Is Gen Obasanjo Overreaching Himself or Making History?
Might former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, be overreaching himself at last or set to make history as architect of Igbo presidency in Nigeria? This is the question that not only intellectual workers but also Nigerian politicians, statesmen and interested observers must be pondering upon now following Obasanjo’s move last Wednesday in that direction. The plan around which he has been dancing with a series of activities in both his farm at Ota and the Eastern heartland appears to have vindicated Intervention’s discourse of him as a standalone statesman who constructs the agenda of national politics at will because of the reluctance of his peers in interventionist statesmanship even in times of instability and governance glitch. In a two-part special report “Cracking General Obasanjo’s Staying Power in Nigerian Politics” published last Monday and Tuesday, Intervention had posed the question why though not without blame, Obasanjo reminds and rebukes the nation as and when he pleases. The paper found evidence to demonstrate the claims of residual militarism, Messianic arrogance and a deft grasp and deployment of statecraft as the defining attributes upon which the Obasanjo edifice rests. The report, however, went further to advance the position that it is fundamentally the absence of his peers in politics at the moment that enables him to monopolise dictating the agenda.
By the time the second part of the report was being posted last Tuesday, Obasanjo was setting the agenda for Igbo presidency in 2019, using the visit of leaders of the Ogun State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) as a platform. On Wednesday, January 25th, 2017, the media was awash with it. As a well located player, it is possible that his agenda of Igbo presidency is well informed, noble and in the best interest of Nigeria. Still, it is a problematic agenda in the context of the subsisting power sharing national pact by which presidential authority is legitimated in Nigeria. The strategic logic of rotation of power pact is that even as backward as it is, it corresponds with the current level of development of the elite whose desperation for political power more than for enterprise and innovation can destroy the country if there is no such pact to make access to power predictable and guaranteed for each cultural group. Against this background, it would only not be problematic if it were the outcome of consensus among his peers and other members of what may be regarded as the national stakeholders. Until such were known to be the case, the tendency among many to see his agenda as a statesman at the risk of overreaching himself is as real as it can be.
Notwithstanding the voice of Jacob/the hands of Esau element in the statements emanating from the South-east Vanguard and the Arewa Progressives Youth Initiative on the one hand and those of some politicians of Igbo extraction, they suggest the reactions and counter-reactions expected to greet such unilateralism. Unless Obasanjo has done his homework, he might have been setting the country on another round of divisive debate similar to the debate on zoning that preceded as well as defined the 2011 presidential polls. The principle of ‘rotation of power’ has gone beyond the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) and the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) which endorsed it as an article of faith in the Second and Fourth Republic respectively. While Obasanjo can unmake the past in an even more glorious manner to his own credit by pursuing equality of access to power for all regions and ethnic groups through legalization of the rotation/zoning principle so that it subsequently applies at the federal, state and even local government level, it remains unclear if this agenda of his will not return Nigeria to even further divisiveness that should not be traceable to an Obasanjo. It is possible he has consulted as he did in the case of Goodluck Jonathan just as it is possible he may be taking many things for granted.
Some people doubt he has consulted or obtained consensus, arguing that it is his own personal fears driving him to seek blocking forces he fears their ascendancy, (Atiku Abubakar in particular) by eliminating such forces entirely from the race once 2019 becomes a completely Eastern regional affair. How this can be done without aggravating the current fragmentation and conscientisation along ethno-regional contours is what worries observers. Can the Igbo presidency agenda as set in motion by Obasanjo’s advocacy rise to such a crescendo as to drown out and overwhelm all other agendas regarding who contests in 2019? Analysts argue that Obasanjo must already be sure of that because he must have contemplated the consequences of failure of this bid, the odium and irreparable damage to the place in History he craves and which has already been dented by his association with Third Term agenda. The other side of that analysis is whether anyone can be sure of anything in an absolutely fluid world as obtains today. The same forces and interests that blocked his Third Term are still around, it is being argued. In other words, the problem with the current Obasanjo’s standalone interventionist statesmanship is the fluidity of the global and national order. The dynamics could change so rapidly and pull the rugs from under anybody’s feet anytime, anywhere. That fluid nature of reality as well as the law of unintended consequences can unpack the best plans by any man. It would be interesting watching the dynamics unfold. The outcome for him is either he is overreaching himself or he is making History with a capital H.
Intervention stands by its conclusion in the two part report earlier this week that Obasanjo cannot be dismissed because it is not anybody’s love or hatred of what he says and does that matters most but the context in which he says and does them. It is, therefore, the context that should be the focus of analysis and praxis. In all cases, may Nigeria be the winner!