Nigeria News

Rethinking the Obasanjo Letter

Former President Olusegun ObasanjoBeneath former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s leaked letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, is a plot unknown to many, reckons Chinweizu Chinweizu
 
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a general. Like a good general, he is trying to defend a city under siege by launching a diversionary attack elsewhere, to draw the besieging troops off to defend the target of his diversionary attack and give himself respite to defend his city. That’s a military strategy that’s been in use for thousands of years. I think that’s the strategic objective of his 18-page letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
 
Obasanjo is a diehard defender of the Nigerian status quo, of which he has been a major lifelong beneficiary. This National Dialogue/Conference debate is directing serious attack on the 1999 Constitution and the status quo that is based on it.
 
Presumably, being doubtful that the system can withstand this siege, Obasanjo has launched this diversionary attack on corruption, which he believes will capture the attention of the, supposedly, gullible Nigerian public and divert them from the issue of the SNC and a new People’s Constitution. We must resist the temptation to follow him and change the conversation to corruption from the issue of the SNC and a new Constitution.
 
We must realise that politicians and their interests are subordinate to the people and our interests. We must resist any effort to divert us from our interests and to preoccupy us with the politicians’ interests. At this time, the politicians are obsessed with their 2015 elections, whereas we should be obsessed with the fundamental question of how to get rid of the fraudulent 1999 Constitution—for that is a matter central to the relationship between the entire political class and the rest of Nigerian society, who they are empowered to plunder by the 1999 Constitution.
 
Some of Obasanjo’s specific concerns raises serious constitutional issues that we must find answers to. He complains that Jonathan made a promise to him and some other politicians that he would not seek a second term. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.
 
Let’s assume that he did. Such a promise or contract, whether written or verbal, is unconstitutional: it violates the constitutional provision that allows a second term to a president. We need to insist that politicians should desist from making contracts or insider deals that are unconstitutional. Such deals have no legitimacy/validity, null and void and are unenforceable. So they shouldn’t enter into them.
 
Furthermore, under the 1999 constitution, if a contract or understanding is unconstitutional, is it not also unconstitutional, and a crime to enter into it? If so, isn’t it also a crime to insist that the criminal contract be carried out—as Obasanjo is demanding? Is the aiding and abetting of a constitutional crime not also a constitutional crime? I invite our lawyers to answer that question.
 
Obasanjo is now posing as an “anti-corruption” crusader. Before looking at Obasanjo’s anti-corruption rhetoric, let’s look at the word ‘corruption’ as used in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the term covers a wide range of crimes, from a policeman at a checkpoint taking a N2 bribe, to a state governor appropriating the state’s budgetary allocation of billions of Naira and money laundering into his private bank account abroad, under protection of the immunity clause of the 1999 constitution. This latter crime goes far beyond corruption and is actually looting.
 
After half a century of unpunished practice, such looting by government officials (lootocracy) has become entrenched as the norm in Nigeria and is imitated by all and sundry; which is why officials, down to the policeman at the checkpoint and the messenger sent to get a file, brazenly abuse their office and, with impunity, extort money from the members of the public that they are officially paid to serve.
 
Nigerian officials have become addicted to lootocracy even though a significant and vocal segment of the population is opposed to it and decries it as “corruption”.
But calling lootocracy by the name “corruption” is a gross misnomer and the error should be rectified: it is like calling a bank robbery that empties the bank vault by the name ‘pilfering’ or calling by the name ‘pick-pocket’ a bank robber who has made away with billions, or describing an act of mass murder as a case of assault and battery—a crime of doing bodily harm to somebody.
 
Since the 1999 Constitution, with its immunity clause and its clause ousting its Chapter II, is the godfather of corruption, any anti-corruption talk is just rhetoric unless it is combined with an insistence that the 1999 Constitution be abrogated.
 
So, if Obasanjo wants to be taken seriously; if he is really against corruption instead of just playing to the gallery and indulging in factional politics, why isn’t he campaigning for the SNC that would give Nigeria a new constitution that would get rid of that constitution’s encouragement and protection of lootocracy/“corruption”?
 
However, if Nigerians really want to get rid of “corruption”/lootocracy, here are two ways they could go about it.  Consider the case of a man who is complaining about the flies disturbing him in his bedroom. But it turns out that he has put a shit bucket under his bed. If he wants to be rid of the flies, he has two options: carry the shit bucket out and bury it far away, or leave it in his bedroom and take a fly whisk and swat each and every fly. If he insists on swatting each and every fly, he will just work himself to exhaustion without getting rid of the flies.
 
But if he seriously wants to get rid of the flies, he needs to carry away the shit bucket. Obasanjo’s preferred method seems to be to swat individual flies. That’s what his EFCC and his verbal assaults on individual cases of “corruption” amount to. A hundred incorruptible EFCCs, even with the best will in the world, cannot hope to catch half the lootocrat officials in Nigeria — lootocrats that are encouraged and protected, and thereby generated daily, by the 1999 Constitution itself.
 
 
Obasanjo must know that, and must have known that when he set up his EFCC. Of course, the speculation was that he had a hidden agenda in setting up the EFCC — which was to be used to target his enemies and shield his friends while posing as fighting corruption.
 
Obasanjo’s EFCC and verbal castigation approach to fighting corruption is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Getting rid of the1999 Constitution is the equivalent of carrying away the shit bucket and burying it far away. Obasanjo should join the SNC campaigners for a new constitution if he wants to be taken seriously as being an anti-corruption crusader.
 
Finally, we must remember that Nigeria’s entire political class is lootocratic, from LGA councilors and State Assembly members, all the way to the National Assembly and beyond. They are lootocratic and have been so for 50 years! That’s what Nigerians must terminate, by changing the constitution that drives the lootocracy.
 
We can’t allow ourselves to be drawn into their distractive factional quarrels. The entire system must go! The siege on the 1999 Constitution and its version of Nigeria must not be relaxed; it must be intensified until the Obasanjo citadel, the status quo that Obasanjo is defending, is completely overrun. Then, and only then, will corruption and lootocracy find no constitutional prop in Nigeria!
– Chinweizu wrote from Festac, Lagos
 

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