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Like Obasanjo like Buhari

Like Obasanjo like Buhari

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Azuka Onwuka

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The greatest tragedy that befell the Peoples Democratic Party was the emergence of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as president in 1999; in the same vein, the greatest tragedy that befell the All Progressives Congress was the emergence of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as President in 2015.

In 1998, the PDP was the party to belong to. With men like Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria; Chief Solomon Lar, a former Governor of old Plateau; Chief Bola Ige, former Governor of old Oyo State; Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, former Governor of old Kano State, and a host of others as founders, it was the party to beat. The party had evolved from the G-34, a group of political heavyweights which put the military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, on his toes. The founders of the PDP were not saints but they were people with depth, magnitude and dependability.

But the most glaring point about the PDP was that it had the image of a pan-Nigerian political party with no ethnic group in control of it. So, it was a party that gave every Nigerian who wanted to belong to it a sense of belonging. Lar was the Chairman of the party while Ekwueme was the Chairman, Board of Trustees. Nobody had the image as of the king-maker or owner of the party. Decisions were taken through meetings.

There were two other registered parties: the All Peoples Party (which later changed its name to the All Nigeria People’s Party) and the Alliance for Democracy. But the APP did not match the PDP in the quality of its founders, while the AD was made up mainly of people from the South-West.

While the members of the PDP were strategising on who would be their presidential candidate, the military top brass from the Northern part of Nigeria, in alliance with the military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, decided that the winner of the 1999 election would be someone from the South-West to compensate the region for the annulment of the 1993 election, which was presumed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola. Furthermore, they believed that the only person they could trust in the region to lead Nigeria in 1999 was Gen Obasanjo. Gen Ibrahim Babangida, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau and others were key figures in that decision, having worked under Obasanjo between 1976 and 1979 when he was the military head of state. They saw Obasanjo as one man from the South-West who would also protect their interest and not work against the North. They pulled their weight to make Obasanjo win the primaries of the PDP as well as the presidential election.

 Something happened to the PDP immediately after Obasanjo became the President. He personalised the party. Rather than the party chairman being in control of the party, Obasanjo became in control of the PDP. He was called Baba (father) by his acolytes. He ensured that he had a hand in who became the leader of the Senate and House of Representatives. He determined who should be arrested and prosecuted for corruption and who should not. He decided which governor needed to be impeached or removed, with a state of emergency declared in his state. He chose which court ruling to obey or disobey. He determined who should emerge as the PDP candidate in all the states. Even the Independent National Electoral Commission worked for him rather than for the nation.

Within one year of Obasanjo in office, the PDP transformed from a party of promise to a monster that was full of arrogance and thoughtlessness. Rather than the party’s manifesto being implemented, Obasanjo’s manifesto was being implemented.

However, Obasanjo was not a bad leader. He was marvelous in some areas of governance. For example, he treated Nigeria as his constituency rather than give his ethnic group or state undue preference in appointments or projects. He was good on the economy, settling Nigeria’s debt with the Paris Club and giving a boost to the Nigerian economy by choosing result-oriented professionals to work in different fields.

However, the weakness of Obasanjo was that, having fought in the Nigerian Civil War and retired as an army general and head of state, he believed that he was an embodiment of patriotism like no other Nigerian. He therefore believed that anything he did was in the interest of Nigeria and was right, even if such hurt some people. Anybody who criticised him was seen as an enemy, while anyone who praised him and called him Baba was seen as a fellow patriot. Obasanjo joined the Nigerian Army as a young man and worked all his active years in the army, rising to be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. He was used to giving orders and being obeyed without questioning. He brought that into governance and ended up derailing the PDP and ridiculing the Nigerian Constitution.

When he left in 2007, after imposing his successor on Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan tried to depart from Obasanjo’s disregard for the rule of law. Nigerians were getting used to that when Buhari took over in 2015. Buhari has a similar background as Obasanjo as a retired army general as well as a former head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. Buhari also fought in the Nigerian Civil War and therefore believes that he loves Nigeria more than every other person. Buhari is only different from Obasanjo in their views about Nigeria: while Obasanjo has a broader view about Nigeria and seeks out talents from all parts of Nigeria to work with him, Buhari has a narrower view, seeking more of his kinsmen to work with him.

Even though Buhari was part of the formation of the APC, it was obvious that he does not share the same ideology with the founders of the APC. In terms of political leaning, Buhari has been a rightist (conservative), while most members of the APC are more of leftists (progressives). If Buhari were in the USA, he would be a Republican while most members of the APC would be Democrats. Before 2015, the APC campaigned for the restructuring of the country with devolution of powers from the centre to the states or regions. It spoke about state police. It frowned on impunity and disregard for the rule of law.

Ironically, because of the need to win the 2015, the APC gave Buhari its presidential ticket. Having won the election, Buhari has started to repeat virtually all Obasanjo did in the PDP. Court decisions are flouted at will. People are arrested and detained depending on what Buhari wishes rather than what the court says. The party chairman is chosen based on who Buhari endorses. The party chairman acts like an appointee of Buhari rather than Buhari acting like a member of the party who should do what the party wishes. In spite of all the principles enshrined in the APC Constitution about restructuring and the rest, none of those things are being implemented because Buhari does not believe in them.

Many honest APC members see how far this administration has deviated from the principles of their party, but they are constrained not to say this in public, to avoid appearing as working against their own party.

There is something that is missing from party politics in this Fourth Republic. In the Second Republic, especially, the party chairman was not subservient to the governors or senators and the President on party matters. They all deferred to him or got sent out of the party. Legislators from a particular party would not work against the interest of their own party. That scenario needs to return to our politics.

Secondly, the lure of power should not make politicians hand over their party’s ticket to people who do not share the same ideology, especially military generals who are used to issuing orders rather than reaching decisions by negotiations, consensus or a majority opinion. Such people drag our democracy backwards.

 —Twitter @BrandAzuka

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