12 June 2012

Nigeria: Obasanjo and Burden of Credibility


Former President Obasanjo's propensity to controversy is no news; his recent attack on the National Assembly as a lair of armed robbers was true to type.

In his latest self-righteous posturing, he didn't spare the police and the judiciary for corruption either. Lest one is misunderstood, there is no attempt to condone corruption by these public institutions. Corruption at any level undermines the development of Nigeria or any country for that matter.

What is, however, nauseating is the moral hypocrisy of General Obasanjo who fancies himself as a God's gift to Nigeria because the country had to "beg" him in 1999 to come on a rescue mission. Hypocrisy usually destroys important messages and that is why Obasanjo's harangue against the National Assembly, the judiciary and the police didn't excite many Nigerians. One of the best characterizations of a hypocrite I have ever read was from James Allen, who was described as the greatest inspirational writer of the 20th century.

According to Allen, "the efforts of such a man to make the world virtuous, his exhortations to his fellow-men to abandon great vices are empty of substance and barren of fruitage." One could not have found a better description of hypocrisy than this. Obasanjo's message, though significant, was lost because he has to contend with his own credibility problem. As they say, those who come to equity must come with clean hands. In 2006, during a meeting of Northern Christian Elders Forum, Nigeria's former Chief of Army Staff and later Defence Minister, Lt. General T. Y. Danjuma branded Obasanjo as "a fake Christian, fake evangelist and fake nationalist." This blistering criticism came from a General who threatened in 1999 to go into exile if Obasanjo was not elected president!

Why did Obasanjo's credibility shatter to shreds so soon? Action, they say, speaks louder than words. He is largely blamed for corrupting Nigeria's politics, which has been taken over by godfathers, regardless of credibility. He introduced do-or-die politics in Nigeria. He appears to hate corruption with passion but used it to achieve his political agendas. In 2006, in the wake of the attempt to amend the constitution to gratify Obasanjo's third term ambition, huge amounts of money was reportedly given to each senator to vote in favour of the amendment.

Despite the public outcry over the use of bribery and financial inducement to guarantee the passage of the unpopular amendment, the EFCC only made a half-hearted investigation and abandoned the effort because of the President's hidden hand in the affair. In fact, there was even an incident when a driver with the Abuja Leasing Company escaped with the third term money from the bank.

Because of the tracking system fitted to the car, the driver was finally arrested at Amigo Supermarket at Wuse 2. When journalists asked the police when the driver would appear in court for prosecution, a police officer was quoted as saying that their priority was to recover the money. Nigerians, however, knew why the guy was not prosecuted. His prosecution would have revealed the source of the money and the intended beneficiary.

Despite repeated denials of the bribe-for-vote scandal during the third term debate at the Senate, subsequent events had confirmed that indeed, money had changed hands.

When he was arrested by the EFCC after his immunity expired, former Governor Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State, said N10 billion out of the N35 billion he was accused of stealing, was spent on Obasanjo's failed third term project. He mentioned a former aide to Obasanjo and currently a senator as the person who collected the money from the treasury of Jigawa State.

Nigerians can also recall that in 2002, during the Obasanjo instigated plot to remove former Speaker Ghali Umar Na-Abba, money was displayed by some lawmakers who collected it the night before and presented it on the floor of the House as financial inducement to impeach the recalcitrant Speaker, who became a thorn in Obasanjo's flesh.

Against this hypocritical background, does Obasanjo command the credibility to judge the moral credentials of others? Who introduced the idea of bribing delegates to party conventions instead of allowing them to vote according to their conscience and convictions? Which President withdrew corruption charges against a former Federal Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Joseph Makanjuola using the so-called nolle prosequi by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation? Was the decision to withdraw the charges in the public interest?

Corruption and disregard for due process that characterized the privatization of prized public assets and the independent power projects remain a major stigma on Obasanjo's credibility. He has lost the moral high ground to point accusing fingers of corruption against anyone. Ordinarily, Nigerians would have thrown their weight behind him to crucify the National Assembly. But they don't trust his sincerity. And for this reason, his moral message has gone up in smoke.

Zagga wrote from Abuja

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