Nigeria; In Search of Leadership Since Advent of Fourth Republic
The year 1999 has remained in the annals of history in Nigeria as it marked the birth of the Fourth Republic. This new dawn was greeted with great euphoria with public events and shows heralding the dawn of a new era. The major highlight of this mutation which officially opened a new era was the adoption of a new constitution and the organization of elections which marked the end of the reign of the military under the command of General Abdusalami Abubakar and ushered in civilian rule for the first time 16 years. President Matthew Aremu Okikiola Olusegun Obasanjo who had been jailed by former military ruler, General Sani Abacha climbed the supreme magistracy on 29 May 1999 to lead Africa’s most populated and dynamic country. Despite his military past, Obasanjo was considered as a transformed person as he had long abdicated his position within the military to embrace a civilian life especially in the domain of agriculture.
Nigerians in their numbers, from all works of life attended the official ceremony of the inauguration of the presidency of Obasanjo at Eagle Square, Abuja. The pump and pageantry was reminiscent of an independent day celebration as from time-to-time the 62 year old was forced to pause his speech and give way for the popular and spontaneous salutation, “Ose Ose o, Ose o Ose Baba” which traditional means praise. In his speech, President Obasanjo said it is the “beginning of a genuine renaissance” while promising that, “all impacts of bad governance in the past will be removed. Corruption will be tackled headon at all levels. It must not be condoned.” Meanwhile General Abubakar held that Nigeria has a chance to start afresh after 15 years of military rule. He said that he hoped the Obasanjo team “would usher in a new, united and democratic Nigeria that will be a pride to all, and takes its rightful place in the community of nations. Also present at the ceremony was the then Commonwealth SG, Chief Emeka Anyaoku whose organization had previously suspended Nigeria following gross human rights abuses especially the murder of play rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni eight. However, more than two decades after the event, Nigerians are still grappling with a leadership challenge which is hampering every effort of emergence.
The Fourth Republic Challenge
The recent END SARS movement in Nigeria has once again unveiled the leadership challenge the country is facing even after abandoning military rule many years ago. The scene especially at the Lekki toll gate wherein unarmed protesters were shot at with live rounds is an indication that while the underlying Nigerian society is mutating the leadership is still stock in the formula of the past which is based on the foundation of military/armed solutions to political problems. Between 1966 (end of First Republic) and 1999 (33 years), Nigeria has had only a respite of civilian leadership accounting for less than five years including President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983; Second Republic) and Chief Ernest Shonekan (August – November 1993; Third Republic). Within this period, current President Muhammadu Buhari reigned as Military Leader between 1983 and 1985 until toppled by the General Babangida team. However, Buhari defeated all suspicion during his enthronement in 2015 by arguing that he is a “born again” leader, a formula used in separating himself from the military apparatus. Nonetheless, his actions has proven that despite the sloganeering, Nigeria is still entrenched in its past because successive leadership since 1999 have not been able to foster a “born again” nation. Obasanjo himself was a former Army General who ruled between 1976 and 1979 and in his second presidency as a civilian ruler, he also regurgitated military formulas and applied them on purely socio-political affairs. It was during the reign of Obasanjo that militancy in the Niger Delta grew and flourished reducing the country’s oil output from more than 2 million barrels per day to about 800,000 barrels per day and between 1999 and 2003, crude oil theft amounted to about $30billion. And it was during this same period that notorious militant groups like the Niger Delta Vigilante of Ateki Tom and Niger Delta Volunteer Defense Forces (NDVPF) of Dokubo Asari got their sunrise. Moreover, the 1999 and 2003 elections have been described by some Nigerian scholars as the most corrupt which fan the flames of militant groups used by wealthy politicians to secure their victory out of ballot box. Just like a real military man, President Obasanjo launched his presidency with a military campaign which has become known as the 1999 Odi massacre wherein entire villages where raised to the ground and tens of persons killed with thousands forced to displaced by the military. In 2003, Obasanjo created the Joint Task Force which has been accused of some of the worst human rights abuses in Nigeria since the birth of the Fourth Republic.
Nigeria in need of a Firth Republic?
All the actions of President Obasanjo laid the grounds for a de facto military rule in Nigeria and by the time he was exiting in 2007, the birth of the most notorious militant congregation, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was announced with spectacular attacks. And as “Baba” as he is fondly called in Nigeria left the stage he had already planted a strong military regime-type apparatus flourishing side-by-side a political god-fatherism scheme which conserved and retained power only for a few oligarchs who controlled the country’s oil wealth. Despite a new constitution in 1999, the original centralized federal system was maintained wherein oil which accounts for more than 80% of the country’s wealth indisputably fell in the hands of the Abuja administration ensuring that locals are systematically deprived of wealth even though very next to their doors.
With the accession to the throne of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it was barely a mutation of persons but the same formula. He continued with military operations in the country and Niger Delta a in particular while corruption was faithfully thriving. The former Governor of the Northern state of Katsina only became President as a conciliatory candidate to represent the North after Obasanjo’s deputy, Atiku Abubakar, a Northerner tipped for the top job had fallen apart with his masters. Evidently, Yar’Adua became President not because he represented the Nigerian populace but as a political arrangement to guarantee the prestigious position of the bourgeoisies who have hijacked the Nigerian politics and would only settle for a candidate with formula to secure their oil wealth. Most importantly, an equal oil-wealth sharing formula would deprive politicians of their prestigious position which is why military options are always being used to silence even the crying voices. After failing to secure a military victory, in 2009, the Yar’Adua administration applied an amnesty which ended at the levy of buying the guns from the militants, bribing others, offering lucrative contracts to some while systematically avoiding problem. However, before, the amnesty could even run to an end, Boko Haram which had been in gestation since the Obasanjo days make a spectacular entry in July 2009 following an administrative and military blunder. While Yar’Adua left the stage unceremoniously 2010, Nigeria’s problems had multiplied as every leader either aided or fail to manage what he left. And it became a cumbersome deal for the University Professor turned Politician, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to manage Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy, corruption and the growing ethnicity question especially the first Igbo personality to lead the country since the ousting of Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1966.
As it became clear that Jonathan was unable to transform the country’s challenges into gains, his political opponents, especially the camp of Buhari used it as a weakness triumphing over him in the 2015. While taking office, Buhari regurgitated his military formula and declared the annihilation of Boko Haram by the end of the same 2015. However, five years after the group is still waxing strong and creating mayhem and has faithfully imposed itself on three other countries. With his prolonged absences and inability to address situations, Nigerians sometimes feel the presidential seat is vacant. However, it is not a vacancy of persons or personality, but a vacancy of solutions to the country’s problem. Nigerians can borrow from the Ghanaian experience wherein the country is still standing because of the foundation of democracy laid down by its emblematic leader, John Jerry Rawlings. With the abundance of wealth and population, Nigeria would have been an African example. This becomes incumbent on Nigerians to source a leadership with new generational formulas that can satisfy the challenges of the present times and the youthful population so that ancient formulas are not applied to contemporary questions. It may not warrant the breakdown of the polity again to form a Firth Republic but an overhaul of the politicking to ensure that equal opportunities are given to every Nigerian and leaders elected and appointed out of their solutions to the country’s conflicts.