Obasanjo's own challenge is to imbibe
"democratic spirit and practice"


Special to USAfricaonline.com
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Nigeria's leader, retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, is an ordinary man called upon to do an extra-ordinary thing. He's a rough hewn former soldier called upon to operate in a democratic setting, give hope to a people who have been ill-served by a succession of rogue elements and help us lay the foundation of a democratic society.

He faces two fundamental problems. One, the nature of our society: rough, its socio-economic infrastructure callously left to rot for two decades, weak democratic ethos as a result of military rule, low industrial capacity, a mono-cultural economy; but with an abundance of natural resources and a vibrant enterprising people possessed of skills to run a modern economy.

Two, a personal failing manifested in his inability to transform himself to embrace democratic praxis and attitude. Not for lack of trying, at least in terms of platitudes and sermons. In 1992, Obasanjo (seen in picture with his predecessor Abubakar) co-edited a book with Akin Mabogunje, titled 'Elements of Democracy.' In the preface, authored by Obasanjo, he says, 'Effective democratic process provides checks and balances which limit……dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies…..democratic spirit and practice must be ingrained in each of us for democracy to become indestructible.' Dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies?

Confronted by Nigerian journalists at the Murtala Mohammed Airport who wanted to know what his government intends to do on the refusal of Buhari et al to answer the summons of Justice Oputa, our president let off a torrent of abuse, 'You people are deaf and dumb…..if they won't appear, go and arrest them yourself' Has Obasanjo ever watched, how the leaders of other countries he so loves to hobnob with, handle enquiring journalists who ask uncomfortable questions? Do our journalists have no right to ask? And why the petulance and combativeness at monthly media chat?

Democratic spirit and practice must be ingrained? What is it about criticism that so irks the president? In a democracy, leaders are held accountable for their actions and accept that their actions or lack thereof are subject to scrutiny. One has to believe in democracy to be a democrat; you cannot transit to democracy or practise democracy without democrats. You have to learn democratic behavior and practise it.

Criticism is the engine of democracy as opposed to autocracy or authoritarianism. If you cannot take criticism, you do not need to be a politician. The spirit and practice go together. On this score, what does the president intend to achieve by belittling and characterizing Professor Sam Aluko as 'senile' on account of the later's favorable comparison of Abacha's regime to his?

On that issue, the famous professor is factually in the wrong. The regime of stable currency is not the only indicator of the health of a national economy. Furthermore, what is the opportunity cost of that currency stability touted by the learned economist? What type of a chief of state, would deliberately run aground the petroleum refineries of his country, so that his fronts could import adulterated petroleum products, undermining the economic and physical health of his country and its people? Sani Abacha was clearly a disturbed person and our society is the better for his demise. Not done yet, the president went for Professor Aluko's son , Senator Gbenga Aluko and called him names in reference to the findings of the Kuta Report in the Senate. This is utterly petty and demeaning of the office of the president of Nigeria.

By the way, Muhammadu Buhari, smarting from his removal and dismantling of his Petroleum Trust Fund [PTF] also says Abacha was a better economic manager. But the Nigerian public also knows that Buhari's PTF gave the Abacha transition train N500 million . If the president is this thin-skinned, what would he do if he were to run and win a second term?

Looking back, of all the men who have held executive positions at the helm of affairs in Nigeria at the federal level, [regardless of how they got there], from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi- Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Ramat Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo [in his first coming], Shehu Shagari, retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, retired Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, retired Gen. Sani Abacha, retired Gen. Abdulsalami Alhadji Abubakar to retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in the extant dispensation, Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo seems to me to be the most industrious (or shall we say, mobile).

Even now at the age of 66, he keeps a hectic schedule and his work ethic (and especially travels) could put people half his age to shame. Obasanjo genuinely loves Nigeria, believes in our potential to be a prosperous modern African nation, a pride and beacon of hope of peoples of African descent world wide.

If Obasanjo had retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon's opportunity as head of state at the end of the civil war in January 1970 to July 1975, I believe he would have laid the foundation for industrialization of Nigeria. When Obasanjo came in in February 1976 and left as head of state in 1979, Nigeria was the 48th most prosperous nation in the world; today we are one of the truly wretched, 176th of 189 countries at the United Nations.

We all know our society is going through a difficult time; we have to relearn democratic values, attitudes, beliefs and most especially practice which have been absent in our society for almost two decades. Having been under the jackboot of military diktat for so long, its arbitrary and capricious rule, our democratic reflex is dull.

But if we keep faith with the idea of democracy and embrace the spirit, we are bound to reach our destination. This is going to be a long journey but we have taken the first tentative step. What our society is expecting from the present crop of people in elective office, is to be in the vanguard of that democratic train. And, we want Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo ,warts and all, to be the chief protagonist and practictioner of the democratic spirit in his utterances and actions.
Solarin, a political scientist and university lecturer at Texas College in Tyler, is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper where his columns appear.

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