Yar’Adua: Little Motion, No Movement

June 14, 2007
7 mins read

One of the most difficult aspects of travel is that feeling that a lot has happended behind one’s back, in the days that you’ve been away from home. I go through that emotional stress aobut the pace of developments in Nigeria, every time I travel. Last week, I was in Cape Town South Africa to attend the 60th World Newspaper Congress and the 14th World Editors‘ Forum. The Cape Town story will be told another day.

But not even the availability of the internet to read the newspapers on the World Wide Web, can substitute for the hands-on experience of being part of the developments at home. Because of the nature of the period: ostensibly a new government; the backdrop of expectations and anger in the country, all these have generated a near metaphusical hope for some form of pro-active pronouncements, quick fire change and a commencement of a gradual distancing from the over bearing presence of former president Obasanjo. The feeling of hope was reinforced when the new secretary to the government of the federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe said the style of the new president was going to be different from that  of the ancient president.

But one could be forgiven if one thought we had been dropped off in a railway station called cemetery lane, where all is quiet and were no one ruffles feathers and the main signpost in town is MAINTAIN STATUS QUO! President Umaru Yar’Adua is not inspiring the Nigerian people with his very, very laid back style. Someone said that the new president, who was plucked from near a reclusive obscurity a few months ago and was imposed on Nigeria, still seems to be living in a trance, unable (or unwilling) to believe that he now has to carry the burden of Nigeria; a heavy one even in the best of times.

But mister president must be shaken out of his lethargy to face the realities of being at the top of the pile in our country now. This is because the first steps taken so far of confirming some of the dinosaurs of the Obasanjo regime in their positions (the chief of staff has been in government for the past nine years since serving as Abdulsalami Abubakar’s security adviser) and you wonder what these tired old men can contribute to a new direction for a regime that must do things in a new way, if its expects to earn national legitimacy and international respect. Malam Umaru Yar’Adua has spent his first few days in Aso Villa still genuflecting to the monster image of Obasanjo.

It seems that the man cannot even handle the delicate issue of his very controversial ascension to power. It is a question of and absolutely unacceptable gesture of flying the matriarch and other members of the Yar’Adua clan to Abeokuta to thank Obasanjo for the “honour” of making Umaru president of Nigerian”? oh, so it was not even our votes that mattered as much as the endorsement, Obasanjo?what was the real meaning of “declaration of a state of emergency in the power sector”, when Malam Umar will only confirm the status quo in the electricity sector, which has spent over one trillion naira to consolidate darkness in our economy and in our homes? At least Obasanjo’s appointees are safe in their positions, so the darkness can continue.

Malam Umaru’s lethargy has to be contrasted with the decisiveness of Obasanjo in 1999. He cancelled all decision which General Abdulsalami Abubakar made in six of the eleven months of his regime; Obasanjo retired an entire generation of officers from the armed forces because they held political appointments in the past; he began to assert himself in the public consciousness as the man in charge who needed to provide leadership. Obasanjo did not dither and despite the fact that he was also imposed on Nigeria by leading political/military members of the Nigerian ruling class, he did not spare them of his opprobrium, in order to be able to assert his own authority, begin to create corps of loyalists and as we saw in eight years, he played ethnic platforms agains each other, manipulated the religious chasms in Nigeria he hired, fired and ridiculed people, etc, but at each point no one was left in doubt that president Obasanjo was in power.

Of course Malam Umaru Yar’Adua cannot be Obasanjo; his disposition is different and nobody wishes for the continuation of the abrasive style of the past eight years. However, it is also important for the Nigerian people to get a feeling that we have a president in power not a puppet on a string beholden to the ambitions of a fromer president Obasanjo who really did not want to vacate power. Where should we locate Umaru Yar’Adua’s visit to Lagos at the weekend to be shown round Dodan barracks by an ex-president? Isn’t there a protocol person who can do such a job? Is it Obasanjo’s personal property or infact was it a visit to receive instruction?

President Umaru Yar’Adua must know that telling us he will be a “servant-leader” (whatever that effort in modesty means), is not what the nation needs at this moment. He has to kead from the front and acknowledge that the buck stops on his table. The Nigerian people want positive results in the area of a reversal of the hike of petrol products prices; the lowering of the VAT raise; the people want the reversal of the last minute sales of Nigerian refineries, steel companies, cement companies the oil blocs allocated to a few cronies of the former president and the controversial last minute appointments which the former president did with utmost contempt for the constitutional order of the country. These are the types of steps which a new president desirous of acceptance by the people and mindful of the crisis of legitimacy hefaces should be taking at this time in our national history.

Malam Umaru Yar’Adua should be unambiguous in his understanding of the evolving reality he faces into the future. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot live under the shadow of Obasanjo forever or live with the delusion that what is most important is to protect Obasanjo’s running away from an eventual clash with a despot who is determined to continue to rule from his farm. He has planted all manners of landmines and bobby traps for his hand picked successor to ensure that he cannot deviate from what pleases him in the process of governance: his men have appointed the defence chiefs to ensure that they are loyal to or grateful to him, not the incumbent commander-in-chief; the senate is packed with people whose elections are controversial at best and be imposed a notorious defender of third term and an exsenate president and he is also engineering to ensure that Ojo to become party chairman. Maybe it is this field of landmines that is scaring Malam Umaru Yar’Adua; he does not want to suffer any ‘collateral damage’ as the Americans cynically say in their manipulative use of the English language as an ideological weapon of obscurantism to aid aggressive war fare!

But wlahi talahi, Malam Umaru would have to make a choice of staying as Obasanjo’s puppet on a string, in which case he can continue to tell us he is a “servant-leader” and sit on his hand doing nothing! But even nature is said to abhor a vucuum and he will sooner, rather than later, discover that the manipulative cunning of the old fox who he is beholden to will not stem the tide of anger and expectations, which is building in Nigeria, because of the wasted opportunity of the past eight years and now Obasanjo used those eight years to enrich himself and a tiny set of cronies, while presiding over the pauperization of the mass of the Nigerian people. Malam Umar will arrive at a point where he would want to really be a president for the Nigerian people and every where he will find the suffocating presence of Obasanjo who is desperate to ensure that the pressures from the people do not lead Malam Umar tob buckle and begin to ask very incomfortable questions abouthis tenure. But that time will come.

And when the day of reckoning arrives, Malam Umar will do to remember some of the questions asked by Mr. Jide Ayobolu, writing in LEADERSHIP of Sunday, June 10, 2007. “How come a writing in LEADERSHIP of Sunday, June 10, 2007, “How come a man (Obasanjo) who was poor in 1999 became suddenly rich overnight? What is the source of his wealth? Where did he get his money from? How come he is perhaps the richest Nigerian and the richest president on the continent of Africa?” who owns Ajaokuta Steel Mill, Delta Steel Complex, Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Oshogbo Machine Tools and Itakpe Iron Ore Company? Who is deceiving who? Who is the largest shareholder in UBA? Who bought the shares of Akeem Bello-Osagie and threatened him with arrest and imprisonment? Who has the largest largest share in Zenith Bank? Who has the largest shareholder in First Interstate Bank Ltd, before the merger that resulted into Unity Bank? Who has the larges shares in Unity Bank today? Whose interest is the daughter of the (ex) president representing on the board of Unity Bank? Who owns the majority shares in Virgin Nigeria? Who gave the airline special facilities at the international wings of our airports at a coust of N400 million? Why does Virgin Nigeria not pay parking and landing fees and purchases aviation fuel at a discount, while at the same time competing in the same market with other local airlines? Who own majority shares in Arik Air? Why was lucrative international routes given to this airline against the regulations of ICAO, even before the airline bought negotiation? Moreover, whyshould one man se up TRANSCORP; devalue our national assets, obstruct free and fair competition and sell everything to himself and his family? If not, why did TRANSCORP purchase almost the entire NITEL for $750 million when GLOBACOM bidded $1.2 billion for the same property? Not too long ago, Vmobile sold a fraction of its shares for $1.2 billion. How could all of NITEL with a vast net worth of digital exchanges, armoured cables, three international geteways among others, sellfor only $750 million? “This one man operates isx farms in six states of the federation. What is the source of the funds for these massive investments? What is the deal between this one man with the owner of MITTAL of India? Why the hurry in granting block 246 to the Indian conglomerate?…Again who owns the Obajana cement factory? Who owns the Beachland estate? Where did the owner get the funds to erect such magnificent, sprawling edifice?” these are interesting questions, types of questions which Nigerians would want Malam Umaru Yar’Adua to begin to ponder and find a way or ways to unravel, as a “servant-leader” as he described himself. Unfortunately, two weeks or so, into his controversial mandate, there has been little or no motion and neither have we seen any movement. But appeasint Obasanjo cannot be the way to nudge Nigerians towards acceptance of a presidency that carries so much baggage of controversy. Malam Umaru, this is your moment in the sun of our history and you need to stand up to provide leadership.

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