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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Obama, Hillary, Sanders, Obasanjo and Yar’Adua

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PERHAPS not too long from now the hidden details of the discussion between the United States President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party presidential contender, Bernie Sanders, will be released. But the outcome of the tete-a-tete has left no one in doubt that the president leaned on the contender to forswore his oath to make the party’s convention in Philadelphia a contested one. The
president treated Senator Sanders with utmost respect and civility. He in fact refused to intervene when the primaries were in full swing, and waited till Senator Clinton, former US First Lady and wife of the highly respected ex-president Bill Clinton, had become the presumptive nominee before announcing he would back her presidential bid. President Obama’s quiet and dignified detachment lent the entire process the ennoblement conversant with the country’s history and constitution.

Neither the US constitution nor its political processes, nor yet its judicial and law enforcement dynamics, are without objections. But, like its constitution, the country has managed to inspire the world at periodic intervals with the manner many of its presidents and famous justices have discoursed and acted upon the salient issues of the age. Abraham Lincoln’s place in the US Valhalla is secure. So, too, are the places of George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, J.F Kennedy, and a host of others. Both by their rich experiences and their responses to the critical issues of the age, the US has projected almost in equal measure their power and values in such an engaging manner that their cultural and political triumphs have become distinctly avant-garde. It is no surprise then that President Obama’s response to the presidential race within the Democratic Party has exemplified all that is good in the American political system.

Not only did President Obama stay aloof from the process while the nomination was yet to be concluded, when it ended but threatened to unravel, he felt impelled to invite the other main contender, Senator Sanders, to the White House, received him as a visiting head of state, and quietly got him to back the party’s nominee and respect the party’s rules. Senator Sanders had little choice but to fall in line, and is expected to shelve his desire to make the convention a contested one. More, he is expected to endorse the presumptive nominee and campaign with her in the coming weeks and months. But much more than just respecting and dignifying the rules, President Obama reminds the world, especially that part that models its politics on the presidential system of government, how to run a democracy and stabilise political parties.

In the process, by behaving most regally while the nomination process lasted, President Obama kept his engaging neutrality without compromising presidential authority. The implication is that he now has a chance to extend his legacy and sustain it in a way he could not have hoped had he intervened brusquely and in disregard for party rules and sensible timing. Compare President Obama’s timing and action in the Democratic Party race with ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s intervention in the presidential nomination process within his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in 2007. Four years earlier, in 2003, Chief Obasanjo was unscrupulous and ruthless in either muscling out presidential contenders within the PDP or emasculating them completely in favour of his cherished candidates. In 2007, when it came to his party identifying a successor, he was even less charitable. Not only did he use extra-constitutional powers to undermine and impeach the strong contender, his vice president, Atiku Abubakar, he ensured that every other contender that stood any chance, no matter how small, was castrated and harassed by the country’s then boisterous anti-graft agency.

The result was that Chief Obasanjo got unwisely and unscrupulously involved with the PDP nomination process from the beginning to the end, directing the affairs of the party, and determining with executive fiat who stood a chance in the single (convention) primary and who didn’t. He growled at those who raised their heads, and tore at those who announced they had the strength and the ideas to move Nigeria forward. Not satisfied, he singlehandedly went to drag the obviously phlegmatic ex-governor of Katsina State Umar Yar’Adua from apparent retirement and foist him on both the party and eventually the nation. He would brook no opposition within his party, nor even from the opposition political parties. His choice of ex-governor Yar’Adua was not based on ideology or religion, nor on what the country needed; it was based coldly on his own private and short-sighted calculations. He knew that if he backed someone he believed was weak in body and irresolute in mind, it could open a window for him to indulge his proclivity to meddle and impose on the presidency. He achieved his desire to foist the ailing Alhaji Yar’Adua on the country. But in the end, all his calculations proved spectacularly wrong. Worse, Chief Obasanjo went incredibly ahead to impose a running mate on Alhaji Yar’Adua, thereby foisting a disastrous ticket on a promising nation of about 150 million people, the largest black nation on earth, in one fell swoop and with two deathly blows.

President Obama’s political behaviour is guided by a deep sense of history, one he links to the Lincoln era and all that is good and profound about the American people and system. He has a deep sense of the beauty and grandness of American democracy, and an even deeper sense of the quality and contribution of the American people to global politics, not to say his infinite sense of the place and leadership of his country in the world economic system. These virtues circumscribed President Obama’s political behaviour and guided his approach to both Senators Clinton’s and Sanders’ nomination battles. On the contrary, Chief Obasanjo, both as a person and president, is neither anchored on Nigerian history nor does he have anything to inspire him about Nigeria — not its past which he has repeatedly attempted to  suborn to legitimise his doubtful legacy, not its present which confuses him, and not its future which he is unable to both project and envision. In fact, often, and judging from his literary works, he sees himself as Nigeria’s lodestar, the watershed from which every politician and leader must take his point of departure.

Leadership recruitment process varies from country to country. And Nigeria apes the American system, and is thus bound by its strictures and its liberties. However, Nigerian leaders have not demonstrated the discipline and the implicit confidence to let the system flourish and run on its own self-regenerating steam. If Chief Obasanjo had sensibly chosen to allow the PDP elect its own standard-bearer, and the nominee to select his own running mate, would it have weakened the departing president or the system as a whole? Certainly not. Not only would the likes of Alhaji Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan have been an inconceivable ticket, the PDP would most likely have produced someone healthy, vibrant and possibly ideological and even democratic. Nigeria would have benefited from a sounder democratic foundation consequent upon a successful election/selection process, and that success would probably have rubbed off on other parties and helped to nurture democracy.

Sadly, Nigeria took the wrong fork in the road. That road has led to the veritable nightmare of looming political disintegration, economic stagnation or even recession, and social, ethnic and religious anarchy. These problems would probably have been averted had Chief Obasanjo not led a willing and docile country down the road to self-destruction in 2007. Have any lessons been learnt? Apparently not, not even in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), where virtually the same anti-democratic instincts are entrenched and flourishing, as exemplified by many APC states and the federal government itself. In handling the Senator Sanders’ threatening revolt and the primaries in the Democratic Party suavely, President Obama has shown Nigeria what might have been. Surely Nigeria, either in 2007 or now, is not too unsophisticated to understand these political nuances and why in future it must adopt the civilised Obama approach to governance, intraparty politics and democratic practices.

Credit: The Nation News
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