Which events in the 20-year life of the Fourth Republic have been the most impactful, most distressing, the funniest or even the most mind-boggling? At the weekend I made a shortlist of several candidate events, which I invite readers to vote on.
One was President Obasanjo’s first meeting with Niger Delta community leaders in Port Harcourt in June 1999. Militancy was then at its peak and Obasanjo said, “Whenever something happens and I ask you, you say it is the youths. Where are the elders? You are the only community in Africa where youths lead the elders.”
In the first week of the Fourth Republic, controversy raged on the real name of the first Senate President. As Governor of Imo State in 1992-93 he was called Evans Enwerem but in 1999 the name on his certificate was Evan Enwerem, which some people alleged was his brother’s certificate. Enwerem lasted only three months in office. On the day the National Assembly was inaugurated in 1999, controversy swirled around it because the media reported that members were to receive N3m each as furniture allowance. Senator Chuba Okadigbo appeared on television that night and said, “We are here to alleviate poverty, not to spread it.”
Three months after the House of Representatives’ take off in 1999, we saw House Speaker Ibrahim Salisu Buhari delivering an emotional speech on television, weeping as he waved goodbye to his colleagues. A newsmagazine had published a story titled “The face of a liar,” exposing the Speaker as under-aged [he was 29 years old] and of faking his University of Toronto Master’s degree certificate. Unforgettable was the episode in 2001 when N3m raw cash was placed on the House of Representatives Speaker’s table during a plenary session. It was said to be bribe money, allegedly from then Rivers State Governor Victor Odili, in order to facilitate Obasanjo’s desire to impeach Speaker Ghali Na’Abba. We never heard of the money since then.
The most sensational promise ever was made by the first Power Minister Chief Bola Ige in 1999. He promised to end this country’s chronic power shortages within six months. Twenty years, four presidents and numerous Ministers of Power later, we are still waiting. GSM’s coming in 2001 was probably the most impactful infrastructural event of this Republic. At first, SIM card cost as much as N30,000 but it is now down to N200. In 2002, MTN’s Chief Strategy Officer paid us a visit at the New Nigerian in Kaduna and he memorably said that Nigeria will forever need landlines because mobile phones will never be able to transmit data. Only four years later, Blackberry debuted as the first smart phone that could transmit data.
There was the messy election of Senate President Adolphus Wabara in June 2003. Wabara, who lost his election, somehow got a certificate of return on a weekend, just in time to be elected Senate President on Monday. His APP opponent, who everyone believed won the election, shocked the political scene when he suddenly withdrew his case in court and said he was convinced that he did not win the election.
Among the most distressing scenes of the last twenty years was the Abuja demolitions of 2003-2007, when the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory [MFCT] demolished buildings built in green areas, under power lines and over sewers. It saved the Abuja Master Plan, but it was very distressing. The state of emergency that President Obasanjo clamped on Plateau State in 2004 was probably unconstitutional but it served a good purpose because it stemmed inter-communal carnage in the state.
Governors in Nigeria are thought to have heavy security but in 2004, Anambra State Governor Chris Ngige was abducted and taken to an unknown destination at the behest of his godfather, Chris Ubah. It turned out that Ngige signed a post-dated resignation letter as part of the sponsorship deal. It was revealed at the same time that Anambra politicians took oaths at the Okija shrine, believed to be very potent.
The deportation of former Liberian President Charles Taylor from Nigeria in 2006 to face war crimes charges at The Hague perplexed Nigerian diplomats no end. Sure Taylor was a criminal but Obasanjo, South African President Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders persuaded him to give up power in 2003 in return for asylum in Calabar. Today, no African tyrant will accept his colleagues’ assurances. Nigerians won’t forget the Green Tree Agreement of 2006 in a hurry. Although Nigeria lost its case over Bakassi to Cameroon at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan persuaded Obasanjo to hand over the peninsula. He could have cited 100 inconclusive territorial cases around the world instead, some of them dating back to the Middle Ages.
PDP national chairman Dr. Ahmadu Ali’s theory of “garrison politics,” followed by his party membership re-registration of 2006, at Obasanjo’s behest, threw out all PDP members who were not loyal to Obasanjo, including Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The most poisonous presidential aide ever was Femi Fani-Kayode, who attacked Obasanjo’s critics with an acerbic tongue. In 2006 he said General Yakubu Gowon had no right to criticise Third Term because he himself reneged on a handover pledge in 1974. Fani-Kayode later explained that his job was, “whoever joins issues with the president, I should join issues with him.”
In 2006, presidential assistant Uba Sani announced at a press conference that Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s seat was vacant because he became presidential candidate of the Action Congress, AC. The Supreme Court later quashed the effort. Just before the 2007 elections, EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu issued an “advisory” to INEC, a list of people that EFCC said it had dossiers on them, though most had not even been charged to court. To wit, they were all Obasanjo’s political enemies.
The most shameless event of the Fourth Republic was “Third Term,” President Obasanjo’s effort to amend the constitution and perpetuate his stay in office. The bill was sensationally killed in the Senate. Even though many MPs said they were offered bribes to pass the bill, Obasanjo is still denying that he attempted to get Third Term.
President Umaru Yar’adua’s statement in 2007 that his predecessor spent $16bn on the power sector “without commensurate results” is still reverberating today. Yar’adua’s own promise to declare a State of Emergency in the power sector never materialized. Yar’adua’s Niger Delta amnesty program however was one of the most impactful brain waves of the Fourth Republic. Though it cost the Federal Government billions, it brought instant peace to the Niger Delta and saved billions of dollars in oil revenues.
Boko Haram, which exploded on the scene in 2009, has been the most murderous and most destructive event of the Fourth Republic. The sect has so far killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and wrought untold property destruction, especially in Borno State. Second to it was the farmers/herders’ conflict in the North Central region. It spawned Benue State’s ban on open air grazing and formation of the Anti-Malu Squad in Ekiti State.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement during a television chat, that “stealing is not corruption,” caused consternation in the Republic. It was however surpassed in tragic impact by his wife, Patience’s sensational viral video of “Chei! Chei! Diaris God o! WAYEC! Only you waka kom?”
In sheer political impact, probably no event in the Fourth Republic could compare with PDP’s defeat in the 2015 election, the first time in Nigeria’s history that an incumbent president lost an election. As for reversal of fortunes, no event compared with Zamfara State in 2019, where APC won the governorship and all legislative posts, only to lose all of them to PDP at the Supreme Court.
Since 2015, probably no episode compares in sheer drama with First Lady Aisha Buhari’s radio interview of 2016, where she said a cabal hijacked her husband’s government. Surpassing it in drama was President Buhari’s reply in Germany, where he said Madam belonged to the kitchen and “the other room.”