July 27, 2007
8 mins read

Our Editorial Board met for much longer than last  Thursday, because of the unannounced visit of the special Adviser to president Umar Yar’ Adua on media, mister Olusegun Adeniyi. Segun’s visit had been especially timely, given the more interesting twists to events in Nigeria. All of a sudden or so it seemed, the new president began to hearken to some of the heart-felt longings of the Nigerian people. The most dramatic step was the re-possessing of Nigeria’s refineries from Obasanjo’s TRANSCORP billionaires.

The truth is that no matter how one analyses the latest development, there can be no gainsaying the fact that a body blow has been dealt on the regime of impunity which Obasanjo instituted during his government, but which consumed him completely in the last five years. It was within that period that the worst excess of the man became heightened and Nigerians truly saw the historical mistake of entrusting the presidency of our country to a man with a tragically flawed personality like Obasanjo and his billionaire cronies and saw how our national patrimony suddenly became the possession of a few individuals around the man. It was under the alcoholic and clown, Boris Yeltsin that Russia went through what became known as ‘shock therapy capitalism’ during which the wealth of that huge country became offloaded into the hands of a few people. I think just eleven of them all.

However, with Obasanjo, it was like having highway robbers stop you on the road soon after you had been terrorized by policemen at a checkpoint. Obasanjo and his cronies took away our patrimony with a contempt which was surprising, because they did not seem to think that the end of the regime was at hand, and even when he single-handedly imposed a successor, the dynamics of the events after he vacated power cannot be controlled by even the most dogged manipulator. Obasanjo and his cronies became far too arrogant to realize that events often have a life of their own, and social life and the trappings of power in the hands of another individual cannot be safely manipulated from far away. It is also true to say that Obasanjo and his billionaire cronies did not fathom just how unpopular the decision to sell the refineries to them is, and in fact, how contemptuous they held by the majority of Nigerians.

The contempt in fact fuelled the popularity of the strike which the Nigerian labour movement organised in June 2007. It was therefore not a coincidence that the reversal of the sales of Nigerian refineries at the twilight of the regime of Obasanjo became a very central point of the agitation and the strike. The Nigeria Labour ‘Head of Information, Owei Lakemfa, gave some very interesting insights into the issues around the refineries controversy in an interview in SATURDAY PUNCH of July 21, 2007. In his words, “the whole thing is a fraud… It turned out that president Obasanjo sent a note to the BPE to invite Dangote to come and buy these refineries for a particular amount. Apart from the fact that there was no true evaluation, there is also the fact that there was no transparency, there was nothing like bidding in any process. Those were the things we found out as a result of our pressures. The facts are there. And that we have said is that these are criminal acts”.

Unfortunately, it is this criminal propensity that lay at the heart of the Obasanjo presidency; it was the need to protect the hind place of the kleptocratic despot which led to the brewing of all types of evil plots in the years of the regime. I feel very vindicated that over the past three years or so, we consistently wrote on these pages that Obasanjo would not have loved to vacate power at the end of his tenure, because there was so much that he needed to keep from the public eye: his incredible wealth today cannot be matched with his near-bankruptcy after his imprisonment; the man must ensure that all the illegal assets transfers that he benefited from must not be exposed, or how does he hope to square up with his preachments that would not sit in sync with his actions in power?

How can he face the people who turned him an ex-convict, felon and prisoner to the president of Nigeria and who he stabbed in the back, and was consistently turning the dagger to ensure that the wound stayed painful and fresh? Where should he turn to and who does he face out of power? This was the basis for the ill-fated constitutional review conference, and when it failed to endorse the elongation of the despot’s tenure, he embarked on the third term agenda. It was also instructive that these evil schemes were enthusiastically financed by his billionaire cronies because they were in the same trench together, and like the soldiers forgotten in the theatres of war during World War 1, they needed to stay together. They have massively profited from the criminal impunity which was the hallmark of Obasanjo’s regime, have been tarred with the same brush of hatred by the Nigerian people, and so they needed each other’s company to be able to survive or sink together. Of course, their permutations remained that they also believed that there was nothing or anybody that they could not purchase in Nigeria. They played very smart by trying their purchase from the top of the pile: Nigeria’s presidency.

They spent billions of naira to finance the rigging of the elections, reckoning that a president who emerged from the fraud that they perpetrated during the disgraceful “elections” of April 2007 will permanently reside in their pockets. It is an insurance policy which worked well with Obasanjo and was expected to be even more fool-proof under his chosen successor. This was the broad outline which emboldened Obasanjo and his billionaire cronies. But in their arrogance, they became overconfident.  They did not reckon with the power of the Nigerian people to mobilize, and with hindsight, I think they were foolish or naive, or both, because it is just over a year ago when billions of naira that they committed to the third term agenda went down the drain with the defeat of the project. The June 2007 general strike became an opportunity to show that the power of a united people can turn them into mere paper tigers to borrow the famous analogy from Mao Tsc Tung. To rub salt into the injury, even the president that they carefully installed into office with the hope that he would remain a puppet on a string was also swept by the wave of the Nigerian people’s anger and the determination to reverse the open robbery of their refineries, to take a step they did not believe could ever take place. That is the nature of the people’s power!


It should be very clear to Malam Umaru Yar’ Adua now that he has let the genie out of the bottle. Obasanjo has been badly bruised and embittered by the reversal of the decision to sell the refineries to Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola. Obasanjo will not stop at any effort to get back at Yar’ Adua. The saving grace for the president is that kleptocratic despot is no longer in power. He is very vulnerable exposed, and in the long run, even his hold even on the party apparatus might actually not be the redoubt that he constructed it to be ambush point from where he hoped to continue to direct the affairs of Nigeria. It is quite interesting to note that a time when Obasanjo and his billionaire cronies are licking their wounds over the refineries, Godwin Daboh has come out to state that Obasanjo cannot even occupy the seat of the Chairman of Board of Trustees of the ruling people’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The carpet might be slipping from our depots faster than we may have envisaged! But Umar Yar’ Adua has to know that once he has taken the steps he took to reverse the sale of refineries, return to Lagos local government funds and also choose to give a hearing to the labour movement the dialectics of events would demand that he goes the whole hog. There can be no half house between protecting the scandalous and criminal acts of the Obasanjo regime and staying with the interests of the Nigerian people.

Even if it is President Umaru Yar’Adua subjective desire to stay as the bulwark of defense of the indefensible regime of impunity which Obasanjo presided over, objectively reality will have the last say in the matter. To find legitimacy, Umaru Yar’Adua will have to become his own man, which means creating some distance between himself and Obasanjo. The nut and bolt of that decision would translate into the universal of the unpopular decisions taken by the man. The more he ploughs, the murkier he will find the space which Obasanjo did not willingly vacate. It will soon resemble a free fall, like a parachutist, and the fight that is coming will be fought in the government and in the precincts of the PDP. I do not envy Umaru Yar’ Adua because the route legitimacy lies in the cutting down of Obasanjo, exposing corruption, whittling his influence within the PDP, and who knows, maybe even returning him to his own prison residence to continue where he stopped before he was removed, pardoned and impose on the Nigerian people.

If anybody believes that the scenario I am painting here is too far-reached to be taken seriously, we hasten to recall recent events in African history. When president Ahmadou Ahidjo was tricked by the French that his health has failed so irretrievably to continue as Cameroon’s president, he single-handedly imposed Paul Biya; Biya climbed into the height of legitimacy by using an attempted coup allegedly sponsored by Ahidjo to exorcise the larger – than- life presence of Ahmadou Ahidjo. Over two decades, later Paul Biya is sitting pretty as one of Africa’s venerable dictators. A more recent example comes from ZAMBIA, WHERE LIKE Nigeria, and Frederick Chiluba as outgoing president ensured that his chosen successor, Levi Mnawasa, was rigged into power. His choice was deliberately made to secure protection for him from anti-corruption charges after office. The Zambian people protested the theft of their mandate and Levi Mnawasa knew that people wanted the exposure of the regime of fraud which Chiluba preside over; he in turn needed legitimacy as the president and he also needed to remove the overbearing influence of his predecessor. Today, Levi Mnawasa seems to have been forgiven his crime of coming to power through a fraudulent electoral process, because he I exposing the theft perpetuated by the small man who imposed him as president. Frederick Chiluba is licking his wounds wondering if it could have been worse if he had allowed a genuine electoral process which might have returned an opposition candidate. Yar’ Adua will become Levi Mnawasa, and Obasanjo is destined to have the fate of Frederick Chiluba. He will be exposed for all his corrupt acts while in government and the reversal of the sale Nigeria’s refineries and the return of the local government funds are the first step in what might become a most interesting political battle. If you listen carefully, you might catch the approaching roar of a monster, the country will soon be in for a treat. I will suggest that you buy a ring-side ticket and some popcorn!

I started this piece by mentioning the visit of the presidential Adviser, Segun Adeniyi, to our Editorial Board meeting for an extra two hours or so. He offered us very educative glimpses into the workings of the Yar’ Adua government and he attempted to clear some of the doubts which most of us have about what appears to be the tentativeness of the president in respect of decisions which the Nigerian people feel he needs to take to be able to assure us that we are not really being ruled from the Ota farm of Obasanjo’s think that Segun Adeniyi made an impression on most of the people at the meeting even when the skepticism about the legitimacy challenge which dogs his boss was still the underlining current of the Editorial Board. We will continue to watch with interest the activities of the government that Segun works for.

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