Obasanjo and the presidency
The political editor of Nigeria's The Vanguard newspaper comments on speculation that the country's president, Olesegun Obasanjo, may try to extend his term in office.
Obasanjo is one of the rare people to serve both as a military ruler and a democratically-elected leader of a country, but not continuously. (Mali's Amadou Toumani Touré is the only other one I can think of). He's helped usher in an era where the thought of a military coup, long the predominant feature of Nigerian politics, is barely talked of.
If Obasanjo really wants to help democracy take root in Nigeria, the best thing he could do is NOT run again and NOT extend his term in office.
The Vanguard editor explains:
But history teaches us that in 1979 when Obasanjo had the best of reasons and excuses to prolong his stay as Nigeria’s [military] ruler, he didn’t. So, the question is, what makes it an attractive option now? Some sympathisers tell Nigerians that there is the need to ensure continuity and preserve the legacies of Obasanjo. To that, some immediately charge back, what are the legacies? Others say handing over in 2007 would amount to handing over at a time when Nigeria and Nigerians need him the most. To that critics equally ask: While he was in charge, did he endear himself to the masses?
The worst thing anyone purporting to be a statesman can do is create the impression that he is absolutely indispensible, that the country would fall apart without his munificent and brilliant leadership.
The best gift Nelson Mandela gave to the South African democracy is that he served only a single term. If the country could survive and thrive without a truly great man of his stature, then surely no lesser man in the future can have any excuse to angle for a life presidency.
Obasanjo purports to be not just president of Nigeria, but a pan-African leader. Mandela, Mali's Alpha Oumar Konaré and the late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania were once in a similar position. They left the presidency to others so they could focus on being continental statesmen. Obasanjo would do well to follow their examples. So would Africa and Nigeria.