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Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

 

By Chippla Vandu

 

Last year, I focused on Nigeria and an attempt by its leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, to perpetuate his stay in office beyond the constitutionally stipulated period of May 2007— the so-called 'third term agenda'.

 

While Mr. Obasanjo never did come out in person to state that he was interested in extending his tenure of office, his silence was even less convincing. Allegations of Nigerian parliamentarians being bribed to keep Mr. Obasanjo in power beyond May 2007, by voting to have the country's constitution amended, made national and international headlines.

 

Groups opposed to the third term agenda were prevented from holding public meetings by the Nigerian police. In other words, while Mr. Obasanjo kept silent, his cronies ensured that elements of the state were used to achieve his aim.

Prominent amongst those opposed to the third term agenda was Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Obasanjo's deputy. The feud between both men got so bad that Mr. Abubakar ceased attending meetings of the Nigerian Federal Executive Council. Mr. Obasanjo made it clear that he would not be succeeded by his deputy, having accused Abubakar of disloyalty.

 

Good enough though, on May 16, 2006, the upper house of the Nigerian legislature voted to reject an amendment clause to the constitution that would have allowed Mr. Obasanjo to serve an additional four-year term. From that moment, it became clear that by June 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo would cease being the president of Nigeria, likely returning back to his farm in Ota, in the southwest of the country.

Unfortunately, while the death of the third term agenda was a victory against sit-tight Nigerian rulers (democratic or otherwise), it was just one of two political evils Nigerians would have had to contend with. The second evil happened to be who eventually gets to succeed Mr. Obasanjo.

A week ago, the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria — which proudly styles itself as the largest political party in all of Africa—had its national convention. The aim was to select its presidential candidate for the 2007 election.

 

Potential candidates ranged from the good, like Donald Duke—the governor of Cross River state in the southeast of Nigeria; the bad, like retired General Ibrahim Babangida—ex-ruler of Nigeria for eight years; and the whatsoever one could think of.

 

However, the convention was a convention in name only. Nigerian media reports indicated that prior to the convention, Mr. Obasanjo had made it clear who exactly was going to be the party's flag bearer. And other candidates were pressurized to step down. Some did, some did not. The presidential hopefuls were not even allowed to address the delegates who were eventually to do the voting, despite pleas from one of the lady presidential hopefuls, Sarah Jibril.

 

On December 17, 2006, Mr. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the governor of the northern state of Katsina, emerged as the PDP presidential candidate in line with Mr. Obasanjo's wish. A large number of Nigerians must have been both surprised and shocked by his emergence. A few weeks ago, he was barely known across the country. He hardly featured as a prominent governor, achiever or public figure.

 

     

Musa Yar'Adua has been endorsed by the incubent. Main Picture: Olusegun Obasanjo (left) with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar (Image: Time Magazine)

 

Why then did Mr. Obasanjo select him?

 

In my opinion, the reason is simple: Olusegun Obasanjo believes the Yar'Adua would continue with his economic policies and even more importantly—exceedingly important, as a matter of fact—protect and remain loyal to him (Obasanjo) after he leaves office. Mr. Obasanjo has stepped on dozens of toes and in order to guarantee his future after leaving office, he chose someone whom he thinks would listen to him.

Friendship between Mr. Obasanjo and the Yar'Adua family goes all the way back to the 1970s, if not earlier. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua’s brother, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, served as the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters (Deputy Head of State) between 1976-1979 when the then General Olusgeun Obasanjo was Head of State. Both Shehu Yar'Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo were imprisoned by the late Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha. Shehu Yar'Adua died in prison in 1997 under mysterious circumstances.

Governor Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has been described in the mainstream Nigerian media as an honest and humble man. He is also devout Muslim, as are most people in the state of Katsina, which he governs.

 

However, Umaru Yar'Adua is also a largely untested man. A report in the Nigerian Vanguard indicates that he has might be suffering from a terminal illness, treatment of which requires frequent dialysis.

 

Then there is an issue dear to the heart of some Nigerians — Sharia law. Umaru Yar'Adua was governor of Katsina State in 2002 when a Sharia court there sentenced Amina Lawal to death by stoning for committing adultery. Though the sentence was overturned, following an appeal, it did bring to light what some Nigerians view as repressive legislation in the north of country following the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in 2000 in most northern states—Katsina inclusive.

Umaru Musa Yar'Adua may be Mr. Obasanjo's candidate of choice but his credentials aren't convincing enough as to why he should be the next Nigerian president. For now, it appears that in selecting him, Mr. Obasanjo placed his own interests first before that of the Nigerian nation.

 

To make matters worse, an even more obscure figure was chosen as Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's running mate. He is the governor of oil-producing province of Bayelsa, Jonathan Goodluck, whose wife was recently charged with money laundering. Speak about a system that operates on the lowest common denominator. The adoption of Mr. Goodluck was without a doubt driven by the need to placate the ever-growing number of oil militants in the Niger Delta region.

A large number of young and educated Nigerians had expected to see someone like Donald Duke clinch the PDP presidential ticket. Duke, it seems, represents the face of a new, young, educated, enterprising, thinking and vibrant Nigeria. The fact that someone like Duke failed to get even the Vice-Presidential slot shows that it might be business-as-usual after May 2007.

And with Atiku Abubakar (who though a member of the PDP—until a couple of days ago—, was recently selected as the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC) party) likely to run against Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the PDP may end up not sweeping the polls the way they might want. That is, except of course they end up doing what they know best—how to cheat and rig elections.

Atiku Abubakar has been charged with corruption by Mr. Obasanjo's government despite being the incumbent Vice President. While he hasn't denied all allegations brought against him, he has made it convincingly clear that Mr. Obasanjo is just as corrupt, if not even more corrupt than himself.

 

A positive which one finds in Mr. Abubakar is his willingness to give in to new and reforming ideas. Also, Atiku Abubakar's role in quashing Mr. Obasanjo's third term bid must be commended, even though it was done chiefly to foster his (Abubakar's) presidential ambition.

 

While I would most certainly not endorse an Abubakar presidency for Nigeria, when caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Nigerians would be wise to choose the devil. The devil in this case is Atiku Abubakar and the deep blue sea is Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the candidate chosen and anointed by Olusegun Obasanjo as his successor.

 

Chippla Vandu is a Nigerian writer and research engineer. He blogs as Chippla.

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