(Vanguard of Sunday, May 28, 2006)
As you were. This is what we refer to in law as status quo ante. There would be no problem if the order is as you are, in which case all parties will remain where they are until issues are resolved. The as you were plea came from the President and was made after the revolt within his party led to the collapse of his tenure elongation project. The parties involved in the reconciliation call by the President were all, once upon a time, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The end result of the reconciliation effort is that they are all back in the same family, as they were. But where does as they were begin? The space is limited but the story is long. Let us look at Before 2003, The 2003 Primaries and After the 2003 Elections to properly focus what the outcome of the reconciliation can do to our democracy.
We have said before and it needs repeating for illumination that when moves were being made to get Chief Olusegun Obasanjo back to the seat of government at the federal level, he said he had nothing left behind in Aso Rock in 1979 to want to go back for. He was grateful to God that he was not hanged in fulfillment of the sentence passed on him for being part of planning to topple the government of Sanni Abacha, a scheme which turned out to have been a hoax and a trap.
Having been granted pardon, he would like to be at home in his farm with his birds and animals. IBB and Co came over with a plan that he must lead Nigeria. Unknown to him, his release from prison was part of that agenda. But he wanted to ease out of the plot. He had no money, he said, and he had no political forum, and no stomach for the stuff Nigerian politics was made of. Most importantly, he had been a statesman and would want to remain at Ota and help proffer solutions to Nigeria’s seemingly intractable problems.
But IBB and others knew how to launder an ego. “Sir”, they must have told him, “we are finished if you refuse to lead us. Your people in the South West have been angry with us because of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections which Abiola won. We want to make amends. Money is no problem and the political forum is no problem. The only problem, sir, is you and that problem would be solved if you can only say yes. Sir, just leave the rest to us.”
And Obasanjo, for love of country, accepted the draft, and the political train started to roll. The long and short of the story is that Obasanjo was elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and was sworn in on May 29, 1999. One little point to note is that his people in the South West geo-political zone did not vote for him. No matter.
The president’s constituency is the whole country and even if the party insists that you must deliver your ward, local government area and state, these were internal to the party and would not count against you if you secured a majority of the votes in the election and collected 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-thirds of the states of the federation.
So, without the votes of the President’s ward and local government area in Ogun State, and without the votes of the whole of the South West, Obasanjo became the President of Nigeria on May 29, 1999.
I was not there, but later events showed that certain agreements had been reached before the political train started to roll in 1998. Abubakar Rimi was later to claim that he was promised the position of Vice President. And someone who claimed to be close to the President was also to say, too, that the President wondered how Rimi ever believed that he would be appointed Vice President.
The President would be more comfortable with someone who would consult before taking massive major decisions when he stepped out of the shores of the country. That Atiku emerged as running mate to the President after the Jos Convention even after he had been elected governor of Adamawa State was later to be explained in the light of the fact that he provided the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) political forum on which Obasanjo ran within the PDP.
PDM was formed by Shehu Yar’Adua who was second-in-command to Obasanjo after the assassination of Murtala Muhammed in February, 1976. On disengagement from the army in 1979, he built the political forum that was nationally-embraced, and when during the transition programme of the General Ibrahim Babangida regime (1985 – 1993) he went all over the country asking to be nominated to stand as president under the Social Democratic Party banner, he trounced many of the kingpins in their dens.
But the primaries were cancelled and Yar’Adua was banned along with many others in November 1992. With the emergence of Abacha, Yar’Adua was detained and killed in prison, but his political machine remained under the grand command of Atiku Abubakar.
With the appointment of Atiku as his running mate, therefore, Obasanjo kept his promise to meet a commitment under the political forum arrangement. But the next test of who was in charge was the nomination and election of who the senate president would be. Two key members of the PDM in the PDP family must be mentioned at this stage – Chief Tony Anenih and Dr. Chuba Okadigbo.
Obasanjo had gotten close to Anenih during the 1999 presidential election campaigns and Anenih was credited with taking over the management of the campaign at a time the candidate was wanting to opt out of the race. If the Vice President wanted Okadigbo, a PDM kingpin, as Senate President, and Obasanjo wanted someone else, the closest ally he could have was Anenih.
In spite of his PDM family links, it was Anenih who moderated the election of Evans Ewerem as Senate President. But Ewerem was later toppled and the choice of the PDM, Okadigbo, installed. The scheme to remove Okadigbo was one of the attempts being made to enable the President inch his way into political control of the party. The removal of Okadigbo came when it was least expected.
The President had visited his official residence and danced with his wife a day before he was thrown out of office in August, 2000. The visit and dance had been part of reconciliation moves to smoothen the relationship between the President and the Senate President.
With the exit of Okadigbo, the closely-knit PDM family within the PDP was being dismantled. The relationship between Anenih and his political nuclear family had thus worsened, and this was not helped by cabinet changes which showed clearly that those who were Atiku nominees, that is from the PDM cell in the party, were the target and the victims.
This was the situation before the question as to whether or not Obasanjo would run the second term came. First and foremost was the consultation the President said he was having with God. Should he run or not? God was reported to have asked him to run, but the announcement without the presence of Atiku being recognized showed a possible plan to replace the Vice President at the President’s second coming.
Atiku and his political army bared their fangs; and the discovery that Atiku was in charge took the President and his planners back to the drawing table. He felt humiliated by what he had to go through before Atiku would change his mind about seeking nomination on the platform of the PDP or opting to run with Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
The fall-out of the humiliation may have advised the taming of the political shrew that Atiku Abubakar was seen to have become, and it was predictable that on his second coming, the President would play the boss to the hilt.
Looking back, the President has done extremely well in taking control of the PDP even to the total exclusion of its founders, but it seems that the overkill led to the emergence of opposition groups like the MRD/MDD and ACD which with the ANPP and AD killed the bid for elongation of tenure. So where would the search for reconciliation begin and to where can it lead? We continue next week.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 143 -146; Lagos, 2008).