Obasanjo’s Troubling End-Game

In Nigeria today, the key question nowadays is not whether President Olusegun Obasanjo will quit after his second (and final) term expires next year, but who will succeed him. Given Nigeria’s history of sit-tight military dictatorships, that is real progress. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the president’s doing.

Attempts by Obasanjo’s supporters to persuade the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to enable Obasanjo to continue in office beyond two terms met a solid wall of opposition. Government and commercial activities virtually ground to halt this spring as democracy activists, in alliance with politicians and lawmakers opposed to a third term, battled Obasanjo’s allies to thwart the proposed bill.

The failure of Obasanjo’s supporters triggered three big political developments. The president’s authority is draining away precipitately, and his vice-like grip on his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has loosened. Opposition parties, human rights groups, and other government critics, hitherto cowed by a seemingly omnipotent Obasanjo and PDP machine, have found a new lease on life. Obasanjo, besieged and angry that friends at home and abroad (particularly in the United States and Europe) betrayed him by aiding his political opponents in killing the amendment, is determined to settle scores.

The storm had hardly settled when Obasanjo sacked General Aliyu Gusau, his powerful National Security Adviser. Several senior military officers whose loyalty was questionable were also replaced. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister and the brain behind the government’s economic reforms, was redeployed to head the Foreign Ministry, in a move widely seen as punishment, as Obasanjo has dominated foreign policy-making throughout his tenure.