Obasanjo’s Andy Uba Mess

November 16, 2006
9 mins read

On Monday night, I held a dinner meeting in Abuja with a visiting American delegation. These meetings and focus group discussions, by the way, have become quite regular in the past few months, as countries around the world try to unravel the Nigerian enigma on the eve of the political process leading to the transfer of power in May 2007. It was therefore in the same context that the Monday evening meeting was held.


Of course, one of the issues that came into the frame was the .unfolding mess around the smuggling of $170,000 cash into the United States of America by Andy Uba, President Obasanjo’s highly trusted Special Assistant on Domestic Matters (whatever that designation really means!). When the story broke last week, the members of the President’s story entourage contacted by the media for a response had attempted to bluff their way through the story, attempting to hide their nakedness with a fig leaf. The President’s Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Akin Osuntokun, had described the source of the story, THE SUN newspaper, owned by one of the leading antagonists of President Obasanjo, Governor Oiji Uzor Kalu, as “tendentious”.


But given the way that the story has taken a life of its own, there was no way that blaming the messenger for the message, in this case THE SUN newspaper, could have provided an exit from the story. The presidential entourage made a valiant effort to bury the corpse, using indifference, convoluted explanations and so on, as juicier details around the Andy Uba money smuggling issue came out each passing day of last week, but somehow, a limb continued to stick out from the shallow grave they had dug.


I was struck by an insight which came out of the dinner discussion of Monday night; not only was it stated that perhaps the President himself was culpable in the Andy Uba issue, although yet to be proven, it was suggested that Obasanjo was likely to precipitate a new crisis in the country, which might wrestle the headlines from ‘ANDYGATE’. And before one could spell mischief, the controversial impeachment of Governor Joshua Dariye by six legislators meeting at dawn under the protective cover of Obasanjo’s security agents has become the story of the week in the country. It was a classical flanking movement by a cornered despot whose anti-corruption toga was increasingly being exposed as a smelly rag by a combination of events in the last few months in Nigeria.


I think that it is important to set aside the Plateau episode for another day, because it is very important in my view to continue to expose the duplicity of President Obasanjo. This is a man that is given to preachments about the need to fight the menace of corruption, but whose entire career is littered with a trend of profiting from same. Obasanjo is the least qualified person to beat this country into line in a fight against corruption if we remember how he illegally purchased shares during the Indigenization programme o f the Murtala Muhammed regime, contrary to the official position of a government in which he held the number two position; the same Obasanjo has been illegally taking rich pickings from the dubious privatisation programme of his government; he did not see corruption in accepting billions of naira from the corporate world, which was used to finance his massive rigging of the elections of 2003, just to mention a few instances. No, Obasanjo does not fit the role of thief-catcher that he huffs and puffs over!


If ever there was a need for an illustration of the hollowness of President Obasanjo’s claims, the story which broke last week about Andy Uba, is just the right one. This is because Andy Uba is not just another run in the mill Special Assistant;  he was the ‘blue-blooded’ presidential aide, who someone  recently said could literally have committed murder and one can be sure would go scot-free, for as long as Obasanjo is  ruling the roost. A very smart, streetwise chap, Andy Uba by  stealth worked himself into the inner recesses o f the Obasanjo presidency. From a nondescript placement at first, Andy Uba  manoeuvred himself to become the most important person in the Presidency. And while his dispensation lasted, he became an overseer of Nigeria’s oil industry in real terms; he was the indispensable link between an increasingly ; isolated, despotic Obasanjo  and the many chieftains of politic s and state! administration. It became I political wisdom to be in the  good books of Andy Uba, and everybody queued up a ccordingly to get his  imprimatur. An ordinarily inconsequential individual  who did not contribute anything to the attainment of ! the democratic process  through a wily personality, a  highly developed cunning and an advantageous placement at the heart of the Obasanjo presidency, with knowledge of presidential  habits and weaknesses,  gradually transformed into  one of the most powerful individuals of the past seven  years in Nigeria.


Because Andy Uba was said to be the first person to  morning and the last person he saw before going to bed, he became the voice of the presidential oracle in the processes which mattered most, the political and economic, and patronage delivery. This was the leverage which he manipulated squadroitly to feather his own nest, and it is what aided the larger-than-life presence he established in virtually everything that went on in the Obasanjo presidency, especially who got what oil contracts, who survives the intrigues of court and so on. Andy Uba has the implicit trust of President Obasanjo whose domestic life he ‘assisted’; unfortunately, it was that trust and its consequences which exploded in their faces with the story that Andy Uba used FGN 001, Nigeria’s presidential aircraft to illegally ferry a huge sum of money into the United States of America.


The Andy Uba story was frankly a mess for the Obasanjo presidency, exposing the depth of indulgence that the president has permitted with members of his entourage. This pattern of indulgence reveals a peculiar weakness of President Obasanjo himself. He enjoys impunity, as we have seen in the cavalier manner he has treated the country’s constitutional order in the past seven years. As it is with the principal, so it became with the minders of the man. It therefore has not come as a surprise that Andy Uba used Nigeria’s presidential aircraft to illegally export money. Maybe the question to ask is how many such illegalities have been perpetrated under the 1 protective wings of President Obasanjo.


There is no gainsaying the fact that it is Nigeria’s reputation that suffered most from that peculiar mess; that aircraft is the symbol of our nationhood, not a personal aircraft owned by Olusegun Obasanjo. The Andy Uba event helped to expose the rottenness at the heart of the Presidency. It is quite instructive that Obasanjo did not as much as give his. powerful Special Assistant a rap on the knuckle, on the  contrary, his knowledge of the inner workings of the Obasanjo  presidency has led to a desperate desire to earn Andy Uba an important elective position in the next dispensation. A recent story making the rounds in political circles is that President Obasanjo wants Andy Uba to become either a governor of his state or the vice president of the country. The reason is to ensure that Uba fills a position which guarantees  him immunity when Obasanjo has vacated the scene. If the man is brought under scrutiny, he might open the Pandora box of the Obasanjo presidency. Andy Uba knows too much and protecting him is the only way to cover the tracks leading! to President Obasanjo himself.


The Babangida challenge The political scene witnessed some razzmatazz last week when General Ibrahim Babangida led a coterie of loyalists to the Secretariat of the PDP to pick the Presidential nomination form to be able to run in the next elections. The Babangida move was one of the most open secrets of the past few years in  Nigeria. Yet it was also an intriguing one, I because there were also many people who felt that Babangida might eventually not run in the elections after all.


I think that there are many issues to untangle in respect of the Babangida candidacy. In the first place, he has remained unrepentantly committed to the memory of the structural adjustment policies of his regime; yet there is no denying the fact that SAP was I a major basis of the social dislocations which eroded the fabric of Nigeria from the mid-1980s onwards, and the social consequences are I still with us. If Babangida remains wedded to i such policies, then he would be out of sync with the feelings of the Nigerian people who have gone through the neo-liberal programme of Obasanjo and the suffering which that I entails for the country. A patriotic economic regime which offers a platform of real development of the nation’s capacities is what people desire and Babangida must learn that basic fact.


General Babangida must also be aware of the consequences of the nostalgia which drives many of his supporters and people in his entourage. Babangida’s domination of the State machinery during his regime opened opportunities for many people within the nation’s elite to get access to lucre, and the hope of getting a second helping drives the ambition of many people-around his campaign.


They don’t seem to fathom the fact that Nigeria has moved on, and the people are not likely to be as tolerant as they were of the excesses of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. Besides, the political context is not similar to the days of military rule. This is a point which General Babangida himself has to ponder.


Then there are the unresolved issues which people still mobilise around, especially in some sections of the country against Babangida: June 12, the killing of Dele Giwa, the recently exhumed issue of General Mamman Jiya Vatsa and the Gulf War oil windfall, amongst other issues. It remains to be seen just how Babangida will navigate his way through the landmines of these different issues, not to talk about Obasanjo ’s overbearing suffocation of the nation’s political space; this is especially important in the context of the despot’s calculations to remote-control the levers of power beyond 2007. Can Obasanjo trust Babangida given the delusions that Obasanjo has about his place in Nigerian history?


I think that a point that most commentators have not properly taken note of is the role of Obasanjo’s petty jealousy of Babangida’s enigmatic personality in-Nigerian society. Obasanjo actually feels a need to overshadow Babangida; this desire fuels his insatiable drive to acquire companies, hotels, banks and other assets. He owes his post-prison lease of life to Babangida and a host of other people, yet he possesses enough vindictiveness to ensure that Babangida does not get the opportunity to shine again. Let me illustrate this point of Obasanjo’s petty jealousy and vindictiveness with a story I was told sometime ago.


It was said that when General Sani Abacha came to power, he sought the assistance of Obasanjo to reach members of the international community. Obasanjo offered to support Abacha on the condition that he would probe Babangida. He probably forgot that Abacha was a leading member of the Babangida government. When Obasanjo was eventually arrested for organising a coup against Abacha, Babangida was said to have gone to plead for his reprieve, and it was then that Abacha chose to reveal to Babangida the earlier request of a probe by Obasanjo. I don’t know if the story is merely apocryphal, but it is quite indicative.


It was the same Obasanjo that Babangida, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and highly respected Northern leaders mobilised support for in 1999, and the result is the woes which the country has harvested under his incompetent leadership since then. So there is a sense in which General Babangida carries vicarious responsibility for the misrule of Obasanjo. He would have to cope with the backlash of Obasanjo’s deep unpopularity with the people of Northern Nigeria especially.


Babangida can overcome the entrenched interests within the PDP who might feel threatened by his candidature to nick the ticket. But it can never be smooth sailing and in an openly competitive process, his extensive network and considerable resources might stand him in good stead, but we all know that there has never been an open political space in the Nigerian setting. Minders of the Babangida candidacy believe, that the PDP remains the best platform to attain his desire, yet some also think that he could when push comes to shove become the consensus candidate of a multiplicity of parties, ranging from DPP. NDP through to UNPP and a host of others.


It also seems to me that the question of a party platform has become an issue of convenience for the Generals in politics, since they seem to relish running on their own steam. This was actually the essence of Obasanjo’s disdain for inner party norms which are necessary in a genuine democratic system. This is something which Babangida would have to define an attitude to as well as finding the thick skin to take the rumble and tumble of politics, which has never been easy for soldiers, long cultured in the regimental and command traditions of the military.


There can be no gainsaying the fact that Babangida’s entry into the fray will energise the political system, but the Nigerian people must interrogate the content of the candidacy. If he has a genuinely patriotic platform, then he should openly canvass it with the Nigerian people; however, if he is also sworn to the same set of policies derived from the neoliberal school, policies which Obasanjo has religiously implemented with a disastrous consequence over the past few years, it means that the Nigerian people must be ready for even greater battles in the years ahead. What is certain with Babangida is that there will not be any dull days in the months ahead in our political system.


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