Even in Democracy, Nigerian Politics a Battle of 'Strongmen' ; President Obasanjo Has until Next Tuesday to Resign, or Face Impeachment

By Peel, Michael | The Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

Even in Democracy, Nigerian Politics a Battle of 'Strongmen' ; President Obasanjo Has until Next Tuesday to Resign, or Face Impeachment


Peel, Michael, The Christian Science Monitor


At the offices of Gani Fawehinmi, a maverick Nigerian lawyer and, he hopes, the country's next president, junior attorneys sit at a row of desks in a library ringed with newspaper cuttings that recount clashes between their boss and government authorities.

Opposite Mr. Fawehinmi's desk is a picture of Prince Bola Ajibola, a former Nigerian attorney general, accompanied by a caustic assessment of his time in office. "A sorry sight of professional degeneracy," the commentary notes. "Ajibola is the worst and most spineless attorney general Nigeria has ever had."

Fawehinmi is intensifying his antiestablishment battle in the run- up to elections next year that are seen as testing the quality of civilian rule established in Nigeria in 1999. The country's move away from 16 years of military rule was widely hailed, but many people say that traditions of political venality and public corruption have endured.

Fawehinmi's mission has assumed added resonance after the House of Representatives said last week it would impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo if he failed to resign by next Tuesday - a threat widely seen as symbolic of a political class more concerned with self-perpetuation than national development.

"What is the problem with Nigeria that we can't allow an expansive democratic process?" asks Fawehinmi, complaining that he has been kept off next year's ballot by the political establishment. "The credibility of the transition program [to civilian rule] is gone."

Few see the House's action as a simple case of a crusading Parliament seeking to clean house by ousting a discredited president. The threat, made on the grounds of Mr. Obasanjo's alleged failure to manage the economy and social problems, reflects the fractured and opportunistic nature of the country's politics.

Personal advantage over party

The motion was passed by an overwhelming majority of the 360- member House, even though it is dominated by the president's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The revolt revealed a system in which ideology and party affiliation count for little amid the constant maneuvering for personal advantage.

Many observers linked the House vote with a government announcement hours before that would toughen a high-profile anticorruption initiative widely criticized as ineffective. Jerry Gana, minister of information, admitted that efforts to improve financial transparency had stalled, and announced a wide-ranging audit of the president's office, Parliament, and the judiciary.

The House responded by condemning the inquiry as unconstitutional, saying that the president did not have authority to investigate the legislature. Some observers see the House's move as an act of self-preservation by members who don't want the anticorruption spotlight turned on them.

Obasanjo is a founding member of Transparency International, the anticorruption body that ranks Nigeria among those countries perceived as being the world's most corrupt.

"The Nigerian military, political, economic, and policy elite see the country as bazaar," wrote columnist Waziri Adio in the newspaper This Day on Sunday. …

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