“THE last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians. We have moved from frying pan to fire and from the mountain top to the valley. Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth. None of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge. Others like all of us have what they can contribute to the new dispensation to liberation, restoration and salvaging of Nigeria collectively. One other important point to make about Peter is that he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not get lost. In other words, he has people who can pull his ears, if and when necessary. Needless to say that he has a young and able running mate with a clean track record of achievement both in public and private life.”— Pa Obasanjo.
Very ironic. Pa Obasanjo is older than my 80 years old father. So, he is a father in an African setting. But I decided to write this article, not responding to a fatherly figure, but to an old man who has participated in the ruining of Nigeria. This was the old man who introduced the do-or-die concept into our politics between 1999 and 2007. Boko Haram started under his watchful eyes. He governed with iron hands. Rasheed Ladoja, Chris Ngige, Audu Ogbeh and many other victims can never forget Pa Obasanjo’s undemocratic approach to running Nigeria, even if they had probably forgiven. Nigerian youth should be wary of who is talking to them and how he has contributed to the current Nigeria. In 1979, as the head of the Military Junta, Pa Obasanjo had the opportunity to return Nigeria back to a better and rock-solid regional arrangement, with a less expensive and a more functional parliamentary political system. It was just a matter of catering for the overzealousness and mistakes of the independence leaders that led to Nzeogwu’s coup.
But what did the young Obasanjo do? He failed to correct the mistakes of Ironsi (who ended our federal system) and Gowon (who started our fragmentation into artificial states that started with 12). Instead, Obasanjo recruited the likes of Late Chief Rotimi Williams and Professor Ben Nwabueze to continue the unitary, unproductive system, poorly copying the United States system as the 1979 constitution. He and the civilian collaborators did not know that a forced-unitary system can only be enforced by guns, not by ballot. Our independence leaders – Awo, Bello and Zik are wiser than the military guys in that respect.
The 1979 Constitution was transformed into the 1999 Constitution by the Abdulsalami regime, with civilian collaborators like Justice Nikki Tobi and Dr. Suleiman Kurmo. The 1979 and the 1999 Constitutions (founded on Unification Decree 34) concentrated powers, responsibilities and authorities to the centre, more than the center can successfully handle under a democratic system, in a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual country. It is a fat exclusive list that is constantly being sabotaged from North to South, from East to West, using blackmail and outright violence in the process. The powers at the center are so enormous that Nigeria is seen by most politicians as a giant cake, not a common project. The insecurity in the country is a reflection of the sabotage of the unitary system by those who are unable to get a slice from the cake. It was why even Obasanjo himself devised a do-or-die lexicon for Nigerian elections. This arrangement will never work under a peaceful democratic climate!!! If it works for a while, it has to be by a typical high-handedness that Obasanjo himself used. If Buhari of the 80’s had been the same Buhari of 2015 – 2023, it would have still worked slightly better today. Insecurity would have subsided. No full-time democrat can successfully run this unitary system.
The fragmentation of the old Regions into crawling states, has made the Federating Units unable to properly handle the lean concurrent and residual lists given to them. The States have rendered the Local Councils at the grassroots totally useless. Many of the States could not pay salaries until Buhari came to rescue them in 2015. The States control the State Independent Electoral Commissions but they have not been able to successfully handle clean, free and fair local government elections. The states simply run local governments by handpicked stooges. It saves them money and time, and makes it easy for them to usurp Local Government Funds. All the 36 Governors are guilty. A Regional Parliamentary Government would not be able to behave this way. A brother of mine who was a former federal legislator once said to me that for the states to have their police services, and run them successfully; the states must also have their court system up to the state supreme courts, and they should run their prison services too. Just as it is done in a true federal system like the United States. Unfortunately, hardly can any of the Nigerian 36 states handle and fund such a holistic law and order system.
No doubt, the Federal Government must become leaner in powers and responsibilities to be able to function optimally. And for the mad turn-by-turn rush to the center to subside. However, the majority of the 36 states are not prepared and not capable to carry maximum devolution needed from the Federal Governement. Larger federating units – 6 Regional Parliamentary Governments will be capable of handling the cut-away responsibilities and power from the center. Therefore, there must be a way to collapse the 36 states into six regions. Enough of creating handicapped states to satisfy monarchs and political elite who want to be the local champions and get free money, without thinking of how to appropriately fund the States. More on this in my next intervention.
But I expressly believe this should be what should pre-occupy Pa Obasanjo’s mind, and those of his 66 class and friends across Nigeria.
It will interest young Nigerians to know that since 1966 (57 years ago), Nigeria has only experienced true civilian regimes for a combination of 12 years, consisting of Shehu Shagari, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. Obasanjo’s (1999 – 2007) and Buhari’s (2015 – 2023) governments are military-turned civilians. Obasanjo and his 66 group played roles in the emergence and demise of the three civilian regimes.
Shagari operated the 1979 constitution and got booted out by Mohammadu Buhari’s Military Junta. Obasanjo literally installed Umaru after his 3rd term agenda failed. He then embarrassed Umaru till the man, with a medical condition, died in office, in a foreign hospital. The same Obasanjo also played a leading role in the emergence of Jonathan’s presidency. And when Jonathan would not succumb to alleged micromanagement, he was embarrassed out of the office. Infact, Obasanjo only supported Buhari in 2015 just to get rid of Jonathan. In 2019, Pa Obasanjo decided to support Atiku Abubakar against Pa Buhari because he had assessed Buhari as no longer fit. Meanwhile, he had earlier written a two-volume book to describe Atiku as a very corrupt lieutenant during his Presidency. That is how vindictive the grandpa can be. By the way, young Nigerians should know that Buhari worked as Federal Military Commissioner of Petroleum when Obasanjo was the Military Head of States (1976 to 1979), and as DG of Petroleum Trust Fund when Obasanjo was civilian President (1999-2007).
When will this old man relax, and reflect as a statesman? When will he begin to think about how he and his 66 colleagues had contributed to the terrible state of Nigeria?
He made an attempt at a 3rd term, allegedly bribing the National Assembly. To his credit, he gathered some good technocrats like Akinwumi Adesina, Okonjo Nweala, Nasir El Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Charles Soludo, Obiageli Ezekweziele and others to work with him. Yet he could not find any of them suitable, or mentor-able to run the country, even when he did not trust his Vice President – Atiku Abubarkar. And now he is endorsing Peter Obi, and saying Mr. Peter Obi is a needle with a thread. What that means is Peter can also be easily booted out if he fails to conform with the establishment he – Obasanjo represents.
It was because he knew the Nigerian unitary structure can only be run with iron hands as he did, and that was why he wanted a third term. And when he did not get one, he kept himself perpetually busy in the news, writing letters, endorsing presidential candidates and later running them down, complaining without meaningful suggestions for solutions to get Nigeria from the hell hole it is.
One would have imagined that Obasanjo will be moving around the country to get his 66 class to apologise for fostering a unitary system on us, and call for restructuring, and provide us with suggestions to collapse the 36 States into 6 Regional Parliamentary Governments and 1 optimally functioning Federal Parliamentary Government, while the 774 Local Government remains.
We do not need another endorsement of a mere “needle with a thread”!!! What we need is for Grandpa Obasanjo to gather his old military and civilian contemporaries to symbolically utilize the Council of States or a Gathering of the Elders to ask the current or in-coming National Assembly and Presidency to design a method to achieve restructuring.
Enough of your endorsements, Grandpa Obasanjo! Some of us are old enough as children and we have good records of the past, and we will not be deceived anymore. And we owe it a duty to educate those grandchildren too.
Thank you sir.