lately South Korea all of which havemade corrupt former leaders and dictators to account for theirstewardship, we will have difficulty finding our way forward.
Attorney Okorie, former secretary-general of the World IgboCongress, is a member of the editorial board of USAfrica TheNewspaper. This commentary on Nigeria is copyrighted and exclusive,and url link to this page is permitted. No permission for itsarchiving on any other web site will be granted. Responsesare welcome and will be published.

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