Finally, a war Obasanjo may not win
By Duro Onabule[]
Friday, March 9, 2007

There is this unenviable and clearly self-destructive trait in President Olusegun Obasanjo. When he reacts to any disagreement with a perceived opponent or worse still, a political enemy, Obasanjo goes beyond any measure of possible, indeed inevitable fight-back from such adversaries.
Throughout his civilian tenure so far, the man (Obasanjo) will be restless without a national controversy. As an elected president, Obasanjo could never reconcile himself to, as a constitutional obligation, being checked by the national assembly led by my good friend and fellow Zikist, the late Wilberforce Chuba Okadigbo, second senate president under the 1999 constitution.

Unlike Chuba Okadigbo, his fellow senators and indeed entire national assembly members were too reticent to discover Obasanjo as an incorrigible dictator. To be fair to the (then) House of Representatives Speaker Ghali Na’Abba, he equally faced up to Obasanjo and did his best to save Okadigbo’s senate presidency except that he (Na’Abba) was not appreciated by the senators. So cheaply, Obasanjo got rid of Chuba Okadigbo barely a fortnight after commissioning the deceased’s official quarters in Abuja as part of a seeming compromise between the two men.

Not to be similarly caught unprepared, speaker Na’Abba returned to his stronghold and marshalled his troops to such level of loyalty that when they (Na’Abba’s men) were infiltrated with financial inducements, to impeach speaker Na’Abba, some of the House of Representatives members displayed millions of raw cash in the lower chamber for the world media and sourced the money to Aso Rock, self-styled scourge of corruption in Nigerian public life. Nobody in that place (Aso Rock) bargained for that fight-back from House of Representatives members in support of their speaker.

The lower chamber planned a public probe into that scandal but one of the members offered to play the spoiler by heading for the courts to use the judiciary to halt indefinitely (over four years ago) the said probe.

If the (then) new senate president Anyim Pius Anyim initially thought his predecessor (the late Chuba Okadigbo) was a war monger, the same Pius Anyim was to soon discover that in comparison, Okadigbo in fact was too mild with, and needlessly tolerant of Obasanjo’s belligerence. Indeed, as senate president, big man Pius Anyim discovered that he had to employ his weight and size to repulse Obasanjo’s plot to get him impeached.
By the time Pius Anyim fought back, Obasanjo was virtually on the way out despite the huge sum of three hundred million naira Senator Arthur Nzeribe (in a moment of frustration of failing to halt the impeachment proceedings against Obasanjo) tactlessly claimed to have collected for his fellow senators. So much for the crusade against corruption.

In close collaboration, Pius Anyim and Speaker Na’Abba all but succeeded in gassing Obasanjo out of office in 2002 only for ex-President Shehu Shagari and General Yakubu Gowon and vice president Atiku Abubakar to intervene by pleading with national assembly members to halt the impeachment process. Obasanjo, in an attempt to reduce national assembly to his rubber stamp, never bargained for that reaction.

However, General Gowon was to be rewarded with ingratitude for advising Obasanjo against the treasonable third term. Both Ghali Na’Abba and Pius Anyim were later schemed out of returning to national assembly in the 2003 elections. Na’Abba was purportedly defeated while Pius Anyim pre-empted such humiliation by not seeking re-election. But his private house in Abuja was partially pulled down for violating Abuja master plan.
It is therefore instructive that apart from casual public intreatment, no top political or community figure is intervening this time in the showdown between Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar.

Yet, the man regretting most today for saving Obasanjo from certain impeachment in the past is the same Atiku Abubakar. In 2002, state governors and national assembly members were uncompromising in their stand that Obasanjo was not their candidate for second term in 2003. Instead, Atiku indulged in the sentiments of not impeaching a president from South-West zone so soon after Bashorun Abiola’s election was nullified in 1993.

Today, Atiku Abubakar is paying for the silly sentiments. Did the same South-West zone, especially Ogun State vote for Obasanjo in the first place in 1999? Which section of our constitution cites zone or state of origin as a consideration for impeaching or not impeaching a president or state governor? It must of course be conceded that Yoruba leaders in 2003 did not help matters with their ethnic jingoism of two terms for Obasanjo. Just like Atiku Abubakar, Yoruba leaders were rewarded with ingratitude by Obasanjo who wiped them out of political control throughout the South-west except Lagos State.
In vice-president Atiku Abubakar’s case, Obasanjo never forgot that he had to go on his knees to secure Atiku Abubakar’s support for his (Obasanjo’s) nomination for second term. Hence, the series of humiliation – appointment, re-deployment and dismissal of Atiku Abubakar’s personal and official staff in a bizarre set up of sole presidency of almost choosing a wife (or wives) for the vice-president.

To pretend that nothing went wrong with the management of PTDF is to be insincere. But it was just a convenient excuse for Obasanjo to finish Atiku Abubakar. That is assuming vice president Abubakar was the only one involved. Unfortunately for Obasanjo, for once in his life, he picked on a wrong opponent as this PTDF saga has assumed the dimension of a political conflagration which may consume President Obasanjo himself, if it is ever to consume vice president Atiku Abubakar.

Did Obasanjo bargain for this threat to his political life when he pounced on Atiku Abubakar? Why did Obasanjo miscalculate that Atiku was on the political slab for him to be slaughtered without any resistance? Against the initial plan of the senate to probe Obasanjo’s allegations against Atiku Abubakar, by the time the Vice-President concluded his defence and counter allegations against Obasanjo, the upper chamber had to face the embarrassing choice of who (between Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar) was to be probed.

Most unexpectedly devastating for Obasanjo was the prospect of being probed at all for the very same if not more damaging allegations he had compiled against Atiku Abubakar. Now, the senate committee set with the historical task of probing the two men has worsened matters.
After Atiku Abubakar’s testimony, Senator Ndoma-Egba’s panel told Nigerians of its power to invite anybody it might deem necessary to testify. But Atiku Abubakar’s allegations against Obasanjo were damaging enough that even if in camera, Obasanjo should have been invited to defend himself. Instead, Ndoma-Egba and Tafida rather clandestinely went to Aso Rock and when confronted by the press corps, explained that their mission was to inform Obasanjo about the death of a Nigeria senator in South Africa and to make arrangements for bringing the deceased back to Nigeria.

A disturbing and questionable co-incidence.
And not a single word to Obasanjo to defend himself throughout that visit to Aso Rock? The Ndoma-Egba panel then had the guts to confirm all Obasanjo’s allegations against Atiku Abubakar and accordingly recommended the vice-president to be sanctioned, a language so vague as the fresh 12 years canvassed for Obasanjo as third term.

Did Ndoma-Egba and his panel realise that they were reporting to a volatile and discerning country called Nigeria, the only special one in Africa?
The same Senator Ndoma-Egba rather contemptuously reported to Nigerians through the senate chambers that his panel did not invite or interrogate Obasanjo because they never saw any need for it. In short, Atiku Abubakar’s allegations against Obasanjo were either glossed over, dismissed or played down by the Ndoma-Egba panel.

Some of the allegations. A huge sum of twenty billion naira disappeared from PTDF when Obasanjo assumed control of the fund and when there was public outcry against speculations of fifty million naira allegedly paid to senators to endorse Obasanjo’s third term. Was Atiku Abubakar telling lies on this? Only Obasanjo’s testimony could clarify.

Another allegation of millions of dollars of PTDF deposited in a bank–UBA – from where Obasanjo Farms allegedly took two hundred million naira to pay for its two hundred million shares in Transcorp. Was that true or not? Only Obasanjo’s testimony could have cleared the issue. But if true, what was the difference between this transaction and the similar fixed deposits of millions of dollars Atiku Abubakar made at Trans International Bank and from where Otunba Fasawe took hundreds of millions naira loan?

Presumably, on the twenty billion naira matter, Ndoma-Egba might claim that as a senator, he knew no senator took fifty million naira and therefore dismissed the charge. But two separate issues were involved. The bribe allegation against senators was one while the other was the disappearance of twenty billion naira. Was that true or not? Since the PTDF account was under Obasanjo’s control, only he could have explained to the Ndoma-Egba panel from his testimony.
The panel did not invite Obasanjo. Yet they tried to clear him while at the same time, they rebuked him (Obasanjo) for not complying with rules and regulations. Was that not a violation of Obasanjo’s constitutional right to fair hearing? But, listen to Ndoma-Egba. His panel did not invite vice-president Atiku Abubakar and so (the panel) was not obliged to invite Obasanjo. Despite the damaging allegations made against him?

Not the least of the serious allegations against Obasanjo was the laundering of the huge sum of seven hundred million naira into the MOFAS account, the very account vice-president Atiku Abubakar was accused of unlawfully operating. Who paid that huge sum into MOFAS account? Was the money lodged by a ghost? And the same ghost paid out two hundred and fifty million naira from the same laundered amount, for registering a company? And if it was proved that only twenty-three million was eventually spent to register the said company, what happened to the remaining amount?

Since vice president Atiku Abubakar made this allegation, he must either be correct or wrong. If Atiku Abubakar was correct, why did Ndoma Egba not mention a word about it? And if the same Atiku Abubakar was wrong in his allegation, why did the Ndoma-Egba panel fail to so claim in their report?
The performance of the Ndoma-Egba senate panel on all allegations against Obasanjo matches that of the original EFCC probe and Attorney-General Bayo Ojo’s administrative panel, both of which similarly covered up the allegations.

The Ndoma-Egba panel did not fairly acquit itself by initially failing to mention anything about a minority report, thereby falsely creating the impression that their report was unanimously agreed to. The dissenting voice, Senator Olupitan had to inform his colleagues about his dissent with the plainly partisan majority report. Senator Olupitan further recommended Obasanjo for sanction. Only then did Senator Ndoma-Egba confirm the dissenting report but that his panel only did not mention it in its summary presented to the upper chamber.

That was a fraudulent mistake. A single sentence in the senate panel’s summary that "However, a member, Senator Olupitan disagreed with our majority report" and submitted his minority report would have shown a clean and clear conscience.
Noticeably, Ndoma-Egba panel exonerated Mike Adenuga, the Globacom boss of any wrong-doing in the deposit of PTDF dollar account in Equatorial Trust Bank. Was that not the same bank transaction that EFCC’s Nuhu Ribadu was employed by Obasanjo to fault Mike Adenuga during which armed EFCC men violently invaded Adenuga’s house on Victoria Island?

Clearly by now, President Obasanjo knows that not only is he not off the hook but is in fact, in hot soup. Hence, for the first time in his civilian tenure, Obasanjo, out of desperation, has employed multi-pronged attack as a defence to confuse observers. First, public affairs adviser, Uba Sanni, called for impeachment and prosecution of Atiku Abubakar, all aimed at influencing the senate to endorse Ndoma-Egba panel’s cover-up of Obasanjo. It is therefore re-assuring that senators, instead, are taking another look at the senate panel’s report.

Second, Obasanjo rushed his federal executive council to ratify Ndoma-Egba panel’s report which recommended sanction against Atiku Abubakar. Whoever expected anything less from the federal executive council. Correspondingly, to amuse Nigerians, the federal executive council claimed to reject Ndoma-Egba’s slap on the wrist for Obasanjo.

Almost emptying their political arsenal, Obasanjo directed finance minister Nenadi Usman to release fresh evidence not pleaded or even tendered by Obasanjo in his letter against Atiku Abubakar to the senate and House of Representatives to the effect that Atiku blocked Obasanjo’s very early attempt to probe PTDF.
In this controversy, the lot of our senators is unenviable. If based on Ndoma-Egba panel’s report, published, unpublished or biased, there is no way the senate can retain its credibility among Nigerians by impeaching only Atiku Abubakar or clearing only President Obasanjo. Obviously to pre-empt his own impeachment, Obasanjo hurriedly called for Atiku Abubakar’s impeachment.

Senate President Ken Nnamani has set the tone, there should be no sentiments. Obasanjo has been faulted for not complying with the rules in his management of PTDF account. Therefore, advising him (whatever that means) to henceforth comply with the rules is untenable. It is noticeable that Obasanjo has rejected that mild rebuke. In short, he never violated the rules and will continue misapplying PTDF account.

What is more, which advice are the senators expecting Obasanjo to take and comply with the rules in future? Is the same Obasanjo not on record that he is not bound to take the advice of his special advisers? If Obasanjo could decide on anticipatory approval of multi-billion contract, what is the use of the fiscal responsibility bill passed by the national assembly?

What is due process? If Obasanjo is being merely advised to comply with financial regulations, why are state governors being impeached or arraigned in law courts by the EFCC?

There cannot be double standard. If the senate considers it appropriate to ordinarily advise a public officer against failing to comply with financial rules, a disguise for abuse of office, such grace should be extended to everybody. If on the other hand, a public office holder is to be sanctioned for abuse of office, a criminalisation of not complying with financial rules, the same sanction must apply to everybody.
It is even a surprise that the Senate is being manipulated to play down the questionable tactics of obtaining anticipatory approval for multi-billion naira projects. Why did this same senate in 2002, list anticipatory approval of contracts as one of Obasanjo’s offences for which he was to be impeached but for the intervention of Shehu Shagari, Yakubu Gowon and Atiku Abubakar?

In this war between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the senate and indeed national assembly must not assist one or the other of the two combatants. For any thought of taking side, the senate will be staking its reputation to meet the constitutional requirement, a hurdle now as high as never. No sentiments but justice and fairness.
•Next week: IBB’s dirty job for Obasanjo