IN an interview with an online medium, Premium Times, Nasir Ibrahim Mantu shocked the public by revealing that he would have more daringly and even suicidally engineered ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term in office. He regretted his timidity, he groaned, for had he summoned the courage, in his twisted opinion, Nigeria would have been better for it. “The truth is if I had known Nigeria would find herself where we are today, I would have even taken the last drop of my blood to ensure it happened because it would have been in the greatest interest of the nation,” he had argued. “We never envisaged we would be here. Since Obasanjo left, the way this country has been run up to this moment, I weep for Nigeria.” And had Chief Obasanjo secured a third term in office, Mr. Mantu added, his successors would have also benefited from that gratuitous political gift. He gave no further explanation for this extremely opaque reasoning, nor why it is so pressing and indispensable that it overrode the need to defend the integrity of the constitution.
It is not clear why nature permitted the historical conjuncture that foisted Chief Obasanjo and Mr. Mantu on Nigeria between 1999 and 2007. One had an exaggerated sense of his own importance, filling the State House to its last pore with all sorts of drama, vainglorious posturing and overwhelming political trickeries and gambit; and the other suffused the upper legislative chamber with such mercenary tendencies and mendacity that it was impossible to exaggerate its villainous impact on the society in any essay of the period. Perhaps the conjuncture was to teach Nigerians the value of real leadership when they see one; or mourn the absence of true leadership when they endure its consequential pains. After a prefatory period of needless and unproductive acrimony, both Chief Obasanjo and Mr. Mantu, who had become Deputy Senate President, entered into a convoluted executive cum legislative romance and political wantonness to the point that the pair became inseparable. That relationship, alas, was extended to its conspiratorial end in 2007 when both gentlemen intrigued unsuccessfully for more years in office.
But at least now, the country has a confirmation, if it ever needed one, that Chief Obasanjo actually schemed for an extra term in office, an extra that could have dragged on for much longer than the foolish architects of the scheme envisaged. Though Mr. Mantu tried to insulate Chief Obasanjo from the crazy scheme, his response to a question on the failure of the conspiracy, wherein he stated that the former president was disappointed all their efforts came to nought, showed clearly that regardless of the silence shrouding it, it was something all the conspirators looked forward to eagerly. Chief Obasanjo himself has angrily rebutted allegations he schemed for an elongated tenure, claiming on one occasion that had he really pined for it, and on account of his special relationship with God, all he needed to do was just ask God for that favour, and it would have been his with a snap of the finger.
However, except Chief Obasanjo, no one else in Nigeria really believes the lie the former president tells himself that he didn’t scheme for an extra term, at least not those who voted him into office and yearned eight years later to throw off his yoke, and certainly not his zany, the inimitable and eloquent Mr. Mantu. Though he waffled a bit in the first part of the interview published by the online medium, the former Deputy Senate President left no one in doubt he craved some absolution for his many political malfeasances. It was, therefore, surprising that he regretted not going the whole hog in the third term conspiracy, a conspiracy he canonises and excuses on the grounds that Chief Obasanjo’s successors were poor imitations of leadership.
But much more than Chief Obasanjo, the focus should now be on the eminent Mr. Mantu who represented his Plateau State constituency for eight years in very controversial circumstances. It did not occur to the former Deputy Senate President that by owning up to the third term conspiracy, and in addition regretting its failure, he was in fact giving his countrymen a window into his dark and unfathomable soul. It was apparent he thought the scheme a noble one. It was clear he was and perhaps will continue to be proud of the scheme. In many ways, he seemed to be saying he lacked the capacity to decipher the absolute and indefensible wrongness of constitutional subversion. Indeed, in the interview, Mr. Mantu implied many disconcerting things than he actually voiced, with most of his direct answers downright deplorable and unflattering. He portrays himself the archetypal Nigerian leader: cynical, detached, undiscriminating, illogical, ideationally perverse, and tending towards hedonism and, incredibly, obscurantism. Chief Obasanjo is trapped in the past, resisting, in fact oblivious of, new ways of doing things; Mr. Mantu, on the other hand, is entombed in hideous history.
In Mr. Mantu’s thesis, the idea of third term is justified on the grounds that Chief Obasanjo’s successors had brought the country to a horrible pass. This implies that he presumed the former president a lodestar, closer to an ideal president than any the country has ever produced. Does this thesis hold up under close scrutiny? In the first instance, with the exception of President Muhammadu Buhari, the other two presidents since 2007 have been direct products of Chief Obasanjo’s jaundiced and hubristic intervention in presidential politics and elections. Even then, in terms of democratic credentials, the late Umaru Yar’Adua was far better than he, more temperamentally suited for the highest office in the land, and more noble, methodical and generally culturally agreeable. Alhaji Yar’Adua seemed in fact set to offer a far better quality of leadership to Nigeria in four years than Chief Obasanjo gave in eight tumultuous years.
In like manner, had ex-president Goodluck Jonathan not lacked personal discipline, opening the national treasury to all-comers as he did especially in the last few months of his presidency, he would have appeared a much more convincing democrat than Chief Obasanjo. Under the latter, elections were an invitation to war, and the opposition went into it with its arms and legs chained. Under Dr. Jonathan, he largely allowed the principle of balloting free rein, culminating in 2015 with the victory of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Overall, Chief Obasanjo’s management style was appalling and disreputable. He left no lasting legacy and bequeathed no enduring political culture. If Mr. Mantu campaigned for a third term for the ex-president, it was misguided and self-serving. It had nothing to do with Chief Obasanjo’s supposed qualities, nor with his programmes and policies.
Second, and more crucially, there is no record anywhere, not even in his scathing autobiographies, of Chief Obasanjo’s original contributions to the concept of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rights and privileges of citizens. Indeed, rather than contribute something original and relevant, Chief Obasanjo introduced disharmony and disarticulation into the polity, leaving his country reeling under the weight of political impositions and economic ephemerality. It was expected that more than eight years outside the Senate would have led Mr. Mantu to a keen study of the Nigerian condition and a substantial reflection on the policy miscarriages of the past decades. It seems all but clear that the former Deputy Senate President spent his years in pasture chewing the cud on his own superficial understanding of what it means to preside over the affairs of a complex and modern nation. It is little wonder that, like his adopted mentor and other fading legislators and former governors, he must struggle very hard to be heard or seen because he had neither done nor said anything profound for anyone to enthuse over.