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Is Obasanjo endangering Nigeria's democracy?

By KEN KEMNANGUM OKORIE

Exclusive Commentary for USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com

When Nigeria's former Minister of Information and Culture, John Nnia Nwodo, announced his presidential aspiration for the 2003 elections before his immediate Nsukka area constituency (Enugu State) early in June 2002, he likened Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo to "a child with a razor blade", urging that "Nigerians must unite to take away this razor blade from him because if you leave a child with that type of instrument, he will later use it to harm himself or those around him."

Nwodo then warned that, "We must unite to rescue this country from Obasanjo before he does further harm to himself and all of us." Some may have dismissed Nwodo's warning as the colorful rhetoric of a candidate during a political season.

But after Obasanjo's appearance with USAfricaonline.com publisher, Chido Nwangwu on CNN International on Tuesday September 17, 2002, I am convinced that Nigerians have every need and reason to heed Nwodo's warning, literally and seriously.

The fact is Nigerians and the international community have serious grounds to be concerned about Obasanjo (in white dress, left). The Q&A session, moderated by CNN anchor, Ralitsa Vassileva, focused on the subject of the impending impeachment of President Obasanjo, which is quickly progressing in Nigeria's legislature. I read the transcript of the program but did not watch the broadcast, which I understand, was far more dramatic and impacting.

Click here for rush transcript of the CNN International news program.

As the moderator aptly reminded Mr. President, the threats of impeachment, and in particular the nature of these charges make him look bad. While it might seem attractive to appear in charge or deem all this a "test" of our new democracy, one must wonder if this is indeed is the manner of response befitting the leader of a country sickened by poverty and repulsed by further hint or reminder of military intervention in its affairs.

The real shocker was Obasanjo's trifling the 10,000 deaths, reported victims of communal rivalries, armed invasions by soldiers and other civil strife during the three years of his Presidency. President Obasanjo was asked on the CNN program about his deployment of soldiers which led to the masscare of civilians - including sending the army out twice to Odi (Bayelsa State) and Zaki Biam (Benue State).

Specifically, the President said: "When you put the question of 10,000 …. people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people." The import of this statement is a Nigerian President wondering why anyone should be concerned over 10,000 deaths in a population of 120 million! This is numbing and saddening.

As Chido Nwangwu pointed out during the CNN International program, "when he (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament. The third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement."

Certanly, Obasanjo's response raises critical questions about the moral temperament and texture of this President. Does he understand that as Nigeria's Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, his supreme duty to Nigerians is to protect and cater to the welfare of every single one of their 120 million? Does he understand that the loss of one Nigerian life in questionable circumstances is a criminal act never to be justified?

Perhaps Obasanjo should be reminded that Richard Milhouse Nixon ceased to be President of the United States because of an illegal break-in to the offices of his opposing Democratic Party and the subsequent cover-up, either of which he might not have personally authorized.

Watergate did not involve loss of life, but it was just as serious. That is a system that respects the law. This casualness about loss of human life is more bothersome coming from a self-confessed, "born again Christian!" I'm a Christian, too, but we do not minimize life this way. A bit of compassion and regard for human life will not hurt.

When reminded that the impeachment allegations are making him look bad, General Obasanjo responded, "It's not what they say that matters…because those who make the allegations are not going to be the judge….and those who judge will be more objective…and even you can say that there is already some form of judgement on the side of the public, which does not damage my reputation or damage my political career or damage me in any form or shape whatsoever."

But the redirect and factual summary made by Chido are clear and accurate, as stated, thus: "Part of the challenge (of Nigeria's leaders and its democracy) is a disconnect and a misunderstanding of who performs what constitutional duty. The president (Obasanjo) stated specifically that it is not what they say at the legislature that matters, that those who make the allegations are not going to be the judge. It is the public that are judging. That is not what the charge, or what the duty calls for. It is entirely (and largely) a legislative process to ask for an impeachment, a legislative query...."

Having previously minimized the impeachment threats against him as a joke taken too far, the President is again fatally wrong and indeed does not get it. In the first place, Obasanjo must understand that even under the military-imposed Constitution (which remains the operative basis of Nigeria's law until something better evolves) the legislature that has brought the charges against him is the sole body that will vote to impeach. Impeachment is not a matter of public debate nor is it predicated on public opinion. It is exclusively a matter for voting by the legislature. As such the legislators are the judges, in case the President needs to be told. Or could the President be banking on the fluidity and naivete of many among the Nigerian public and the willing Lagos-Ibadan media, believing they will re-elect him irrespective of whether the legislative branch impeaches him? If this is his thinking, I would suggest that Mr. President is wrong again. Nigerians are tired and hungry; they've waited fruitlessly for his promised "dividends of democracy." Thus far, Obasanjo has not given them reason to believe he is capable of delivering; not now, not in future. He lacks what it takes.

Additionally, Obasanjo is also alleged to have unlawfully changed revenue allocation for the oil producing states and failing to implement legislatively enacted annual budgets since he assumed office in 1999. These are part of 17 charges of gross misconduct and misuse of government funds that have been leveled against the President and spearheaded mostly by members of his ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). The President's casual, matter of course, defense of these serious charges of misconduct is indeed very troubling. He began his response to the program moderator with an unnecessary reminder that "what they [the legislature] have tried to do in the democratic way, would have probably been easily done by taking arms or bullets".

Also, the articles of impeachment charge Obasanjo for misusing $300 million (as Rsilva' pointed out, a number that is larger than Nigeria's annual health budget under Obasanjo) to build a stadium in Abuja. I agree with USAfricaonline.com publisher Chido Nwangwu that instead of the $300 million stadium "Nigerians need healthcare. Nigerians need to go to school. Nigerians need power supply. The international businesses are pulling away from Nigeria because there are no infrastructural bases to do business, and building a stadium of that magnitude reflects monumental mishandling of the fundamental interests of the welfare concerns of Nigerians. There are no power supplies that run for 24 hours. How, if you lack the capacity utilization base to run a country, how are you going to move the country forward? Stadiums are not what compel the needs of Nigerians today."

On the controversial question of Sharia, the President was asked by CNN anchor Zain Verjee: "Let's talk about Sharia law in Nigeria. Do you believe that state governments in Nigeria should have the right to impose Sharia law?"

Obasanjo: Of course. We have Sharia law in the constitution. Sharia has always been part of our life in Nigeria, and we have a federal form of government where you have the state governments being able to make their own laws. That's why they have their own executive. They have their own legislative. And they even have their own judiciary. That is what we have, and within the constitution they have the power to make law and to sustain their law."

In this case, Obasanjo contradicted his own Attorney General who, in recent weeks, vocally and officially, condemned as unconstitutional the functioning of Sharia laws into most Moslem states of the North. Yet the President seemed incapable of recognizing, much less articulating, the fundamental illegality of Sharia law as recently introduced in those states.

He told his CNN audience that Sharia properly exists under our Constitution. One would think that the President was properly briefed on this subject by the judicial arm of his own administration. The President sees nothing wrong in the outrageous judgments already handed down in some of the Sharia states, but finds comfort in the fact that no such judgment has been carried out as yet. What a troubled sense of duty!

The President's casual treatment of important issues that have rocked the country and shaken his presidency underscore a leader that is lacking in sensitivity and shows a disconnect with his citizenry. From its 1999 inception, insensitivity has haunted the Obasanjo Presidency. This is a President who admonished victims and families of an armed depot explosion in Lagos that they should be happy because he did not have to visit them; who rudely cursed or orders citizens to shut up for asking relevant questions; who personally flogged an errant police officer at a public event; and who hasn't given a hoot over complaints about his overseas junkets that have consumed one thirds of his days in office.

Obasanjo also demonstrates an unnerving misunderstanding regarding the responsibilities of his office. He took office wearing the aura of transparency on his forehead. Yet under his administration, corruption has blossomed. Before his CNN audience, he seemed comforted that Nigeria has moved from the number one to number two position on Tranparency International's ranking on corruption. What an accomplishment, Mr. President! He veers off preaching "patient change of attitude" forgetting that his administration has woefully failed to set the right and necessary tone for the moral and ethical upliftment of our country. This administration has carefully looked away from the self-enrichment of Babangida and the other generals who pillaged Nigeria's treasury, insisting rather that someone first give him Babangida's account number before he can act. What a sham! What a leader!

Perhaps the best lesson of the Obasanjo Presidency is the opportunity it gives Nigerians to understand that people in uniform have nothing further to offer our country. His is our chance to wreck out the last vestiges of military dictatorship, whether in uniform or disguised. Characteristically, this President has shown total disregard for the legislature, acting every bit like the dictator he was during his first rule and regime (1976-1979). From manipulating legislative leadership succession to disregarding legislative mandate, he has systematically pursued his path, caring little about where that path takes the nation. For too long, Obasanjo and his fellow generals have enjoyed unwarranted free rein over Nigeria. The advisory of Nnia Nwodo may well prove the best searchlight that will guide us out of the present thicket of an incompetent administration.

Barely six months to national elections, the voters' register is a sham and ridden by fraud. Nigerians must wake up. We can no longer afford to be hoodwinked. This incorrigible fellow with the razor has gotten too dangerous and the blade in his wobbly hands must be stripped before Nigeria bleeds to death from the errant cut it is oh-so capable of inflicting.

President Obasanjo has systematically shown that he has neither adequate regard nor care fully for his fellow citizens; not their lives, not their welfare, not their property. At almoost every opportunity, Obasanjo has confirmed that he and Nigerians do not deserve each other.
Okorie, member of the Editorial Board of USAfrica The Newspaper and USAfricaonline.com, is managing attorney at Small Business Legal Clinic, Houston. September 18, 2002.


Is Obasanjo ordained by God to rule Nigeria? And, other fallacies. By Prof. Sola Adeyeye
RELIGION AND ETHNIC CONFLICT: Sharia-related killings and carnage in Kaduna reenact deadly prologue to Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. By Chido Nwangwu


Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun
Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue).

On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer.

He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence."

Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997),
Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament."

Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement."

He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.


Obasanjo facing corruption and ineptitude impeachment charges, again since the parliament, a few weeks ago, passed a motion carrying a majority of the members of Obasanjo's party, the PDP.

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22 million Africans HIV-infected, ill with AIDS
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THE FIRST BLACK POPE? To our Brother Cardinal Arinze: May your pastoral lineage endure!


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USAfrica INTERVIEW
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Why Bush should focus on dangers facing Nigeria's return to democracy and Obasanjo's slipperyslide
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Out of Africa. The cock that crows in the morning belongs to one household but his voice is the property of the neighborhood. -- Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah. An editor carries on his crusade against public corruption and press censorship in his native Nigeria and other African countries. By John Suval.

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'Why is Bill Maher spreading racist nonsense about HIV/AIDS and Africa on ABC?
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DEMOCRACY'S WARRIOR
Out of Africa. The cock that crows in the morning belongs to one household but his voice is the property of the neighborhood. -- Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah. An editor carries on his crusade against public corruption and press censorship in his native Nigeria and other African countries. By John Suval.
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CONTINENTAL AGENDA
Bush's position on Africa is "ill-advised." The position stated by Republican presidential aspirant and Governor of Texas, George Bush where he said that "Africa will not be an area of priority" in his presidency has been questioned by USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu. He added that Bush's "pre-election position was neither validated by the economic exchanges nor geo-strategic interests of our two continents."

These views were stated during an interview CNN's anchor Bernard Shaw and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield had with Mr. Nwangwu on Saturday November 18, 2000 during a special edition of 'Inside Politics 2000.'
Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S., and immigrant home to thousands of Africans) argued further that "the issues of the heritage interests of 35 million African-Americans in Africa, the volume and value of oil business between between the U.S and Nigeria and the horrendous AIDS crisis in Africa do not lend any basis for Governor Bush's ill-advised position which removes Africa from fair consideration" were he to be elected president.
By Al Johnson


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BULLET Versus BALLOT
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Index of Founder's Notes (1)


Index of Founder's Notes (2)

Index of other Viewpoints
USAfricaonline contributors and columnists on the issues


BUSINESS
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