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
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. …